I have officially become an old crank
Maybe I've just spent too much time hunched over a keyboard with my friends consisting of disembodied names and messages from every part of the globe except this one.
But I have become an old crank.
I don't yell at kids to get off my lawn. In fact, some of the neighborhood kids were over playing with the dog a few days ago and I'd welcome them back (as would he).
No, I've become one of those loveable, tiresome old cranks who writes letters to editors complaining about mistakes in grammar.
Let me correct that: Complaining about one mistake in grammar.
I don't deny that it is a personal thing, that this particular error drives me up the wall and I am simply indulging in self-therapy by complaining. Nor do I deny that I'm being a pain in the ass.
But let me just share the letter I have been sending out, which will explain it perfectly well, I hope. I have this letter in a file on my desktop and, when I feel the need, I simply cut-and-paste it into an email, add the particulars in two places to make it specific to the case at hand, and send it off.
As a former reporter and editor, I used to hate people who would seemingly reduce a story to a grammatical error they had spotted, but this is one that is becoming an epidemic and that changes the meaning of a sentence. It is also, of course, a pet peeve of mine or I wouldn't bother. (Letters like this are why you make the big bucks.)
Most writers and editors realize that, in speculating against fact, you use "were" rather than "was" -- If I were in your shoes, If I were a rich man -- and that "if I was" implies uncertainty -- "If I was there, I don't remember it."
But "may have" and "might have" carry the same requirement, and the difference in meaning can be genuinely confusing.
Where it becomes an issue is in sentences like "The criminal may have escaped" versus "The criminal might have escaped."
If he might have escaped, well, thank goodness he didn't. If he may have escaped, somebody should go have a look in his jail cell and find out.
Again, a bit of a pet peeve, but, perfection aside, it's an error that makes the reporter look stupid: "Police said wearing a seat belt may have saved his life" is a foolish sentence if the lede was "John Smith died in a car accident."
I get polite responses. So did Lazlo Toth.
Well, whatever. I feel better about it because I'm not sitting there thinking "Idiots! Idiots!"
Instead, I'm sitting there thinking, "Your children are going to have to have you locked up."