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“Toni Morrison’s genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured.” The College Board gave credit to those who answered that there was not an error in the sentence.

But a journalism teacher disagreed, saying that “strictly speaking the word her referred not to Toni Morrison, but to Toni Morrison’s, a grammatical error.” The College Board relented and gave credit to those who said it did contain a grammatical error.

This story illustrates the complexity of language and of the rules that those who try to write correctly need to keep in mind. It also seems to play right into the hands of those who would like to ignore all rules. If we begin to analyze things so minutely, we may find ourselves unable to write or speak.



How to Say It

Every now and then we read a news story about someone who lives surrounded by pets. Often this person is surrounded by shocking disarray and unsanitary conditions. I did not know, however, that there is a descriptive term for such a person.

According to Paul McFedries, who maintains the Web site The Word Spy (www.wordspy.com/words), the term is animal hoarding. This means “keeping more pets than one is able to adequately care for.

— animal-hoarding adj.

— animal hoarder n.”



Starting From Scratch

At a restaurant the other evening the server and I wondered why some foods are described as “made from scratch.” Skip Stockton of the literature and history reference desk at the Richmond Public Library helped. He reported that the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origin tells us that scratch got the meaning of a beginning from the starting line of a race that often was referred to as the scratch line or mark. While competitive cooking (or indeed much cooking) is not in Rosie’s repertoire, when she does cook, she makes things from scratch.



Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, est. 322); by mail (Style Weekly, 1797 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23230; or by e-mail, rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com.

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