Wicked Wednesday: May I and Other Pet Grammar Peeves

Edith here again, writing from a quiet retreat house on Cape Cod. As a child, you might have asked, “Can I go out and play?” Did anyone else have a stickler mom, aunt, teacher, or other grownup who responded, “You can, but you may not until you’ve cleaned your room/finished the dishes/done your homework.” You know the drill. The can/may Strunk and whitedifference is important to some people, or was.

So let’s talk grammar pet peeves on this hump Wednesday. Who has one? Which spoken or written quirks grate like beach sand between your toes when you hear them? Do you distinguish between written and spoken grammar? Opinions on the now somewhat discounted Strunk and White? Dish!

Jessie: I am not really one for pet peeves of any kind. That being said, I am always amazed when people say “I could care less” when what they mean is that she or he “couldn’t care less”. I just cannot understand why that mistake has made its way into the world.

Sherry: This isn’t a peeve, but when I was young one of the ways we learned good grammar was at the dinner table. If I said, “Pass the potatoes please,” my dad would pass them the opposite way from me. There was only four of us so it didn’t take long to get the potatoes but a reminder to say “pass the potatoes to me, please.” I also had a girlfriend who called often for me. She would say, “Is Sherry there?” If my dad answered he’d say, “Yes” and then wait for her to say something further like, “Can I speak to her?” One day she turned the tables on him and after he said, “yes” she said, “thanks” and hung up. It became a running joke for them.

Barb: One of my pet peeves is people who have grammar peeves, as such peeves are often emblematic of the worst sort of snobbishness. Many times the “rules” I see cited with these claims are rooted in some specific form of education, or the eccentricities of someone’s third grade teacher, or are plain wrong. As an example, I was going to say here that whenever someone modifies the word “unique,” it sets my teeth on edge. Unique means the one and only, therefore something cannot be somewhat or very unique. However, in preparing to post, I had a long, interesting read about “absolute adjectives” here. It turns out we modify these words all the time. While it is not logical to modify unique when it means the one and only, it is fine to modify it in its second and more common meaning of unusual or rare. So here I am, hoist on my own petard, and proving my own point about grammar snobs.

Liz: I don’t mean to sound like a grammar snob, Barb, I swear – but when people mess up “your” and “you’re” it makes me CRAZY. Also, random apostrophes. I see it all the time at work – for example, when someone is referring to a group of people by an abbreviation of letters and add apostrophes on even if they aren’t possessing something (AEs, SMAs, etc.) I can’t help it. It’s the journalist in me…

Barb: No worries, Liz. I don’t think the distinction between your and you’re comes from anyone’s third grade teacher’s eccentric view of the English language. I do hate it when my phone, which should know better, “suggests” the wrong word.

Julie: When I was in 9th grade Mrs. Mallow had us write our own grammar books. I think I still have mine. It was a great way to learn the “rules”. I am not a stickler, but I do appreciate knowing the rules so that I can break them. And I can’t end a sentence with a preposition even when it seems natural to do so.

Edith: Oh, good, I was hoping for a rousing discussion. One my little mantras to say after someone complains about an “error” in spoken English is to don my historical linguistics hat and say, “Just another example of language change in progress” – which peevers hate to hear.  Barb, I’ve read long blog posts pointing out how many times Strunk and White violate their own “rules” – in their own book!

That said, we all have things that grate on our ears. For me, one is people not using “an” before a word beginning with a vowel sound. “A apple, a eggplant.” I want to shout, “An apple. An eggplant.” and then I hear myself uttering my own mantra. Nobody knows who and whom any more, but everyone used to. So many people hypercorrect and write or say, “Mark went with George and I” because they think it sounds more proper – when they would NEVER say “George went with I.”


Written language, of course, lags way behind spoken in change.Which is why, Sherry, see the your/you’re confusion  in print is so glaring to people like us.

Readers: Grammar pet peeves? Favorite instances of language change in progress?

Wicked Wednesday: Mother May I?

Edith here, on a month of five Wednesdays in May. Who played “Mother May I?” with neighborhood kids out on the front (or back) lawn? I did, for one. Remember? The “mother” faced the group and gave commands: Take two giant steps forward, or tiptoe five tiny steps, or any other kind of forward movement. The child or group of children have to do that, but first they have to ask “Mother May I?” If they don’t, they have to go back to the start. The goal is to reach Mother first and become the new one.


So let’s talk about other outdoor childhood games we played! Favorites? Not so favorites? In groups vs. individually?

Jessie: I loved Two Square. I had a knack for putting a spin on the ball and sending it out of the opposite square in such a way that it was really tough to reach it. I spent many happy recess hours playing it.

Barb: I saw my cousin last fall and she reminded me of the hours, and hours, and hours

we spent playing jacks on our grandparents front porch in Sea Girt, New Jersey. I had forgotten all about it, but the minute she said it, I remembered the summer we all played jacks. My manual dexterity is horrendous, as my typing proves, so it was probably good exercise for me, but why was I attracted to it in the first place?

Liz: I loved hopscotch! I remember drawing the squares in everyone’s driveway – mine, my grandparents, friends’ houses. It was probably the only thing I played where I didn’t hurt myself. I also liked playing volleyball in my backyard – my father put up a net and left it there most of the summer so we could play whenever we wanted. I had fun with it until one day I sort of forgot it was there, and I was running through the yard and literally ran into it. I had a giant cut right across my nose for weeks. I wasn’t so fond of volleyball after that, and my new favorite outdoor game became reading…

Sherry: Red light, Green light — Statues — jacks — so many fun games. But a favorite of mine was an after dark game called Jailbreak. One person was it and everyone went to hide. If you got caught you had to sit on a designated front porch. While the person who was it tried to round everyone else up someone would sneak back to release the prisoners yelling jailbreak and the whole thing would start all over again.

Edith: Sherry reminds me of those summer evenings playing outside after dinner with the neighborhood kids until we got called in, sweaty and tired, for a bath and bed. We also had a tether ball in the back yard, with the pole in cement. I could whack that thing for hours. Wind it all the way up one way, let it unroll on its own and whack it the other way.  We also jump roped a lot with friends and sometimes used two ropes. Was that called Double Dutch? Oh, and roller skating in the patio and on the driveway, with the metal kind of skates that clipped onto your shoes and you tightened them with a hex key.

Julie: Sherry’s game sounds like it could be good fun at a mystery conference! I liked four square (must be like two square but with four people). I also enjoyed croquet. We made up our own rules, and had a course that wasn’t up to code, but it was always a ton of fun. But honestly, my favorite outdoor game was reading.

Readers: What were your favorite games to play outdoors? Have you taught them to the next generation, or the next?

Wicked Wednesday: May Day Traditions

Edith here, still coming down from Malice!

It’s the merry month of May, Wickeds, and we’re going to play on that word every Wednesday until June. In some places people dance around the May pole on May 1st. In other countries they hold parades to honor workers.


What are your May Day traditions? Do you Morris dance and drink the sun up? Make a basket of flowers? March in solidarity with the workers of the world? Do you love the new month, the real onset of spring in New England, or dread the allergens it brings? Dish!

Sherry: When I was little my sister and I would make flowers out of Kleenex and rubber bands. We’d put them in baskets made out of construction paper. Then we put them on our neighbors’ doorknobs and ran off. Spring normally starts a bit earlier down here in Northern Virginia but it’s been late this year. But it is stunning in our neighborhood right now with so much in bloom. The picture below is from a week ago. It’s in full bloom now.

Julie: On the last day of April I was lamenting leaving my gloves at home, so May has always held a special place in my heart. It is the turning of the season. Here in Boston, where we all run on a school schedule to a certain degree, May also means final exams, commencements, and students leaving the city for the summer. The pace slows down (a bit), the gloves are put away for good, and there is a spring in my step.

Liz: I can’t say I ever acknowledged May Day specifically, but May is so special – I mean, spring! I love the warm weather and May always seems to signify turning the corner from a long, cold winter. Especially this year – seriously, I wore my fleecy pants on April 30! But on May 1, the weather did not disappoint.

Barb: I have vague memories of wearing a wreath of dried flowers around my head and doing a complicated dance around the maypole when I was in grade school. But mostly, the cold war dominated my childhood and the Russians had claimed May Day as their own with big military parades. The Russians were our enemies back in those olden days, (hey, wait a minute…), so that put a damper on celebrations here.

Edith: As children we also made baskets of flowers on May Day, but I don’t recall what we did with them. One memorable May Day in graduate school (1980, perhaps?) I showed up with the Morris dancers and started celebrating by drinking the sun up. I loved the the men dancing with bells on their ankles, the spirit of bringing back the fecundity of spring, but I don’t remember the rest of the day! I must have slept it off.

Jessie: I was a May pole dancer in the first grade but other than that I haven’t really celebrated the day in a traditional way. I love the month for its green grass, daffodil blossoms and hopping robins in the yard!

Readers: What you do on May Day? Did you have a tradition with it when you were younger?

Wicked Wednesday — I’m A Fool for this Place I’d Love to Live

Sherry here. My husband and I are always trying to figure out where we want to live. We like it in Northern Virginia, but we don’t plan to live here forever. Sometimes we dream big — London, Paris, Monterey. But sometimes it’s some place smaller and a little off the beaten path. Wickeds, where would you love to live? Is it a specific place or more vague like a cottage with a lake view?

Edith: How about coming back to New England, Sherry! For me, I love it here in my northeast corner of Massachusetts. But as a native Californian, I long to find a small town away from the big cities. Somewhere within a half hour drive to the coast, maybe near Santa Barbara. A town with a bookstore and a move theater. I’d find an adobe house nestled in an orange grove and plant a garden. I’d sit on the veranda and write my heart out, inhaling sweet scents, eating ripe strawberries in March, never shoveling snow, wearing a fleece sweatshirt at the most to keep warm. Thanks for allowing me the fantasy, Sherry. (I feel like posting a picture of the house… but it only exists in my mind.)

Liz: I’ve struggled with this question for a long time. I’m a New Englander at heart, but I’m not a fan of winter anymore. I’ve always wanted to be a California girl – I think I could fit in nicely out in San Francisco! – but I haven’t made the leap yet. I want to be warm year round, but I don’t think I’d fit in anywhere down south. And I do love being near Boston and New York. So I guess the answer is to have a place to live for different seasons. Summer and fall in New England, and winter and spring somewhere warm! And always near a beach. That’s not asking too much, is it?

Barb: Weirdly enough, my husband and I just faced exactly this question. When his mother died sixteen months ago, for the first time in our adult lives we had no obligation to live near jobs, schools or family. It was really weird to suddenly be faced with that kind of choice and the ability to live out at least one of those fantasy scenarios we’d been running for years. Regular readers know the answer. We sold our house in Somerville and bought a house in Portland, Maine. I am now living outside of Massachusetts for the first time in forty-two years, my husband for the first time in his life (not counting college). I can’t tell you how it turned out quite yet–but I’m optimistic!

Sherry: I have no answers to this question. Last weekend I was in Bowling Green, Kentucky for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. It’s a lovely town and it’s home to Western Kentucky University. A college town is high on our list of wants. As we drove away my husband and I discussed if we could live there. No matter where we end up I picture a house with a huge screened in porch either on top of a hill overlooking a valley or with a view of the water.

Julie: I live in the city and love it. But, I must confess, lately I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to live on a lake, fully wired and connected to the world, but unable to see or hear anyone. I am not a suburb gal–for me it is city or country. As for which city? I love Boston. I could happily live in London, Berlin or Vienna. I suspect I could also live in Paris, but haven’t visited there in 40 years (must fix that). What a fun question to think about!

Readers: Where is your dream place to live?


Wicked Wednesday — I’m A Fool for Spring Books

Spring is in the air and it’s a great time to sit out in the sun and read. Wickeds, what are you reading or what are you looking forward to reading?

Edith: Last week I picked up several new releases I’d ordered from my local independent bookstore. What a treat to have a stack of great books – written by friends – to read!GreatBooks

Barb: Edith, I’m reading Scot Free, too. We must discuss.

Liz: Scot Free is on my list too! I’ve been writing so much this winter that I’ve barely had time to read anything, so I’m planning on catching up on my pile once I turn in my next book on May 1. Finishing up The Snowman, then will tackle The Handmaid’s Tale, Walter Mosley’s Little Green (in prep for Crime Bake!) and I just picked up Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art.

Jessie: I am hard in the last throes of a double deadline so I am reading Wine Spectator magazine and collections of Agatha Christie short stories. After June 4 I will be reading The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley and The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths.

Sherry: I just finished two amazing books. The Night of the Flood — an Anthology in Stories edited by E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen — each story is an hour on the night of the flood. The whole concept of the anthology intrigued me and it surpassed all of my high expectations.  Oh, and The Daughters part in the anthology — fascinating. The second book is The Dangerous Edge of Things by Tina Whittle. I could not put this book down and I’m now in the throes of trying to decide whether to power through the series one after the other or savor the books. I’m looking forward to reading The Bad Break by Jill Orr and Scot Free.

Readers: What are you reading or looking forward to reading?

Wicked Wednesday — Celebrating Turning the Tide

We are celebrating the release of Turning the Tide, the third book in Edith’s Quaker Midwife Mysteries series. Here is a little bit about the book:

A suffragist is murdered in Quaker midwife Rose Carroll’s Massachusetts town

Excitement runs high during Presidential election week in 1888. The Woman Suffrage Association plans a demonstration and movement leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton comes to town to rally the troops. When Quaker midwife Rose Carroll finds the body of the group’s local organizer the next morning, she can’t help but wonder who could have committed the murder.

Rose quickly discovers several people who have motives. The victim had planned to leave her controlling husband, and a recent promotion had cost a male colleague his job. She had also recently spurned a fellow suffragist’s affections. After Rose’s own life is threatened, identifying the killer takes on a personal sense of urgency.

Riding in carriages was commonplace during the late 1800s. Wickeds, have you ever ridden in a carriage? Where was it and where did you go? If not is there one you wish you could have ridden in?

Barb: My husband and I took a lovely carriage tour of Charleston, South Carolina. It was a marvelous way to view the narrow, colonial streets, and so quiet with only the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves.

Edith: As part of my research for this series I’ve ridden in several carriages. (I wrote a blog post about it here.) My favorite ride was on carriage trails through woods and pastures in Ipswich, Massachusetts, scenery that wouldn’t have looked any different in the late 1880s. And it was bumpy! No seat belts! I wore my long full linen skirt to get the feel of climbing in and out – not easy. But the experience helped me write about it more accurately.

Sherry: I have some distant memory of a stagecoach ride as a child. My husband and I took an open carriage ride on our tenth anniversary in New Orleans. It sounded so romantic however it was in the middle of the day, it was in the 90s with a gazillion percent humidity. The sun beat down on us and we leaned away from each other on the small seat because we were so sweaty. The only good thing was my hair formed these lovely curls that I’ve never had since. Sadly, we had a similar experience (sans beautiful curls) on a later anniversary on a duck boat in Boston.

Jessie: I don’t believe I have ever ridden in a carriage. The closest thing I can think of was a pedicab ride I took with my husband one evening in Old Orchard Beach, ME. It sounds like something to add to my adventures list!

Julie: I don’t think I have ever ridden in a carriage. But I’ve always wanted to. Have you ever seen the Dancing in the Dark number from The Bandwagon? That’s my kind of carriage ride!

Readers: Have you ever take a carriage ride?

Wicked Wednesday — I’m A Fool for These Classic Female and Male Actors

I love classic movies and the glamour of the stars in them. Wickeds, who are your favorite female and male actors? What is it about them that makes them stand out?

Edith: Meryl Streep. She’s gracious and smart, can adopt any accent in the world and make it sound real, and brings life to her roles. I fell for Omar Sharif way back in Dr. Zhivago. I would watch him in anything.


Liz: I’ve always been a fan of Julia Roberts, from way back in the Mystic Pizza and Pretty Woman days. She brings such life and joy to all of her roles, and she seems like a really cool person in real life, too. And my other favorite is Morgan Freeman. I could watch him all day long. He has such a calming presence.

Sherry: I adore Audrey Hepburn. One of my favorite movies is Funny Face — ah, the clothes in that movie. Audrey could do funny, serious, tragic — she was multi-talented and a fabulous human being. One of my favorite actors is Rod Taylor who died in 2015. I fell in love with him when I was a teenager. He is probably best known for his roll in The Birds. But he also made two movies with Doris Day (another favorite).

Jessie: I love Emma Thompson and Harvey Keitel. She  plays such an interesting range of characters I can root for and in movies I end up loving like Love Actually and Nannie McPhee. And Harvey Keitel is always a pleasure to watch. I loved him in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and in the American version of Life on Mars.

Julie: What a fun topic! Fred Astaire has been my favorite movie star since I was about twelve, read Daddy Long Legs, begged to stay up and watch the movie, and saw him dance. He’s a little old for Leslie Caron in retrospect, but still. I discovered Fred and Ginger movies shortly thereafter, and still love him. BTW, Bandwagon is probably my favorite movie of all time. For women, I’m going to go classic for that too. Katharine Hepburn was the bomb. Philadelphia Story, Holiday, A Lion in Winter, Desk Set, Adam’s Rib. . . the list goes on and on. Another thing about them both? Boy, did they have style.

Barb: For me, the trio of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story can never be beat, though Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot give them a good run for their money.

Readers: Who are your favorites?