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November 2nd, 2005

My political party / is everybody plural?

by Barbara Wallraff

A few weeks ago I (selflessly!) offered to run for president on a “language is important” platform. The reader who sent me the best name for my political party, I said, would win an autographed copy of my latest book, “Your Own Words.”

Many clever suggestions arrived -- for instance, the “Correctly Assembled Language Movement,” or “CALM,” from Theresa Stabo, of Madison, Wis. CALM, of course, names a movement, rather than a party. Maybe that’s better, because English speakers outside the U.S. could join -- but I did ask for a party name, and “the CALM Party” would be redundant. Another clever idea was “Citizens Opposing Mangled, Misused American Language And Writing,” aka the “COMMA LAW” Party, from Heather Cochran, of Howell, Mich. Some high-flown suggestions arrived too -- for instance, the “Logolepts Party,” from Frank P. Hogan, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. (“Logolept” is a rare term for word lovers.)

A number of readers turned “WORD” into an acronym. It could stand for “Wise Oldsters for Rewording Democracy,” according to Jan Rideout, of Holden, Maine. But, Jan, wouldn’t we be better off trying not to make young people feel left out? We need them in the party -- and the language needs them. Another reader who came up with a phrase that “WORD” might stand for was Lisa Feaganes, of Monroe, Mich.: “Weed Out Redundant Diction.” Weeding out redundancies is a worthy goal for sure, Lisa, but, again, shouldn’t we be more inclusive? People who are bothered by misspelling, mispunctuation, faulty grammar and other sources of miscommunication are welcome in our party too.

Tom Harmon, of Albany, N.Y., wins the book. He sent me not one but 15 acronyms, including acronyms for “WRITE,” “SPELL,” “SPEECH” and, yes, “WORD”: “Working Order Revering Declamation.” (He put that one last -- Tom, you were getting tired by that point, right?) A suggestion of his that I like a lot, though, is “PROCLAIM”: “Preserving and Revering Our Common Language And Its Meanings.”

“Pro” is always a good syllable to use when indicating your political leanings. It doesn’t bother me that the spelled-out phrase includes an “and” whose initial “A” doesn’t count as part of the acronym, and another one whose “A” does count -- the words in acronyms often take a bit of nudging to get them to spell something meaningful. The idea of preserving and revering the language is just about right. And I’m glad to see the word “common” in there: It suggests we’re all in this language together. So we are. That includes you -- whether or not you join the PROCLAIM Party.

Margarita Lemberg, of Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: “Why are the words ‘everybody’ and ‘everyone,’ which are plural, followed by ‘is’?”

Dear Margarita: Ah, but they’re not plural. “Everybody” and “everyone” -- along with “anybody” and “anyone,” “somebody” and “someone,” and “nobody” and “no one” -- are grammatically singular. Yes, I know: We tend to use “everybody” to mean “all the people,” so it often “feels” plural. Nonetheless, the only ungrammatical bit of “Everybody is wise to think this through for themselves” is the plural “themselves.” Either make it “Everybody ... for himself or herself” or lop off “for themselves.” After all, whom else would anybody be thinking for?

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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