May 23rd, 2007
Into and in to / capitalizing mother / pronouncing coupon
by Barbara Wallraff
Caroline Yull, of Amherst Island, Ontario, writes: “Recently I’ve noticed an increasing use of the word ‘into’ in a way that irks me. For instance, I read that a person ‘drove north on Centre Street and turned into the Canadian Tire store.’ There are other examples of this careless combining of two small words that make one new one when combined, and of course spell-checkers don’t catch any of them.”
Dear Caroline: Good points all. Anyone who “turned into” a store would have to be a magician. No doubt the person actually “turned in to” the store. The same mistake crops up after other verbs too. For example, “Readers write into this column,” “Hand this into your supervisor” and “Don’t give into censorship” all misuse “into,” in place of “in to.”
Ilse Heinigen Baker, of Voorheesville, N.Y., writes: “I have lived in this country for close to 50 years and arrived speaking and writing good English. My native language is German. I still have occasional trouble with English capitalization. A pet peeve: the capitalization of the titles of relatives, especially ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ It makes no sense to me. For example, a question to Dear Abby earlier this month included ‘my mother,’ ‘Mom’ and ‘my mom.’ To my mind, ‘Mother’ should be capitalized whenever it refers to a specific woman.”
Dear Ilse: As you know better than I, in German all nouns are capitalized -- that’s certainly a more straightforward system than the one we use in English. We don’t capitalize the words for relatives unless they’re being used in place of the person’s name. In practice, this usually means capitalizing ones without an article or a possessive adjective in front of them. “Please, Mother, let me explain” is parallel to “Please, Ilse, let me explain,” and the capitalization in both of those sentences is correct. But in “I hope my mother likes my explanation,” “my mother” is more closely parallel to “my friend,” “my readers” and so on. Here “mother” is treated as a common noun, like the others.
Linda Walsh, of Livonia, Mich., writes: “Please settle an argument. Is the word ‘coupon’ pronounced ‘kewpon’ or ‘coopon’?”
Dear Linda: Both pronunciations are accepted in North American English. If you want to remain true to the word’s French history, though, you’ll pronounce it “coopon,” with the same vowel sound you’d use in “coup.”
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.