Pet Peeves Pounce on Prancing Prey

Rob Kyff on

I occasionally ask readers to unleash their pet peeves about grammar and usage. While at first, these complaints might seem to be docile house pets, once unleashed, they roar with ferocious fury.

Let's present some objectionable sentences as if they were scampering squirrels and then watch the ferocious peeves pounce:

-- If I would have won the lottery, I'd be a millionaire.

"Grrrrr," growls Robert Boggs of Groton, Connecticut, who knows it should be: "If I had won the lottery, I'd be a millionaire." This use of "would have" for "had" in conditional statements is quite common, perhaps because "could have" is correct in clauses such as, "If I could have won the lottery..."

-- His uncle passed last week.

"Was his uncle an NFL quarterback?" asks Mary Lue White. She wishes the use of "passed" to mean "died" would pass. "Passed away" as a euphemism for "died" is one thing, but "passed" (a euphemism for a euphemism!) raises the question: "passed what?" An algebra midterm? The mashed potatoes? A football?


-- The company aims to increase profits.

Melanie Hansen wishes all such sentences were "aim"-less. "I've noticed a new trend that is making me quite insane," she writes. "It's the overuse of 'aim,' e.g., 'she aims to ... the department aims to ... the aim was not to annoy her.'"

-- I felt so elated, excited ... ecstatic, if you will.

Pat Howard of Columbia, Connecticut, pounces on the pretentious filler "if you will." "It seems as though everyone is using it," she writes. "And what does it mean?" I'll answer that. It means that the person using it is being too tentative, nuanced ... precious, if you will.


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