Apostrophes, Facebook Transgressions, Grammar, Poor Editing, Pronoun/Antecedent, Spelling

Facebook — Just, Yeah . . .


I usually stick to writing that I observe in public, but a friend of mine supplied me with this beauty, and I couldn’t pass up the teachable moment.

First, I have one thing to say: “Watson, get me my red pen — stat!” (We will tackle mixed metaphors another day.)

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 12.24.19 AM

Okay, now that I feel better, we can move forward.

Aside from the missing apostrophe — and the misspelled version of butt — I would like to point out the screaming pronoun/antecedent errors, as in the plural, for there are FOUR hideous instances of abuse at play.

What’s the crime here? The pronouns (their/their/they/them) do not match up in number with their antecedent* (server). You see, server is singular; therefore, it deserves to be matched up with a singular pronoun. Two pronouns would do the trick: third-person masculine singular (his/his/he/him) or third-person feminine singular (her/her/she/her), depending on the server’s sex.

If the sex is questionable, you could even go with third-person neutral singular (its/its/it/it) — though it would sound quite odd. But anything, ANYTHING, I say, would be better than using a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.

Usually, people stumble upon this particular error because they are speaking about someone in general and either don’t know the rule or don’t like writing he/she to the point of being obnoxious. I’ve seen many sentences like the following: Each student will find a copy of the syllabus on their desk. (Student — singular — and their — plural — do not agree in number. A quick fix would be to make student plural: Students will find a copy of the syllabus under their desks.)

I can find some pity in my cold, ruthless heart for those in such a situation. The Facebook user who typed this craziness, however, will get no compassion from this editor. No way. Why, do you ask, am I so heartless in this case? Well, that’s simple. There isn’t a general statement here; we aren’t discussing servers in general. We are talking about a very specific server, one whom the observer could easily have identified as either male or female, and whoever wrote this atrocious Facebook status clearly would have known which it was.

Had the server been female, the following sentences would have been acceptable:

I saw a server’s butt light up because her phone was in her back pocket and she was wearing white pants. I laughed at her.

Or if the server was a dude, his, his, he, and him would have worked.

But all those third-person plural pronouns are simply unacceptable.

Was the server suffering from multiple personality disorder so severely that the writer of this post perceived him or her to be two separate people? Or was the server a conjoined twin, and the observer was torn about using the correct pronoun, so he or she used the pronoun/antecedent paradoxically to make a point about two individuals who belong to a single body?

My guess is no, neither of those options was the case. I think the writer under fire needed to pay a bit more attention in 10th-grade English — as did the eleven poor souls who “liked” this wretched status.


*Antecedent: A noun or noun phrase to which a pronoun refers


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