Good grammar never goes out of style

News-DemocratMay 30, 2014 

Q. There are a couple of things many people I know say that have bothered me for a while. One is "My car needs fixed." I was taught to say, "My car needs to be fixed." I don't think the grammar rules have been rewritten in the ensuing decades since my formal education ended. It also bothers me when people say something happened "on accident" instead of "by accident." I hope these issues are as interesting to you as to me.

-- Jeff Peterson, of Freeburg

A. Maybe I've spent too much time in the dark recesses of libraries, but in my nearly 62 years, I cannot remember encountering either expression.

If I had, I'm sure I would have gnashed my teeth as much as you as I restrained myself from quickly correcting what I, too, consider non-standard usage.

That said, let me posit a couple of ideas. I don't mean to question your hearing, but I'm wondering if some of those people said -- or meant to say -- "My car needs fixing." While perhaps not the most graceful construction, I often have heard people say "My socks need mending" or "The grass needs cutting," which I suppose is an acceptable use of a gerund. Or, sadly, maybe "My car needs fixed" is the verbal outgrowth from all the texting people do.

As far as "on accident," my only theory is that some people may use it as a kind of takeoff on a more legitimate phrase. Just as we say people do some things "on purpose" instead of "purposefully," some may think it's cute to say "on accident" as a joke instead of accidentally or by accident. Doesn't work in my grammar book, but it's sumthng 4 U 2 thnk abt.

Q. I am writing for a family member who needs some corrective surgery. I think I heard somewhere that someone in St. Louis is using a new method to lengthen legs. Do you have any idea what I'm referring to?

-- C.G., of Collinsville

A. Doctors at St. Louis University say they now offer a new treatment that gives them a leg up over a traditional lengthening method.

Until recently, doctors have had to implant an external system that is attached to the leg bone but requires long-term openings in the skin until the treatment ends.

The new PRECICE involves a device that is implanted internally. Then, as patients use a remote control for about two minutes three times a day, implanted magnets lengthen the bone approximately one millimeter daily. Patients would use the device for 3-4 months to lengthen a leg 1 inch or 8-10 months for 2 inches.

Obviously, the new device would avoid complications associated with an external system. It received marketing approval in 2011.

Extra salute: While thanking Col. Robert Voss, of Swansea, on Thursday for his extraordinary service in the Air Force, I was remiss in not complimenting Kristin Strubhart for her excellent work in putting together the O'Fallon Township High School Veterans History Project.

More than 100 students in her U.S. History and Video Production classes spent last October interviewing armed services veterans. Then, using resources from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, the students mixed digital storytelling and inquiry-based learning for 19 close-up looks at vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Check out their work and learn more about those who served at veterans.othstoday.com.

A real Diz-bang memory: Recent columns about Dizzy Deans' tavern in East St. Louis elicited this funny story from Ken Eichholz, whose grandfather Joseph Stock once owned what is now Caddyshack's bar in Caseyville.

"(Stock) had played a little baseball in his day and had crossed paths with (Cardinal star Dizzy) Dean at some point. My mom told me of a time when her dad had some barbecue gathering at his tavern and invited Dean to it.

"She said she remembers Dean picking her up and carrying her around for a while -- as she gushed over him the whole time. By the way, I've played softball for 20-plus years and the first year we got team shirts, I grabbed No. 17 (Dean's number on the Cardinals). I've always kept that number, so now whenever someone asks why I'm always No. 17, they are forced to listen to the story I just told you."

By the numbers: While we're ending the week with recollections of a simpler time, how about this memory from Joe Reichert on the transition from the old phone number prefixes (Adams, Grover, etc.) to all numbers:

"In small towns it lagged longer than you may have thought," he wrote. "I grew up in Freeburg and until 1951-52, Southwestern Bell still had the local phones on a switchboard in one of my friend's mother's home.

"They had a two-to-three person switchboard handled by live operators. Our home number was 32 and my father's business was 48. Of course you could get the fire or police or any regular business like the drug store by just telling the operator, "Get me the drug store."

Try that with your cellphone today.

Today's trivia

What are the vital statistics of the Betty Boop balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: When she was 22, Patti Davis, the daughter of late President Ronald and Nancy Reagan, started a four-year relationship with Eagles' guitarist Bernie Leadon. While they were together, they co-wrote the song "I Wish You Peace" for the group's 1975 album, "One of These Nights." According to Kitty Kelley's unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan, the Eagles' Don Henley later dismissed it as "smarmy cocktail music."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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