I promised last week to curtail criticism of the Arkansas Times, but readers won’t allow it. Irv West of Little Rock writes:
“From the Feb. 1 ‘Insider’ column: ‘Even plumbing under people’s homes are being pinched …’ It are?
“I see and hear this very common mistake daily. The writer’s verb should be singular, but his/her attention is distracted by that plural noun right before it, causing him/her to forget that the verb’s subject is ‘plumbing,’ not ‘homes’. Am I being too picky?”
I’m afraid it’s more a case of him/her not being picky enough. But let me add that anyone who can come up with a headline like the one on the item in question — “The pipes are calling” — deserves a little slack on subject-and-verb agreement.
Mr. West also says, “I don’t care for ‘him/her’ or ‘his/her’, but one does want to avoid offense.” Hear, hear. Many years ago, when I was even dumber, I argued that the masculine pronoun covered both sexes in cases like this — “his attention … causing him to forget.” I learned better.
Mary Catherine McSpadden of Mountain View writes: “January 11, p. 11: Mark Stodola is shown ‘Graduating law school in 1974.’ My dictionary gives two examples of the use of this verb when it means ‘being granted an academic degree or diploma,’ but says, ‘From’ is necessary in either case. She graduated college is not acceptable usage.’ Are there really current dictionaries or stylebooks that advocate the form used in reference to Mr. Stodola?”
Most current dictionaries don’t advocate any particular usage; they just tell you what educated people are writing and saying. Random House, for example: “Even though it is condemned by some as nonstandard, the use of graduate as a transitive verb … is increasing in both speech and writing: The twins graduated high school in 1974.” Usage manuals do make recommendations. Success With Words says, “The forms He was graduated from college and He graduated from college are equally correct. The form He graduated college is widespread but is not acceptable in formal usage.” But most of what we write and say, even in the Arkansas Times, would be considered informal usage. I’m not sure this helps much.