This month’s Grammar Guardian will begin with a spelling lesson perfect for our first fall holiday. Let’s begin:

1.“Halloween” is one of those tricky words like “embarrass” and “harass.” Sure, you can depend on spell check, but what happens if you actually have to write them? Then you need to know how to spell them. I try to teach my students to look for words within a word when they have trouble spelling it. Audrey Sigrist from Aloe King in Mercedes taught me there is “a rat” in separate, so I no longer misspell that word or wonder if it’s “separate” or “seperate.” Try to do the same thing with “Halloween.” Picture a local dance hall manager paying their monthly bills. He makes a note to himself… “hall owe E.N.” with E.N. being a customer who overpaid. Or perhaps you can remember that the word “allow” is in “Halloween.” Whatever will help you remember, use it.

2. One of our faithful Grammar Guardians out there recommended we cover the word “pumpkin” because we often hear people say, and see them write, “punkin.” On this one, picture a great pumpkin: nice and PLUMP. Perhaps you can picture yourself “pump”ing air into it.

3. Although most people don’t take a vacation on Halloween, we are definitely nearing the vacation season with short trips for Thanksgiving and longer ones for Christmas. The same reader who recommended covering the word “pumpkin” also recommended the word “vacation.” We often hear people say they are going on “vacations.” I think it’s one of those words that gets lost in the translation. In Spanish, we say “vacaciones.” If we translate that directly into English, we end up with “vacations.” The only time we should use “vacations,” though, is if we are talking about more than one. For example, I can say, “My vacations the past two years have been quite dull.” However, we would say, “I am going to Illinois for Christmas vacation.”

Now on to other suggestions by all you Grammar Guardians out there. One made me laugh because I thought I was the only one annoyed by it. This reader was listening to a local news report about a TV tower that had fallen. The reporter said the TV tower fell to the “floor.” An astute Grammar Guardian wondered how tall the building must have been to have a TV tower inside it that fell to the “floor.” Of course we know the TV tower had to be outside, so it actually fell to the “ground,” not the “floor.” Same Grammar Guardian, different day, different reporter, heard a story about a man found dead inside his truck. Outside of the truck, police found a number of bullet casings. The reporter told viewers the police found the casings on the “floor” outside the truck rather than on the “ground.”

This month I will end with a math problem posed by a dedicated Grammar Guardian. He writes, “One of my complaints about ‘Modern English’ is: Something is 10 times less than something. How can that be? Remember the old word problems in arithmetic? How do you put this sentence into a formula? Something can be 1/10 of something. It could be 10 percent. The expression is used many times today by people in many walks of life and activities.”

I would love to hear from all of you Grammar Guardian/Math Whizzes out there to explain how we came up with “10 times less.”

Until next month, keep guarding our grammar and keep sending me the grammar errors you spot.

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