I’ve Got a Little List by
(243 Stories)

Prompted By Pet Peeves

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My list of pet peeves

In the operetta The Mikado, Koko, the Lord High Executioner, has a long list of the sorts of people he would consider executing if he had to find a victim: those with flabby handshakes or irritating laughs, politicians, autograph seekers, and on and on. The song ends with an invitation to put anyone you like on the list, for they’d none of them be missed.

Of my long list of pet peeves, I am only going to discuss three. I don't want you to think I am an insufferable grammar snob.

I was brought up with a love of Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as a horror of bad grammar and syntax. My parents were sticklers about proper English usage, and instilled it in my sisters and me. I am proud to say I have in turn instilled it in my own children. Over the years I have developed a long, long list of pet peeves, but I am only going to discuss my top three. Two are grammatical errors which have annoyed me for much of my life (probably a lost cause after so many decades). The other one, which is word choice rather than grammar, is a recent acquisition that has taken the top spot on my list as the most annoying.

My number one pet peeve is people saying that somebody “passed” instead of “died.” I know that there are those here on Retrospect who do that, and I’m sorry for offending you, but I just can’t stand it. When I hear that someone has “passed,” I want to say “passed what? Passed the test? Passed the salt and pepper? Passed a law?” There are lots of meanings for the word pass, but die should not be one of them. And while I know it is sad to talk about someone who has died, I don’t see why using a euphemism instead of the word “died” makes it any less sad. I hear this much more now than I used to, and I don’t know if it is because at my age I know more people who are dying, or because it has only recently entered common parlance.

My second pet peeve is people who say “between you and I” or “please contact Jane and I” because for some reason they think saying me is always incorrect (probably a result of being told not to say “me and Jane” at the beginning of a sentence). On the “please contact” one, if I can get away with it, I gently try to tell the person to take Jane out of the sentence, and then the correct pronoun will be obvious. Nobody would ever say “please contact I” – it is clear to even the most grammatically challenged person that it should be “please contact me.” Yet as soon as there is another person’s name in the sentence, they get it wrong. A corollary to this is using the word “myself” when people are not sure whether to say I or me – but by saying myself, they are certain to be wrong, whereas by picking either I or me they have some chance of being right. Since this has been a pet peeve for decades, I don’t know why I still have any hope that people will finally get it right.

Musical note: In December 1968 (my freshman year of college), the Doors released a song called “Touch Me,” which I loved, except for one lyric. “I’m gonna love you / Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” The song was played constantly on the radio, and this line made me cringe every time I heard it. Finally I solved the problem by singing along and changing the line to “I’m gonna love you / Till the stars fall to the sea for you and me.” I would always sing this line loudly to drown out their bad grammar. And even fifty or more years later, when I hear the song on the radio, I automatically sing it my grammatically correct way.

My third pet peeve is people who don’t know the difference between lay and lie. I find this especially annoying when they are people who have to tell others to lie down as part of their job, such as doctors or massage therapists. I just cringe when my doctor tells me to “lay down” on the examining table. I have to bite my tongue to avoid giving her a quick grammar lesson – lay takes an object and lie does not. Here is a funny cartoon that illustrates the distinction from a cat’s point of view, which I saw on facebook just as I was writing this story. If you can’t read what the teacher cat is saying to the student cats, it is “Here’s how to remember the difference: you lie on a keyboard and you lay a dead mouse on a pillow.” Since my cat was lying on my keyboard as I was attempting to write this story, I found it particularly apt.

Even our dear Vice President (who probably has someone else writing her facebook posts) just made a post that said “No one should have to lay awake wondering if they will have a roof over their head.” I love her politics but I hate her grammar! I actually wrote a comment saying “LIE awake, not lay awake!” and despite the 1500 other comments on her post, many other people saw mine and liked it, which gives me a little hope.

Another musical note: Bob Dylan’s 1969 song “Lay Lady Lay” annoyed me when I first heard it, because it should have been Lie Lady Lie (lie across my big brass bed). However, I otherwise liked the song, and I didn’t revise the lyrics when singing along, because the assonance of the three long A sounds worked better than I-A-I. In fact, singing Lie Lady Lie is a little bit of a tongue-twister. So I gave him poetic license on that one.

All week, as I have contemplated this story, I have seen other grammatical errors that peeve me and have been tempted to add them. But I will stop with these three, so that you don’t think I am an insufferable grammar snob.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Let me start by saying, I love your title and reference to Koko. Since I’ve been in The Mikado three times (and can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen it), I know it well and think this was a perfect use of the song and list!

    I agree about your pet peeves, though as I grow older, I find that I have to stop and think more about usage. Sad but true. Thank you for giving us great examples. Going forward, I think those will help me remember some of the trickier ones (lie and lay).

  2. John Shutkin says:

    First off, Suzy, a particularly apt song title title. I am also quite familiar with “I’ve Got a Little List,” and have often thought of it myself when peeved with someone or something. Though, truth be told, I usually amend it to read “I’ve Got a Little Sh*t List.” Redundant and hyperbolic, I admit, but those are probably fair peeves about me.

    And I share your obsession with grammar peeves. “Passes” is not that high on my list, but I am going to avoid any such euphemisms in the future — except, perhaps, when referring to dead parrots a la Monty Python. But the “I/me” faux pas is definitely in my top ten. My theory is that a lot of people blindly think that using “I” is always more grammatically correct than using “me,” so they use the former without any regard for its place in the sentence (i.e., subject or object). And, for some reason, every single accountant with whom I dealt in my very long career of representing them thinks like this. (For the record, “lay/lie” also grates on me,* but is somewhere in the middle of my list.)

    I also loved your examples from songs. For better or worse, I also notice these lyrical errors. Though the one that bothers me most is not really grammatical, but word choice. In “Glory Days,” Springsteen sings about a high school pitcher who could throw that “speedball” by you. In the history of baseball (unlike drugs), no one has ever used the term “speedball.” It’s a “fastball.” Always. And a guy from South Jersey ought to know that.

    OK; end of my Boss peeve, but thanks again for getting my own list going.

    * Or “frosts” me, as some people say, but that term itself has always peeved me.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. Interesting that the term “frosts” has always peeved you, I would love to know why. And I certainly had no idea that a speedball is not the same as a fastball, but I’m from North Jersey unlike Bruce.

      • John Shutkin says:

        As I’ve noted elsewhere in my comments, I think that I am highly influenced by who is saying something — perhaps even more than what is being said. And I recall several really annoying people (all lawyers, of course) using “frosts.”

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Perfect top three, Suzy. I know “passed” was preferred in some cultures, but you’re right. Now it’s everywhere. It doesn’t make the loss any easier to bear. Of course, the lay/lie thing is so common that we should probably give up. But I refused to throw in the towel on the use of I instead of me. That one hits me like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Lay/lie is also like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Does that date us? Younger generations have probably never been exposed to chalkboards or that awful sound!

  4. Suzy , I’ve always thought being an insufferable grammar snob is an admirable role, I try to be one myself!

    As for Lay Lady Lay – I always thought it was sexually nuanced!

    • Suzy says:

      Dana, we can be grammar snobs together! I have read two origin stories about Lay Lady Lay, one that it was written for the movie Midnight Cowboy, and one that it was written for Barbra Streisand. Either way, I just wish the lady in the song would “lie” across the big brass bed.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I think this group has a good share of folks who are grammar aficionados and critics. The Eats Shoots and Leaves crowd indeed. I feel your pain. My mother was an English teacher, and corrected us all the time. How about the subjunctive–if I were vs if I was etc.? It’s gotten to where “correct” grammar sounds wrong to many.

    • Suzy says:

      Oh yes, the subjunctive. I knew by ear that “if I were” was correct, but didn’t really understand what the subjunctive was until I took a foreign language. They didn’t teach it in English classes even back in our day, so I bet the teachers don’t know it either.

  6. Guilty as charged, Suzy. I have used “passed” many times, but only over the last, say, ten years or so, and I think because so many other people use it that I thought it had become the more appropriate term. From now on I’ll use “passed away” or “passed on,” both of which take care of the “pass the what?” problem. Of course there’s nothing wrong with “died,” but sometimes it does sound blunt. We seem to want to soften the idea.

    I love “Lay Lady Lay” especially because I had a big brass bed when the song came out. Though you’re right about the assonance aspect, I wonder if it’s because that’s what we’re used to. “Lie Lady Lie” has a certain ring to it that I quite like. “Lay Lady Lay” is flatter; “Lie Lady Lie” has more movement. Hmmm.

    I don’t mind you being a grammar snob…after all, you turned me on to “Eats Shoots and Leaves” which, as I mentioned to Dana, sits on my nightstand. Since I didn’t mention any grammatical pet peeves in my story, allow me to just say here that mine is the use of ‘anxious’ (as in “I’m anxious to see you”) instead of eager. I think pretty much everyone does it…except me, of course. I’m eager to see you, and that’s the truth!

    • Suzy says:

      I don’t really like passed away or passed on either, both of which suggest that the person has gone to another place. But I guess if you believe in an afterlife, it makes sense. I still would rather just say someone died.

      I agree with you about “anxious,” I would never say that unless I meant I was feeling anxiety about seeing you. Which would never be the case with you! The only appropriate word with you would be eager!

  7. On the musical note, I’m glad that Clapton didn’t sing about Lie-la. Interesting about “passed”; I don’t know that I have heard that much at all; usually it’s “passed away”, which, to my ear, is equally stupid. Ah to be able to housebreak our pet peeves.

    • Suzy says:

      Well, Lila is a more common name than Layla, so I think it would have been fine if he had. He wrote it about Pattie Boyd, of course, but I can see why it wouldn’t have worked as well to sing about “Pattie.” Apparently he got the name from an ancient Arabic poem called “The Story of Layla and Majnun.”

      My experience is that people used to say “passed away,” and then it got shortened to “passed.” I agree with you that both sound equally stupid, as does “passed on.” See comments above between Barb and me.

  8. Marian says:

    Oops, guilty as charged, Suzy, as you will see in my last email to you, about “passed away.” Did that without thinking. Great list!

  9. Suzy: not many of us men (or women) are looking for a woman who will “lie, lady, lie” to us! The corrected grammar in that song would have tended to alter folks’ interpretation of the meaning. I guess he could have avoided that challenge by subbing in a different verb altogether. “Rest, lady, rest.” But the S and T force the syllables to take much longer and more breath to sing. “Here, lady, here.” Now it sounds like the guy is calling his collie dog. “There, lady, there.” Oh, I give up.

    Years ago, I had the same reaction to you about “passed,” and there’s a George Carlin routine about that. But I have changed. It’s an example, I have decided, of how our American English language absorbs cultural influences. Just as burritos and tortillas, which I never heard of as a kid, are now part of my regular eating repertoire, “passed” is part of my lingual idiom. (I am not saying they have the same origin.)

    • Suzy says:

      Now that you mention it, I actually think the ambiguity of “lie, lady, lie” could be interesting. You wouldn’t know until he got to the part about the brass bed which type of “lie” he was talking about.

      I’ll have to look for the George Carlin routine. I don’t think that adding burritos to your diet is comparable to adding a ridiculous word to your speech. I love burritos, but I urge you to delete this meaning of “passed” from your vocabulary.

  10. Joe Lowry says:

    Suzy, I must agree with you about saying a person passed away. It almost says that the person may return and pass by you again. Being exact in writing and speaking is an asset. Also, I loved the Mikado reference.

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