The Dinner Guests
They seem to have taken on airs.
They’re ever so rude with their stares.
They get there quite late,
There’s a hand in your plate,
And they’re eating what’s not even theirs.
O’Conner- Woe is I (page 14)
Rhymes on usage may help people to remember the prescribed correct usage. The limerick above on they’re, their, there’s and theirs I found in a usage guide written by Patricia O’Conner called Woe Is I (1996). O’Conner explains that people tend to mix up possessive forms (their, theirs), contractions of the pronoun and the verb (they’re), and the shorthand form of the pronoun there plus the verb is (there’s). To help the reader, she does not only give the correct usage of an item, but also “little memory aids” (p. 4) like the poem above.
A few months ago you might have come across one of my blogposts about the Alphabet of Errors (part I or II). The posts showed that about a century ago, students at a Girls’ High School in Boston were encouraged to write rhymes on usage during a special event called Speech Week. At the time, I thought that few poems on usage existed – but now that O’Conner seems to rely on them as well in her usage guide, it appears that there may be a market for them after all.
But: Where are they? Do you know any rhymes? Have you stumbled upon any when reading usage guides? For a paper that I am writing, I would love receive any suggestions you have. Please leave a comment on this post or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org ). Thanks!