Here is a giggle (or a groan) to start your week:
In Sunday’s LA Times I saw an ad for free lunch and information meetings put on by the Neptune Society. In case you don’t know about that company, it performs cremations. I noticed that one of their sessions is being held in a Sizzler restaurant. Say no more.
I’d like you to look at the following link. It contains good advice about how to conduct yourself in the workplace, both in speech and posture, so that you are not diminishing yourself without realizing you are doing so. To this list, I would also add the ubiquitous use of “like” and starting sentences with “So” when it adds no information but is merely a dull and repetitive filler.
And to end with a laugh, by now you probably have seen the Al Yankovic video about “Word Crimes.” Many, many people sent it to me this past week, knowing it was something I would love. It seems to have gone viral, but if you haven’t seen it, here is the link:
Chances are we all had teachers embed in our crania that CAN should be used for something you are able to do and MAY is for what is permissible.
Many seemingly inviolate rules of English are giving way to expediency. If you ask someone if you can get her something from the coffee shop, everyone understands what you mean. Of course you are able to get her the coffee. May you? Are you allowed to? Is it permitted?
These are silly distinctions, in my opinion. If your meaning is not open to interpretation—whether you use can or may—be my guest and use whichever word is natural for you. No one will deride you for continuing to make the distinction, but neither should they tsk tsk at you for ignoring the old rule.
We have to recognize that the English language changes. All languages change over time. If you are not comfortable with prevailing usage, stick with what you are comfortable using. Sometimes there is no clear “right” or “wrong.”
Feel free to disagree.
I guarantee you these three words are easy to differentiate; in fact, I can assure you of that.
ASSURE means to give others information that will erase any doubts they might have had:
“UCLA assured me the math section of the Graduate Record Exam would not count on my admission to the English Department Master’s program.” (This is true. I called twice to make certain. That’s how good I am in math.)
ASSURE also means to make something sure to happen:
“Samantha assured her passing the DMV written test by assiduously studying the boring rule book and by passing all the practice tests.”
Use INSURE when you are dealing with money:
“You insure a package at the post office, you insure your car against theft and liability, you insure your home against fire, theft and earthquakes.”
ENSURE means a guarantee that something will be done:
“Harry ensured the principal that he would stop feeding his homework to the dog.”
You see that ASSURE and ENSURE can often be used interchangeably, but keep INSURE for when money is involved.
A plethora/spate of rubber duckies.
We frequently use two words to indicate a large amount or number: “plethora” and “spate.” However, “plethora” doesn’t mean only a lot, it means an overabundance of whatever you have: gray hairs, gophers in your garden, zucchini that won’t stop increasing and multiplying. Similarly, “spate” doesn’t indicate a few or even many: it means a flood of whatever you have: endless summer houseguests, offers on your underpriced house, February blizzards in Vermont.