It’s Magic!

© Judi Birnberg

Illusionists and magicians often exclaim, “Abracadabra!” as they perform their tricks. In earlier eras, the word served as a magic incantation to ward off evil spirits and aid in healing.

According to John Ciardi in A Browser’s Dictionary, the word was often written over and over on parchment, which was then folded in the form of a cross or other geometric shape, hung on a string, and dangled around the necks of ailing people. They were instructed to wear the talisman for a specific period of time and perform certain magical rites to bring about the desired healing. Chances are those afflicted were instructed not to open the folded packet. If they complied with all the steps,—abracadabra!—they would be healed.

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And the Prize for the Longest (Unintelligible) Sentence Goes To…

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I don’t have to tell you who spoke the long chunk of words below. The passage is full of fragments, stream of consciousness musings, and run-on sentences. What is a run-on sentence? Not every long sentence constitutes a run-on. You could join countless sentences together with ands and buts and subordinate clauses; it would be torture to read or listen to, but it wouldn’t be a run-on.

A run-on is when you join two or more intact sentences (subject, verb, complete thought) with either (1) commas, sometimes called a comma splice, or (2) no punctuation between them, sometimes called a fused sentence:

(1) You love dogs, some people adore hamsters.   (2) You love dogs some people adore hamsters.

You can fix these sentences by making them separate sentences with end punctuation. Or you can add a conjunction after the comma. You can also separate them with a semicolon.

I’m thinking it might be beneficial to have people pass a literacy test before running for president.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

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Finding the Subject With “There is” or “Here is” Sentences

There is a million different reasons why you should finish your assignments as soon as possible.

Here is the recipes for the cookbook you are compiling for our children’s school fundraiser.

I see and hear sentences like these frequently. They contain an agreement problem. The subjects of the sentences are reasons and recipes, respectively. Both are plurals. But the introductory parts, There is and Here is, are both singular. You’re going to need There are and Here are. You can also use There’s or Here’s if the subject is singular.

When sentences start with There is, There are, Here is, Here are, the subject is always going to be the first noun following the introductory clause. The subjects are never There or Here. Therefore, if you use this construction, find the subject by looking at the first noun after it and use There is or There are and Here is or Here are accordingly. Easy, right?

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Some Old Words You Might Find Useful

Not being a techie, I tried everything I knew to make this a clickable link. Obviously, I failed. Copy and paste this into your browser and enjoy your new vocabulary:

http://historyhustle.com/20-awesome-historical-words-we-need-to-bring-back/

 

 

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Correction

In my last post, I wrote about the spelling crisis in Kazakhstan and referred to the “Latin” alphabet. I meant to write the “Roman” alphabet. I was thinking of the Latin language, which was written using the Roman orthography. Mea culpa.

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Linguistic Crisis in Kazakhstan

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If you recall the “Borat” movie (and who can forget it?), you will remember that Borat came to the United States from Kazakhstan, his native country. Kazakhstan was formerly under Soviet rule and used the Cyrillic alphabet because the Kazakh language has never had an alphabet of its own and has sounds that would be difficult to transpose into either Cyrillic or Latin aphabets.

Alert: CRISIS IN KAZAKHSTAN! The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has declared that beginning in 2025 the Latin alphabet will be the official way to write the Kazakh language.

But wait!

About half the Russian population has left the country, so there is no great uproar about the change from Cyrillic to Latin orthography among the populace. What is riling Kazakhs is that Mr. Nazarbayev has decreed that instead of using diacritical marks such as umlauts and other phonetic markers to aid in pronunciation, apostrophes will be used to change the sounds of certain letters. Many, many apostrophes. So many apostrophes that Kazakhs are complaining that their eyes will bleed trying to read the Latin script sprinkled with endless apostrophes. “The Republic of Kazakhstan” will now be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy.” Got that?

President Nazarbayev has never been a man to be questioned. However, the uproar against his proposed abundance of apostrophes has been loud and aggressive, and the head of the senate of Kazakhstan has recently said that “a final decision has not been made.” (Note the passive voice.) Nazarbayev is described as a man who wants to be remembered as inventing his own alphabet. There is a good chance he will be. Stay tuned. I wonder where Borat comes down on this issue.

 

 

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What Does “Decimate” Mean?

Unknown.jpegToday, we use decimate to mean destroying the greater part of something. That is a correct usage, except according to the few pedants who still insist on its original meaning.

In Roman times, decimate meant to kill every tenth soldier as a lesson to the remaining soldiers, many of whom were deserting the army. (It strikes me as somewhat counterproductive to kill all those soldiers, thereby ending up with even fewer men in addition to the ones who had already deserted.)

Decimate comes from the Latin word decimare, meaning to destroy or take one tenth. The word for 10 in Latin is decem (with a hard c).

All languages change over time, depending on common usage.

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