Twisted History

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I took many history classes, but I can’t seem to remember these, ahem, facts*:

After hearing the music of the Frence troubadours, Petrarch began to write sonnets about Courtney Love.

King Arthur lived in an age of shivery.

Alexander the Great conquered Persia, Egypt and Japan. Sadly he died with no hairs.

The king wore a scarlet robe trimmed with vermin.

The nineteenth century was when people stopped reproducing by hand and started reproducing by machine.

Another Greek myth was Jason and the Golden Fleas.

* As always, my thanks to Drummond Moir, who compiled Just My Typo.

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Quotations From William Zinsser on Writing

I wrote about the death of William Zinsser last week and would now like to include a few quotations from his wonderful book, On Writing Well.

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing. One can’t exist without the other.”

“Few people realize how badly they write…. The point is that you have to strip down your writing before you can build it back up.”

“Simplify, simplify.”

Zinsser worked for a newspaper, wrote for prominent magazines, taught in the English Department at Yale, and authored many books. As a writer and teacher, he made an indelible mark. I hope he was happy about that fact; he deserved to be. Do I recommend this book? Is the pope…?

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RIP William Zinsser

I was so sorry to read of the death of William Zinsser. He wrote a most wonderful, entertaining book, On Writing Well. I always recommended it to my business writing seminars, but it works for everyone who wants to write—or has to. He always advised simplicity: straightforward language, no extraneous words, letting your personality show through your writing. His own witty writing is a joy to read. He wrote many other books, but this one particularly resonated with me. In gratitude.

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Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes, Part 3

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I am so grateful to you wonderful people who keep sending me suggestions for this topic. Here goes Part 3:

FOUL vs. FOWL: Can you believe a reader caught someone writing about “fowl language”? Those roosters can be so crude!

ELUDE means to get away from, to avoid: It’s hopeless to try to elude a police officer behind you flashing the lights.

ALLUDE means to refer to something without specifically stating it:
Jacob alluded to the fact that his wife hates action movies, although she still goes with him to see the latest smash-em-up.

CONSCIENCE is your sense of right and wrong.

CONSCIOUS means you are awake and alert, able to think.

HEAR is what you do with your ears. It is also used in the phrase, “Hear! Hear!” (I often see this written as “Here! Here!” and I want to yell, “Where? Where?”)

HERE refers to location.

LATER refers to a time after one previously mentioned or understood. It contains the word “late.”

LATTER refers to the second of two or the last of a group mentioned: Larry has been divorced twice, but is on good terms with the latter of his two wives.

PERSONAL means private: Your personal information should not be disseminated on the Internet.

PERSONNEL refers to a group of people who work for an organization: Our personnel are very compatible and freely help each other. It also is used for the office that keeps records for an organization, i.e., the Personnel Office.

Realize that none of these words will trigger a highlight from your spellchecker. It still is up to you to proofread everything, slowly and quietly out loud, to make sure you have typed the word you want. As I frequently mention, if you proofread silently at your normal speed, chances are you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

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Are You a Grammar Nerd?

The website Grammarly has a list of 10 signs you might be a grammar nerd. My thanks to Brian B., always on the lookout for something up my linguistic alley.

1. You use standard spelling, capitalization, and punctuation when you text.

2. You have appointed yourself as “honorary proofreader” of your friends’ social media posts.

3. You know how and when to use “affect” and “effect.”

4. You feel compelled to correct poorly written public signs. It isn’t vandalism if you’re correcting it, right?

5. The thought of posting a writing error online mortifies you.

6. You have an opinion about the Oxford comma.

7. You follow Grammarly on Facebook and Twitter.

8. You’re a regular contributor to the #grammar hashtag in social media.

9. The sound of a double negative makes you cringe.

10. You mentally edit all the books and magazines you read.

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Yet More Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes

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If you are sick of these lists of similar words, I apologize. But I have gotten so many emails telling me these words are useful and asking for more, more, more. Maybe a few of these will be helpful to you:

COMPLEMENTARY: completing or enhancing another person or object. The new painting was complementary with Mario’s existing décor.
COMPLIMENTARY: without cost; free. Buy a book and get a complimentary bookmark.

FOR: I’m certain you know how to use this word.
FORE: This can mean “in the front part”: the horse’s fore and rear legs. It’s also what you shout before you hit the golf ball: “Fore!”
Sometimes “fore” is added to the beginnings of words: forefathers (coming before); foreshorten, forebrain, forecourt (in front)

COARSE: rough, unrefined. The man’s speech was coarse, but his hands were smooth and clean.
COURSE: Use this for everything else: an academic class, a course of medicine, a path, and, of course, of course.

STATIONARY: set in place. Museums use a special wax to ensure all their statues and sculpture will remain stationary in case of an earthquake or other disruption.
STATIONERY: paper, usually for writing letters (remember letters?)

MORAL: having to do with understanding of right and wrong. The accent is on the first syllable. In theory, all politicians should have high moral standards.
MORALE: concerning the mental condition of a group or person. The accent is on the second syllable. Politicians’ behavior leads to low morale in the electorate, resulting in poor voter turnout.

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Some More Typos

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Victoria on her thorn

Actually, these are not so much typos as words misheard by British students. But these misheard words and phrases do add a touch of spice to what would ordinarily be far less entertaining writing:

According to the bible, Jesus was born because Mary had an immaculate contraption.

In India, a man in one cask cannot marry a woman in another cask.

The Black Hole in Calcutta was a small dark prison with ninety men and only one widow in it. In the morning all the men were dead.

Abraham Lincoln became America’s greatest precedent….he said “in onion there is strength.”

Finally the colonists won the war and no longer had to pay for taxis.

Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years.

Thanks again to Drummond Moir and Just My Typo

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