My Florida friend Cami found this confusing sentence in the Miami Herald. (She notes that Opa-Locka is a section of the Miami area): “A homeless family of six was found by Opa-Locka police officers living in their car.”
No doubt, this is a tragic situation. But from a grammatical standpoint, the sentence raises two questions: were the officers living in the same car with the family of six, or were the officers living in their separate car? It’s hard to tell because of the use of the pronoun their in the phrase living in their car. Their could refer to either the family or the police. Make sure you can clearly draw a mental arrow from your pronouns to their antecedents (the word or words they refer to).
It’s easy to fix this sentence. The rule with modifiers (words that give more information) is to place them right next to the word or words they are modifying. A clear version of this sentence would be, “A homeless family of six living in their car was found by Opa-Locka police officers.”
You say you don’t? Let’s take a quick quiz and see what you know.
KVETCH: 1. To scratch 2. To complain 3. To stir
KLUTZ: 1. An instrument 2. A dessert 3. A clumsy person
SCHMUTS: 1. Dirt 2. A breed of dog 3. A stupid person
FRESS: 1. A dress 2. To walk quickly 3. To eat (usually sloppily, in a hurry)
SCHLEP: 1. To shop 2. To carry 3. To sleep
How did you do?
KVETCH #2 KLUTZ #3 SCHMUTS #1 FRESS #3 SCHLEP #2
All these words have become what some people call Yinglish: they are so commonly used in many parts of America that they often need no translation. Here is the dictionary definition of Yiddish:
|Yiddish ˈyidiSH| noun a language used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It was originally a German dialect with words from Hebrew and several modern languages and is today spoken mainly in the US, Israel, and Russia.
You might not believe me, but this method works:
• Set up a folder and label it Writing. Keep the folder on your desktop where you can find it.
• Every day, write one page on any topic you wish. Just one page. No more (but no less). It’s OK to double space.
• Put each page of your writing in the designated folder.
• Do this daily for one month. It may be best to begin on the first of the month, but you can start at any time.
• Do not read pages you’ve previously written. Not yet.
• At the end of the month, after your last entry, go back to the beginning and read your entries in order, from oldest to most recent. You will see improvement. I hope to hear from you about your success!
This is fun—check out this link: Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler. Enter any year and find what words were first introduced into the M-W Dictionary that year. See what words were born when you were.
Is Mylie Cyrus proud of her tung?
You’ve probably figured out that I’m
obsessed, OK, intrigued by the English language. I was stopped in traffic (surprise!) on the way to the gym this afternoon and saw that the car in front of me was a Nissan Rogue. The —gue isn’t pronounced. That made me think about other words ending with —gue, such as argue and ague, in which the —gue is pronounced. Why aren’t those words pronounced arg and ag (aig), respectively? I can think of many other —gue words: tongue, intrigue, demagogue, synagogue, league, fatigue, harangue, meringue, prologue, epilogue, travelog(ue), ideologue, and pedagogue—but none of those final two letters are pronounced.
Please try to hold your comments urging me to get a life. And I apologize for subjecting you to the photograph of Ms. Cyrus and her revolting tung.
Idris Elba as “Luther”
My husband and I have been watching the compelling but brutal English detective show “Luther,” on Netflix. We recently noticed people greeting each other with the one word, “Wotcher.” I had to look up what it means. Apparently, it’s more common in the south of England and was used frequently in the Harry Potter books. I read and loved all of them (well, Book 5 was a little tedious), but I have no recollection of coming across any wotchers. Certainly, Voldemort never greeted anyone that way.
The explanations I found were that it’s a compression of any common greeting that begins with “What are”: What are you up to? What are you doing? In other words, or word, Wotcher up to? Wotcher doing? —except the Brits leave off the ends of the questions.
Another theory is that it comes from 17th century British slang that meant “What cheer?” another way to say “What’s up?”
Now I know.
I am a member of a group in Los Angeles called the PLATO Society. (It has nothing to do with Plato; it’s an acronym.) It’s comprised of study/discussion groups that last for 14 weeks, and each of the 14 members of the various groups takes a turn leading the discussion. My course this term is on historic speeches, and one I have chosen was delivered by Nancy Astor, who was the first woman to serve in the English Parliament. In it she states that the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was “always wrong about women.” I knew nothing about him, so I googled and came up with the following. Enjoy.
“Women are directly adapted to act as the nurses and educators of our early childhood, for the simple reason that they themselves are childish, foolish, and short-sighted—in a word, are big children all their lives, something intermediate between the child and the man, who is a man in the strict sense of the word. Consider how a young girl will toy day after day with a child, dance with it and sing to it; and then consider what a man, with the very best intentions in the world, could do in her place.”
What a guy.