Monthly Archives: November 2012

Appositives

Don’t let this English-teacher term worry you.  All it means is that you refer to something in words different than the ones you just used:

1.  George Washington, Father of his Country, built Mount Vernon.

2.  Paris, the City of Light, is almost deserted in August, when residents go on their vacations.

3.  Hawaii, the Big Island, has an active volcano.

4.  Carolyn, my friend from high school, lives in Montana.

I’ve underlined the appositives in those sentences.  What do you notice about them?  They are all set off by commas on both sides.

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Three Grammar Rules to Break

We were all taught some so-called unbreakable grammar rules.  But language changes–it grows by adopting and creating new words, and it also shrinks by discarding old rules that are no longer useful or make sense.  Here are some of them:

1. Never start a sentence with And or But.  Why not?  You can start a sentence with any word in the language.  What makes these two words different?  Nothing.

2.  Never end a sentence with a preposition.  Again, this makes no sense.  If it sounds better to put your preposition at the end, feel free.  Otherwise, you might end up with a sentence like, “With whom was that person I saw you?”  We are all more comfortable with “Who was that person I saw you with?”

Want to hear a prepositional phrase joke?  (You didn’t know one existed, did you?)

A young woman who lived in the South was invited by her Harvard boyfriend to fly to Cambridge and attend a fancy party.  She was all a-twitter, and being a very friendly person, at the party she sat next to a Muffy or a Buffy and started talking to her.  Soon she asked M (or B), “Can you tell me what this fork is for?”

M (or B) sneered at her and condescendingly said, “Up here, we don’t end sentences with prepositions.”

The Southern belle then said in her sweetest Southern accent, “Oh, I’m sorry!  I am so sorry!  Let me try again:  Can you tell me what this fork is for…………….bitch?!”

3.  Never use the passive voice.   If you want to avoid blaming someone or avoid taking the blame yourself, the passive voice is handy:  Mistakes were made.  The report was misplaced.  One time when you are compelled to use the passive voice is in the following sentence:  I was born in (name your location).  Otherwise, you would have to say My mother bore me in (location).  Weird, right?

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Besides vs. Beside

BESIDES means in addition to, other than:

Three other people besides Tim joined us for pizza.

BESIDE means next to (as in alongside of):

She placed her documents beside her purse so she wouldn’t forget them when she left.

I often hear people say something like, “I was besides myself when I heard her exciting news!”  How can one be next to oneself?  If you are really wildly excited, you are beside yourself.

 

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Literally? Really?

Back to the Tampa soap opera.  I read that Jill Kelley’s identical twin sister, Natalie, told the press that she and Jill are so close they are “literally inseparable.”  Yet nothing I have read or heard has ever noted they are conjoined twins.  No, Natalie, you are not literally inseparable, you are figuratively inseparable.  This  distinction is not hard to understand.  Try to get it.

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What’s Wrong With This Title?

Yesterday I read an ad for a toy. This is the title over the photo:

Light up kid’s imaginations everyday!

What lit up was my annoyance.  Did you catch two problems?

1. If you are referring to imaginations, then kids needs to be plural, but the apostrophe in this ad makes kid’s singular.  It should read kids’ imaginations.

2. Everyday is an adjective: Brushing your teeth is an everyday occurence.  When do you brush your teeth?  Every day.  Two words!  Day is the noun and every is the adjective telling you which day.  Light up your kids’ imaginations every day.

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Is It Really Strategic?

From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

strategy |ˈstratəjē|

noun ( pl. strategies )

a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim: time to develop a coherent economic strategy | shifts in marketing strategy.

• the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle. Often contrasted with tactics (see tactic).

• a plan for such military operations and movements: nonprovocative defense strategies.

ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from French stratégie, from Greek stratēgia ‘generalship,’ from stratēgos (see stratagem) .

 

I am so ready to pull out my curls when I hear the related word “strategic” bandied about—and bandied it is.  It wasn’t just during the interminable political campaign we just lived through.  The word is endemic in advertising, in education, in business.

 

Think about it:  if a strategy is a plan, then why the need to have a strategic plan? All plans involve strategy.  Strategic initiatives, strategic positions, strategic paradigms, strategic benchmarks, strategic dialogs—give them a rest!  If any planning goes into an endeavor (and it does), that endeavor is by nature strategic.  Lose the redundancy and clear the air.

 

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To Split or Not to Split

I’m sure you have all been warned at some time not to split infinitives when you write.  But do you know what an infinitive is?

It is the form of the verb with to placed before it:

To eat, to sing, to go, to ponder, to do, to split

I am here to give you permission to split any infinitive you choose, as long as your sentence sounds better that way:

To hungrily eat, to lustily sing, to boldly go (the world’s most famous split infinitive), to moodily ponder, to enthusiastically do everything

If you don’t like the way your sentence sounds when splitting the infinitive, just try out the adverb in other places in the sentence, and you will discover the best spot for it.

This so-called rule against splitting infinitives arose because pedants in the mid-18th century thought applying the rules of Latin grammar would result in the best written English.  In Latin, it is impossible to split an infinitive—but English is amenable to it and I hereby give you all permission to do it.

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