Monthly Archives: March 2013

I Am Annoyed By This Error EVERY DAY



This is not a sign for a puppy rescue group but merely an offering from a hot dog establishment.  The problem is that as one word, “everyday” is an adjective:  “Eating a hot dog is an everyday habit.”  What kind of habit (noun)?  An everyday (adjective) one.

However, this sign needed to make it two words.  Every day you can get a hot dog for $3.50.  Which day? Every day.  In this sense, “every” is an adjective modifying the noun “day.”

Go and sin no more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Possessive Apostrophe Lives Another Day

Today’s Los Angeles Times ran a front-page story about the Mid-Devon District Council in England seriously considering eliminating possessive apostrophes from place names.  A national uproar ensued (as uproarious as the Brits allow themselves to get), and the online version of the LAT now has a story saying the council decided against dumbing down the language (further than it already is).

The article referred to “grocer’s English,” which we are all familiar with:  CARROT’S, TOMATO’S, etc., and said that it took a mere 110 years for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to add the apostrophe (originally omitted because of a faulty typewriter key, or so the story goes).

I have always wondered why the national organization called Boys and Girls Clubs doesn’t use apostrophes.  Those omissions bug me no end.  This is not difficult, people.

If you’d like to read the whole article, here’s the link:,0,7396379.story

England also has an Apostrophe Protection Society:

Long may it wave.  Rule Britannia!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Seen Any Salad Fishermen Recently?

I met a friend for lunch yesterday and while considering the salad offerings, I came across this option:


Can’t you just see a boatload of fishermen (fisher people? fishers?) hauling up salad after salad containing wild, line-caught tuna?  That’s what the menu implied.

I just love misplaced modifiers.

Years ago I read a book by Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris, in which she describes (in chapter six as I recall) going out to dinner with her parents and brother and the four of them pointing out errors on the menu.  None of them was considering what to eat at that point; they had to make sure they spotted all the mistakes. I should have been born into that family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is It the End of the Apostrophe?

After my last post with the photo of the sign for the “Sport’s Bar,” a reader e-mailed me saying that because so many people have trouble with apostrophes, particularly those showing possession, “they” (whoever “they” are) are predicting that punctuation mark may be eliminated.  Then you will be free to write “Joes car,” “Donnas career” and “the Joneses five cats.”

What do you think?  Do we really need the possessive apostrophe or will it go the way of the Stegasaurus? I doubt it will take anything as dramatic as a meteor to kill it.

Leave a comment

March 26, 2013 · 6:31 PM

Who’s the Sport?

Leaving a theater Saturday night, I saw this sign on a nearby pub. I’m sure more than a few people wondered why I was taking a photo of the sign, but you know why, right?  
Many, many times (most times), a word ending in S is just a plural. No apostrophe needed! The sign was made according to the all-too-common “rule” that must state, “If a word ends in an S, throw in an apostrophe before that S.”  

I guess this bar belongs to just one guy, a sport. As an unreconstructed English major, I could think only of The Great Gatsby, in which Gatsby repeatedly calls the narrator, Nick, “old sport.”  Maybe Nick came West and opened this pub. 

I’ll calm down now. 





Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Counsel, Consul, Council

COUNSEL as a noun means “advice.”  As a verb is means “to advise.”  (Those two words are often misused; note the spelling.)   Madeline offered me valuable counsel.  She counseled me thoughtfully.

CONSUL is a government representative who is stationed in another country.   Our government does not have a consul in North Korea.

COUNCIL is an advisory group or assembly.  The Second Vatican Council was convened by Pope John XXIII.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Am So Sick of This!

What is it with many conservative members of the Republican party?  Or should I call it the Republic party?  That would be the equivalent of what they call the Democratic party: “the Democrat party.”  If they hate us, let them think “Ick!” and put the —ic at the end of the word.  Is that so hard?

My guess it’s a way to demean the opposition. I first noticed it coming from Limbaugh many years ago. It has spread widely.  Sometimes in my car I will put on the bloviating blimp just to see what is causing his neck veins to bulge on that particular day, but I can rarely stay tuned for more than a couple of minutes (which always seems to be sufficient time for several “Democrat” excoriations).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Peaked vs. Piqued

These two words are often confused.

PEAKED means to have reached a high point:  Recently the stock market peaked, reaching over 14,000.

PIQUED means to have stimulated interest or curiosity:  Elizabeth’s interest in all Jane Austen’s novels was piqued as soon as she read the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice.

Even though Elizabeth was wild about Jane Austen’s books, her interest wasn’t peaked, although it may have reached a peak at a certain point.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


When you write items in a series, keep them all in the same form (parallel construction). It’s easy.

Incorrect:  Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and likes to help.

Correct:  Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and helpful.

Incorrect:  A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and can be relied on.

Correct:  A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and reliable.

Leave a comment

March 19, 2013 · 7:17 PM

Affect or Effect?

One word that drives me nuts is impact.  Call me hypersensitive, but every day I hear sentences like these:

How will this impact our bottom line?

The impact of her decision is going to be costly.

John’s speech impacted the audience so greatly that they gave him a standing ovation.  (Some would even dare to say John’s speech was impactful—but not around me.)

The only reason impact is so prevalent is that many people do not know the difference between affect and effect.  So they figure, “The hell with it” and use impact in all cases.  This default is in my Top 10 Everyday Verbal Annoyances.

AFFECT is a verb 99.9% percent of the time.*  Think of it as a verb 100% of the time:

How will this affect our bottom line?

John’s speech affected the audience so greatly…. 

Do you see the action in those two sentences?  You want the verb.  You can also think of the A in affect as an upside-down V, for verb.

EFFECT is a noun 99.9% of the time**, and again, go for 100%.  When you go to the movies, you see special effects.  Those effects are things, nouns.  Think of effect as referring to the end (or outcome, which is a noun).  If you need a noun, use effect. Whenever you write about a thing, use the E-word:

The effect of her decision is going to be costly.

* As for the other uses, affect can be a noun when it applies to a person’s facial expression.  Psychologists might refer to a patient’s “flat affect,” meaning that person has no expression on her face.

**  Effect is at rare times a verb and almost always is used in this manner:  Sandra’s actions will effect changes in her department.

I suggest you ignore the uses with asterisks and focus on the use of affect as a verb and effect as a noun.  Please lose impact except in rare cases.  Lose impactful permanently.  Thank you.


March 18, 2013 · 6:01 PM

Subject-Verb Agreement

If you can’t figure out what verb you need for your subject, here’s a handy hint:

The subject of a sentence is never in a prepositional phrase.

Why is that handy? Sometimes the subject and verb might be separated by one or more prepositional phrases, and it’s easy to mistake the noun in a prepositional phrase for the subject and choose the wrong verb.  (Almost every prepositional phrase ends in a noun.)

For instance:

The thought of lying on the couch after working for many long hours (is/are) appealing.

The prepositional phrases are of lying, on the couch, after working, and  for many long hours.

Every one of those ends with a noun (and yes, working is a noun in this case—it’s called a gerund, in case you were dying to know; when you can put the words “the act of” before a word that looks like an —ing verb, it’s a noun (gerund)).  But not one of those nouns is the subject.  The subject is thought, at the beginning of the sentence, so the verb has to be the singular is.  But you can see how some people might think the subject is hours and then use the plural verb are.

Leave a comment

March 17, 2013 · 10:33 PM

Flounder vs. Founder

Only one letter separates these two words, but they mean quite different things:

FLOUNDER means to flail, to struggle:  The tired swimmer floundered in the choppy ocean.  Think of a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat: a floundering flounder.

FOUNDER means to sink.  A ship might founder, as might someone’s plans:  Jason’s plans for reorganizing his department foundered because of a lack of funds.

Leave a comment

March 15, 2013 · 7:14 PM

Common Redundancies

Pay attention and you will frequently see and hear the following redundancies. To write (and speak) well, it helps to—gasp!—think about the words we use.  Strive to make your writing as concise as possible; if a word does no work, cut it out. Sharpen your axes:

Circle around

Absolutely free

Absolutely nothing

Free gift

True fact

The month of July

Final conclusion

I personally feel that

In my opinion, I think

Exactly identical

Entirely eliminated



Leave a comment

March 14, 2013 · 6:03 PM

Appraise vs. Apprise

Here are two more words that are often misused:

APPRAISE means to establish the value of something, to evaluate:  The expert appraised the antique furniture and paintings in the house.

APPRISE means to inform:  The owners of the house were apprised of their antiques’ value.

Leave a comment

March 13, 2013 · 6:33 PM

Insure vs. Ensure

A difference in meaning exists between these two words:

INSURE has to do with money changing hands:  You insure your house against fire, flood and earthquakes.  You insure a package at the post office.  You insure your car against damages.

ENSURE means to “make certain.”  By setting your alarm, you ensure you will not be late for your early morning flight. By reading a recipe before starting to cook, you ensure that you have all the ingredients and equipment necessary.  By drinking Ensure, you ensure you will get adequate vitamins and calories.  (This is not a paid announcement and I’ve never drunk Ensure, but I’m guessing that’s its purpose.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Language quotes

Since this is a language blog, here are some teasers from my new e-book, Your Kid Said This!   Children’s language and art are original and fleeting.  At some point they learn the prevailing rules and something happens to stifle that creativity.  Write down what your own children and grandchildren say while you still remember their precious words.

Samantha (5) came in the house and said, “Mommy! I have the hookups!”


Dani (6) announced, “The Hunchback of Motor Dame” is my favorite movie!”


Catherine (5) heard about Saddam Hussein and asked her mother, “Why didn’t that bad man live in a house like we do? Why did he have to live in a rock?”


Jonathan (3) had put a belt through a cardboard paper towel roll and was snapping it at a stuffed animal. He told his family, “Watch me lion tame at this elephant!”


After Jesse (7) moved to a new house, he told his grandmother he had his own closet but there weren’t any “hookers” in it.


Keegan (6) on discovering a cattail bush at the park:  “Mom! Look! A cocktail bush! We gotta plant a cocktail bush, cuz then we’d always have cocktails!”

Leave a comment

March 12, 2013 · 1:31 AM

My E-Book Was Born Today!

















Finally! For several years I have been collecting funny things children have said and now have them in an e-book: Your Kid Said This! 

The quotes cover various topics: Love, Sex, Manners, Swearing, Language, Logic, Brothers and Sisters, Grownups, Food, Potty Time, School, Religion and Clothing. It’s illustrated by children and will make you smile and possibly even LOL. Here’s the link to the book:

You can read part of it at no cost–and the whole shebang is only $2.99. OK, I’m done with my shameless self promotion. But I’m very happy with the result. It’s been incubating a long time.

cover for ebook


March 10, 2013 · 1:49 AM

Fewer wrinkles! Fewer!







You can count wrinkles.  Sad but true.  For things you can count, use FEWER.  After seeing this package advertising at Costco a couple of hours ago, I went to Trader Joe’s and stood on the express line, under a sign that said “12 Items or Less.”

It was not my day.  I hope I will have fewer days like this in the future.



Leave a comment

March 9, 2013 · 1:59 AM

Notorious vs. Famous

This word is so frequently misused:  many people think it is synonymous with “famous” or “renowned.”  It does mean those things—but always in a negative way.  Charles Manson and OJ Simpson are notorious.  Osama bin Laden was notorious.  You would never say the singer Adele is notorious.  President Obama’s daughters are not notorious. Santa Claus isn’t either.  Those last are all examples of people, real and not so real, who are undoubtedly famous—but they’ve done nothing to deserve to be called notorious. Save that for the baddies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Miscellaneous Lawyer Words and Phrases

I’ve given you lists of the “here” and “there” lawyer words—but they are certainly not limited to lawyers.  They have infected general business writing and are used by people when they are trying to sound tough and important.  Instead, these words make their writing bloated and self-important.  The only time I advocate using this language is if you want to sound mean and convey to adversaries that they are in a non-negotiable position, that you are not to be argued with.  You won’t sound nice, but you will be flexing your muscles.

Here are some more lawyer words that are normally best avoided:

1. whereby (by which, how)

2. wherein (in which, how)

3. whereof (of what)

4. the latter, the former (use the actual names)

5. the writer (I), the undersigned (I, we)

6. to my attention (to me)

7. As per our previous conversation (When we spoke yesterday (or whenever it was))

8. Should you have any questions, please advise (If you have any questions, please contact me)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lawyers’ Favorite “There” Words

I recently gave you some alternatives for lawyers’ “here” words. Today I’ll tackle “there” words.  Clear, straightforward English is always your best choice, even if it takes a few more words to make your point. You won’t sound so self-important and your readers will know immediately what you mean.

1. Thereafter (after that)

2. Thereby (because of that)

3. Therein (in that respect)

4. Thereof (from that)

5. Thereto (until that)

6. Thereupon (Immediately after that)

7. Therewith (with that)

There!  I feel better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

That vs. Which

Many people think “that” and “which” are interchangeable, but it’s not the case.

One comma rule is that non-essential information is set off by commas:

1.     It rained on Sunday, which made skipping the picnic an easy decision.

2.     Adam is good at oil painting, which he practices daily.

3.     She loves attending NASCAR races, which she really can’t afford to do very often.

In all of those sentences, the main information comes before the commas.  You could leave the information after the commas out and your readers would still understand what you have written, even though they might find the information after the commas helpful or interesting.  But it is not essential information (essential to the understanding of the sentence).

Use a comma and “which” to set off non-essential information.

Now let’s look at “that”:

1.     It’s a lemon tree that is very close to her kitchen.

2.     He drives a car that is 14 years old.

3.     They live in the house that his grandfather built in 1920.

In these sentences the information beginning with “that” is essential.  If I just wrote the words before “that,” you’d ask, “What lemon tree?”  “What car?”  “What house?”

Use no comma and “that” to introduce essential information.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“So” Again! Plus Other Problems

This from the head of the College Board, David Coleman, about the SAT.  Look at his language! (My comments in square brackets.)

COLEMAN: Right now, I think there’s a breakthrough that the SAT added writing, because we do want to make the claim that kids need to write to be ready. Like, duh, right. [Isn’t this professional!] To be ready for college and career, it obviously includes writing. But I have a problem with the SAT writing. So [“So” here adds nothing.] if you look at the way the SAT assessment is designed, when you write an essay even if it’s an opinion piece, there’s no source information given to you. So [another do-nothing “so”] in other words, you write like what you’re opinion is on a subject, but there’s no fact on the table. So [and yet one more] a friend of mine tutors in Hong Kong, and she was asked by here Hong Kong students, where do you get the examples for the essay? She said, you know, it’s the American way, you make them up. Now I’m all for creativity and innovation, but I don’t think that’s quite the creativity we want to inspire in a generation of youth. That is, if writing is to be ready for the demands of career and college, it must be precise [ah—he thinks writing should be precise] , it must be accurate, it must draw upon evidence. Now [another word adding nothing] I think that is warranted by tons [very precise, Mr. Coleman] of information we see from surveys of college  professors, from evidence we have from other sources, so [this “so” is warranted] I think there is good reason to think about a design of SAT where rather than kids just writing an essay, there’s source material that they’re analyzing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized