Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Spelling Rule

I before e, except after c.


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Rihanna’s Grammar

English: Rihanna at the 2009 American Music Aw...

English: Rihanna at the 2009 American Music Award Red Carpet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s New York Times Magazine had a blurb about a school in São Paulo, Brazil that has a novel way of teaching English. Here’s the article in its entirety:


“Hi, @rihanna. I love your songs. My name is Carolina. I’m 11 years old,” began the tweet, which went on to correct Rihanna’s grammar. “It’s not to she, it’s to her,” Carolina wrote. Her tweet was part of an initiative at the Red Balloon School in São Paulo to teach English by correcting celebrities’ sloppy Twitterish. “So far no celeb has replied,” the school has said. “Hopefully they’re busy learning English.”

I could be a pedant and point out that the person who wrote that message for the school used “Hopefully” incorrectly. As written, it means that the celebrities are hopeful when, in fact, it is the school’s participants in this program who hope they will get a reply. But I have given up on this use of “hopefully”; common usage has emerged victorious.


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Be —wise Selectively

Speaking of locutions that make me cringe (we were, weren’t we?), the suffix “—wise” is near the top of my list. Limit it to a very few situations:

• Clockwise, counter clockwise

• Otherwise

• Lengthwise

Spare others from uses such as “healthwise,” “timewise,” “costumewise,” “stylewise.”

Instead of saying or writing, “Healthwise, I’ve had some problems with my elbow recently,” just drop that silly introductory word. It adds nothing.  Nor does “costumewise”:  “Costumewise, I’m going as Darth Vader as a schoolboy.” Just describe the getup you are planning on wearing to that Star Wars-themed Halloween party.

And so ends my word(s) to the wise.

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La-de-dah Language

Granted, my tolerance for substandard and iffy English is lower than most people’s, so bear with me.

Here is an example of a fancy-schmancy word that adds nothing to your message; this one you can throw away:

1. Gift—“My grandmother gifted me with her small gold locket.”  Why use “gifted” when we already have a perfectly good word that is understood in every instance?

The following words don’t need to be discarded, but remember to use alternatives every now and then.

2. Purchase—Realize a clear, everyday alternative exists.  As a fan of the “Antiques Roadshow,” I never, ever have heard anyone say they “bought” an object.

3. Prior to—Where, oh where, has “before” gone?  Again, “prior to” appears 97.2% of the time (my estimate).  It gets annoyingly repetitive.

4. Proceed—No one “goes” anywhere these days, but a whole lot of “proceeding” is taking place.  Is “go” too simple?  If you think so, tell me why. Do you think others might decide you are simple minded?  Will they think you are Einstein’s heir if you always “proceed”? 

5. Exit—I think it is perfectly fine to “leave” a building or a car or anything else you get out of. 


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25 Commonly Confused Phrases


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October 17, 2013 · 12:11 PM

More Food Expressions


Apple pie

Apple pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cheesy and corny got me thinking about other food words we commonly use in expressions. Here are some I came up with. (Here are some up with which I came. See why it’s fine to end sentences with prepositions?)

Spill the beans

Full of piss and vinegar

Apple of my eye

Top banana

Toast of the town

Apple pie order

An apple a day keeps the doctor away (but so does a flu shot)

Brown as a berry (I have never seen a brown berry.)

Cool as a cucumber

Cut the mustard/cheese

Humble pie

Let them eat cake (thanks to Marie Antoinette)

Milk of human kindness

Not my cup of tea

Pie in the sky

 Salad days (thank you, Cleopatra, by way of Shakespeare)

Say cheese

Sour grapes

Bring home the bacon

One sandwich short of a picnic

Are you hungry yet?


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Cheesy and Corny

These two adjectives are used as pejoratives: cheesy meaning something cheap or cheaply made, and corny meaning trite or schmaltzy. (Schmaltz is chicken fat in Yiddish.  Go figure.)

Apparently, cheesy originated in the mid-19th century and alluded to the smell of overripe cheese. Perhaps that cheese was sold at a bargain rate, hence the adjective.

Corny arose when mail-order seed catalogs appeared in the early 1900s, and to fill out the spaces, seed companies would scatter the pages with cartoons and jokes. I imagine these were not of the highest level of sophistication, and the adjective corny became attached to them and their ilk.


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