Monthly Archives: February 2014

Is It Raining Continuously or Continually?

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Finally, finally, we have had measurable rain in Southern California. Until this storm began last night, we had just a little over an inch of rain this entire season, which began last July. Normal rainfall for this period is 11 inches. We who live here want and need more—a lot more. But do we want it to rain continuously or continually?

It’s easy to get these two words confused. CONTINUOUSLY means without interruption, whereas CONTINUALLY means sporadically, intermittently. The former would be a problem, as the hillsides are so dry that a deep soaking all at once would lead to the landslides you read about here. On-and-off rain, continual rain, would allow the water to sink in without causing erosion. A way to remember the difference between these two words might be to notice that CONTINUOUS has an S, and that, unfortunately, stands for slides. Think continual rain for us here in this parched land.

Yes, the climate is changing rapidly, a cause of concern for all.

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Epitome

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To start with the pronunciation, it’s “eh PIT o me.” I once heard a famous wine expert describe a particular wine as the “EP i tome” of its kind. Just another day when I yelled at the radio and did an impressive eye roll.

As to its meaning, if you read that “the Taj Mahal is the epitome of a gorgeous building,” it doesn’t mean it is the most beautiful building in the world. How could anyone know that objectively? You are stating that the Taj Mahal is representative of, typical of, an architectural masterpiece.

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Two Overused Suffixes

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In an effort to stem the tide of clichés barraging us daily, I offer two for your extinction:

—MAGEDDON and —POCALYPSE

Must every negative event have one of these stuck to its rear end? When the notorious 405 freeway in Los Angeles was first shut down for widening, newspaper and broadcast reports feared the worst and dubbed it an impending “Carmageddon” or a “Carpocalypse.” It didn’t happen then nor on subsequent shutdowns. People found other routes, and no disaster ensued. The East Coast has recently been under siege for “Snowmageddons” and “Stormpocalypses” (beware: another one is coming this week!), and California has a severe “Droughtmageddon.” Yes, the lack of rainfall is truly worrisome, but “severe and prolonged drought” makes the point.

And don’t forget —GATE, a legacy of Watergate in the 1970s. On second thought, do forget it.

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The Grammar Pirate

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February 21, 2014 · 4:22 PM

George Carlin on “Soft Language”

imagesDuring the many years I gave corporate writing seminars, I showed an excerpt about the degradation of the English language from one of George Carlin’s shows. My goal was to get participants to think about the words they used, to eliminate the rampant jargon and to say what they meant as clearly and concisely as possible.

Carlin gave many examples. He began by saying, “Sometime in my life, I wasn’t notified about this, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became Directory Assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges…and constipation became occasional irregularity.”

He said, “Look at him…. He’s 90 years young,” demonstrating our fear of death in this country. He observed that “People no longer die: they pass away or expire, like a magazine subscription. People don’t say they’re getting old; they say they’re getting older, as if it will last a little longer.”

He concluded his rant by stating, “I’m telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. It makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

George Carlin was unique, the thinking person’s comedian. I may never forgive him for expiring.

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The Day for How Many Presidents?

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Every year on this date, I think perhaps I won’t be annoyed the next year with missing or errant apostrophes in the name of the holiday, that people will catch on to the correct punctuation. But how can they when they see rampant errors in advertising? (I do wonder whether the holiday exists primarily for Macy’s to have a sale on towels and bedding.)

Today I have seen PRESIDENTS DAY, PRESIDENT’S DAY and PRESIDENTS’ DAY. Which is it? This is simple. Obviously, the name is a possessive. Just decide how many presidents the day belongs to. If it were on Lincoln’s or Washington’s birthday, it would be PRESIDENT’S. But since the day is in memory of both Lincoln and Washington, the apostrophe goes after the final S: PRESIDENTS’.

When deciding where a possessive apostrophe needs to go, ask yourself whom the item belongs to. Think of the apostrophe as an arrow pointing to the owner word. Then add APOSTROPHE S. If the new word you’ve formed ends in  two or three esses (weird word), just drop the final S. It’s not wrong to leave it, but the trend is toward eliminating it:

Three dogs’s tails——-> three dogs’ tails

My boss’s memos——–> my boss’ memos (pronounced “bosses,” which happens to be the plural of boss)

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Why Proofreading Is Essential

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Proofreading is a dying art. Editors are a disappearing species. Writing is hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be good at it. Here are some gaffes that made their way into print. It’s always a good idea to proofread your work. Good idea? It’s essential. Read your work out loud and slowly and you won’t be guilty of writing items such as the following:

“TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW.”

In a Laundromat:

AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT.

In a London department store:

BARGAIN BASEMENT UPSTAIRS

In an office:

WOULD THE PERSON WHO TOOK THE STEPLADDER YESTERDAY PLEASE BRING IT BACK OR FURTHER STEPS WILL BE TAKEN.

In an office:

AFTER TEA BREAK, STAFF SHOULD EMPTY THE TEAPOT AND STAND UPSIDE DOWN ON THE DRAINING BOARD.

Outside a secondhand shop:

WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING — BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN?

Notice in health food shop window:

CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS

Spotted in a safari park:

ELEPHANTS, PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR.

Seen during a conference:

FOR ANYONE WHO HAS CHILDREN AND DOESN’T KNOW IT, THERE IS A DAY CARE ON THE 1ST FLOOR.

Notice in a farmer’s field:

THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES.

Message on a leaflet:

IF YOU CANNOT READ, THIS LEAFLET WILL TELL YOU HOW TO GET LESSONS.

On a repair shop door:

WE CAN REPAIR ANYTHING. (PLEASE KNOCK HARD ON THE DOOR — THE BELL DOESN’T WORK.)

This one I [I have no idea who this “I” is, nor where all these signs and headlines came from. Otherwise, I would include attribution—JB] caught in the SGV Tribune the other day, called the editorial room and asked who wrote this. It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible. They put in a correction the next day:

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

More headlines:

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

Really? Ya’ think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Now that’s taking things a bit far.

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

What a guy.

Miners Refuse to Work after Death

No-good-for-nothing lazy so-and-so’s.

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

See if that works better than a fair trial.

War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect.

If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Ya’ think?

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Who would have thought.

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

They may be on to something.

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

You mean there’s something stronger than duct tape?

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

He probably IS the battery charge.

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Weren’t they fat enough?

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

That’s what he gets for eating beans.

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Chainsaw Massacre all over again.

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Boy, are they tall.

And the winner is:

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

 

 

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