Monthly Archives: February 2019

Prepositions

First of all, feel free to end a sentence with a preposition, despite what your 7th grade English teacher may have told you. If you don’t, certain sentences may sound very strange or overly formal: With whom are you going to the prom?  Go ahead and ask who your friend is going to the prom with.

When I taught English as a second language, it soon became apparent that prepositions were the most difficult part of speech for my immigrant students to use correctly, no matter their native language. Do you stand in line or on line? Are you bored of a movie or bored by it? No rule exists to tell you which preposition is correct; most times you just have to memorize them in the situations in which they belong — or for the situations they belong in. (I just ended another sentence with a preposition.)

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Very Punny

From my friend Susan from our UC Berkeley days; she knew I’d love these. Susan is (almost) always right.

1. The meaning of opaque is unclear.
2. I wasn’t going to get a brain transplant but then I changed my mind.
3. Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It’s very time consuming.
4. A man tried to assault me with milk, cream and butter. How dairy!
5. I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I can’t put it down.
6. If there was someone selling marijuana in our neighborhood, weed know about it.
7. It’s a lengthy article about ancient Japanese sword fighters but I can Samurais it for you.
8. It’s not that the man couldn’t juggle, he just didn’t have the balls to do it.
9. So what if I don’t know the meaning of the word “apocalypse”? It’s not the end of the world.
10. Police were called to the daycare center. A three-year old was resisting a rest.
11. The other day I held the door open for a clown. I thought it was a nice jester.
12.. Need an ark to save two of every animal? I Noah guy.
13. Alternative facts are aversion of the truth.
14. I used to have a fear of hurdles, but I got over it.
15. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
16. Did you know they won’t be making yardsticks any longer?
17. I used to be allergic to soap but I’m clean now.
18. The patron saint of poverty is St. Nickeless.
19. What did the man say when the bridge fell on him? “The suspension is killing me.”
20. Do you have weight loss mantras? Fat chants!
21. My tailor is happy to make a new pair of pants for me. Or sew its seams.
22. What is a thesaurus’s favorite dessert? Synonym buns.
23. A relief map shows where the restrooms are.
24. There was a big paddle sale at the boat store. It was quite an oar deal.
25. How do they figure out the price of hammers? Per pound.

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My Favorite Book on English

Patricia O’Conner has done it again: she has updated and revised her classic book on writing and English usage, Woe Is I. I can hardly tell you how much I love this book. Before you stop reading, let me tell you that you will laugh out loud on just about every page. OK, read on. O’Conner realizes how all languages change over time, which is why she revised this classic book to fit with current and accepted usage. This is the fourth edition and, as English changes, there will be a fifth and a sixth and a twentieth.

O’Conner writes in everyday English. Here are a few chapter titles:

PLURALS BEFORE SWINE  Blunders with Numbers

YOURS TRULY  The Possessive and the Possessed

COMMA SUTRA  The Joy of Punctuation

DEATH SENTENCE   Do Clichés Deserve to Die?

THE LIVING DEAD    Let Bygone Rules Be Gone

Here’s an explanation about subject-verb agreement: “A substance was stuck to Sam’s shoe.”  Or  “A green, slimy, and foul-smelling substance was stuck to Sam’s shoe.” O’Conner adds, “The subject is substance and it stays singular no matter how many disgusting adjectives you pile on.”

See? Not your typical book about English and writing. This one is Wonderful. Entertaining. Fun. Comprehensible. Helpful. Essential.

O’Conner also has a blog to which she posts almost every day, giving explanations about questions people (including me) have submitted. If you subscribe, you’ll get it in your inbox. It’s definitely not spam: www.grammarphobia.com

 

 

 

 

 

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A Fascinating (and Horrific) True Tale

Do you agree with the following paragraph? Let me know.

“Language is mobile and liable to change. It is a free country, and man may call a “vase” a “vawse”, a “vahse”, a “vaze”, or a “vase”, as he pleases. And why should he not? We do not all think alike, walk alike, dress alike, write alike, or dine alike; why should not we use our liberty in speech also, so long as the purpose of speech, to be intelligible, and its grace, are not interfered with?”

-James Murray, lexicographer and editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (7 Feb 1837-1915)

Personally, I can’t argue with Murray. The Dictionary of American Regional English gives examples from around the country of pronunciations and differing words for the same object. You call it tonic or a Coke (even if it’s 7-Up) or fizzy water or a soft drink, and I call it soda. As long as we understand what each of us means, we should get along.

Professor James Murray is the focus of Simon Winchester’s gripping book, The Professor and the Madmen. Here’s a blurb from Amazon about the book. It’s an unexpected and remarkable tale about the most prolific contributor to the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

“The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.”

And from Wikipedia:

“In 1871 he (Dr. Minor) went to London, settling in the slum of Lambeth, where once again he took up a dissolute life. Haunted by his paranoia, he fatally shot a man named George Merrett, who Minor believed had broken into his room, on February 17, 1872. Merrett had been on his way to work to support his family of six children, himself, and his pregnant wife, Eliza. After a pre-trial period spent in London’s Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Minor was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in the asylum at Broadmoor in the village of Crowthorne, Berkshire. As he had his US army pension and was not judged dangerous, he was given rather comfortable quarters and was able to buy and read books.[4][5]

“It was probably through his correspondence with the London booksellers that he heard of the call for volunteers from what was to become the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He devoted most of the remainder of his life to that work.[6] He became one of the project’s most effective volunteers, reading through his large personal library of antiquarian books and compiling quotations that illustrated the way particular words were used. He was often visited by the widow of the man he had killed, and she provided him with further books. The compilers of the dictionary published lists of words for which they wanted examples of usage. Minor provided these, with increasing ease as the lists grew. It was many years before the OEDs editor, Dr. James Murray, learned Minor’s background history, and visited him in January 1891. In 1899 Murray paid compliment to Minor’s enormous contributions to the dictionary, stating, ‘we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone.’[7][8]

“Minor’s condition deteriorated and in 1902, due to delusions that he was being abducted nightly from his rooms and conveyed to places as far away as Istanbul, and forced to commit sexual assaults on children, he cut off his own penis (autopenectomy) using a knife he had employed in his work on the dictionary.[9] His health continued to worsen, and after Murray campaigned on his behalf, Minor was released in 1910 on the orders of Home Secretary Winston Churchill.[9] He was deported back to the United States and resided at St. Elizabeths Hospital where he was diagnosed with dementia praecox. He died in 1920 in Hartford, Connecticut, after being moved in 1919 to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane there.”[10]

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Clever Definitions

Thanks to my friend Paul:

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:
1. Cashtration (n): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13 Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

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