Category Archives: All things having to do with the English language

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

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That’s the title of a little book I picked up the other day. It contains quotations on various topics, this one on writers. Twain had been introduced to an audience as “one of the world’s greatest authors,” and this was his response:

I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spenser is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling very well myself.

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RIP, Doris Day

 

images-1.jpg    “I knew her before she was a virgin,” said Oscar Levant, American pianist, composer,  humorist, author, actor, hypochondriac, and television talk show host.   (1906-1972)

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Pun Lovers of the World, Unite

From mi amiga Susana in Washington, DC. Enjoy!

 

“Lexophile” describes those that have a love for words, such as “You can
tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish,” and “To write with a broken pencil is pointless.”

 

The New York Times holds an annual competition to see who can create
the best original pun.

This year’s submissions.

I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic.  It’s syncing now.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.

This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians’ Club,
but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.

I know a guy who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says
he can stop any time.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.

I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.

A will is a dead giveaway.

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old
was resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off?
He’s all right now.

A bicycle can’t stand alone; it’s just two tired.

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine last week is now
fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory, but it was never fully developed.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.

Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.

I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because
she couldn’t control her pupils?

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

When chemists die, they barium.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

 

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So What?

This is a rerun of a post I wrote almost five years ago. I thought perhaps this linguistic hiccup might disappear, but it seems as robust as ever:

I’d like you to consciously listen to people around you today or—if you can stomach it—for a week and become aware of how many sentences are being started with the word “So.”

I am now seeing this fairly often in writing as well, which makes me not happy at all. “So” legitimately means “as a result”: “Benjamin failed his driving test twice, so he is very nervous he won’t pass on his final chance to take it again.”

That, however, is not how the word is flooding discourse these days. It’s being used as the very casual, conversational beginning of sentences:

So did I tell you about the new manager in Human Resources?

So a new series is starting on HBO tonight.

So I’m wondering when my niece is going to finish college.

So the new plan is to limit department meetings to 30 minutes.

In each of those sentences, the word does no work. You can erase it and no meaning is lost, no confusion ensues. Pay attention in the next few days. Good chance you even will catch yourself saying “So” when it is extraneous. If it carried meaning, I would have no problem with it. However, it’s just deadwood. Chop it out.

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Assure, Insure, Ensure

 

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© Judi Birnberg      Collage with handmade paper

 

I assure you that you will understand the differences among these three similar words. See? You already knew what ASSURE meant in that sentence: to give a guarantee or to make certain.

ENSURE also means to make certain; you might say, “I can ensure you the package you ordered will be delivered today.”  Note the use of can with ensure.

INSURE has to do with money (think about insurance). “You need to insure that package at the post office.”

 

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Have You Heard?

So many words in English (and most likely in every language) are so close to other words,  both in spelling and pronunciation. These similarities contribute to phrases that are close, but no cigars will be distributed:

Statue of limitations   You want the legal term statute.

Pass mustard   At the dinner table, fine. But the expression is to pass muster, meaning to pass inspection.

Free reign   No royalty involved. It’s free rein (as in giving your horse freedom to ride however she wants).

Baited breath  I’m squirming. Leave the bait in the boat. It’s bated breath, meaning the people holding their breath are waiting anxiously for something to occur.

Heart-rendering  The expression is heartrending. To rend is to tear.

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Than I or Than Me?

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©Judi Birnberg

Which do you prefer? Elmer loves golf more than I  or  Elmer loves golf more than me?

It used to be, not so long ago, that than was considered a preposition, and prepositions are followed by object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them). But than can also be considered a conjunction, which would need to be followed by subject pronouns (I, he she, we, they).

Times, they are a-changin’. Today, it’s generally acceptable to follow than by either a subject or an object pronoun, whichever one sounds better to you. This is progress! One problem with using the subject pronoun, however, is that your sentence is likely to be seen as stilted, pompous, or stuffy, somewhat la de dah. What you are saying in the first example in the first line is that Elmer loves golf more than I do. When you add those clarifying words, the stuffiness disappears. If you prefer using the object pronoun, you may have to also add clarifying words: Elmer loves golf more than he loves me.

A side note: Than and then may sound very similar, but they have very different meanings:

Than is used to compare things: more than, less than, taller than, stronger than, closer than….

Then shows relationships in which one thing follows another or results from it: Sam came home from school famished; he then emptied the refrigerator for his afternoon snack.

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