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

Keep It Simple!

Thought for the day:

Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness

A predilection by the intelligentsia to engage in the manifestation of prolix exposition through a buzzword disposition form of communication notwithstanding the availability of more comprehensible, punctiliously applicable, diminutive alternatives.

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Nieces, Nephews, and Cousins

I get a daily email you might be interested in: http://www.Grammarphobia.com. The primary author is Patricia O’Conner, who wrote my favorite grammar book, Woe Is I. (Yes, that is grammatically correct, but don’t worry.) In addition to being extremely informative, Pat writes with a wonderful sense of humor—many fun connections and plays on words. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

In today’s Grammarphobia email, a reader asked her why we have words indicating gender for nieces and nephews but use only cousin, without showing whether that cousin is male or female. In fact, said Pat, a gendered word does exist: cousiness. Who knew, right? It’s archaic and rarely seen today, so you can forget about it.

O’Conner quotes Joanna Rubery, a former online editor for Oxford Dictionaries:

“Anthropologists,” she writes, “have identified at least ten different kinship systems in use around the world.” The simplest is the Hawaiian system, which “makes no distinction between siblings and cousins,” while the most complex, the Sudanese system, “has a different name for each individual on the family tree. There are different words for aunt and uncle depending on whether they are related by blood or marriage; specific terms for in-laws depending on age; and different words for grandchildren depending on lineage.”

In Chinese, she says, “our simple cousin can be translated in at least eight different ways, not just according to whether the cousin is male or female, but also whether they are on the father’s or mother’s side, and whether they are older or younger than the speaker.”

Her conclusion: “Perhaps our generic word cousin is quite handy, after all.”

 

 

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An Italian Lesson

 

images-1.jpgThe first thing you should know is that I have never studied Italian, much as I’d like to. However, just from being in Italy over the years, I have become quite fluent in Menu Italian. Did you know that biscotti is plural? If you have the willpower to eat only one, you will crunch on a biscotto. But who can eat only one?

 

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Have you ever tagged a wall? (Tsk tsk.) If you made only one mark, you created a graffito. Graffiti is when you (or Banksy) paint a large creation containing many letters and figures. If caught, you’d have to confess, “These graffiti were my creation. And that graffito over there also was mine.” Plural vs. singular.

Ciao!

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If You MUST Use a Cliché

At least be certain you are using it correctly. Here are some clichés I’ve seen and heard that weren’t quite right:

Ellen burst the candle with both hands.

Brittany said it’s an error to be human.

Last night Rodney slept like a lark.

Taylor behaved like a bull in a china closet.

Zander is rotten to the cork.

The burglar struck Marlie, and she fell down with a thug.

Ramona never takes planes. She likes to be on terra cotta.

Jeremy sticks to his girlfriend like a leash.

That’s Donald’s whole story in a bombshell.

Obviously, your best bet is to avoid clichés like the plague.

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Clever Words for Clever People

Another good one from my friend Nicki N. Thanks, amiga!
 
1. ARBITRAITOR
A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s.
2. BERNADETTE
The act of torching a mortgage.
3. BURGLARIZE
What a crook sees through.
4. AVOIDABLE
What a bullfighter tries to do.
5. COUNTERFEITER
Workers who put together kitchen cabinets.
6. LEFT BANK
What the bank robbers did when their bag was full of money.
7. HEROES
What a man in a boat does.
8. PARASITES
What you see from the Eiffel Tower.
9. PARADOX
Two physicians.
10. PHARMACIST
A helper on a farm.
11. RELIEF
What trees do in the spring.
12. RUBBERNECK
What you do to relax your wife.
13. SELFISH
What the owner of a seafood store does.
14. SUDAFED
Brought litigation against a government official.

 

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Looking at Colons

Fear not, this is not a post about colonoscopies. Here’s how to think about the colon as a punctuation mark: (<—-that’s a colon)

Colons are like the blare of a trumpet (they say, “Ta dah! Here it comes!”). You’ve just written a sentence and you need to expand on it. The original sentence gives you a promise, and what follows the colon is used for three reasons:

  1.  to give an example   We needed only one more thing for our party: a good DJ.
  2. to introduce a quotation  My sister’s words were uplifting: “Your haircut is so good, you could be in a shampoo ad.”
  3. to introduce a list  At Trader Joe’s I bought two essential items for dinner: cheese    and wine.

That’s all, folks. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

 

 

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Singular or Plural?

I often hear people talk about a phenomenon, which refers to one thing or situation, when they need the plural of phenomenon—which is phenomena, referring to more than one thing or situation.

• Global warming is a potentially disastrous phenomenon.

• The phenomena that contribute to global warming are being studied extensively in hopes of avoiding worldwide catastrophes.

Another pair often misused are criteria (plural) and criterion (singular). If you have only one standard that must be met, you want criterion.

But here’s one you can stop worrying about: datum. That’s the singular of data. Today, data is used for both singular and plural.  Why? Because common usage changes all languages. However, if you are using data as a plural, make your verb plural also:

The scientific data are unequivocal that ocean temperatures are rising rapidly.

 

 

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