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

A Vexing Word

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Last night I read a brief book review in The New Yorker (yes, The is an official part of the title of my favorite magazine). The book is called A Flag Worth Dying For, by Tim Marshall, which the reviewer described as “an entertaining survey of vexillology….” Tell me that isn’t a word to stop most people in mid-stride. I am certain I have never come across this word before—and I daily come across a lot of words. Fortunately, the reviewer immediately enlightened me and, I’m guessing, most readers, by explaining that vexillology is the study of flags. (The Latin word for flag is vexillum. Who knew? I didn’t.) This sounds like a fascinating book, covering the flags of 85 countries as well as those of the Islamic State, the LGBTQ community—and pirates. Haven’t you always wondered what constitutes a good pirate flag? You can find out in this book.  Aaaargh, matey!

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What To Do With Words Ending in C

If words end in “c,” we need to add a “k” to keep the hard “c” sound when affixing the suffixes ed, ing, or y:

Picnic ————-> picnicking, picnicker, picknicked

Panic-————> panicky, panicking

Shellac———-> shellacking, shellacked

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Don’t Let Others Laugh at Your Writing

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Misplaced modifiers are funny—except when you write them and become the object of derision at worst and gentle teasing at best.

Here are a few examples from the book I used in my business writing seminars, The Bare Essentials (Norton, Green, Barale):

Swimming isn’t a good idea if cold or polluted. (Who or what is cold or polluted?)

I learned about Joan’s having a baby in last week’s letter. (That must have been a tight squeeze.)

I saw the Queen and her entourage arrive through a plate glass window. (Ouch!)

At the age of five, the barber cut Jamie’s hair, which curled to his shoulders nearly for the first time. (Such a precocious barber. And did Jamie’s hair curl to his shoulders for the first time? What did happen for the first time?)

 

Here’s the rule about misplaced modifiers: Put the modifier right next to the word it  gives information about.

 

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Mistakes Are Easy

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How often have you come across writing in which the author wrote lose for loose (or vice versa) or chose for choose (again, v.v.) or quite for quiet (vice versa, yet again)? It’s so easy to write a word that is close to the one you want, and your spellchecker will never highlight it because if it’s a word, it will be accepted. It’s up to you to proofread your writing.

I will torture you once more with my proofreading suggestions:

  1. Read out loud what you have written. No orating, no pontificating. You can read in a very quiet voice, as long as you can hear it come out your mouth and go into your ear. That way you won’t disturb those around you, and you’ll pick up more errors than if you read silently.
  2. Read slowly, one. word. at. a. time. If you read at your normal pace, you will skip over mistakes such as you when you wanted your or and when you meant any.
  3. Proofreading backwards loses the meaning, so it won’t help you if you left a word out.
  4. Trust me.

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Time to Groan

From my friend Marilyn. I love it when you send me ideas and examples. Keep them coming.

 Lexophile” is a word used to describe those who have a love for words, such as “you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish”, or “to write with a broken pencil is pointless.” A competition to see who can come up with the best example is held every year in an undisclosed location.  
 
This year’s winning submission is posted at the very end.
 
… When fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate. 

… A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.
 

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

… The batteries 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.

… A boiled egg is hard to beat.
 

… When you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen a mall.
 

… 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.
 
… When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds. 

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

… He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
 

… When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she’d dye.
 

… Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.
 
 
And the cream of the twisted crop:
 
… Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.
 

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Ambrose Bierce and Politicians

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In case you’re not familiar with Ambrose Bierce, here’s a brief entry explaining who he is/was. The Devil’s Dictionary is likely his most famous work. If you like snark, you’ll enjoy browsing through it. Below is his definition of a politician.

Bierce, Ambrose |bi(ə)rs(1842– c.1914), US writer, best known for his sardonic short stories that include “An Occurrence at Owk Creek Bridge” (1891) and his satirical treatment of the English language in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911); full name Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce. In 1913, he traveled to Mexico and mysteriously disappeared.

POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.

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Cold or Allergy?

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When someone near you sneezes, what do you say? In Josh Katz’s book, Speaking American, he explains regional differences. Approximately 73% of Americans respond with some form of “Bless you.” God may or may not be invoked. But in the upper Midwest, gesundheit, meaning health, is popular because many German-and Yiddish-speaking immigrants moved to that region over 100 years ago.  Approximately 6% of people near a sneezer say nothing, with twice as many men as women not responding. (When I’m near a sneezer, I tend to hold my breath, hoping not to catch what the sneezer has. So I’m also likely not to say anything because I’m too busy not breathing.)

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