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

Anachronisms, Inc.

We still say these things, even though we don’t actually do them any more.

When was the last time you rolled down a car window?

Remember those little stalks with a small knob on the end? I can’t remember the last car I was in that didn’t have automatic windows.

Have you dialed a number?

You’ve probably seen videos of teenagers being presented with an old-fashioned clunky telephone and told to figure out how to make a call. Try as they might, the kids remain clueless. After rotary dial phones, we thought we were so up to date when pushbutton phones appeared. Now it’s primarily touching a number if you need to call someone whose number isn’t programmed into your smartphone. If it is, just touch or say their name.

You still cc on emails—but you might not even know what that stands for.

We still send cc’s in emails. I’m wondering how many people even know what that means—it’s carbon copy and comes from the time of the manual or electric typewriter when you wanted to make a duplicate. You’d put a special piece of paper called carbon paper between your regular typing paper and a second sheet and feed them together into the machine. When you took the papers out, a duplicate of your original showed up on the paper that was behind the carbon paper.

Where’s the World Wide Web?

Remember what you’d have to write to get to a website in the early days of using computers? You’d have to put in www and then the rest of the address to reach your destination. It’s rare when you have to use that abbreviation any more. Things we take for granted change in a flash.

 

 

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Hyperbole, Inc.

If you’re not sure what hyperbole means, this advertising on the side of a truck I saw today will enlighten you:

XXXXXX’s POOL SERVICE

THE BEST, FASTEST, MOST THOROUGH POOL CLEANING IN THE UNIVERSE

(Who knew swimming pools existed on Alpha Centauri or even on poor, demoted Pluto?)

Incidentally, and sad to say, I once worked with an English teacher who pronounced hyperbole as hyperbowl. I swear. The word is Greek, and the last syllable is pronounced —lee.

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May I Have Two Tickets, Please?

These are eventful times. I live in the Los Angeles area, where many fires are burning. Our house is in no danger, but we are going to pack a “go bag” just in case we have to evacuate.

It got quite windy today and I heard newscasters, both on radio and television, giving information about the “wind event.” When  it rains, we have “rain events.” I led workshops for many automobile companies, and they were fond of staging “sales events.” (Does that suggest balloons and doughnuts?)

Why tack on those “events”? It’s perfectly clear to just say wind, rain, and sale. The event doesn’t make the message any more clear, but it does add an air of pomposity.

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Correcting Others’ Grammar, et al

download-1.jpgOK, I admit I do this fairly often. It’s the suppressed English teacher in me coming through. If you are a friend or relative, I will try very hard not to voice my correction (lie or lay? who or whom? it’s or its? was or were?), but if you are a certain president, he who shall not be named, no holds are barred. That’s me yelling and sneering at the television. And I don’t confine myself to grammar: typos, incorrect spelling, and syntax are fair game. And well they should be. I fear we are the world’s laughingstock . Me? I’m crying–for so many reasons.

Oh, to have a literate (and sane) president once more.

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Here’s to Clear Writing

download.jpg   When I taught business writing classes in the corporate world, I used this example from George Orwell (a phenomenal writer whose essays I highly recommend) to illustrate how overwrought language does not impress but does confuse:

 “Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

I see you scratching your head. Did you read it more than once, hoping to discern a clue? What does this paragraph even mean? I’ll bet you can define all the words yet still cannot explain the meaning of them when laid side by side. So many multi-syllable words—saying what?

Now try this:

“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

You are likely familiar with this excerpt from Ecclesiastes, whether you are religious or not. It is saying. “The race is not to the swift” has become a staple of advice in the English language. Although you read an archaic word (“happeneth”), you still understood it.

That unwieldy first paragraph was Orwell deliberately rewriting the portion from Ecclesiastes by using the most convoluted, confusing, off-putting language possible. Just giving a cursory look at both paragraphs, who would choose to read the first one?

The lesson is simple and clear: Rid your writing of pomposity. Use clear, straightforward words. Writing simply will not cause others to assume you are simple-minded; instead, they will look forward to reading what you write. Won’t that be satisfying?

 

 

 

 

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How the States Got Their Names

 

Recently, I was sent this information from WordGenius.com. I found it interesting and hope you do too:

Every state in America has its own unique culture, flavor and quirks – including their names. State pride is alive and well from Alabama to Wyoming, but have you ever wondered how your state got its name?

While the name etymology for some states is a bit muddled, in general, a good number are derived from Native American tribes and languages, such as Algonquin, Sioux and Iroquois. Still others are nods to the origins of the European settlers who claimed patches of America for their own – and their sovereigns.

Here’s a guide to where all 50 state names came from – and what they mean!

Alabama comes from the Choctaw word albah amo meaning thicket-clearers or plant cutters.

Alaska has ties to the Aleuts and the Russians, with the words alaxsxaq and Аляска respectively, essentially meaning mainland.

Arizona has ancient roots as an Uto-Aztecan word ali sona-g that was adopted by the Spaniards as Arizonac, meaning good oaks.

Arkansas is the French pronunciation of an Algonquin name for the Quapaw people, akansa.

California is truly a magical place. So magical in fact, it’s named after a fictional world invented by the author Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, which Spanish explorers adopted when setting foot on the gold coast.

Colorado is another Spanish-influenced name that essentially means ruddy or ruddish. The name was first applied to the Colorado River for its distinctive color.

Connecticut much like Colorado, was named for the river running through it. The word itself possibly stems from the Native American word quinnitukqut, meaning beside or at the long tidal river.

Delaware is also named for a body of water, but that body of water was named for Baron De la Warr, the first English governor of Virginia. The Baron’s name is old French for of the war.

Florida taps into its Spanish roots by referencing Pascua florida, meaning flowering Easter, as Spanish explorers found the lush area during Easter. There’s also ties to the Latin word floridus, meaning strikingly beautiful.

Georgia may be known for its southern hospitality now, but it’s actually named for King George II from Great Britain. Fun fact: if HRH Prince George of Cambridge takes the throne one day, he’ll be King George VII!

Hawaii stems from the Hawaiian language itself, specifically the Polynesian word hawaiki, meaning place of the Gods. It was however, originally named the Sandwich Islands by James Cook in the late 1700s.

Idaho has notorious roots in the Athabaskan word idaahe, meaning enemy. It was originally applied to part of Colorado before being officially given to the gem state.

Indiana as you might expect stems from the English word, Indian, to describe Native Americans. The Latin suffix tacked on the end roughly means land of the Indians.

Iowa comes from the Dakota word yuxba, meaning sleepy ones.

Kansas quite simply references another group of people living here, the Kansa tribe, meaning people of the south wind. Makes sense for tornado alley!

Kentucky is yet another state named for the river running through it, inspired by the Shawnee word for on the meadow.

Louisiana like Georgia was named for a regent of the times, specifically, Louis XIV of France.

Maine has uncertain origins, although notably, France also has a province called Maine.

Maryland is a tip of the hat from King Charles I to his wife Henrietta Maria. Some husbands give jewelry; King Charles gave naming rights to an entire (albeit small) state.

Massachusetts comes directly from the Algonquian word Massachusett that again, references the people living in the area, and means at the large hill.

Michigan also comes from a body of water, based on the French spelling of the Algonquin word meshi-gami, meaning big lake.

Minnesota, like many other Midwest states, comes from Native American languages. In this case, the Dakota word mnisota meaning cloudy, milky water.

Mississippi literally means big river in Algonquin Ojibwa, although it’s based on the French variation of the word.

Missouri relates to the Algonquin word wimihsoorita which translates as people of the big canoes.

Montana has some Spanish flair that links back to the Latin mons, for mountains.

Nebraska stems from the Sioux name for the Platte River, omaha ni braska, meaning flat water.

Nevada quite simply comes from the Spanish name for the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountain range, which essentially means snowy mountains, or snowcapped.

New Hampshire is the first of many states and cities named as new outposts of other parts of the world. In this case, Hampshire was a county in Southampton, England.

New Jersey was coined by Sir George Carteret of the Channel island of Jersey.

New Mexico is self-explanatory and based on the Spanish Nuevo Mexico, although did you know the Aztec language actually coined the word Mexihco for their ancient capital?

New York was named for the Duke of York and future King James II.

North / South Carolina are more states named after regents, King Charles II in fact, as Carolus is the proper Latin version of Charles.

North / South Dakota: The word Dakota of course describes the Dakota people, but it also means friendly or allies.

Ohio once again comes from a body of water, this time, the Ohio River, which the Seneca Native Americans billed as a good river.

Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw word meaning red people.

Oregon’s origin is less clear, although some scholars point to Algonquin as the source.

Pennsylvania was named for Admiral William Penn, after being suggested by Charles II, and literally means Penn’s Woods.

Rhode Island has multiple name theories, including the idea that Dutch explorer Adrian Block applied the name Roodt Eylandt, meaning red island, to reflect the red cliffs of the region. Alternatively, it may come from the Greek island of Rhodes.

Tennessee comes from the Cherokee village name ta’nasi, although its meaning is unclear.

Texas is another old Spanish name from the word tejas, meaning friends or allies.

Utah has a short, spunky sound from the Spanish yuta, the name given to indigenous Uto-Aztecan people of the mountains.

Vermont has an elegant French sound and meaning – mont vert means green mountain in French.

Virginia / West Virginia is a Latin nod to sovereign Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.

Washington, naturally, is named for President George Washington, and his name actually means estate of a man named Wassa in old English.

Wisconsin may come from the Miami word meskonsing, which was spelled by the French as mescousingand then shifted to ouisconsin.

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Favorite Clichés

 

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These clichés are favorites of so many people; I hope you’re not one of those bores.

At the end of the day, another day comes. That should give you some food for thought. Your audience’s attention may grind to a halt when you don’t engage in meaningful dialog. If you want your speech and writing to be interesting, go back to the drawing board and polish your diamond in the rough. Then you will be a tough act to follow, instead of writing and speaking in a manner in which your readers/audience, all innocent bystanders, won’t be able to see the forest for the trees. Make your prose world class!

 

 

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