Tag Archives: advertising

Are You Thirsty?

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Speaking American, Josh Katz’s book about US regional English, is endlessly fascinating to me.

When I was growing up just north of New York City, my family sometimes made a summer visit to my aunt who lived in Massachusetts. As soon as we arrived, she would immediately offer us a tonic (pronounced tawnic). She didn’t necessarily mean tonic water; she was offering us any kind of fizzy, bubbly, non-alcoholic drink we wanted. According to Katz, tonic was the word of choice, particularly around Boston but throughout most of Massachusetts. Today, that word is declining among the younger generation there but is still strong among older people.

About 60% of the country now calls those drinks soda, with that designation particularly strong on the West Coast, in South Florida, and throughout New England (even among the former tonic people in Massachusetts).

Soft drink accounts for 6% around Washington, DC and in Louisiana. Pop is the word across all the northern United States from Washington State through Pennsylvania up to western New York. Coke is your word if you live in New Mexico, all the way through the deep South. Realize that Coke does not necessarily refer to Coca Cola; even 7-Up, Sprite and root beer are Coke. And (for me, this is the kicker) if you live in Georgia across to western South Carolina, your drink of choice is Cocola. Again, you might want Mountain Dew—but that’s just a form of Cocola.

Bottoms up!

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The Order of Adjectives

unknownMark Forsyth wrote a book called The Elements of Eloquence, which includes this unspoken and largely unwritten rule we all follow but were never taught:

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”

Try moving just one of those adjectives to a different spot and you’ll see and hear how weird the sentence sounds. I find it fascinating that we all pick up the intricacies of our native languages before we even start school, without being taught the grammar. I call it linguistic osmosis.

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The Most Mispronounced Words of 2016, Part 2

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The US Captioning Company listened to newscasters to find the most commonly mispronounced words during 2016. The British Institute of Verbatim Reporters did the same in the UK. Here is the rest of the list:

6.  Nomophobia  Fear of being without one’s cellphone. This was a biggie on both the US and UK lists. Pronounced no mo PHO be uh.

7. Quinoa  A grain from the Andes. Both US and UK broadcasters had great difficulty pronouncing this word. It’s KEEN wah.

8. Redacted  Censored or blacked out on a document. The Brits had trouble pronouncing this (why?). Not so the Americans, probably because of how frequently it was used when referring to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Parts were revealed but others parts were redacted. You saw those heavy black lines. ree DAK tid.

9. Xenophobia  Fear of foreigners, foreign ideas, and of the people who espouse them. This was Dictionary.Com’s 2016 word of the year.  Zeen uh PHO be uh.  It was often mispronounced on both sides of the Atlantic.

10. Zika  A deadly virus transmitted by mosquitos, sexual contact, and passed from mother to child. It reached epidemic proportions in 2016. ZEE kuh.

If you’ve been mispronouncing any of the words on these two lists, don’t feel too bad. If enough other people also mispronounce them, that pronunciation will eventually become standard. All languages change. Sometimes that change is slow, but at times it happens almost overnight. I’m thinking of homogeneous. The dictionary pronunciation is ho mo JEEN ee is. But I hear huh MAH jin us so often that I’m expecting to see it as an approved pronunciation in dictionaries next week.

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“Speaking American”: A Book I Love

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I recently bought this book by Josh Katz. The subtitle is “How Y’All, Youse, and You Guys Talk.” It’s a visual guide to American regional English. For years now I’ve been pining for DARE, the Dictionary of American English. The last time I looked it was three volumes and cost close to $400. That price was steep enough that I haven’t checked back.

But along came this book for $25 and I knew I had to have it. What the author did was take everyday objects and illustrate with maps of the United States what those objects are called in various parts of the country.

For instance, take “a sandwich on a long roll with meats and cheeses.” Here in California, I instantly think “sub.” But around Pennsylvania, it’s a “hoagie,” in NYC and on Long Island it’s a “hero,” a little piece of Connecticut says it’s a “wedge” (who knew?), the Upper Midwest and the Illinois/ Indiana area prefer “grinders,”  and most of New England has decided it’s an “Italian sandwich.”

Do you call this type of sandwich something other than one of these regionalisms? If so, tell me what it is and let me know where you live.

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What to Call Half the Population

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ICK!

Are they females or women? In most cases, female is the adjective and woman is the noun. Referring to women lawyers is unnecessary; we don’t refer to men lawyers. In vocations that were until quite recently male, it may be necessary to write, for example,  female soldiers.

If you want to use female as a noun, reserve it for the following situations: for animals; when you don’t know if the person in question is a girl or a woman; and when describing a gathering that includes both girls and women.

It’s common for women to describe their close female friends as their girlfriends. It would be a very good idea for males to avoid calling women girls. And it grates on my ear when I hear women refer to their female friends as gals. Ick. But that’s just me.

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Redundancies: Don’t Say It Again, Sam

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VIN=Vehicle Identification Number, so just use VIN, not VIN number.
Same idea with PIN.
ATM machine? ATM says it all.
HIV virus? The V tells us it’s a virus.
No need to say something is blue in color, square in shape, absolutely complete, a total disaster or a true fact.
Unless it’s by John Phillip Sousa, no need to say the month of March.
Nine a.m. in the morning? Choose a.m. or morning, not both.

This is my final conclusion.

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Beside or Besides?

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When you’re angry or frustrated, are you beside yourself or besides yourself? Here’s the difference:

BESIDES means in addition to.
Besides me, only three people showed up at the meeting.

BESIDE means next to, alongside.
At the meeting, I sat beside a woman I had never met before.

However, the expression beside myself (with frustration, for example) strikes me as odd. Obviously, it’s idiomatic; you can’t physically get next to yourself, no matter how hard you try. But if you are sufficiently frustrated, you might feel as if you have been torn into two people. I’m just guessing here.

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Three Words Often Confused

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                      Daniel on slice #2

These words look quite similar but they serve different purposes:

RESPECTABLY means being worthy of respect or admiration. Misty Copeland, a prima ballerina, performed far more than respectably in “Swan Lake.”

RESPECTFULLY means showing respect or admiration for another. After eating two slices of cake, Daniel respectfully declined a third.

RESPECTIVELY refers to a series of items taken in the order listed. Pat and Corey, a teacher and scientist respectively, first met in college.

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My Feelings Exactly. Literally!

As always, thank you, Brian B.

 

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Don’t Call Me Maiden

When I got married, it was quite unusual for a woman to continue to use the surname she was born into. Even though I became a Birnberg, my husband and I continued to use my original name, Stone, when we made dinner reservations. Otherwise, we’d have to spell Birnberg several times. In fact, when someone asked our daughter, when she was about three, what her name was, she answered, “Joan Rebecca Birnberg BRNBRG.” Obviously, she had heard us spelling our last name repeatedly and, despite omitting the vowels, she thought the spelling was part of her last name.

After my marriage, though, I never referred to Stone as my maiden name. It conjured up a damsel-in-distress to me, so I referred to it as my unmarried name or my birth name. Birth name seems more appropriate to me now because both males and females change their last names for various reasons, whether or not they are or have been married.

Do I wish I had kept my birth name? Yes. If you could only see how our mail has been addressed: BRINBERG, BEINBERG, BIENBERG, BIRENBERG, BRINBAUM and many other creative attempts, including our favorite, BIZENBERRY.

 

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Bigly?

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© Judi Birnberg  My Bigliest Painting

If you were among the 84 million people who watched Monday night’s presidential debate, you might have sat up straighter in your seat when Donald Trump announced, “I’m going to cut taxes bigly.” My posture suddenly improved as I yelped, “BIGLY?” Perhaps, as many now think, he meant to say “big league.” But he didn’t say that.

I then joined the  zillions of people googling “bigly” and discovered that it is, according to Kory Stamper, a linguist with Merriam-Webster, a word that dates to approximately 1400, when it was used to mean “with great force” or “boastfully.” Then “bigly” disappeared for a very long time, only to be curiously resurrected this past  Monday night.

I started thinking: If we do something “grandly,” “spaciously,” minutely,” or “microscopically,” then we could do something bigly. If we wanted to. I don’t want to. How about you?

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Who’s Joe?

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I’ve been wondering how the word joe came to be used in a slang sense for coffee. I consulted Evan Morris’ book The Word Detective to see what his theories are.

In fact, no one seems to know for certain. It may be that joe is somehow associated with the island of Java, since java is another synonym for coffee. In the 19th century, the Indonesian island of Java was a major source of the world’s coffee.

Joe is often used to refer to the average man, the common man (his female equivalent is Jill), and has been especially associated with the military (we all know GI Joe,  slang for the common soldier long before he hit the toy store shelves). Because coffee is said to fuel the military, an association between common soldiers and their drink of choice is fixed.

Maybe.

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Can You Do These Things?

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Glued to the TV

Can you do your level best? Can you throw a fit? How about throwing someone under the bus? Or throwing a birthday party? Can you crack a smile, float a trial balloon, pose a question, bear the brunt, beat a hasty retreat, grab a nap, or cause someone’s words to fall on deaf ears? Are you glued to the conventions? Can you drive a hard bargain and nail down an argument?

If you can do these acts, it might be better if you didn’t. They’re all clichés, and everyone knows clichés should be avoided like the plague.

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Who Said That?

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Are you aware that almost every day you see one or more signs using quotation marks improperly?

“In business since 1979”

“Apple pie like your mom used to make”

“Call us for affordable repairs!”

“Free” delivery

No one ever said these things. They were made up to call attention to what the advertisers want you to remember.

Legitimate uses of quotation marks are when you are quoting the actual words someone else either said or wrote, or when you use a word knowing that your readers are aware you are being facetious or sarcastic.

For instance, if you write that your Aunt Edna is on a “strict” diet and then you go on to write that she eats strictly high-calorie foods, your readers understand your sarcasm. But in the last sign listed above, putting quotation marks around “free” seems to indicate that the delivery is, in fact, not free. It’s as if the company is poking you in the ribs and saying, “Ha! Not really.”

If you want to call attention to certain words, instead of quotation marks, you can use italics or boldface type. But please do this very sparingly.

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Do You Pronounce the T in Often?

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I was recently asked why we sometimes pronounce the T in often but not in listen. I wasn’t sure, so I consulted the grammar guru who writes the invaluable blog  Grammarphobia, Pat O’Conner. She wrote the equally invaluable (and funny) book Woe Is I. You can subscribe to Grammarphobia and get her frequent posts on English language oddities. I highly recommend it.

This is blog post of hers that addressed the meandering T:

<<Q: I just discovered your site and I plan to return often. Oh, that reminds me – it makes me crazy to hear people pronounce the “t” in “often.”

A: The word “often” can be pronounced with a silent “t” (the more common pronunciation) or with an audible “t.” Both are correct, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the version with the audible “t” occurs in educated speech but is considered unacceptable by some.

American Heritage has an interesting usage note after its entry for “often.” During the 15th century, it seems, English speakers stopped pronouncing some sounds within consonant clusters, making the language easier to articulate. Examples include the “d” in “handsome” and “handkerchief,” the “p” in “consumption” and “raspberry,” and the “t” in “chestnut” and “often.”

With the rise of public education and people’s awareness of spelling in the 19th century, according to the dictionary, sounds that had become silent were sometimes restored. This is what happened with the “t” in “often.”

You might be interested in knowing that “often” was originally just “oft,” and “oft” was commonly used as a prefix in word combinations that are archaic and unrecognizable today. Even a word like ‘oftentimes,” which appears in modern dictionaries, seems dated and has musty, quaint overtones. It’s also a term that drives people crazy because of its apparent redundancy. But in fact, the words “oftentime,” “oftentimes,” and “oftime” date back to the early 1400s, and “ofttimes” was first recorded in the 1300s, so they have a venerable history.>>

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Last Signs From Japan

I can’t say I’ve saved the best for last, but these are the only two remaining funny signs I haven’t yet posted. So say “Sayonara” to people’s attempts to master English—with perhaps not quite possessing a full understanding of that language. Whatever they have done, it’s better than any attempt at Japanese on my part would have been.

I think the backwards R is a nice touch:

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And here is a bit of trilingualism: native Japanese speakers creating a sign using both French and English. A for effort:

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An Important Distinction

 

images.png    While driving yesterday, I saw a truck on the infamous 405 freeway. The company installs audio and visual components and proudly displayed its name in various places on the truck:

SIMPLISTIC SOLUTIONS

I was in no danger of driving off the freeway since my maximum speed at that point ranged from 5-10 mph. But I did swallow my gum.

Being the crank that I am, I sent the company an e-mail today:

To Simplistic Solutions:

I saw one of your trucks on the 405 yesterday and almost croaked. It appears you do not realize that “simplistic” and “simple” are not synonyms.  You know what “simple” means; “simplistic” means overly simple, too simple—it is most definitely a NEGATIVE.  I am certain that is not the idea you want potential customers to have about your company.

Cheers anyway—

Judi Birnberg

 

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A Quick Return to Japan

Here are two more Japanese signs I saw that made me ponder:

The only thing that goes through my head when I see this is a song. “Imagine you and me, so happy together….” Do you have any idea what the business might be? A dating site?

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This is one of my favorites. When you see this store, you must think ONLY about a suit. NOTHING more. What if I dare to think about a necktie? Or a pair of shoes?

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Japan Still Calling

These signs and labels still make me giggle. They were all written by well-meaning people trying to master English, a notoriously complicated language. Our spelling alone is enough to make even native-speakers weep. See an earlier post of mine, How to Spell “Fish”

I presume “flit” was meant to be “filet.” As for the sauce, you and I are both guessing.

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These quotation marks are to reassure you that someone once said those words. I absolutely believe that, don’t you? The ST is likely missing an initial E. Since 1933, people have been enjoying precious coffee moments. I went to Japan thinking that I would find tea everywhere. It’s available but not obvious; however, coffee shops are ubiquitous.

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That serving spoon is to be used to take just one cornflake. But you can go back as many times as you’d like.

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Hungry?

This appears to be some kind of fruit juice—named PRETZ? Maybe you’re supposed to eat pretzels with it. This box was about $10; they had to squeeze a lot of pretzes to fill it up.

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Instead of pretzels, you might prefer a little pried seaweed. Fried? Or pried from a rock in the ocean?IMG_2094.jpg

 

You can ask the chef. He’s live!IMG_1858.jpg

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A Few More Japanese Vehicles

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I’m guessing all the passengers were happy, but one was THE happiest and got the bus named after him or her.

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Does the name change depending on the weather? It was a little windy that day.

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Translating Corporate-Speak (aka Jargon)

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Recently, Marilyn Katzman wrote an article in the New York Times about the difficulties she encountered when re-entering the workforce after having been “reorganized,” (you know, “let go”) from her previous position. Flooded with corporate jargon, she finally kept a list of the jargon words and their conversational equivalents. Asked if she was ready for her “bilateral” (I would have thought it referred to a mammogram), she ultimately deduced it meant attending a face-to-face meeting with her boss. Then she wondered if you can still say “boss.”

When asked if she had “bandwidth,” Katzman figured out that all it meant was time to work on a project. Well, of course. She soon realized that “strategy” and “strategic” were extremely useful, adding weight and gravitas to anything to which they were attached. “Strategic planning” was a biggie—but doesn’t all planning involve strategy? She also understood that she was thought to be more intelligent when she threw “transparency” into conversations and emails. Katzman learned that “decks” had nothing to do with levels in a parking garage but rather referred to PowerPoint presentations. You knew that, right? At meetings she would write down examples of this new-to-her corporate jargon: “deliverables” showed up with great frequency, as did “ramping up” and “drilling down.”

Before too long, a colleague informed her of an actual game, “B.S. Bingo,” consisting of cards ruled off into squares. Each square contained one of these supposedly important words, and at meetings people would X off a square when they heard the word in it. When a whole row was marked off, the attendee got to jump up and yell, “B.S!” When I taught in the corporate world, this game hadn’t be produced yet (why didn’t I think of it!), but I would tell my groups about another version of this game I had heard of: except my people were encouraged, when they completed a row, to yell, “Bullshit!” I’m still wondering if anyone ever did it.

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Typos in Ads

I was recently sent this link to a typo in a prominent ad. How is it that no one in the product’s company or in the advertising agency caught this mistake before the ad appeared? Again I remind you: proofread everything you write. http://www.businessinsider.com/blackberry-grammar-fail-variety-one-won-2015-4

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The —Ize Have It

I got an email today from Williams-Sonoma advertising a new attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer. It was described as a “Handy multitasker that peels, cores, slices and spiralizes in seconds.” I must confess, I am not a spiralizer. I have made spirals, created spirals, but can’t remember the last time I spiralized anything.

To my eye and ear, many —ize verbs are unnecessary. Can’t we create incentives rather than incentivize? Prioritize? Set priorities. Have you ever bought a utilized car?

However, many verbs ending in —ize are so common that I can’t argue with their use: hospitalize, hypnotize, lionize, legalize, minimize, maximize, idealize, and personalize—among many others.

Stepping off my soapbox, I wonder if you can think of any time utilize conveys any meaning that use doesn’t. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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“Dior and I”

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This is the title of a new film that was reviewed in today’s Los Angeles Times. Does the title make you wonder if the pronoun is correct? In fact, it depends what the filmmakers wanted to say.

“Dior and I” is correct if you are using “I” as the subject pronoun it always is. For instance, “Dior and I collaborated on many shows.”

But “Dior and Me” would be correct if you’re using “me” as the object pronoun it always is. For instance, “The Winter 2000 show was produced by Dior and me.”

If you are uncertain about when to use “I” and when to use “me,” I hope this helps.

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Cliché Finder

Cliche Finder is a website (www.westegg.com) that has lists of random clichés. Here’s one I stumbled on just now. See if any of these sayings are near and dear to your heart (and there’s another cliché for you):

different strokes for different folks
to have and to hold
forewarned is forearmed
from A to Z
If you’re the last one to leave,turn out the lights.
warms the cockles of your heart (Did you know your heart had cockles?)
find yourself in a hole
turn turtle
no sweat
didn’t like the color of his money

What’s so wrong with clichés? The first time we heard any of them, we might well have thought, “Isn’t that clever!” But by the 20th time, they had become old hat and made us green around the gills because they were hoary with age, well past their pull-by date.

I think I’ve tortured you with enough clichés for one day. As William Safire, the late word maven once wrote, “Avoid clichés like the plague.”

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Sayings Involving Food

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Today’s offering comes from the most recent Trader Joe’s newsletter, the Frequent Flyer. For those of you unfamiliar with Trader Joe’s (or TJ’s, as it’s popularly called), I feel sorry for you. It is a chain of small but wonderful grocery stores that carries fresh and frozen products, both common and unusual. Their food is excellent and reasonable, the wine and beer section is interesting and well priced, and the employees (who are treated very well by management) are exceptionally helpful. I only explain what TJ’s is because some of my readers come from parts of the world where, I suspect, the store may not yet have made inroads. But don’t give up hope! The current Frequent Flyer, always entertaining to read, included this list of sayings about food that mean something else:

As easy as pie=very easy

To curry favor=to seek gain through flattery

To know your onions=to be extremely knowledgable in a subject

Worth one’s salt=to be competent at a job or deserving of one’s salary

Bring home the bacon=to be a good provider/make a good living

Wake up and smell the coffee=face up to reality

Keen as mustard=very enthusiastic

In the soup=in a difficult situation/in trouble

In a nutshell=concisely

I am lucky enough to have two Trader Joe’s within a 10 minute drive. I hope before too long, you too will be able to say that. This is an unpaid and unsolicited cheer for the store. And my thanks for today’s post, courtesy of TJ’s.

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Does “Proper English” Matter?

I am asking you this question seriously. An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this past week raising the question about whether “proper English” matters. It was written by Oliver Kamm, an editor and columnist for the Times of London. Here is the link to his article:
http://on.wsj.com/1CcHQ3V .

Kamm acknowledges errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation but states that if “everyone” is doing it, it’s OK. He says, “…that is what the language is.” To a certain extent, I agree. All languages change because of common usage. In Shakespeare’s day, the word “girl” could refer to a young child, either female or male. That meaning no longer applies, strictly because of common usage. And look at the evolution of the word “gay” in the last 50 years.

But Kamm has no problem with “between you and I.” I do. He would call my attitude snobbish and say I am a pedant. Yet isn’t he being pedantic when stating his views on language?

Some rules of English language are holdovers from Latin syntax. That is why ending sentences with prepositions is still considered a no-no by many. I have no problem with saying or writing, “Who was the person I saw you with?” The alternative is to say, “With whom was that person I saw you?” I doubt many will go for that stuffy option. Splitting infinitives is another so-called error, yet the world’s most famous split infinitive, “to boldly go,” poses no problem. If it sounds all right and makes sense, I am fine with splitting infinitives (the “to —” form of verbs).

We all use different forms of English for different occasions. A formal letter of complaint, a quick email to a friend, a letter to your ancient great-aunt—all will contain a different style of English. If your work involves a field that uses particular lingo, by all means use it among your colleagues. But don’t let that language spill out into the wider world; most people outside your area won’t understand what you mean. And clear communication is the purpose of language, isn’t it? Also realize that spoken English is rarely held to the same standards as is written English. Sometimes the result can be painful to the ears, but casual speech usually seems normal and often even entertaining.

Here’s a big question: Do people judge us by the way we use English? I fear they do. It might not be fair, and it is only one way we are judged daily: by our speech and writing, by our clothing, by our hair and makeup, by the car we drive, by our taste in music and movies—the list is endless. Not fair, but endless.

I have two graduate degrees in English. One class required a very complicated and difficult study of transformational grammar (don’t ask), but it did give me the knowledge and confidence to devote over 20 years to teaching business writing seminars in the corporate world. If “proper” English doesn’t matter, why was I ever hired?

I think the dumbing down of language standards fits in with today’s grade inflation and trophies for everyone on the sports team. In the 1970s, an “anything goes” educational model arose to make students feel good at all costs. A young cousin of mine learned to read in school by using phonetic books; she also learned to write by using phonetic spelling. At some point in later elementary school she had to dich fonetik speling and lurn the mor convenshunl wun. Perhaps some of you were taught the same way.

Daily we are faced with language distortion in politics and advertising. (I urge you to read George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language.” You can find it online. Well worth your time.)

Since the purpose of language is communication, being precise is of great importance. The rules we learn throughout our lives, particularly in classes, ensure the greatest clarity; we encounter fewer opportunities for misunderstanding.

My questions to you are the following: Is it racist or classist to expect people to write using the standards of “proper” English? If people don’t use standard English, will they be considered less intelligent? Will use of substandard English hold people back?

I would love to get your feedback. I will be here all this week. I am disappearing for the following two weeks for vacation. Whenever you write, I will have your emails when I get back (yes, I’m unplugging) and will answer you.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to AW for alerting me to the article that gave rise to this letter.

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So This is At the Top of My Pet Peeve List

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I blogged about this topic once before, but it has become ubiquitous and is grating on my last synapse. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, look again at the subject line or listen to any interview on NPR: Why are people starting sentences with “So” when the word adds no meaning?

I’m not referring to the use of “so” as a conjunction, as in, “Elrod dyed his hair Raggedy Andy red so he would stand out in a crowd.” I don’t mean “so” used as a synonym for “therefore” or “as a result”: “Aaron overate all day; so naturally he wasn’t hungry at dinner time.”

I mean the use of “so” as a worthless filler, most frequently used at the beginning of an answer to a question:

Q. “How many people do you think will want to buy the new Apple iWatch?”
A. “So it’s hard to predict because many people have given up wearing watches and just use their tablets and phones to see what time it is.”

So I think “Well” as an introduction (that again carries no meaning and may at best buy thinking time before answering) has been supplanted by “So.” So notice today how many times you hear people say and write “So” at the beginning of sentences. So don’t be like me and snarkily say “So” back at them every time you hear or see it. So there.

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What is & Called?

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Chances are you know it’s called an ampersand. It is the symbol for “and,” as in Johnson & Johnson. It is an 18th century distortion of the Latin, “and per se and.” It’s also sometimes found in the abbreviation for “et (and) cetera (the rest),” particularly when it’s written by calligraphers as “&c.”

However, don’t use an ampersand to take the place of the word “and” in your work documents unless it actually is used in a company name.

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Flammable vs. Inflammable

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Do you think these two words are antonyms? In fact, they are synonyms, both meaning capable of burning. People get misled by the “in—” suffix: they might think of words such as “invulnerable,” “independent,” or “incapable,” in which that same suffix does make the root word a negative.

However, in the case of “flammable” and “inflammable,” both mean capable of catching fire. Because clothing and upholstery labels still sometimes say the item is “inflammable,” people might assume their couch or sweater will not catch fire. For safety reasons, “flammable” is the preferred usage.

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Perused Anything Interesting Lately?

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Language does change, usually over time and usually because of common usage. Many people think “peruse” means to glance at, skim, or read quickly. In fact, it means to study carefully, to read intently. Perusing isn’t limited to reading material; you can also peruse a work of art.

I wonder how long it will be before the primary dictionary meaning of “peruse” will say “to skim or read quickly.” Maybe next week—but not yet.

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Parallelism

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When you write items in a series, you want to use the same grammatical form for each item. Otherwise, your writing will be grating both on the eye and in the ear. Here are some sentences that are not parallel. Fix them; this should be easy for you. I’ll put the correct answers below.

1. To be a good soccer player you need to have strategy, skill and be agile.

2. My doctor told me to take the proverbial two aspirin and that I should call her in the morning.

3. To end a school paper, you can give a summary of the main points, posit a question or you could quote someone.

4. My English teacher gives us three hours of homework every night and we’re also expected to write a five-page essay every weekend.

5. Spoiled as a child, Alex grew up to be well groomed, talented and an obnoxious person.

Answers:

1. strategy, skill and agility

2. take two aspirin and call her in the morning

3. give a summary, posit a question or use a quotation

4. three hours of homework every night and a five-page essay each weekend

5. well groomed, talented and obnoxious

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What Some People Do to the English Language!

In case you’ve been thinking you aren’t particularly eloquent, read the following quotations. You’ll recover your self-confidence immediately. Thanks to my friend Jill J. for sending me these howlers.
(On September 17, 1994, Alabama’s Heather Whitestone was selected as Miss America 1995.)Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?
Answer: “I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.”
–Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss  USA contest.
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“Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.”
–Mariah Carey
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“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life,”
— Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for a Federal anti-smoking campaign
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“I’ve never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body.”
–Winston Bennett,  University   of  Kentucky   basketball forward.
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“Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
–Mayor Marion Barry,  Washington, DC
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“That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I’m just the one to do it.”
–A Congressional candidate in  Texas
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“Half this game is ninety percent mental.”
–Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark
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“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
–Al Gore, Vice President
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“I love  California. I practically grew up in Phoenix.”
— Dan Quayle
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“We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?”
–Lee Iacocca
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“The word “genius” isn’t applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”
–Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback and sports analyst.
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“We don’t necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people.”
— Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor.
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“Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”
–Department of Social Services, Greenville , South Carolina
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“Traditionally, most of Australia’s imports come from overseas.”
–Keppel Enderbery
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–Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

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A Quick Pronoun Quiz

Which sentence is grammatically correct?

1. My boyfriend likes soccer more than me.

2. My boyfriend likes soccer more than I.

Hmmm. You’re thinking about this one. Scroll down and see if you are correct.

 

 

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Both sentences are correct. The first one is really saying that my boyfriend likes soccer more than he likes me. The second sentence says he likes soccer more than I do.

If you’re not sure about which pronoun to use, think about what the sentence is actually saying and add the missing but understood words.

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What’s the Correct Verb?

imagesHere are a few sentences asking you to decide which verb is correct:

1. Each of the Congress members in the border districts (is, are) being polled on the immigration proposal.

2. A list of the employees of the Internal Audit Department requesting flexible vacation days (is, are) posted in Sheridan’s office.

3. Every member of the committee reviewing the bylaws (needs, need) to send in recommendations by next Friday.

Finished? The correct answer in each sentence is the first choice. Verbs have to agree with their subjects—singular with singular, plural with plural.

In the first sentence, the subject is “Each.” The next two pieces of the sentence before the verb are prepositional phrases, and the subject of a sentence is never found in a prepositional phrase. “Members” and “districts” are objects of their preceding prepositions but neither can be the subject.

The subject in the second sentence is “list,” for the same reason, as is “member” in the third sentence.

If you are not sure what your subject is, temporarily cross out the prepositional phrases. You’ll then be down to the skeleton of your sentence and the verb will become apparent.

How did you do?

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Into or In to?

The distinction between these two is not difficult, yet people often confuse them.

INTO is a preposition and indicates movement either within something else or toward it:

“I drove into downtown Chicago although I had never been there before and was unsure where I was going.”

“Harry tried to put his new iPhone6 into his pocket but found it wouldn’t fit.”

 

IN TO comprises the adverb “in” and is followed by “to,” which is another preposition.

“I listened in to see if I was interested in their discussion of ‘Homeland.’ ”

Here’s an easy way to distinguish these two constructions:

INTO almost always answers the question “Where?”

IN TO indicates “in order to.”

Let’s try this out: Harry put his new iPhone6 where? Into his pocket (or at least he tried).

Why did I listen in? In order to see if I would be interested in their conversation.

Got it? Good!

 

 

 

 

 

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Presently or Currently?

 

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The first meaning or spelling you find in the dictionary is the preferred one. The first definition of “presently” is “soon, in the near future.”

“Currently” means “now, at the present time.”

Many people use “presently” interchangeably with “currently,” because, most likely, they are thinking of “at the present time.”

I prefer to make the distinction between these two words. As always, though, common usage will be the deciding factor.

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Are You Using These Phrases Incorrectly?

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Today I bring for your edification today the following phrases that are often said/written incorrectly, probably because people may not have seen them in print but go by what they hear (or think they hear):

http://www.buzzfeed.com/michaelblackmon/17-really-common-phrases-youve-probably-been-saying-wrong?bffb&utm_term=4ldqpgp&s=mobile#10bv1hc

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Question Marks

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You know to put a question mark at the end of a direct question: “Where have you been?” However, I often see them where they do not belong, such as at the end of sentences containing the words “wonder” and guess.” (If you put those words in the search box on this blog, you’ll find a post I wrote addressing that problem.)

Another place they don’t belong is in indirect questions such as the following: “Terrence would like to know when Algernon will be in England?” This is a statement of fact. Terrence himself must have asked, “When will Algernon be in England?” But you are merely stating what Terrence is wondering about. Thank you for holding  your question mark.

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Transpire

Most people think “transpire” means “to happen or occur,” as in,”The community was very curious about what transpired at the closed-door Board of Education meeting.”

In fact, it means “to leak out.” Surprised? Stick around because in not too many years today’s misconception about the meaning of “transpire” will have become standard through common usage.

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Do You Care Enough? Too Much?

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I love it when people send me examples of bad writing. (It makes my job so much easier.) Here is the latest from V.M., who relishes these goofs as much as I do. She received a brochure last week from “Beyond Caring Home Care Services.”

You know what the owners were trying to convey. They wanted us to know that not only do they care, but they go beyond caring to do many other helpful things. The problem is that according to the common meaning of “beyond caring,” you no longer care. You used to care but now you are past that; you are beyond caring.

It’s possible the brochure was written by someone whose first language wass not English and who was not familiar with this particular expression. If a document was important, I always used to encourage my ESL students to run their writing by someone whose facility with English they could trust, to make sure they were not making inadvertent mistakes.

P.S. Winnie the Pooh should have used a period or a semicolon between those two sentences, not a comma. But I love him, and he admits he is a bear of very little brain.

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Alright or All right?

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This is an easy one: so far, “alright” is not considered an acceptable form of this construction. “Alright is all wrong” might help you to remember. However, given the prevalence of the one-word spelling in advertising and popular culture, I predict it is only a matter of time before “all right” will be “all wrong.” Meanwhile, I’m hanging in there with the purists.

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Is This Really So Difficult?

I hope you are familiar with the donation sites that ask you to click every day to support various causes (breast cancer, autism, hunger, literacy, veterans, and several others). I have been clicking for years. You can click on all of them in under a minute and can even select having a reminder sent to you daily. The causes are supported by various businesses; you are not required to pay anything—just a click a day.

I have to admit, my heart sank when I got to the diabetes site today. This was the welcoming message:

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Does no one proofread? Does no one understand that most words ending in S are merely plurals, not possessives? Are these rhetorical questions?

Despite my curmudgeonly reaction to the errant apostrophe, I still do encourage you to support these causes daily; it will take only one minute of your time.

 

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I’ve Been AWOL

I haven’t posted in a while because I spent the last 10 days having a houseful of guests including our two precious grandchildren. We spent the time hitting some of the cultural highlights, including exhibits on Pompeii, Byzantium, dinosaurs, gems and minerals, and a stellar art exhibit at the LA County Museum, entitled “From Van Gogh to Kandinsky,” one I consider perhaps the best show LACMA has ever mounted.

Looking at what I titled this post and my mentioning of LACMA reminded me how often I hear people confuse abbreviations with acronyms. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Acronyms are abbreviations pronounced like words: snafu. fubar, NASA, ASAP, laser, LSAT and GMAT, among others.

 

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Sea Change

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Surely you have noticed that “changes” exist no longer. Every change has been transformed into a “sea change.” Here is the first noted use of the phrase (it has since lost its hyphen) from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (1611):

Full fathom five thy father lies,

        Of his bones are coral made:

       Those are pearls that were his eyes:

        Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

As you can see, that segment describes a major transformation, which is, indeed, what “sea change” means. Switching your brand of toothpaste is not a sea change, nor is taking your vacation in August rather than in June, as you have done until now.

“Sea change” has become a buzzword, particularly common in politics and advertising. Because of its frequent use, it will likely become the go-to phrase to indicate any change, no matter how trivial. You may be OK with that; I’m not. Not yet.

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I Don’t Get It


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From the initial idea to the finished ad in the newspaper, did not one person see the error and correct it? This happens so frequently, I have to wonder if editors exist any longer.

This ad is aimed at “graDuation” celebrations, but “congratulations” is not related. These two words are derived from entirely different Latin verbs. True, many people do pronounce “congratulations” as if the T were a D. But it’s not. Was the word never underlined, indicating a problem with it? Did not one person notice the error?

I may have to drown my sorrow and frustration in a two-pound lobster.

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What Can Happen to Your Knickers

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I recently bought The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, by Tony Thorne. It’s fun to read although many entries would get an R rating. Browsing through it, I came across “get one’s knickers in a twist,” a British locution from the late 1950s and originally of purely sexual meaning. In America it is used to illustrate a state of agitation, over-excitement, of being flustered and generally rattled.

“Knickers” itself is British usage for underwear (the lower garments only) and is a shortened form of “knickerbockers,” a centuries-old Dutch word meaning baggy, knee-length undergarments. Women’s underpants are also called knickers, particularly in Britain. (Don’t say you don’t learn anything from my blog.)

In addition to getting your knickers in a twist, you might also find your knickers or panties in a wad or a knot. If that happens, take some deep breaths—or a stiff drink.

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The Day for How Many Presidents?

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Every year on this date, I think perhaps I won’t be annoyed the next year with missing or errant apostrophes in the name of the holiday, that people will catch on to the correct punctuation. But how can they when they see rampant errors in advertising? (I do wonder whether the holiday exists primarily for Macy’s to have a sale on towels and bedding.)

Today I have seen PRESIDENTS DAY, PRESIDENT’S DAY and PRESIDENTS’ DAY. Which is it? This is simple. Obviously, the name is a possessive. Just decide how many presidents the day belongs to. If it were on Lincoln’s or Washington’s birthday, it would be PRESIDENT’S. But since the day is in memory of both Lincoln and Washington, the apostrophe goes after the final S: PRESIDENTS’.

When deciding where a possessive apostrophe needs to go, ask yourself whom the item belongs to. Think of the apostrophe as an arrow pointing to the owner word. Then add APOSTROPHE S. If the new word you’ve formed ends in  two or three esses (weird word), just drop the final S. It’s not wrong to leave it, but the trend is toward eliminating it:

Three dogs’s tails——-> three dogs’ tails

My boss’s memos——–> my boss’ memos (pronounced “bosses,” which happens to be the plural of boss)

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Well, Is They?

 

This is from an ad in the current issue of Westways, the Auto Club magazine.
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