Tag Archives: All aspects of words and the English language

Punctuation—It Matters

 

© Judi Birnberg

 

 

 

In Just My Typo, edited by Drummond Moir (gotta love his name), he cites a 19th century example of carelessness:

A New Orleans cotton broker sent a telegraph to New York, asking if he should buy cotton at the current prices. He received an answer of “No price too high.” Naturally, he bought as much as he could, only to discover that the answer should have been punctuated as follows: “No. Price too high.”

One tiny dot on paper can make a world of difference.

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Discreet vs. Discrete

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Will she be discreet?

These two words are pronounced identically and are commonly mistaken for each other.

DISCREET means circumspect, prudent, careful. If you are discreet, you will avoid gossiping or criticizing others. You try to avoid embarrassing others. Roger promised he would be discreet after his best friend told him he was thinking of divorcing his fourth wife.

DISCRETE means singular, unconnected, separate. Academy Awards are given in multiple discrete categories.

 

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Insults From Famous People

From my friend Nicki, here are some insults from famous people. Oh, the power of words!

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

“He had delusions of adequacy .” -Walter Kerr (theater critic)

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” -Clarence Darrow

Stay tuned for more.

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Commas With Names

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To my consternation, I have noticed that many people and advertising companies, perhaps the majority, omit a comma when a person’s or team’s name is in the sentence. I’ll add an X where commas belong in the sentences below. Pay particular attention to sentences that directly address a person.

Good for youX Henry!

NoX Sam, you are wrong about who started the argument.

GoX Dodgers!

HiX Darrell.

Good morningX everyone.

SurpriseX Marlena!

In the last example, if you use the comma you are springing a surprise on Marlena. Without the comma, you are ordering someone to surprise Marlena as opposed to surprising someone else.

 

 

 

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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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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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Adverbs as Time Wasters

Adverbs are having their celebrity moment. The problem is that they are usually time and space wasters. How many times have you seen (or written) sentences containing the following?

Clearly

Actually

Basically

Virtually

Personally

Simply

Arguably

Absolutely

Instead, use a verb that carries precise meaning; then you’ll have no need to add a superfluous adverb. If a television is blaring, no need to say that it’s blaring loudly. When someone shouts, it won’t be done quietly.

A friend’s young granddaughter was fond of starting most sentences with “actually.” When her grandma asked her what “actually” meant, Nicole gave it serious thought and finally answered, “Actually, I don’t know.”

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