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.
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.)
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?
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.”
Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.
At this time
In fact, depending on the context, these words could fit into any one of those three categories.
• If you honestly don’t know about a situation, it might be necessary to use one to give yourself some wiggle room and buy some time.
• If you are certain of the situation and you use one of those words, you are adding extra verbiage that serves no purpose. Cut out all deadwood.
• If your intent is to deceive and you use one of those words, you are being a word weasel. Avoid this.
I had no idea. Of course, I knew the phrase “the whole shebang,” meaning the totality of an entity. But I never knew a shebang was a specific thing until the other night when I was watching a documentary about a group of archeologists excavating the Civil War site of Ft. Lawton, in Georgia. Those archeologists had to spend some nights on the site and set up their individual shebangs (small and uncomfortable). A shebang is a rustic shelter or primitive hut. Did you know that? Neither did I until I watched this somewhat tedious documentary. But I learned something because I watched the whole shebang.
I’ve been dipping into Michael Erard’s book, Um. Yes, that’s the title. The subtitle is Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. Chances are you won’t be surprised to know that in American English, um and uh are the most common blunders, or fillers, accounting for 40 percent of what Erard calls “speech disturbances.” Those are words that interrupt the smooth flow of sentences.
In other places, people have their own fillers: in Britain, they say uh but spell it er (think of a Brit saying water or butter—you won’t hear an R at the end of those words). French speakers say something close to euh. Germans say äh and ähm, Hebrew speakers use ehhh, and Swedes say eh, ah, aaah, m, mm, hmm, ooh, a, and oh. Very versatile.
The point is that around the world, linguistic blunders exist, no matter the language. However, if you want to be a citizen of the world, um is pretty much universal.