Tag Archives: English language

Hanged vs. Hung

 

Hanged and hung are both past tenses of the verb to hang. You want to display some photographs on the wall. Which will it be? Would you say you hanged them or you hung them? I hope you hung them. Hanged is used to indicate death by suspension: The criminal was hanged at dawn. All other uses call for hung: you hung up the phone, you hung laundry out to dry, you hung out with your friends, you hung loose during the quarantine. Even to describe, ahem, male endowment, you’d use well hung.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Emigrate or Immigrate?

You often hear and see these two words used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference in their meanings. It depends on whether you are coming or going.

IMMIGRATE is the word to use when referring to people entering a new country: Canada has experienced great interest from people wanting to immigrate to that country from the United States.

EMIGRATE is used to refer to people leaving a country to take up residence elsewhere: Many people are considering emigrating from the United States to Canada .

Sadly, the US/ Canadian border has been closed because of the pandemic, so both words can be used only wishfully by some.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What’s an Initialism?

Initialism is a word I had not seen nor heard before today’s blogpost at Grammarphobia.com, written by the brilliant and hilarious Patricia T. O’Conner, she of Woe Is I fame (among her many other linguistic accomplishments).

Her post was about using or omitting apostrophes in abbreviations. A reader asked Pat which plural was correct: PJs, PJ’s, pjs pj’s, P.J.’s. The answer is that you can find support for just about every variant, but the most commonly accepted seems to be plain old PJs. That is, unless your PJ’s pants (possessive) have a hole in the seat.

Did you know that PJs is an initialism? Neither did I. It means an abbreviation pronounced by saying each letter separately : PJs, USA, ATM, TV, RPMs, IRS, DOJ, UCLA, NYU, OMG, for example.

When you pronounce an abbreviation as a word, that is an acronym. (I’ve discussed this before in my blog.) An acronym is an abbreviation, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Here are some acronyms: NASA, scuba (so common it’s lost its caps), radar (ditto), fubar (look it up), RAM, AWOL, POTUS, SCOTUS, FLOTUS.

This post is my holiday gift to you. What? You were expecting jewelry, candy, money? I’ll see what I can come up with, ASAP. Until then, enjoy the day.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Favorite Clichés

 

download.jpg

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!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

An Important Distinction

I was driving next to 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 the time ranged from 5-10 mph. But I did swallow my gum.

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

To Simplistic Solutions:

 I saw one of your trucks on the 405 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

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

download.jpg

That’s the title of a little book I picked up the other day. It contains quotations on various topics, this one on writers. Twain had been introduced to an audience as “one of the world’s greatest authors,” and this was his response:

I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spenser is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling very well myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Pun Lovers of the World, Unite

From mi amiga Susana in Washington, DC. Enjoy!

 

“Lexophile” describes those that have a love for words, such as “You can
tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish,” and “To write with a broken pencil is pointless.”

 

The New York Times holds an annual competition to see who can create
the best original pun.

This year’s submissions.

I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic.  It’s syncing now.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.

This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians’ Club,
but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.

I know a guy who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says
he can stop any time.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

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

I got some batteries that 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.

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.

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

He had a photographic memory, but it was never fully developed.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.

Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.

I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because
she couldn’t control her pupils?

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

When chemists die, they barium.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

 

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

So What?

This is a rerun of a post I wrote almost five years ago. I thought perhaps this linguistic hiccup might disappear, but it seems as robust as ever:

I’d like you to consciously listen to people around you today or—if you can stomach it—for a week and become aware of how many sentences are being started with the word “So.”

I am now seeing this fairly often in writing as well, which makes me not happy at all. “So” legitimately means “as a result”: “Benjamin failed his driving test twice, so he is very nervous he won’t pass on his final chance to take it again.”

That, however, is not how the word is flooding discourse these days. It’s being used as the very casual, conversational beginning of sentences:

So did I tell you about the new manager in Human Resources?

So a new series is starting on HBO tonight.

So I’m wondering when my niece is going to finish college.

So the new plan is to limit department meetings to 30 minutes.

In each of those sentences, the word does no work. You can erase it and no meaning is lost, no confusion ensues. Pay attention in the next few days. Good chance you even will catch yourself saying “So” when it is extraneous. If it carried meaning, I would have no problem with it. However, it’s just deadwood. Chop it out.

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Than I or Than Me?

PICT0005 (2).jpg

©Judi Birnberg

Which do you prefer? Elmer loves golf more than I  or  Elmer loves golf more than me?

It used to be, not so long ago, that than was considered a preposition, and prepositions are followed by object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them). But than can also be considered a conjunction, which would need to be followed by subject pronouns (I, he she, we, they).

Times, they are a-changin’. Today, it’s generally acceptable to follow than by either a subject or an object pronoun, whichever one sounds better to you. This is progress! One problem with using the subject pronoun, however, is that your sentence is likely to be seen as stilted, pompous, or stuffy, somewhat la de dah. What you are saying in the first example in the first line is that Elmer loves golf more than I do. When you add those clarifying words, the stuffiness disappears. If you prefer using the object pronoun, you may have to also add clarifying words: Elmer loves golf more than he loves me.

A side note: Than and then may sound very similar, but they have very different meanings:

Than is used to compare things: more than, less than, taller than, stronger than, closer than….

Then shows relationships in which one thing follows another or results from it: Sam came home from school famished; he then emptied the refrigerator for his afternoon snack.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

We Now Turn to Malaprops

Following in the awkward steps of Mondegreens and Spoonerisms, we meet Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan’s play of 1775, The Rivals. That unfortunate woman had a strong tendency to use words that sounded quite similar to the words that were actually called for. For some more recent examples of malaprops, enjoy the following:

The magazine New Scientist claims an employee referred to a colleague as “a suppository (repository) of knowledge.”

In Huckleberry Finn, Aunt Sally declares, “I was most putrified (petrified) with astonishment.”

The late mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, called a tandem bicycle a tantrum bicycle.

Basketball player Drew Gooden remarked, “I’ve had to overcome a lot of diversity (adversity).”

And Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees could always be counted on for a startling turn of phrase. Of another player he said, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious (ambidextrous).”

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Spoonerisms

 

100_0895.JPG

Frigate bird, Galapagos  © Judi Birnberg

Now that you know what a mondegreen is, we can turn to spoonerisms, named for the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930). Apparently, he was prone to transposing the initial consonants of two words to such an extent that his mistakes came to be named after him.

Can’t you picture him officiating at a wedding and telling the groom, “It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride”?

In England, a popular dish is chish and fips. You might want a few belly jeans for dessert. And George W. Bush, known for his verbal gaffes, once declared, “If the the terriers and bariffs are torn down, the economy will grow.”

Maybe Rev. Spooner would have recognized my illustration as a brigate fird.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What In the World is a Mondegreen?

 

101_0013.JPG

©  Almost Spring           Judi Birnberg

For my next few posts, I’m going to entertain you with spoonerisms, eggcorns, malaprops, and mondegreens. In fact, I wrote this particular post almost three years ago, and you may not have been a reader then or may have forgotten what a mondegreen is. They tickle me no end.

Have you ever discovered lyrics that were not what you originally thought you heard? You misinterpret a phrase that sounds very similar to the real deal, but your interpretation gives it a new meaning, one that may raise eyebrows. That, dear readers, is a mondegreen.

The name was coined in 1954 by author Sylvia Wright, who misheard the lyrics of an old Scottish ballad; she thought these were the words:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

In fact, the last line is And laid him on the green.

Here are some other mondegreens:

the girl with colitis goes by (the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)

There’s a bathroom on the right (There’s a bad moon on the rise, from “Bad Moon Rising”)

Surely, good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life. A more common reading of the 23rd Psalm includes the line, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

When I was very young, a popular singer named Patti Page recorded a song called “Cross Over the Bridge.” It contains the line, Leave your fickle past behind you, and true romance will find you…. I was just discovering love songs on the radio and had no idea what “fickle” meant. To my ears, Patti Page was singing, Leave your pickle pats behind you….

I still wonder what pickle pats had to do with true romance. And what are pickle pats, anyway? Send me your own mondegreens, please! I bet you all have at least one.

 

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Win This Contest of Words

For many years now I have subscribed to Wordsmith.org. Every weekday I am emailed a word of the day, sometimes clever, sometimes esoteric (as in, “Who knew there was a word for that?”), often having a common theme. Posts are written with humor, are often illustrated, and always show how the word is used, along with a thought for the day. It takes only a minute to read each post, and I always leave enlightened and entertained.

Here’s the special part: In celebrating 25 years of Word of the Day, the creator, Anu Garg, is running several word contests, judged by eminent wordsmiths, and promising great prizes. (Oh, how I yearn to win a trip to the UK to visit the site of the Oxford English Dictionary!)

Here is Anu’s description of the contest. See if you’re interested. At the very least, subscribe to Wordsmith.org and painlessly enlarge your vocabulary.

25 YEARS OF WORDSMITH.ORG:
Next week marks 25 years of Wordsmith.org. Founded on March 14, 1994, what began as a way to share my love of words and language has since grown into a community of people in 171 countries!

Thank you for being a part of this community. We love you. And we want to send you to tour the offices of Oxford English Dictionary in Oxford, UK and Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.

CONTESTS:
To celebrate, we are organizing contests with prizes such as those tours. Also, books, dictionaries, and more. wordsmith.org/25years

JUDGES:
Winners will be decided by an international panel that includes Will Shortz (The New York Times Puzzle Editor), Kory Stamper (Executive Director of the Dictionary Society of North America, author, Word by Word), Richard Lederer (author), Lauren Gawne (Dept. of Linguistics, La Trobe University, Australia), Jesse Sheidlower (former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary), Steve Kleinedler (former Executive Editor of the American Heritage Dictionary), Joan H. Hall (Chief Editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English), and others.

HELP US REACH NEWSPAPERS:
Are you a reporter or editor? Do you know of a local columnist, editor, or reporter in your town who’d want to cover this story? Let us know any information you need! Write to us at words@wordsmith.org (see the press release).

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
We need your help in spreading the word. Do you have a blog? We’d love a write-up. Or you can share the contest on social media:
Share the contest on Facebook
Share the contest on Twitter
See it and tag a friend on Instagram

POST A MESSAGE:
David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, sent this: “For 25 years, Wordsmith.org has been refreshing the linguistic parts other sites have not reached. Congratulations!” Post your own messages here.

SHARE YOUR STORIES:
People have met here and gotten married. Send us your stories — you don’t have to go as far as to get married (-: Share any stories you have, big or small, related to words and language. Write to us at words@wordsmith.org.

CONTESTS

Take part in one or more contests, each judged by a distinguished panel of guest judges. Winners will receive exciting prizes such as word games, books, and more. Enter as many times as you want!

[Info from Judi: a pangram is a sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet.]

Here’s to the next 25 years!

Anu Garg
Founder
words@wordsmith.org

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:

Words are things; and a small drop of ink / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. -Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Conjunction Junction

 

 

What’s your function? Remember that song from “Schoolhouse Rock” back in the Dark Ages? If you can’t remember the words, I’ll tell you what a conjunction’s function is: It joins. It creates a junction when words, or sentences, or clauses, or phrases meet.

The most common conjunctions are AND and BUT. In addition, you can use OR or NOR, YET, or SO. These are all the garden variety, but some other day I’ll torture you with coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions.

I’m willing to bet that an English teacher once told you never to begin a sentence with a conjunction. I’ll also bet you were never given a reason for that “rule”— because there isn’t one. You can start a sentence with any word in the English language. And if anyone challenges you, blame me.

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Clever Definitions

Thanks to my friend Paul:

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:
1. Cashtration (n): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13 Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Does “Proper” English Matter?

I am asking you this question seriously. An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal asking the question about whether “proper English” matters. It was written by Oliver Kamm, an editor and columnist for the Times of London.

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 the student 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 on this topic.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Clever Words for Clever People

Another good one from my friend Nicki N. Thanks, amiga!
 
1. ARBITRAITOR
A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s.
2. BERNADETTE
The act of torching a mortgage.
3. BURGLARIZE
What a crook sees through.
4. AVOIDABLE
What a bullfighter tries to do.
5. COUNTERFEITER
Workers who put together kitchen cabinets.
6. LEFT BANK
What the bank robbers did when their bag was full of money.
7. HEROES
What a man in a boat does.
8. PARASITES
What you see from the Eiffel Tower.
9. PARADOX
Two physicians.
10. PHARMACIST
A helper on a farm.
11. RELIEF
What trees do in the spring.
12. RUBBERNECK
What you do to relax your wife.
13. SELFISH
What the owner of a seafood store does.
14. SUDAFED
Brought litigation against a government official.

 

b

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Singular or Plural?

I often hear people talk about a phenomenon, which refers to one thing or situation, when they need the plural of phenomenon—which is phenomena, referring to more than one thing or situation.

• Global warming is a potentially disastrous phenomenon.

• The phenomena that contribute to global warming are being studied extensively in hopes of avoiding worldwide catastrophes.

Another pair often misused are criteria (plural) and criterion (singular). If you have only one standard that must be met, you want criterion.

But here’s one you can stop worrying about: datum. That’s the singular of data. Today, data is used for both singular and plural.  Why? Because common usage changes all languages. However, if you are using data as a plural, make your verb plural also:

The scientific data are unequivocal that ocean temperatures are rising rapidly.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Abbreviations vs. Acronyms

images.jpg

When people see an abbreviation, many refer to it as an acronym, thinking they mean the same thing. They don’t.

You all know what an abbreviation is.  An acronym is also an abbreviation—but one that is pronounced as a word:

NASA

Snafu ( it lost the caps when it became a common word)

Scuba (ditto)

Fubar (ditto)

MOMA in New York and LACMA in Los Angeles

You’d never say “Oosuh” or “Yoosuh,” so USA is not an acronym, just an abbreviation.

All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

(If you’re not sure what snafu and fubar stand for, look them up in your online dictionary; there you will discover the slightly off-color meanings.)

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Don’t Shun the -sions

images.jpeg

An optical illusion–I see movement and three dimensions. Perhaps I am deluded.

 

Here are a few words that look as if they might be related,  but they have different meanings:

ILLUSION: 1) A false belief or idea. 2) Something that is perceived incorrectly, such as an optical illusion. For example, at times the moon appears to be enormous, but, in fact, it doesn’t change its size. For a multitude of optical illusions, google the art of MC Escher.

ALLUSION: A reference to something without specifically mentioning it. For example, many literary works contain allusions to Shakespeare’s plays.

DELUSION: An idea firmly held but not founded in fact. Paranoid thought can involve many delusions.

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Vivid Headlines

My Florida friend Cami sent me these headlines, as shown in newspapers. I have fiddled around with the images and am not sufficiently tech savvy to be able to show you those pages. I am able to copy the headlines for your entertainment. I’m fairly certain several were written intentionally and somehow got past the newspapers’ censors. Here we go:

Rangers get whiff of Colon

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Barbershop singers bring joy to school for deaf

Miracle cure kills fifth patient

Bridges help people cross rivers

Girls’ schools still offering “something special”—Head

Still unsure why the sewer smells

17 remain dead in morgue shooting spree

Starvation can lead to health hazards

Man Accused of Killing Lawyer Receives a New Attorney

Parents keep kids home to protest school closure

Hospitals resort to hiring doctors

Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons

Total lunar eclipse will be broadcast live on Northwoods Public Radio

Diana was still alive hours before she died

Meeting on open meetings is closed

Tiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says

Republicans turned off by size of Obama’s package

New sick policy requires 2-day notice

Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25

Bugs flying around with wings are flying bugs

Study Shows Frequent Sex Enhances Pregnancy Chances

Marijuana issue sent to a joint committee

Worker suffers leg pain after crane drops 800-pound ball on his head

Thank you, Cami!

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

About Condoms

Because this blog is about the English language, just about any topic can be adapted to fit. Today we shall speak of condoms. My reference book is A Browser’s Dictionary (and Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language), compiled by John Ciardi.

Ciardi states that “the first to deal with this word was Capt. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, London, 1785.” Here is Grose’s definition:

Cundum. The dried gut of a sheep, worn by men in the act of coition, to prevent venereal infection; said to have been invented by one Colonel Cundum. These machines were long prepared and sold by a matron of the name Phillips at the Green Canister, in Half-moon St., in the Strand. That good lady having acquired a fortune, retired from business, but learning that the town was not well served by her successor, she, out of a patriotic zeal for the public welfare, returned to her occupation, of which she gave notice by divers hand-bills in circulation in the year 1776.

Ciardi then notes, “What Grose is really saying is that the old bag sold her business and then set up competitive shop again, ruining the poor fool to whom she had sold out.”

My note: I’m not sure what Grose meant by “machines,” and I find it interesting that he considered condoms useful for preventing STDs but said nothing about their contraceptive function.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Merriam-Webster Time Traveler

Unknown.jpegThis is fun—check out this link: Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler. Enter any year and find what words were first introduced into the M-W Dictionary that year. See what words were born when you were.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Schopenhauer on Women

images.jpeg

I am a member of a group in Los Angeles called the PLATO Society. (It has nothing to do with Plato; it’s an acronym.) It’s comprised of study/discussion groups that last for 14 weeks, and each of the 14 members of the various groups takes a turn leading the discussion. My course this term is on historic speeches, and one I have chosen was delivered by Nancy Astor, who was the first woman to serve in the English Parliament. In it she states that the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was “always wrong about women.” I knew nothing about him, so I googled and came up with the following. Enjoy.

“Women are directly adapted to act as the nurses and educators of our early childhood, for the simple reason that they themselves are childish, foolish, and short-sighted—in a word, are big children all their lives, something intermediate between the child and the man, who is a man in the strict sense of the word. Consider how a young girl will toy day after day with a child, dance with it and sing to it; and then consider what a man, with the very best intentions in the world, could do in her place.”

What a guy.

3 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

All right, already!

IMG_1713

I’m not sure how Bob Marley originally wrote this song, but someone needed to mention that alright is not generally accepted as a correct spelling. It’s two words, ALL RIGHT. All right?

As for the title of this post, already means “up until this time.” All ready means “complete, finished.” The posters for the campaign were all ready to be picked up. George already got them this afternoon.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Origin of a Cliché

images.jpg

Apropos of tax day plus one (anyone feeling the pain?), did the expression that you were “paying through the nose” occur to you?

Most clichés can’t be traced to a specific source, but this one can. When the Danes conquered the Irish in the ninth century, they instituted a “nose tax.” If the Irish did not pay, their nostrils were slit. I wonder if this was the inspiration for what Jack Nicholson’s character did in the movie “Chinatown.”

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

When to Capitalize Titles

 

download.jpg

If the title comes immediately before or after a person’s name, capitalize it:

former President Barack Obama

Chairman Mao

Mayor Eric Garcetti

Eric Garrett, Mayor of Los Angeles   but   the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garrett

Pope Francis    but    The current pope is Francis

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

More on Capitalization

 

download.jpg

Whatever you do, DO NOT study Trump’s tweets for a lesson in capitalization. He seems to have zero idea of when to use capital letters and just does so at will, most often for emphasis. Of course, when you emphasize everything, you end up emphasizing nothing.

Here’s the deal: If you are writing the official name of something, capitalize it:

I went to Hollywood High School.   But I went to high school in Hollywood. My high school was in Hollywood.

She was born in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But She was born in a hospital in Philadelphia. The hospital she was born in was in Philadelphia.

If the word you are using is not the official name of the thing you are citing, use lower case. In addition, the word the is rarely part of anything’s official name. It’s not The Statue of Liberty. Use lower case for the word the.

 

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Puns Galore

My friend Kathy, another word lover, sent me this list, which I hope you will enjoy. Apparently, an annual contest is held to find the best puns. (Who decides? Members of Punsters Unlimited?)

 

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 that 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

And the Prize for the Longest (Unintelligible) Sentence Goes To…

images

I don’t have to tell you who spoke the long chunk of words below. The passage is full of fragments, stream of consciousness musings, and run-on sentences. What is a run-on sentence? Not every long sentence constitutes a run-on. You could join countless sentences together with ands and buts and subordinate clauses; it would be torture to read or listen to, but it wouldn’t be a run-on.

A run-on is when you join two or more intact sentences (subject, verb, complete thought) with either (1) commas, sometimes called a comma splice, or (2) no punctuation between them, sometimes called a fused sentence:

(1) You love dogs, some people adore hamsters.   (2) You love dogs some people adore hamsters.

You can fix these sentences by making them separate sentences with end punctuation. Or you can add a conjunction after the comma. You can also separate them with a semicolon.

I’m thinking it might be beneficial to have people pass a literacy test before running for president.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Some Old Words You Might Find Useful

Not being a techie, I tried everything I knew to make this a clickable link. Obviously, I failed. Copy and paste this into your browser and enjoy your new vocabulary:

http://historyhustle.com/20-awesome-historical-words-we-need-to-bring-back/

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What’s a Chyron?

images.jpeg

It sounds like a Greek word, doesn’t it? Most of us see chyrons every day but perhaps didn’t realize they had a name. A chyron is the electronically generated caption on the bottom of your television screen, usually giving you headlines or recent news updates. It was first seen in the 1970s and is named for its developer, the Chyron Corporation. The word is pronounced KYron.

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

How to Write Good

Sent to me by my friend Marilyn, another language maven. Enjoy.

50 Rules for Writing Good

One of the more popular items that circulate through the network of folk faxology is a perverse set of rules along the lines of Thimk, We Never Make Mistakes and (this one runs off the page) PlanAhe…. These injunctions call attention to the very mistakes they seek to enjoin. English teachers, students, scientists and (scientific) writers have been circulating a list of self-contradictory rules of usage for more than a century, and have been collecting and creating them for almost half of one. Whatever you think of these slightly cracked nuggets of rhetorical wisdom, just remember that all generalizations are bad.

  1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
  2. Between you and I, case is important.
  3. A writer must be sure to avoid using sexist pronouns in his writing.
  4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  5. Don’t be a person whom people realize confuses who and whom.
  6. Never use no double negatives.
  7. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. That is something up with which your readers will not put.
  8. When writing, participles must not be dangled.
  9. Be careful to never, under any circumstances, split infinitives.
  10. Hopefully, you won’t float your adverbs.
  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  12. Lay down and die before using a transitive verb without an object.
  13. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  14. The passive voice should be avoided.
  15. About sentence fragments.
  16. Don’t verb nouns.
  17. In letters themes reports and ads use commas to separate items in a series.
  18. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
  19. “Don’t overuse ‘quotation marks.’ “
  20. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (if the truth be told) superfluous.
  21. Contractions won’t, don’t and can’t help your writing voice.
  22. Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  23. Don’t forget to use end punctuation
  24. Its important to use apostrophe’s in the right places.
  25. Don’t abbrev.
  26. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  27. Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
  28. Avoid mispellings.
  29. Check to see if you any words out.
  30. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  31. Avoid annoying, affected, and awkward alliterations, always.
  32. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  33. The bottom line is to bag trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  34. By observing the distinctions between adjectives and adverbs, you will treat your readers real good.
  35. Parallel structure will help you in writing more effective sentences and to express yourself more gracefully.
  36. In my own personal opinion at this point of time, I think that authors, when they are writing, should not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that they don’t really need.
  37. Foreign words and phrases are the reader’s bete noire and are not apropos.
  38. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  39. Always go in search for the correct idiom.
  40. Do not cast statements in the negative form.

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

More Insults From Famous People

images-1.jpeg       
Hemingway, no dictionary in sight
Again, my thanks (and yours, I hope) to Nicki:
“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”  -William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
 “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.”  
-Moses Hadas
 “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”  
-Mark Twain
 “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”  -Oscar Wilde

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Hanged vs. Hung

 

One of my favorite programs is “The Great British Baking Show.” In an early season, a show photographer caught this image of a squirrel on the grounds where the program is shot. (The contestants often use nuts in their recipes, and this photo does indicate a squirrel that is definitely well hung. But I digress.)

My husband and I hung some of my paintings today. Since everything I do makes me think of language, of course I thought of the difference between hanged and hung, two words that are frequently used interchangeably and incorrectly. I originally wrote this post over four years ago, without the squirrel, so I thought I’d do a rerun. Here’s the scoop:

HANGED is used for executions or suicide:  “The criminal was hanged.”  Sometimes you see “hanged to death” along with “strangled to death” and “starved to death.”  Those are all redundancies.  If you’re hanged, strangled or starved, you are dead.

HUNG is used for decor:  “Angela hung the picture of the well hung model on her bedroom wall.”

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Commas With Names

images.jpeg

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.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

A Vexing Word

Unknown.png

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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.
 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Ambrose Bierce and Politicians

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Cold or Allergy?

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.)

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

How Do You Like This Euphemism?

Unknown.png

Euphemisms are generally used to change something icky into something more palatable. As George Carlin said, “Sometime in my life—no one asked me about this—toilet paper became bathroom tissue. The dump became the landfill. And partly cloudy became partly sunny.”

I was in a medical center the other day, where an information station was set up under an umbrella. Emblazoned on the umbrella were the words SERVICE AMBASSADOR. I find nothing distasteful about the word INFORMATION, but I am entertained by the thought of a group meeting to find a supposedly better (and definitely more pompous) description of the services offered under that umbrella. SERVICE AMBASSADOR: Do you suppose the, ahem, ambassadors who staff that desk need congressional confirmation?

Keep it simple. Not everything needs to be prettied up. In most cases, your readers aren’t fooled.

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What’s a Shebang?

images  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.

4 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Hilarious or Hysterical?

images

As I’ve written many times before, all languages change over time because of common usage. I’m sure you often hear people use the word hysterical to refer to something funny. That is common usage and will, in time, become a standard definition. For now, though, hysterical refers to uncontrolled and extreme emotion. Picture an audience of teenage girls in the 1960s seeing the Beatles: they were hysterical with excitement.

Hilarious simply means something extremely funny: I find most Mel Brooks movies hilarious. However, I manage not to become hysterical.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What Is Business Writing?

© Judi Birnberg

 

Somewhere, somehow, people in the business world got the idea that using everyday English for their written communications was just not professional. The simplest sentence turned into a Pronouncement From On High. It was taboo to write As we discussed yesterday. Writing As per our previous conversation/dialog yesterday…. was suddenly seen as elegant and professional. The Latin phrase and redundancy made it even weightier. Bravo for you, middle manager!

I spent over 20 years in the corporate world leading business writing seminars in which participants came to see this stilted and pretentious style of writing as an impediment to communication. I urged them to write as if they were speaking to the recipient sitting across their desk. No one speaks in that bureaucratic manner, so why write that way? Obviously, the corporations that hired me knew what I was teaching and wanted their employees to lose the jargon. I did my little part, but I am quite sure the pompous style still lives at many companies. Simple, straightforward, everyday English ensures that all recipients will understand the message. It saves time and money. Questions about intent are no longer necessary. Say what you mean, just as if you were talking to your audience face to face. Business writing is clear, direct, and concise. That’s all it takes.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

What Do You Call* or **?

Unknown

Watching a news program last night, I heard a well known reporter for Bloomberg say “asterick” not once but twice. No such word exists.

One of those marks is an “asterisk.” More than one are “asterisks.” Neither one end in the “—rick” sound. The final syllable of both words contains “—risk.”

Say or write “asterick” at your own risk.

2 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language