Tag Archives: 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.

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Hilarious or Hysterical?

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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Singular or Plural?

 

Have you noticed that some everyday words look like plurals and can be plurals but are also used as singular nouns? Here are a few:

Pants   Those brown pants George is wearing are very baggy.  George is wearing only one pair of pants, but grammatically they appear to be plural: pants are

Trousers  Some people call pants “trousers.”  George is wearing baggy brown trousers today.

Scissors   Where did I put those scissors I was just using to cut this fabric?  Chances are, the writer wasn’t using more than one pair of scissors to cut the fabric.

On my recent trip to Central Europe, I marveled at little children chatting away in Hungarian, Polish, German, Slovakian, and Czech. I couldn’t understand anything. But I’m sure speakers of those languages are amazed that English speakers learn all the idiosyncrasies of that language, even as small children. For the most part, by kindergarten age, they get it right. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? When you think about examples such as those above, you have to wonder how. I’m calling it learning by osmosis.

 

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What’s UP?

Here’s the last offering from my friend Nicki:


There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is ‘UP.’

It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?
Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?
We call UP our friends.
And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning.
People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.
To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.
A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.
We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!
To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.

In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.
If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.
It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP.When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.
When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.
When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry UP.
One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, so…….it is time to shut UP!
Now it’s UP to you what you do with this information.

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More English Craziness

More from my amiga Nicki. Thanks, Nickala! Enjoy, everyone.
Let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?

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