Tag Archives: English language

Than I or Than Me?

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©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.

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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).”

 

 

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Spoonerisms

 

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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.

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What In the World is a Mondegreen?

 

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©  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.

 

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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)

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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