Tag Archives: English spelling

All right, already!

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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.

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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

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What Do You Call* or **?

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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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Crazy English

Thanks to my friend Nicki for sending this to me.

In case you didn’t realize English is a crazy language:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture..

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

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Similar Sentences, Different Outcomes

I’ve had a book for eons, Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English (but were afraid to raise your hand), by Maxwell Nurnberg. Many of the exercises make you think. Look at these pairs of very similar sentences and answer the questions:

A. Which sounds more conspiratorial?

  1. We’d like to invite you to dessert with us tomorrow evening.
  2. We’d like to invite you to desert with us tomorrow evening.

B. Which draft board’s needs were the greatest?

  1. The medical board accepted men with perforated eardrums.
  2. The medical board excepted men with perforated eardrums.

C. Which question would an investigator ask about a specific group?

  1. Were there voices raised in protest?
  2. Were their voices raised in protest?

D. Which Joe is the eager beaver?

  1. Joe submitted to many orders.
  2. Joe submitted too many orders.

E. Which statement is concerned with ethical standards?

  1. The principles in the case are well known.
  2. The principals in the case are well known.

Remember, if you write an actual word, even if it’s wrong, your spellchecker won’t pick it up. Proofread meticulously.

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Test Your Pronunciation

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For language lovers only! Here is a poem, “The Chaos,” written in 1922 by Gerard Nolst Trenité. He used 800 words that illustrate the absurdity of English spelling. My favorite is the British surname Cholmondeley: it’s pronounced Chumly. Go figure. “Take a deep breath and try your tongue on these:

“The Chaos” Gerard Nolst Trenité (1922)

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
 I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
 Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
 Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
 Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
 But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
 Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
 Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
 Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
 Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
 Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
 This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
 Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
 Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
 Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
 Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
 Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
 Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
 Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
 You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
 To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
 We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
 Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
 Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
 But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
 Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
 Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
 Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
 Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
 Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
 Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
 Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
 Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
 Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
 Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
 Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.
Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
 Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
 Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
 Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
 No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
 Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
 But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
 How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
 Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
 Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
 Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
 Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
 Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
 With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
 Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
 Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners,
 Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
 Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
 Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
 Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
, Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
 Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
 Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
 Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
 Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
 Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
 With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
 Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
 Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
 G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
 Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.
Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
 Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
 Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
 Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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Peek, Peak, Pique

Peaks in the Mist © Judi Birnberg

Peaks in the Mist
© Judi Birnberg

These three words all sound alike but are often misused.

PEEK means to sneak a glance, usually furtively. Adam peeked in the attic where the Christmas presents were stored.

PEAK is the apex of something: the top of a mountain, a gable on a house, the points on egg whites when they are whipped hard.

PIQUE as a noun is a feeling of annoyance, especially if one’s pride or honor is insulted.

PIQUE as a verb means to stimulate interest: A review of Ian McEwan’s latest book, Nutshell, piqued my interest in reading it. It is an achingly clever novel narrated by a full-term fetus (unnamed, but obviously a modern-day Hamlet, whose mother is Trudy, father is John, and doltish uncle and Trudy’s lover is Claude).

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Clever Thoughts for Clever People

This is from my friend Janet. I love it when my readers suggest topics or send me goodies like this one. The English language is so malleable!

1. ARBITRATOR: 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 with
  

4. AVOIDABLE: What a bullfighter tries to  do

 

5. COUNTERFEITER: Worker who assembles kitchen cabinets

6. LEFT BANK: What the bank robber did when his 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 owners of a seafood store do

14. SUDAFED: Brought litigation against a government official

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The Many Sounds of OUGH

How does anyone ever learn to spell in English? How many sounds of OUGH are there? The following was written on a mug I saw:

Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.

And don’t forget plough, slough (pronounced sloo) and hiccough.

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A Letter No Longer in the English Alphabet

And here it is: 220px-Latin_alphabet_Þþ.svg

Those are upper- and lowercase thorns. In Old English it had the sound of th, as in the. As Old English morphed into Middle English, the thorn was dropped as a letter and y was substituted, which is why you see cutesy names for tearooms and other shops using Ye for The.

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I don’t know about you, but I love trivia about language (and just about everything else).

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Do You Pronounce the T in Often?

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I was recently asked why we sometimes pronounce the T in often but not in listen. I wasn’t sure, so I consulted the grammar guru who writes the invaluable blog  Grammarphobia, Pat O’Conner. She wrote the equally invaluable (and funny) book Woe Is I. You can subscribe to Grammarphobia and get her frequent posts on English language oddities. I highly recommend it.

This is blog post of hers that addressed the meandering T:

<<Q: I just discovered your site and I plan to return often. Oh, that reminds me – it makes me crazy to hear people pronounce the “t” in “often.”

A: The word “often” can be pronounced with a silent “t” (the more common pronunciation) or with an audible “t.” Both are correct, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the version with the audible “t” occurs in educated speech but is considered unacceptable by some.

American Heritage has an interesting usage note after its entry for “often.” During the 15th century, it seems, English speakers stopped pronouncing some sounds within consonant clusters, making the language easier to articulate. Examples include the “d” in “handsome” and “handkerchief,” the “p” in “consumption” and “raspberry,” and the “t” in “chestnut” and “often.”

With the rise of public education and people’s awareness of spelling in the 19th century, according to the dictionary, sounds that had become silent were sometimes restored. This is what happened with the “t” in “often.”

You might be interested in knowing that “often” was originally just “oft,” and “oft” was commonly used as a prefix in word combinations that are archaic and unrecognizable today. Even a word like ‘oftentimes,” which appears in modern dictionaries, seems dated and has musty, quaint overtones. It’s also a term that drives people crazy because of its apparent redundancy. But in fact, the words “oftentime,” “oftentimes,” and “oftime” date back to the early 1400s, and “ofttimes” was first recorded in the 1300s, so they have a venerable history.>>

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Japan Still Calling

These signs and labels still make me giggle. They were all written by well-meaning people trying to master English, a notoriously complicated language. Our spelling alone is enough to make even native-speakers weep. See an earlier post of mine, How to Spell “Fish”

I presume “flit” was meant to be “filet.” As for the sauce, you and I are both guessing.

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These quotation marks are to reassure you that someone once said those words. I absolutely believe that, don’t you? The ST is likely missing an initial E. Since 1933, people have been enjoying precious coffee moments. I went to Japan thinking that I would find tea everywhere. It’s available but not obvious; however, coffee shops are ubiquitous.

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That serving spoon is to be used to take just one cornflake. But you can go back as many times as you’d like.

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Hungry?

This appears to be some kind of fruit juice—named PRETZ? Maybe you’re supposed to eat pretzels with it. This box was about $10; they had to squeeze a lot of pretzes to fill it up.

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Instead of pretzels, you might prefer a little pried seaweed. Fried? Or pried from a rock in the ocean?IMG_2094.jpg

 

You can ask the chef. He’s live!IMG_1858.jpg

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If you were to write the following poem and run it through your spellchecking software, not one word would be highlighted. Every word is legitimate—no spelling errors. Yet you would end up looking either stupid, sloppy, or both. Even if no words are marked by your spellchecker, don’t assume everything is OK. It’s so easy to type “and” when you meant to write “any” or “the” when you meant “them,” these,” or any other common “th” word.

My best advice, which you’ve probably heard from me a zillion times before, is to read what you’ve written out loud (quietly is fine) and slowwwwly: one. word. at. a. time. If you read silently at your usual speed, you’ll end up writing what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

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I Before E

Except when you reign over the heist of a feisty neighbor’s weird, beige, foreign sleigh. Or when that neighbor’s eight heirs forfeit their heifers and seize freight.

I am amazed that we are even minimally proficient at English spelling, much less those of us who are not native English speakers. Many years ago, George Bernard Shaw, appalled by ridiculous spelling conventions, proposed that each letter have only one sound (such as in Spanish). Given the way English is spelled, he wrote that FISH should be spelled as GHOTI:

1. Take the GH sound in ENOUGH.
2. Then use the O sound in WOMEN.
3. Finally, take the TI sound in NATION.

And you have just made FISH.

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A Few Friday Smiles

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From Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo, some unfortunate errors on CVs:

1. I have a graduate degree in unclear physics.

2. I am a rabid typist.

3. I worked for six years as an uninformed security guard.

4. As part of the city’s maintenance crew, I repaired bad roads and defective brides.

5. I have had sex jobs so far.

Enjoy the weekend!

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Looking for a Date?

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According to the Wall Street Journal, a Match.com survey showed that people on dating sites give primary importance to a person’s hygiene. Guess what’s second. Grammar!

Grammar and spelling errors in profiles are a huge turnoff for 88% of women and 75% of men.

So if you’re looking for your soulmate online, wash your hair and proofread what you write. If you’re insecure about your writing skills, ask a friend to look over what you write. Hey, maybe that could be a whole new career for me!

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Email Reminders

1. Avoid bold, CAPS and italics to give emphasis; they can be distracting. Let your words carry your meaning.

2. Use BCC: when sending to a group; you don’t want to expose others’ email addresses to strangers. By using BCC: you also avoid the likelihood that one of the recipients will click Reply All rather than responding only to you. We all get far too much email as it is.

3. Begin your email with a greeting and end with a closing and your name. Otherwise, your email may be perceived as being rude and clipped.

4. Don’t send a large attachment without first checking with the recipient to see when the best time to send it would be.

5. Avoid assuming your readers know the details of what you are writing about. If they knew, you’d have no need to write.

6. Use your spell- and grammar-check programs, and then proofread to make sure you didn’t leave words out. Spellcheck programs will accept everything you write that is a word, so if you wrote “and” when you meant “any,” only you can fix that.

7. Before writing because you think you haven’t received an expected response, check your Spam folder.

8. Make your Subject line clear and appropriate. Change it when the email discussion shifts.

9. Remember to thank people for any help you receive. Use “please” when making a request.

10. Writing in all caps is shouting. Writing in all lowercase is annoying.

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More Similar, Often Confused Words

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HONE
means to sharpen. You hone your skills or hone a blade.
HOME as a verb means to aim or move toward a target: The satellite camera homed in on the desert encampment.

IMPLY means to hint at something without specifically stating it:
Felicia’s looks implied that she did not admire my new haircut.
INFER means to deduce, to figure out. I inferred from Felicia’s looks that she didn’t like my new haircut.

FARTHER refers to a greater distance or time: By moving farther from the city, they hoped their money would go farther.
FURTHER is used to express additional efforts beyond those already accomplished: All corporations should set as a goal further increasing customer satisfaction.

FOUNDER as a verb means to fail or degrade: Harry’s efforts to buy a new business foundered because of his credit history.
FLOUNDER is also a verb and means to struggle helplessly, either physically or mentally. Picture a flounder (the fish) flopping around on deck: Elena stammered and floundered when she was given an assignment in which she had no interest.

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Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes, Part 3

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I am so grateful to you wonderful people who keep sending me suggestions for this topic. Here goes Part 3:

FOUL vs. FOWL: Can you believe a reader caught someone writing about “fowl language”? Those roosters can be so crude!

ELUDE means to get away from, to avoid: It’s hopeless to try to elude a police officer behind you flashing the lights.

ALLUDE means to refer to something without specifically stating it:
Jacob alluded to the fact that his wife hates action movies, although she still goes with him to see the latest smash-em-up.

CONSCIENCE is your sense of right and wrong.

CONSCIOUS means you are awake and alert, able to think.

HEAR is what you do with your ears. It is also used in the phrase, “Hear! Hear!” (I often see this written as “Here! Here!” and I want to yell, “Where? Where?”)

HERE refers to location.

LATER refers to a time after one previously mentioned or understood. It contains the word “late.”

LATTER refers to the second of two or the last of a group mentioned: Larry has been divorced twice, but is on good terms with the latter of his two wives.

PERSONAL means private: Your personal information should not be disseminated on the Internet.

PERSONNEL refers to a group of people who work for an organization: Our personnel are very compatible and freely help each other. It also is used for the office that keeps records for an organization, i.e., the Personnel Office.

Realize that none of these words will trigger a highlight from your spellchecker. It still is up to you to proofread everything, slowly and quietly out loud, to make sure you have typed the word you want. As I frequently mention, if you proofread silently at your normal speed, chances are you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

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Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes

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Here are some pairs of words that either sound alike or look very similar. Their meanings, however, are quite different. Remember, your spellchecker will see them all as words and doesn’t know the context in which you are using them, so it’s going to be up to you to proofread carefully to make sure you wrote the word you really wanted.

LOSE means to misplace or be defeated. It rhymes with choose.
LOOSE means not tight and rhymes with goose.

ADVICE is always a noun and rhymes with dice.
ADVISE is always a verb and rhymes with prize.

ACCEPT is always a verb and means to take.
EXCEPT is a preposition and means excluding.

CHOOSE means to select and rhymes with booze and whose.
CHOSE is the past tense of choose and rhymes with doze.

AFFECT is a verb and means to influence. (It is occasionally seen as a noun with the emphasis on the first syllable, primarily used in psychology to mean the way people present themselves: The patient showed no emotion and had a flat affect. But chances are great that you will be using affect as a verb, with the stress on the second syllable.)

EFFECT is a noun meaning result. Many people today are using impact instead of effect, but that’s being overused, in my opinion.
(Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about, as in effecting change. But it’s more likely you will be using it as a noun.)

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Does “Proper English” Matter?

I am asking you this question seriously. An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this past week raising the question about whether “proper English” matters. It was written by Oliver Kamm, an editor and columnist for the Times of London. Here is the link to his article:
http://on.wsj.com/1CcHQ3V .

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 students 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. I will be here all this week. I am disappearing for the following two weeks for vacation. Whenever you write, I will have your emails when I get back (yes, I’m unplugging) and will answer you.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to AW for alerting me to the article that gave rise to this letter.

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Frequently Confused Words

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To my eyes, the words its and it’s cause the greatest confusion. I know I have written about this before, but in case you need a quick refresher, here goes:

Its is a possessive pronoun: The dog wagged its tail. The tail belongs to the dog. No possessive pronoun ever has an apostrophe: hers, his, our, theirs—see? No apostrophes. Its is a possessive pronoun; therefore, no apostrophe, ever.

It’s is a contraction. It means either it is or it has:

It’s expected to rain later today. (Substitute it is.)
It’s been a long time since Southern California had a good rain. (Substitute it has.)

When you are thinking about using it’s, the one with the apostrophe, see if you can substitute it is or it has. If you can’t, you want the possessive form, its.

Two other words that cause serious problems are who’s and whose. This distinction is just as easy:

Who’s is a contraction, meaning who is or who has:

Who’s going to run for committee treasurer? (Substitute who is.)
“Who’s been sleeping in my bed,” growled Daddy Bear. (He means who has.)

Whose is a pronoun showing ownership: Whose pen is this? If you can’t substitute who is or who has, you want the possessive form, whose.

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Proofread Everything!

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Surely you know how I harangue you to proofread everything. Yes, everything. Are you thinking of getting a tattoo? Tattoos need to be proofread too, preferably before the needle hits your skin. Here are some epic fails I found on the Internet today:

Thenks mather for my life
to live doesn’t mean your alive
Nothing last’s forever
My mom is my angle
God Is A Awesome God
I Love Poo
Living Is The Stronges Drug
No Dream Is To Big
Megan [crossed out] Oops! I Meant “Hollie”
Regret Nohing
Never Don’t Give Up
Stay strong no matter wath happens

Then there is a list of female names, all crossed out: Anna, Rosalie, Jessica, Tina. After those is a new name, Laura. Good luck, Laura.

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When Sounds Disappear

This is from the article in The Guardian on spelling changes. As a lover of languages, I find this information fascinating and hope you do, too.

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“English spelling can be a pain, but it’s also a repository of information about the history of pronunciation. Are we being lazy when we say the name of the third day of the working week? Our ancestors might have thought so. Given that it was once “Woden’s day” (named after the Norse god), the “d” isn’t just for decoration, and was pronounced up until relatively recently. Who now says the “t” in Christmas? It must have been there at one point, as the messiah wasn’t actually called Chris. These are examples of syncope.”

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Switching Letters Makes New Words

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This is a brid on a hros.

Do you cringe when you hear someone say “nucular”? How about “aks” or “perscription” or “perspectus”? I am among the cringers, yet it is possible that these mispronunciations may eventually result in the established forms of what most of us say today.

At one time “bird” was “brid,” “hros” was “horse,” and “waps” was “wasp.” Eventually, enough people switched the letters around so that the standard form became the words we use today.

Who knew, right?

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Massive Mistakes

Welcome to fall. Seasons are not capitalized except when you specifically refer in a document to, for example, a report of Fall 2014 or the Fall Retreat.

This week I have a treat for you, sent to me by B.B., who took my corporate class a very long time ago. I love it when former participants stay in touch with me, especially when they think of me when finding a goodie like the following. Take it as a warning. PROOFREAD EVERYTHING!

http://www.lifebuzz.com/massive-mistakes/

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However Did We Learn to Spell?

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Here are crazy examples that struck me the other day. Look at these two sets of words:

ANGER, DANGER

LAUGHTER, SLAUGHTER

Adding just one letter at the beginning of the first words entirely changes the expected pronunciation of the second.

Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules; I just comment on them.

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They’re, Their, There

UnknownWait! Please don’t stop reading. I have a couple of good tips for you to help you remember which form is which.

1. They’re=They are. If you can’t substitute “they are,” you want a different form of this homophone.

They’re arriving an hour early to make sure to get good seats at the concert.

2. Their=Possession. It indicates ownership. The word “heir” is contained within this word, so you can remember that an heir will inherit possessions.

The campers retrieved their food bags from the pine tree and cooked their dinner, hoping not to be threatened by bears.

3. There=Location. It is similar in spelling to “where” and “here,” words that also indicate location.

I love visiting New York, but I haven’t lived there for a very long time.

Be sure to proofread your writing to make sure you have the correct form.

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To D or not to D?

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A friend sent me this snippet that raised her eyebrows: “There was little advanced warning 79 years ago….”

Advanced warning? Was the warning ahead in development, or did it come in advance of something?

It’s common to see errors in which people use —ed for a suffix or else leave it off, as in “ice tea.” Is the tea made of ice or is it iced?

If you’re debating whether to use the —ed form or to leave that d off, ask yourself some logical questions. The answers should be obvious to you and help you decide which form you want.

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Recur and Recurrence

Pay attention and you’ll frequently see and hear people use “reoccur” and “reoccurrence” to describe something that has happened before. Logically, they are correct: an act has occurred and then has happened again, so you would think it had re[again]occurred. But, in fact, the grammatically correct forms are “recur” and “recurrence.”

If you are guilty of this offense, please avoid engaging in further recurrences. Your readers and listeners will thank you.

 

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Alright or All right?

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This is an easy one: so far, “alright” is not considered an acceptable form of this construction. “Alright is all wrong” might help you to remember. However, given the prevalence of the one-word spelling in advertising and popular culture, I predict it is only a matter of time before “all right” will be “all wrong.” Meanwhile, I’m hanging in there with the purists.

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All in the Family: Making Names Ending with S Plural

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You can always write about the Williams family or the Watkins family, but the rule in pluralizing a name ending in S is, as you would expect, to add —ES. Therefore, the first family in the previous sentence is the Williamses and the second is the Watkinses. I can hear you shouting about how weird those names look. What I find interesting is that people have no problem saying or writing “keeping up with the Joneses.” Why then is it difficult to want to keep up with the Hopkinses or the Chamberses?

That Jones family has been around so long that we are all inured to the plural. Chances are even if you write the plural correctly for other names, you will still pronounce the plural form as the singular: you’ll drop the sound of the —ES: “We’re having dinner next Saturday with the Hopkins(ES).” But do write it correctly.

Adding an apostrophe does NOT make a plural: “Watkins’s” is the possessive form of one person named Watkins, as in “Dr. Watkins’s umbrella.” In fact, you can drop that final S after the apostrophe and you’ll still be correct. However, writing that you are “having dinner with the Watkins’s” is always going to be wrong.

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Proofreading Tips

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It’s a good idea to proofread your writing. It’s more than a good idea; it’s imperative. We appear careless or unintelligent because of sloppy writing. Here are a few tips to help you make your writing as good as it can be:

1. Proofread out loud and slowly. I can’t emphasize this point strongly enough. If you proofread silently and quickly, you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote. You don’t need to proofread in a stentorian voice, just loudly enough so you can hear yourself over whatever noise is going on around you.  You may need to leave the room to be able to read your writing so you can hear it.

2. Proofread for specific things. If you know you have a problem with verb tenses or parallelism, proofread one time only for that. Then do it again to look for other problems.

3. If you’ve revised your writing as you type, proofread to see if by changing your prose you have left out words or kept words in that shouldn’t be there. We commonly forget to check for errors caused by rewriting.

4. Proofread one time specifically to check your punctuation. Again, do this slowly.

5. Pay attention to spell check and grammar check alerts. Occasionally, they are incorrect, but for the most part you will need to fix something.

 

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Assure, Insure, Ensure

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I guarantee you these three words are easy to differentiate; in fact, I can assure you of that.

ASSURE means to give others information that will erase any doubts they might have had:

UCLA assured me the math section of the Graduate Record Exam would not count on my admission to the English Department Master’s program.” (This is true. I called twice to make certain. That’s how good I am in math.)

ASSURE also means to make something sure to happen:

Samantha assured her passing the DMV written test by assiduously studying the boring rule book and by passing all the practice tests.”

Use INSURE when you are dealing with money:

You insure a package at the post office, you insure your car against theft and liability, you insure your home against fire, theft and earthquakes.”

ENSURE means a guarantee that something will be done:

“Harry ensured the principal that he would stop feeding his homework to the dog.”

You see that ASSURE and ENSURE can often be used interchangeably, but keep INSURE for when money is involved.

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Chagrined and Nonplussed

These are two bad feelings to experience.

Many people think CHAGRIN means a feeling of sadness, but it actually means  embarrassment or humiliation as a result of failure:

Larry was chagrined when he failed to get a minimum passing score on the chemistry final.

If you are NONPLUSSED (this can also be spelled with one S, although two are preferred), you feel confused and don’t know how to act:

Nonplussed, Larry thought he would be the valedictorian, but stunned by his failing chemistry grade he gradually acknowledged that honor was not to be his.

You may be aware that a different meaning for “nonplussed” is starting to overtake the original meaning as a result of common usage: people are using the word to indicate a lack of concern or caring, which is the opposite of the word’s original meaning:

Larry was nonplussed after he failed the chemistry exam because he hadn’t cared whether he made valedictorian.

This other usage is still cited in dictionaries by a note indicating that it is not yet standard; but my bet is that within 10 years it will have overtaken the historical definition. All languages change.

 

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What Kind of Word Nerd Are You?

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I found this quiz posted at http://www.ragan.com, written by Laura Hale Brockway . You probably can guess my score (and I’m damned proud of it!).

What kind of word nerd are you?

Step 1. Answer the following yes/no questions. (Be honest. This is a judgment-free zone.)

1. Do you subscribe to one or more style guides (or have one or more style guides on your desk)?

2. Do you catch typos all around you, even when you’re not looking for them?

3. Do you find yourself correcting the grammar in the books you read to your kids? (“Junie B. Jones” is the worst.)

4. Can you quote from “Eats, Shoots and Leaves?”  [Note from Judi: Yes, but I also wrote to the editor because the book contains about 10 major errors, most not attributable to the author’s English upbringing.]

5. Have you had more than one heated argument about the use of the serial (Oxford) comma?

6. Does seeing 1990’s or 30’s drive you to drink?

7. Do you feel an immediate sense of camaraderie with anyone who uses “comprise” correctly?

8. Can you spell “minuscule,” “inadvertent,” “supersede,” and “ophthalmologist” correctly? (Could you have done so before I just showed them to you?)

9. Is the hyphen your least favorite punctuation mark?

10. Do you use the word “decimate” correctly?

11. Do you giggle when you end a sentence with a preposition and know why it’s acceptable to do so?

12. Do people refuse to play Words with Friends or Scrabble with you?

Step 2. Count the questions to which you answered “yes.”

Word Nerd Elite—You answered “yes” to 10 to 12 questions.

You are in the upper echelon of word nerdiness. Very likely you are the primary person in your department or company whom others ask when they have a grammar or punctuation question. You may have even played dueling style guides with a co-worker. Finding typos on signs or in movie credits might feel like a victory for you. Welcome to the club. We meet for drinks every month on penultimate Wednesdays.

Word Nerd Moderate—You answered “yes” to 5 to 9 questions.

You exhibit a few of the telltale signs of word nerdiness. You probably know and use one style guide very well. Though you know the arguments for and against its use, you’re lukewarm on the serial comma. You have a pretty easy time keeping your composure when playing Scrabble.

Word Nerd Lite (or should that be light?)—You answered “yes” to 0 to 4 questions.

Other than one or two minor eccentricities, you’re not really a word nerd at all. You leave it to others to find typos and argue about word usage. Perhaps you’ve read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” and you remember the joke about the panda. You haven’t quite memorized your style guide, but you have a few key sections highlighted.

Good job!

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More Verb Variants

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She dived or she dove?

I recently wrote about “snuck” as a variant for “sneaked.” It’s no longer considered substandard, so you don’t have to sneak around if you’ve snuck it into your writing.

A few more verbs I’ve thought about since I wrote that post: “weave,” “dive” and “get.”

Which form do you prefer for the past tense of “weave”: “weaved” or “wove”? How about the past tense of “dive”? “Dived” or “dove”? Any of those words are acceptable.

The past participle of “get” gives you a choice as well. (The past participle may be a scary-sounding phrase, but all it means is the verb form that includes “has,” “have” or “had.”) Now I will get back to “get”:

Do you say, “I have got my flu shot” or “I have gotten my flu shot”? For some unknown reason, I am a “gotten” person, but either is correct. Both come from Middle English. The only time you will definitely need “got” instead of “gotten” is to show ownership:

“I have got three dollars in my wallet.” You wouldn’t use “gotten” in that sentence.

 

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I Don’t Get It


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From the initial idea to the finished ad in the newspaper, did not one person see the error and correct it? This happens so frequently, I have to wonder if editors exist any longer.

This ad is aimed at “graDuation” celebrations, but “congratulations” is not related. These two words are derived from entirely different Latin verbs. True, many people do pronounce “congratulations” as if the T were a D. But it’s not. Was the word never underlined, indicating a problem with it? Did not one person notice the error?

I may have to drown my sorrow and frustration in a two-pound lobster.

Unknown

 

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Complement or Compliment?

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Both these words are used frequently, but their meanings differ considerably:

COMPLEMENT means to fill out or complete. It’s easy to remember this definition if you focus on the E in complete.

Maria’s sweater complements her eyes.

COMPLIMENT expresses praise or acknowledgement.

Maria complimented her co-worker on her editing skills.

The nice-nice words you write at the end of a letter, memo or (possibly) an email, such as Sincerely, Best regards, etc., are called the complimentary close.

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Only on Tuesday’s

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A rather blurry shot through a window, inviting one and all to come hear some jazz—but only on Tuesday’s. Why that apostrophe, you might ask? (I hope you ask.)

Because “Tuesdays” ends in S, and some people have a compulsion to throw an apostrophe into every word ending with an S, even when the word isn’t possessive.

It’s just an ordinary plural, people. Curb your apostrophe mania, I beg of you.

 

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Lightning or Lightening?

imagesThose flashes of electricity contain no E: “Which do you prefer to watch, bolt or sheet lightning?”

If you include an E, you may or may not hear that letter, but the meaning is very different: “Have you noticed that Bruno has been lightening his hair? Now his beard doesn’t match.”

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Shades of Gray. Or Is It Grey?

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Faithful correspondent Jeff wrote me about words that have confused him in the past. One of them was the distinction between “gray” and “grey.” If you are American, chances are overwhelming that you spell that color with an A. But did you know that the rest of the English-speaking world spells it with an E? If you decide you like the E-variant better for the color, go ahead and use it; you won’t be wrong. Just be consistent in any one document.

Oddly enough, even though in the United States we spell “gray” with an A, as we do with “graybeard,” “gray-haired,” “gray matter,” “gray wolf” and “gray market,” we spell “greyhound” with an E. That’s a word you can’t spell with an A. Go figure.

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About Lettuce

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Let’s see: Iceberg, romaine, arugula, Boston, frisee.

Sorry, I meant about “Let us.” If you make that into a contraction, it becomes “Let’s.” Without the apostrophe, it means “allows”: “The computer lets you correct typing errors easily.”

Let’s hear it for the computer. Sometimes even autocorrect gets it right. But you still have to proofread; don’t trust it.

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March 21, 2014 · 5:00 PM

To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize, That May Be Your Question

Here are two situations that confuse people about whether they should capitalize:

1) The seasons: Ordinarily, do not capitalize seasons. For instance, “It will be spring in a few days.” However, if you need to document which particular spring, do capitalize the season: “Your next evaluation will be in Spring 2015.”

2) Directions vs. geographical areas: The latter are capitalized. For example, the Near East, the South, Southern California, the Mid-Atlantic states. Directions, however, are not capitalized. “She got on the San Diego Freeway and crept south for over 50 miles.”

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Why English is So Hard

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,

But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese.

Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,

Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

 

If the plural of man is always called men,

Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

 

Then one would be that, and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,

And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,

But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

—ANONYMOUS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 11, 2014 · 2:13 PM

A Poem to Begin the New Year

Here is a poem to begin the new year. It was written by that most prolific of all authors, Anonymous. If English is not your native language, I commend you for whatever competence in the language you possess. If English is your native language, I commend your ability to spell correctly to any degree.
Why English Is So Hard
 
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
 
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
 
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim.

 

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A Spelling Rule

I before e, except after c.

Weird.

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Crazy English Indeed

A friend emailed this to me today. It’s been making the rounds for years, but I hope it will be new to many of you.  I think it was written originally by Richard Lederer, who wrote many books on the vagaries of the English language, one of which is called Crazy English.

“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.

“P.S. Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’ ?”

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Lose or Loose?

I’m sure you know the difference in meaning between these two words, but I see the wrong one written so frequently that I thought I might as well harangue you today:

LOSE means to misplace, be deprived of or cease to retain something. It rhymes with FUSE, MUSE and WOOS.

LOOSE is the opposite of tight. It rhymes with CABOOSE, GOOSE and JUICE. (Who said English spelling isn’t idiosyncratic?)

If you type one of these words, look at it carefully to be certain you have the word you want. That’s called proofreading; don’t just look to see that you spelled the word correctly. Determine that even though it is spelled right it is the word you need.

caboose

caboose (Photo credit: ravensong75)

 

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