NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Eat Your Popular Orange Veggies

Are you guilty of overusing your POVs?

No, not points of view--popular orange vegetables.

It seems the blogger of all things English for The Guardian (UK) sees too many colorful synonyms in news stories. You know the kind of thing. For example, in the Kansas City Star, actress Melissa Leo was referred to later in the article as "the wiry redhead." When one story in The Liverpool Echo referred to carrots as "the popular orange vegetable," throwing the newsroom into hysterics, our British blogger started calling all such hateful synonymous phrases POVs.

While I'm sympathetic to the cause--and I do get tired of hearing various countries called "the war-torn republic" or heads of state nicknamed "the beleagured leader"--I have to say that sometimes these phrases do impart a little extra info. The "wiry redhead" mentioned above provokes a chuckle, and maybe that could have been phrased better, but at least now I know Melissa Leo is a redhead. And wiry.

Read the blog and form your own opinion on the topic. The comments actually give some of the best examples (bananas = "bendy yellow fruit").

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Not a Word, Thank God

I had a heart-stopping moment today during e-mail perusal, grammar fans. Every day I get loads of messages and updates from that venerable publication, Writer's Digest. They let me know what's going on in WD World in case I was too lazy to check the blogs (I usually am). Today one e-mail had this to say:
We all see the word "alot" used in various places, but our teachers always told us not to use it. Has something changed? Your favorite newsletter editor Brian A. Klems has the scoop. Click to continue.
--> Hail to good e-mail marketers everywhere! They can, occasionally, force me to do something I'd rather not. I know the story behind the word alot (it ain't one). I don't need Newsletter Editor Klems to clarify the matter for me. But the Insecure Grammarian within quailed just a bit upon reading the question
Has something changed?
and the command
 Click to continue.
 I clicked. I had to know.

Scoop update: Alot is still not a word. Ah, the relief of the righteous! Click here to read Brian's reassuring post. Click here to read what is (to my mind) a hilarious send-up of the nonword alot.

Donut probably is a word. *SIGH*

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning Your Konglish

The great thing about having a blog that, honestly, few people stand in line to read is that you don't have to feel guilty about not posting. (But thank you, Jen Brubacher, for caring.) Still, despite lacking a childhood steeped in Jewish or Catholic traditions, I seem to have an inborn sense of guilt. *SIGH*

So here I am, passing on a link to the New York Times review of Robert McCrum's book about the way English is taking over the globe (Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language, Norton, $26.95). I love watching language morph and bend, even as I rail against textspeak and people who don't know that one exclamation point is really all you need. If you can be objective about it--right, I know, I can't--it's fascinating to learn how English is spoken both in Buckingham Palace (where we hope, dear God, they've got it right) and in South Korea (where a hybrid strain is known as Konglish) and in Malaysia (Manglish). But why is it that Konglish seems charming while textspeak is cringeworthy?

Maybe it's because American English is the prophet in its own country, to my mind. Familiarity breeds contempt. (Feel free to insert your own cliche here.) I live in the American Midwest, home to some of the laziest speakers on the planet. (No, no, Kansas farmers: You're incredibly hardworking. Put the pitchfork down.) I mean that the Midwestern pronunciation is lazy. One can speak Midwestern without hardly opening one's mouth. The vowels are flat, the consonants fuzzy, the word endings mumbled. When we learn other languages in school, we have to be taught to appreciate the musicality, the subtle tonal differences, of our language. We have to work at it. I have no research to back this up, but I would presume that people who speak more precisely pronounced tongues, like French, have an easier time learning to make the different sounds of other languages. (Though granted, French speakers have a devilish time learning to speak Midwestern English. They can't seem to swallow half the sounds as we do.)

We grow up here, isolationist, unwilling to consider that other folks in other parts of the world not only speak English differently, but possibly other languages altogether. I apologize in advance to fellow Midwesterners who might read the blog. Of course it isn't true of all of us, and it's a natural result of living in the middle of a large, self-serving nation. But while the spread of English makes my life a lot easier, I weep just a little too. It wouldn't kill us--English speakers, Midwesterners, Americans--to have to learn someone else's lingo for a change.

Think about that the next time you're put on hold when someone says, “Para continuar en español, marque el dos.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pet Peeve: LOL, BTW, OMG, :)

Okay, I’m a major curmudgeon. Who doesn’t use these friendly abbreviations and cute little emoticons? What’s wrong with a little quickie communication in the age of Twitter, when every character counts?

Scroll down the right column of this blog and you’ll see that yes, I do Tweet. (Feel free to follow me.) Like everyone else, I only have 140 characters to make my point (that includes spaces). But I almost never use abbreviations.

As far as I’m concerned, LOL and OMG go hand in hand with the multiple exclamation points (see last week’s Peeve). Whose ass is really falling off when they write [LMAO!!!!!!!]? Mine isn’t. The writer seems to take me for an idiot who can’t tell when he or she is making a funny. It’s rather like that lout who tells the off-color joke at a cocktail party and then roars at his own cleverness. He deserves the icy smile or deadpan look in return.

Or maybe the real culprit is the writer’s laziness. If your words can’t convey a sense of whimsy, you’re tempted to throw in a :) so that your reader won’t take offense. That might be the safest route, but writers seemed to do fine without :), :(, and the rest up until a few years ago. Personally I liked reading between the lines. It made me feel smart.

So don’t ask me to TXT you or ask me WTF? or assure me you’ll BBL. Try English. It’s my native language. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to Say Stuff in English

Even during my self-imposed blog hiatus I feel compelled to check in with you grammar lovers. Something to chew on:'s list of commonly mispronounced words and phrases. While technically right, some of the items on this list seem a little extreme. My own peeves include transposing syllables/letters (the infamous "nu-kyuh-ler" version of nuclear) and inserting syllables/letters where they don't belong ("miss-CHEE-vee-us"--wrong--instead of "MISS-chuh-vus"--there are only three syllables in the word mischievous, gang). Enjoy, and if you like, state your own peeve or opinion in the Comments section.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pet Peeve: Pluralizing Proper Names

Before anyone comments on the title of this post, allow me to quote Webby:

pluralize (transitive verb) To make plural or express in the plural form.
Great. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to the Peeve. Here's an example of the sort of preprinted holiday cards I received this season:
Merry Christmas from the Smith's!
Do I object to preprinted cards? Hardly. Who has time to print "Merry Christmas" a hundred times? And I love that these sentiments often come printed on nice family photos with a Christmassy border. Do I mind that I've received some of them in January? Not a smidge--send them as Valentines for all I care. I just like getting mail.

The problem is with the blasted apostrophe. It's become so ubiquitous that my dear sister, who knows when to use apostrophes and when to leave them in the rubbish heap, called me in a panic and asked if she's been writing her cards wrong all these years.

She hasn't.

One member of the Smith family is a Smith:
Even after her marriage to Kevin Delaney, Nadine remained a Smith.
Two members of the Smith family are Smiths:
I'd love to have the Smiths over for dinner, but you know they'd eat us out of house and home.
The card read: "Merry Christmas from the Smiths!"
The Smiths are a lovely family, but they do misplace apostrophes.
Tricky Names

Last names that end in s or sh are treated just like other nouns that end that way. You add an -es at the end to form the plural. Here are some nouns:

mess -- messes
dress -- dresses
brush -- brushes
push -- pushes

The same applies to last names:

Jones -- the Joneses
Meyers -- the Meyerses
Ness -- the Nesses
Greenbush -- the Greenbushes

If your name ends in -se, add an -s only, just as you normally would:

Lachaise -- the Lachaises
Maise -- the Maises

When to Use an Apostrophe

An apostrophe denotes ownership, as in:
Fiona Smith's party extended into the morning hours.
Lyle Birchman's car is stuck in a snowdrift.
Put the apostrophe after the plural name if something is owned by more than one person in the family:
I love the Joneses' new house.
The Smiths' Christmas card was lovely this year.
The Meyerses' Rottweiler is friendly.
If you are one of those families that included an inappropriate apostrophe in their holiday cards, believe me, I'm still thrilled to have heard from you. Just don't confuse my sister any longer, okay?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Doctor's Grammar

Jen B. says that the Doctor would appreciate the moodiness of English verbs. Earlier in this show, the Doctor corrects this young man's grammar, but here, it's the Doctor who is taken to task (about 20 seconds in on this video). Naturally, he changes the subject.