rogersgeorge on October 22nd, 2017

The other day I wrote about alliteration, so let’s take a look at another figure of speech, onomatopoeia, pronounced ah-nah-ma-ta-PEE-a. It’s from the Greek, meaning literally, “doing the name.” As you no doubt remember from seventh grade English (Hi, Miss Austin!) it means “a word that sounds like what it means.” Or is supposed to, anyway. Words like “peep,” “woof,” and “moo.” A lot of these words don’t actually sound like what they say they sound like. Ever listen to an actual rooster? It doesn’t really sound like “cock-a-doodle-do.” What about “bang,” “crash,” and “pow”? And the French word for the sound of a dog barking is pronounced something like “ngaf,” or so I’m told. Sometimes we don’t have a word for some sounds, a problem comic artists deal with often. For example, what sound does a rake on concrete make? Here’s a panel from Terri Libenson’s Pajama Diaries. Or what about the sound of a subterranean critter, maybe a Bobbit Worm, being eaten? The Edge of Adventure, by James Allen and Brice Vorderbrug, has something to say about that:




Well, those aren’t likely to end up in the OED, but here’s a good commentary on the subject. Thanks, David Malki, of Wondermark: ''You teach the KIDS, Ray! You teach it to 'em when they're KIDS!!''

I think you should feel free to make up your own onomatopoetic words. If you think up a good one, share it in the comments.

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The Difference Between “That” and “Which”

rogersgeorge on October 16th, 2017

I usually ignore things like grammar checkers, but Microsoft Word’s grammar checker happens to be pretty good at this distinction. I should add that we have lots of uses for both words, but today we’ll look at only one use. Here’s the rule:

Use “that” in restrictive clauses.
Use “which” in non-restrictive clauses.

Whatever that means, right?

Restrictive means the information is necessary. Non-restrictive means the information is added info; an aside or parenthetical remark.

Restrictive: The list includes an account that has been set up in the general ledger.

Non-restrictive: The list includes uncollected funds, which is what distinguishes this list from the collected balance.

I should add that you need to use a comma before this usage of “which” to show that the remark is parenthetical.

Here’s an example:

We set up an account that includes uncollected funds, which is what distinguishes it from a collected balance account.

A good exercise is to watch for this construction in your daily reading. You will see a lot of people using “which” when they should use “that.” They’re being pretentious. Don’t you be pretentious.


rogersgeorge on October 4th, 2017

The time has come to write about fluff again—I ran into a comic on the subject. We curmudgeons also call fluff redundancy, wordiness, and unnecessary verbiage. Probably some saltier terms, too. Fluff is the antithesis of conciseness, one of my gold rules for good writing.

I’ve featured this gal in Jump Start before. Several times, actually; that one was just a sample.

So when you write, look over what you wrote. (You always proofread, don’t you?) Do you see any words that you could delete without changing the meaning? Delete ’em! Your readers will thank you.

Test Answers 4

rogersgeorge on September 12th, 2017

Last chance to go take the test without seeing the answers!

The last five questions:

  1. It was about 3 or 4 feet long, looked like a long piece of linguine (same color, similar width), except if you looked a little carefully, it was actually comprised of connected rhomboid like sections. [this one has two goofs, not counting that the 3 and 4 should be spelled out. Find both.]
  2. While China is beginning to assemble its own tunnel-boring machines, it still relies on critical, foreign-made components that its own industries can’t manufacture on its own. [first word should be “Although” or “Whereas,” but I’m looking for a different goof.]
  3. Clicking Refresh Catalog in the catalog, updates the usage information.
  4. The amount of tabs you have open at any one time has a direct impact on the performance of Chrome, as well as how much RAM the application consumes.
  5. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with.

The answers:

  1. Using numerals for numbers below ten is normally a faux pas in writing, but that’s not the goof I’m thinking about. They said “comprised of”! It’s “composed of” or even “comprising connected …” For shame! Talk about being pretentious, that’s it! The other goof is a missing hyphen. It should be “rhomboid-like sections.”
  2. This one is easy. “industries” is plural, “its” is singular. Make them agree: Use either “industry…its own,” or “industries…their own.”
  3. Get rid of the comma. Never separate a subject and verb with one comma. I recommend you make “Refresh Catalog” stand out, too, with a style, quotes, italic, or bold.
  4. AAK! They should have “The number of tabs” because you’re counting, not measuring.
  5. The sentence has an extra “with” at the end. Get rid of it. In other words, proofread your work. You got that one, didn’t you?

So there you have it. If you teach English know some writers, or just want to annoy your friends, you have permission to print the quiz and hand it out. Then tell them the answers, of course.

The Courts Have Spoken: Use the Oxford comma!

rogersgeorge on September 4th, 2017

News about this item appeared in March of 2017. It’s the outcome of a court case between a dairy in Maine and the company’s drivers, and it all hinged on the Oxford, or serial, comma.

I’m pretty sure, if you are the type to read this blog even occasionally, that you know what an Oxford comma is: When you have a list of things with an “and” between the last two items in the list, the comma before the “and” is called the Oxford comma. (This applies to lists with “or” too.)

Here’s a link to the appellate court’s decision.


I don’t really recommend you bother to read it, but the gist is that the drivers were entitled to extra goodies because the last two items in a list were combined, as implied by the lack of a comma before the “and.” So the “missing” comma, even though it’s considered grammatical to leave it out, cost the company money.

Here’s the rule as I phrase it:

Without the Oxford comma, sometimes you can be misunderstood. With it, you are never misunderstood.

Since I advocate that expository should be clear, I say “Always use the Oxford comma!”