A Testimonial for Good English

rogersgeorge on December 10th, 2017

Look what Dilbert said to derogate this document: Full of typos!

Fake Email From The Ceo - Dilbert by Scott Adams

The rule: typographical errors matter. I wrote about this in the past more than once.

Sigh. A couple days later Scott repeated the joke:

Elbonian Virus Infects Mission Statement  - Dilbert by Scott Adams

And a subtle dig—the gal is their tech writer. She could see what the developer couldn’t.

That’s why you need us tech writers: we can see things you can’t.

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English Needs Another Personal Pronoun

rogersgeorge on November 26th, 2017

An essay today, and a little linguistics. The other day I mentioned the singular they. This isn’t that, even though we could use a word for that, too. See yesterday’s post for mention of the best solution to that problem that I’ve found so far: rewrite the whole sentence.

What we need is an improvement on the word “we.” When you use “we,” whom are you including? You and the guy you’re talking to, or you and the guy with you? (And then there’s the plural of majesty, when you mean only yourself, but I digress.)

A pidgin language someplace in the western Pacific has a good solution:

youme, which means me and you, the guy I’m talking to.

mefellah, which means me and the guy with me, but not you.

Sometimes, especially when you’re trying to persuade someone skeptical to agree with you, using a version of “we” that indicates whether or not you’re including the person you’re talking to.

And all this reminds me of the old Lone Ranger joke:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto were on a hilltop completely surrounded by antagonistic Indians. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “Looks like we’re in a tight spot, doesn’t it?”
Tonto replies, “Who’s ‘we,’ Paleface?”

So there you have it. Should we, um, youme start a movement?

PS—Ran into this today. Not sure what kind of “we” this is. Maybe a “youme” used to mean “you”?

A Trick of the Trade

rogersgeorge on November 24th, 2017

I have mentioned the trickiness of using “whom” several times over the years. I predict the word will pretty much vanish from the language in the not-so-near future; in the meantime, we have to deal with it. Use it wrong, and those in the know will hoot and holler. This is not okay if that person in the know has some kind of serious influence, such as deciding whether to hire you.

Occasionally I made passing reference to a good solution to the whole “whom” problem, but I recently ran into someone who used this good solution, and that suggested to me that maybe I should give the solution a little more emphasis. My informant is Erika Moen, author of the site Oh Joy Sex Toy. Yes, it’s an educational site about sex. And I must warn you, she’s not a fundamental baptist! Her material is not pornographic, but it’s really candid, and she covers topics that I don’t think will ever apply to me (blush), but her intent is to inform and to do so in a way that communicates well. You have been warned! Here’s the quote:

I have a bunch of friends who I love. Friends THAT I love? Friends for whom I feel love? I have some friends and I love them.

(Actually, the first sentence should have “whom,” and then it’d be right, hoot holler) But she dealt with the uncertainty by rewriting the whole sentence. Rewriting is an excellent way to eliminate those difficult passages where you’re not sure about what word or what phrase is correct.

Start over and rewrite the passage!

You might have to reflect to get the rewording to say what you want, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll eliminate having written something incorrectly; you won’t be a bad example to some beginner; and the chance is good that your rewritten passage will be more compelling than your first attempt.

Solve your problem by getting rid of it!

Sometimes “Their” is a Plural

rogersgeorge on November 14th, 2017

For years grammarians and writers have unsuccessfully tried to figure out a good singular alternative to “him or her” (and its variants), because using three words is awkward. We have examples going clear back to Edmund Spencer of using the technically plural “their” or “they” as that singular. We even call it the singular they.

For example:

Somebody left his or her car running.

Usually we say

Somebody left their car running.

Sometimes you can recast the sentence to avoid the problem:

A car was left running out front.

But let’s face it, the singular they is pretty useful, and I think we curmudgeons just have to learn to live with it.

PS—I ran into an interesting (read tactful) use of the singular them:

Individuals who have shared intimate, nude or sexual images with partners and are worried that the partner (or ex-partner) might distribute them without their consent can use Messenger to send the images to be “hashed.”

Now having said all that, “they” and “their” are legitimate plurals, and you should be alert for when you have an actual plural. Here’s one where a professional writer (and the editor) missed the boat:

Kids will flock to a natural play area that sparks their imagination.

Plural “kids,” plural “their”—so far so good. But what about “imagination”? That should be a plural! Each kid has his or her own imagination, so the sentence should read

Kids will flock to a natural play area that sparks their imaginations.

I won’t embarrass the writer by identifying him. (I considered a little tongue-in-cheek humor by using “them” or “the person,” but I figured out that the writer is a guy, so I can safely use “him.”)

Mainly so I can have a picture in this post, here’s part of what he was writing about:

Rodney pond

Hah! I Found a Mistake in One of those Lists of Facts

rogersgeorge on November 4th, 2017

The list is titled English language did you knows, and it’s here. It’s someplace on did-you-knows .com, too. The rest of the list seems reasonable enough, but this goof makes me suspicious of the veracity of the rest of the list, even though no doubt at least some of them are true.

Anyway, here’s the mistake:

The first English dictionary was written in 1755

That’s a reference to Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, the most famous early dictionary, but at least a dozen dictionaries preceded it. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia, and easy enough place to do research in.

Johnson’s dictionary was not the first English dictionary, nor even among the first dozen. Over the previous 150 years more than twenty dictionaries had been published in England, the oldest of these being a Latin-English “wordbook” by Sir Thomas Elyot published in 1538.

So there.

While I’m at it, the reference to “durst” being the past tense of “dare” isn’t quite right. “Durst” is obsolete. We use “dared” now. This list appears to be a collection of statements for several sources of varying quality.

By the way, the statement about “e” being the most common letter is true. The 12 most common letters, in order of frequency are etaoinshrdlu, a list I happen to have memorized.