I have lots more “lessons” in the hopper, and I’ll start posting more frequently when I get time, but here’s a comic I ran into today that particularly struck my funny bone. I think I mentioned David Malki and this strip in the past, maybe more than once. I recommend it. The link below goes to his site.
We have seen The Linguistics Major before.
Ahem. Not that a linguistics major is completely useless. My wedding ring is inscribed with a quote (in Greek, of course) from the Septuagint. Oh—in case you don’t know, Uralic and Altaic are two very old Indo-European languages. And I’ve been meaning to point out what “decimate” really means; well, what it used to mean. I think the meaning of that word is a battle we purists have lost.
Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed
Normally I find comic artists pretty careful about their use of English, but the other day I ran into one that contains a doozie. And Ed Allison has a generally pretty funny strip. For this one, though, I’d have to slap his hand.
He even put his mistake in bold. The rule is that when you are counting something, especially if you have a plural involved, you use Fewer! FEWER! Use “less” when you measure an amount, I have less egg on my face than he does.
But hey, it’s a comic, and it’s funny.
For post 100, I copied a passage of some really fine writing from a comic strip named Pibgorn by Brooke McEldowney. This is post 200, and I’ll descend to the other end of the continuum, pirate talk. Two days ago (Sept 19) was Talk Like a Pirate day, but I already had a post in the hopper for then, and besides, this is post 200.
First, then, a bit of linguistics. (We gotta be scholarly, y’know.) The traditional accent we all associate with the romance of 18th century pirates is roughly the brogue from Cornwall, or the southwest of England. I think this was most strongly promulgated by Disney’s version of Treasure Island several decades ago, but it might have appeared in some earlier movies, too. Be that as it may, to my mind the epitome of pirate talk is the strong “arr” sound and “be” and “me” instead of “is” and “my” as spoken by Long John Silver in the Disney movie. I read the book , by the way, and there’s quite a bit more adventure in the book than in the movie. But I digress.
Here’s a quote from a review (which gets the name of the day wrong):
He was deeply alcoholic and delivered a performance of such swivel-eyed, bizarrely-accented, scenery-chewing lunacy that he not only stole the entire film but also created a character that almost immediately defined the physical, sartorial and verbal attributes of a pirate.
Second, real pirates, especially modern ones, are bad people as far as we law-abiding folks go. Yes, the older version in the sailing ships had a decent civil structure on their ships, more egalitarian than most people realize, but they nonetheless did not conform to most of our cultural norms (read They were pretty bloodthirsty.). And there was a class of semi-legal pirate types called privateers, who had loyalty to a particular country and tended to concentrate on raiding their country’s enemies’ ships. Talk Like a Pirate day is all in fun, and has no more actual connection to real pirates than having kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween has to do with Satanism and real demons.
Third, if you’re going to speak like a pirate, you should get it right. Women are “me beauty.” It’s “arr,” not “arg” and not “yarr.” And a friend is “matey,” pronounced “maitey.” If you want to look into it a bit more, here’s a link to the official TLAP site.
Fourth, pirate jokes. Of course my favorites are wordplay, that capitalize on the strong pirate “arr.” A pirate’s favorite vegetable is arrrrtichokes, and they fight best in the arrrmy. You get the idea. A fellow by the name of Doug Savage produced a couple comics about pirates that feature chickens. And you all know the joke about the pirate with a peg leg, a hook, and an eye patch. When asked for how he got them all, he described horrific battles for losing his leg and his hand, but lost his eye because of some seagull poop. It seems he wasn’t yet used to having the hook.
And that, me matey, be all I have to say about pirates.
I have mentioned subject-verb agreement before, but I found a comic that gives a good example of doing it wrong, so I’ll bring it up again.
The rule is that a singular subject gets a singular verb, and a plural subject gets a plural verb.
The problem is that sometimes you can lose track of the subject. Forgetting that you have a singular subject is fairly easy when the subject is part of a group. For example, if you say, “One of the students…” you might be tempted to use a plural verb because “students” is plural. Now maybe not, because the subject, “one,” is still pretty close, especially if you’re thinking carefully about your writing. But when the stuff between the subject and verb gets more voluminous, you can lose track fairly easily. The name for this is “attraction,” and I understand it’s okay in Latin, but it’s not in English.
So here’s the comic:
Now the caption to this comic is tricky. The main subject and verb are “Gary is.” Then we have five words between the subject and verb of the subordinate clause. If you said, “One of those guys has a problem,” you might get it right, but throw in the “who never” and you have a pretty good distraction from the actual subject, “one,” not “guys.”
You can find Ballard Street on gocomics.com, and I recommend it for a nice break from the conventional. And thanks for the good goof, Jerry.
Here’s what might be an exception to this rule. You would say that “many” is a plural, right? So it should get a plural verb, right? Even with a singular-feeling prepositional phrase between “many” and the verb, right? Then what about this:
Many a man likes to get his grammar correct.
Yes, the singular verb, “likes,” is correct! Sigh. That there English language, it just ain’t always gonna make sense.
I’ve mentioned the verbs “lie” and “lay” several times in the past on this site. I now return to the theme with a well-done and grammatically correct comic. I’m generally favorably impressed with how careful comic writers are with their English, and David Gilbert in his Sept 10 edition of Buckles is no exception.
Now for a little change of subject. Look back at the first sentence in this post. It contains an error. Can you tell what it is? I’ll put the answer after the comic to help you resist the temptation to look.
Here’s the mistake: The sentence contains a redundancy. Since I used the present perfect tense (have mentioned), the event had to occur in the past, so the phrase “in the past” should be left out. “On this site” is okay to leave in because I could have mentioned “lie” and “lay” in lots of other places (and I have). If you caught the mistake, congratulations! You can write!