Good Old Like and As

rogersgeorge on December 16th, 2017

“Like” and “as” are easy to get mixed up. It doesn’t help a lot to say that “as” is an adverb and “like” is a preposition. Too complicated. You might find it easier to remember, perhaps, that “as” goes with verbs, and “like” goes with nouns and pronouns.

Here’s a guy who sounds right both times, uses two different constructions, and we understand him, but he’s wrong! Take a look at the second panel in the Dec 9, 2017 edition of Mr. Fitz:

“Think like I do” sounds right. That’s because you have the verb “do,” that goes with “I.” But technically, it should be “think as I do.” By the way, it’s a good idea to include that “do” in this sort of construction; doing so removes ambiguity.

Then he hauls off and says, “think like me.” And that also sounds correct! It sounds correct because “like” feels like a preposition with that “me” all by itself after it. Well, “like” is a preposition. But he’s modifying a verb (think) with an adjective phrase. That’s a no-no. Take the book title “Black Like Me.” The color, black, an adjective, goes with the pronoun “me.” That’s correct. If he had said “a thinker like me,” since “thinker” is a noun, he would be correct, at least grammatically.

Heavy-duty grammar lesson today. Sorry.

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Another Gödel Joke

rogersgeorge on December 14th, 2017

This post doesn’t have much to do with good writing, but I happen to like jokes that relate to Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. The gist of the theorem is that he proved mathematically that you can’t have a complete logical system, one that doesn’t have unanswerable questions and has no contradictions. This was much to his colleague Bertrand Russell’s displeasure, who was in the midst of writing a book (Principia Mathematica) to prove the completeness of mathematics. Here’s a link to a joke about that:

https://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2017/11/29/epitaphs-in-the-graveyard-of-mathematics/

It’s the second one, but they’re all funny if you know a little math.

Okay, that’s a lot of preliminaries to get to the joke in the comic Dog Eat Doug that I had in mind in the first place. Part of Gödel’s proof hinged on the fact that when something refers to itself, you can get into trouble.

Interesting bit of onomatopoeia there, too. I dare you to try this question on Siri.

PS–since it happened to come up, here’s a link to an article that actually mentions the incompleteness theorem:

The mathematics of Christmas: A review of the Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus

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.

Beware of False Plurals!

rogersgeorge on November 30th, 2017

Ordinarily we make a plural in English by adding an “-s” at the end.

Almost immediately, though, things begin to get complicated. Sometimes you have to add “-es” (remember fourth grade?). Then some words don’t change at all to become plural, such as “fish” and “moose.” Some words change a vowel to make a plural, such as “mice.” I remember Tom the cat saying “I hate those meeses to pieces,” in Tom and Jerry cartoons, exaggerating the plural for comic effect.

And don’t get me started on all those Latin endings, “genera,” “alumni,” and “alumnae” for example. Some words don’t even have a plural! If you say “informations,” you betray that English is not your first language. “Lego,” by the way, doesn’t have a plural. No such word as “Legos.” It’s “pieces of Lego,” but I digress.

Finally, some words look like plurals but they aren’t. We call them false plurals. Sciences that end in “-ics” are all singular. Physics, cybernetics, fluidics, and finally, which leads to today’s comic, genetics. Can you tell what the verb should be?

Michael Cavna, the cartoonist, is a respected writer, enough to make me suspect this was deliberate. This misuse of “don’t” is often associated with being undereducated. He wouldn’t be insinuating that football fans are undereducated, would he??? Nah…

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”?