Watch your Person

rogersgeorge on May 18th, 2017

You see this mainly in informal English, especially spoken, but if you don’t want to cause that little jolt to your reader that comes from sloppy writing, don’t mix persons. That is, don’t start with something like “me” and end up with something like “you.” (Emphasis mine:)

This pair got an especially hard laff this morning because, for those of us who work at home, time off means time spent thinking there is  something more productive you ought to be doing.

This excellent example of gear-changing is from Comic Strip of the Day, by one of my favorite bloggers, Mike Peterson, who writes both thoughtfully and informally, occasionally providing me with something to quote. The quote is toward the bottom of the post, in a section labeled “Juxtaposition of the Day,” referring to two strips about people who work from home.

Don’t throw your readers this kind of curve. The statement isn’t literally true; (well, maybe it is, but) his meaning is probably about …something more productive that we ought to be doing.

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Tesla Gets Comprise Right

rogersgeorge on May 16th, 2017

This is part of a strip about Nikola Tesla, quoting part of his autobiography. Follow the link to see the whole thing. Yes, I have a thing about getting “comprise” right (see the text at the bottom of the picture), but I recommend Zen Pencils anyhow because it’s a good, often inspirational comic. Go poke around the site.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

rogersgeorge on May 14th, 2017

Really concise today…

Mallard Fillmore - 04/29/2017

https://comicskingdom.com/mallard-fillmore/2017-04-29  Bruce Tinsley

My solution is to avoid pronouns. Pronouns are an easy source of accidental ambiguity. The singular “they” goes back to Milton or Chaucer, so the duck can’t really object to the usage.

We have no gender neutral singular pronouns in English–you can’t have a group of a singular, but in our current culture, it’s less in style to be so specific, although sometimes you don’t know the gender. Sex, btw is the biological term, gender is grammar, though our culture has started using gender to refer to sexual preferences.

May and Can

rogersgeorge on May 10th, 2017

When I was a kid, my teachers (several of them, in grade school) taught us that “may” meant permission, so when a clerk asked “May I help you?” They were being deferential—”Do I have your permission to help you?” Use of “may” in this circumstance is still considered to be polite and high class. “Can,” my teachers said, meant ability. So “Can you open this pickle jar? It’s too tight for me,” is appropriate (unless the speaker is being manipulative or something, though most manipulative would be to assume the person can open the jar by using “would,” but I won’t get into that). Anyway, this Retail comic does a nice job of describing the subtleties of these words.

Retail - 04/23/2017

All that said, The language seems to be changing. I wrote some math curriculum for IBM once, and the PhD SMEs we worked with insisted we use “can” even when “may ” was technically more correct. And I see “may” used a lot as a weak version of “might.” On that last usage, if you can use “might” instead of “may,” use “might.” Your writing will have more punch.

A Word about Apostrophes

rogersgeorge on May 8th, 2017

Okay, Brooke McEldowney (he of Pibgorn and 9 Chickweed Lane fame) is one of my favorite cartoonists, but I don’t get the punchline in this one. That doesn’t matter, though, because I want to mention the references to apostrophes in the first cell. [I just figured out that it’s not “cell,” but “panel.” At least that’s what I see the cartoonists using, and they ought to know. Several panels make a strip, and a “cel” is a single frame in an animated movie. I guess a “cell” is where you put prisoners or honey.]

Okay, in the first panel, she mentions that apostrophes are to indicate a missing letter in a contraction, and separately to indicate the possessive case. As it happens, the possessive is also derived from a missing letter! We still see it in the German, whence we get a lot of our possessive forms. Originally the possessive was -es, and we took out the e and replaced it with an apostrophe.

My other comment is the pair of apostrophes in one word. You can actually do that, sometimes. For instance the helping verbs in the future perfect, “will have” can both be contracted, mainly in informal spoken English: “I’ll’ve been writing this blog for nine years come January.” If I think of (or see) any other examples, I’ll add them.

Meantime, if you get the joke, explain it to me.