Year-end language nostalgia

rogersgeorge on December 30th, 2013

This is the last post of 2013, so it’s time for a little reminiscing, and this Argyle Sweater is just the comic to remind me of some words in my past.


Mostly you hear words mispronounced by children (I’ve heard several variations on cinnamon, spaghetti, and Elisabeth), though I’m told that it’s a sign you read a lot if you get words wrong when you’re older. I remember the day in sixth grade when I learned that sandwich had a “d,” and I used to pronounce metropolitan as metropolan. I was well into high school before I learned how to pronounce thesaurus. Someone told me they used to pronounce the lung disease “pee-newmonia.” A lot of people have trouble with names in the Bible. There’s a website about pronunciation ( I forget the name of it), and an exemplar for Philemon had it wrong. (It’s fy LEE mun) The village near Jerusalem is BETH fuh gee, not Beth fayj. One teacher told me the only correct way to pronounce an Old Testament name is with confidence.

What are your favorite mispronounced words?

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Yet another comic about grammar

rogersgeorge on December 28th, 2013

Last time I featured a curmudgeon who likes to correct certain mistakes in others’ grammar. Another battle that we curmudgeons are going to lose is using lay and lie correctly. LAY is TRANSITIVE, people! Harrumpf. You always should lay SOMETHING down. When you stretch out on the bed, it’s LIE down. See? No direct object. Harrumpf again.

So this guy in Speed Bump (Dec 21, 2013) got his revenge. Too bad he’s not around to enjoy all the grammarian teeth grinding he’s causing, and I wonder what he had to pay the monument guy to engrave his tombstone that way.


I’ve mentioned this pair of verbs more than once in the past, by the way. Alas, my dear sweet wife does not belong to my grammatical camp.

Literally virtual

rogersgeorge on December 26th, 2013

Literally and virtually (and their cousins literal and virtual) are favorites of people who like to correct others’ English, and favorites of people who like to get their English right. A lot of people get them wrong, and we understand what they are saying, so I suppose it’s a losing battle to get people into the habit of using literally and virtually correctly. However, when you write something, especially when you’re explaining something, exercise care to get these two words right.

I don’t need to define them, do I? (okay—literal means real, virtual means not real.) The informal (and incorrect) way to use these words, especially literally, is as a general intensifier, rather like extremely and very. Try to be specific or precise instead of general. Your language will be more vivid.

By the way, virtual reality is an oxymoron, but it’s literally correct.

I guess the wizard in the Wizard of Id is like me, only he can do more about it than I can:

Myself, I’d have had the king say “He hates it when people use that word figuratively.” And speaking of being specific, that’s a wood clamp, not a vice.

A present from the OED

rogersgeorge on December 24th, 2013

OED is the Oxford English Dictionary, the most complete and scholarly dictionary of English. It’s famous for its etymologies, and once a word appears in the dictionary, it never leaves. This is useful for scholars who study old documents, but it’s also interesting. Run into a word you don’t know, and it’s in there, especially if it’s old. I once owned a copy of the OED. It was a very large volume, and it came with a magnifying glass (that I still have) that you needed to read the thing. The online version is much handier.

Especially of late, they add new words fairly regularly, once a year, I believe, and the new additions are good for several days of human interest articles. This year they added “cake pop” among others.

Okay, this isn’t exactly a Christmas present, but it’s Christmas eve, so I guess that’s close enough. And it has to do with new words. Go to this site to see which new words were added in any year; the idea is to see what new word was added in the year you were born. The word for me today is “mobile phone.” I don’t know if the word changes or not. I get the impression that if you come back another day, you might get a different word.

And with that, a Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you like your present.

Think about what you write

rogersgeorge on December 22nd, 2013

Sometimes you can cast a perfectly grammatical sentence that is still wrong. I call this the hard part of writing.

Here’s an example of a bad sentence I just got from The New York Times, on their Personal Tech page, in an article about speakers. The culprit is the second sentence.

The options with fuller sound — the kind I’m looking for — need to be plugged into the wall. Still, they do not need wires to connect to the source of the music, creating a permanent state of cord spaghetti.

Are you instantly sure what the writer is saying? You had to switch gears when you read about creating a tangle right after reading about not needing wires. Part of the problem is that it’s so far from the negative statement (they do not need) to the result (spaghetti). That big long clause between (wires to connect…music) happens to be a non-existent condition. The writer matched the non-existent part with the result. This sentence should have matched the negativity or lack of it in the beginning and end of the sentence. Here are two somewhat better ways to write it. I like the second one more, because now all three parts are positive.

Still, they do not need wires to connect to the source of the music, which helps prevent a permanent state of cord spaghetti.

Still, if they had wires connected to the source of the music, it would create a permanent state of cord spaghetti.

Now you don’t get that jolt from having to figure out what he meant. I’m surprised the editor didn’t catch it.