Another interesting language chart

rogersgeorge on February 28th, 2014

I posted a chart recently that shows languages based on shared vocabulary. This one is more traditional—It shows family relationships based on etymology. There’s a slight typo in the circle at top center. It shouldn’t have that space between Proto and Indo. I suspect he had the text box set to justified, but what do I know. (My thanks to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)

Added bonus: Here’s a link to a site where a guy suggests that he has figured out how Proto-Indo-European sounded. It’s guesswork, but it’s an educated guess, and it’s interesting.  Our ancestors might have sounded like this.

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Teaser for an interesting article

rogersgeorge on February 26th, 2014

Other people besides me are good with English (duh) and I ran into an article by one of those folks; I think you might like to read it. The article is about an internet-based linguistic meme called doge (pronounced “doggy,” I say). Read the article for a full understanding of how it works.

The article, by Gretchen McCulloch, is here: The paragraph below is toward the end of the article.

The first factor is the kind of “baby talk” that we do towards our pets, known in the literature as pet-directed speech (yes, there are actual studies on this). It tends to involve speaking with exaggerated pitch and using simplified sentence structure. By comparison, the “baby talk” that we do towards actual children involves these two factors plus extra-precise articulation of sounds and is known as infant-directed speech (formerly motherese until some genius realized that it’s not only mothers who talk to babies).

Of course I can’t resist adding value for my dear readers, both of them, by making a comment or two. Two things: I had a post about baby talk a while back, which I recommend. The other thing is about the word “towards.” It has a synonym, “toward.” Perhaps it’s a personal quirk, but there is absolutely no difference in meaning between the two words, but one is longer, with that s tacked onto the end.

Use the shorter word, I say.

Prove that rule!

rogersgeorge on February 24th, 2014

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in the past, but I found a good example, and the idea is worth repeating. Besides, the guy who made the mistake (and he might have made it on purpose. He is, after all, literate.) is a worthwhile daily read. First, here’s the quote:

So, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to show you what is actually not the exception that proves the rule, because in this brilliant animated piece, Rina Piccolo not only does none of those things I object to, but she makes me laugh aloud several times and generally delivers not only a bravura performance on its own but a model of how to avoid undermining good cartooning in a cross-media interpretation:

The source is Mike Peterson’s for February 19, 2014. Mike and I are alike in that we both like to use comics to illustrate whatever point we want to make, though I generally limit myself to matters of writing, and his topics fare far farther. The mistake is the expression “the exception that proves the rule.”

To prove in the expression “proving a rule” is an old usage meaning to test, not show. You might remember this usage from the book of Malachi 3:10, where God says “Prove me now herewith…” about tithing.  (This, by the way is the only place in the Bible where God invites us to test Him.) You can find a few other examples of prove meaning to test in the King James Version, but that passage is the most famous.

So making an exception tests whether something is actually a rule, or merely a suggestion. Break the rule, and if you get into trouble for it, it’s a rule. If not, then it’s not.

My advice: If you’re going to make an allusion to an old idiom, use it correctly. Otherwise, use plain English.

Apostrophe humor

rogersgeorge on February 22nd, 2014

I have mentioned apostrophes now and then, so don’t expect much new today. This comic, by  Jon Kudelka, who might be an Australian, appeared recently, though, and I can’t resist repeating  myself.

How many apostrophic solecisms can you count?

Apostrophes are replacements for letters you leave out of a word. The apostrophe as the sign of the possessive in nouns (not pronouns!) came from the German, where the possessive ending is usually -es. We take out the e.

Rule 1: Plurals don’t get an apostrophe, even if you’re writing grocery store vegetable signs.

Rule 2: For possessives, look at the noun (not pronoun!) that you want to make into a possessive. If it ends in an single s, put an apostrophe on the end and you’re done. If it doesn’t end in s, add apostrophe s.

Rule 3: You don’t need an apostrophe to pluralize an acronym.

Want a couple complications?

Complication 1: If the word you want to pluralize ends in a vowel or laryngeal sound before the s, you do the apostrophe followed by nothing, but you pronounce the missing -es ending. For example, “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” is pronounced “Jesuses Sermon etc.”  and my first name, “Rogers,” has the possessive form “Rogers’ ” and you pronounce it “Rogerses.” Both of these, with the -es, are how you spell and pronounce the plural, by the way.

Complication 2: Use apostrophe s for the possessive of acronyms, even if the acronym ends in ss (for example, the Office of Strategic Services is the OSS). This is the only time in English where you can have three of the same letter in a row. “The OSS’s pronouncement” is grammatical. (Okay, onomatopoetic words can have any number of repeated letters. A snake goes “ssssssss,” and a cow goes “moooo.”)

Complication 3: Pronouns have their own possessive forms: my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their. No apostrophe! That’s not really a complication, is it?

Count your commas!

rogersgeorge on February 20th, 2014

Commas are a way of separating sentence content from the rest of the sentence. You may not separate a subject from its verb. You can do other things with a single comma, though. As single comma, usually after the first word in the sentence, can be direct address. That’s when you name the person or thing you are speaking to. (Charlie, get out of bed!) It can also separate something parenthetical, such as a conditional clause. (If you don’t get out of bed now, you’re going to miss the bus!) A single comma can also separate something called an appositive. An appositive is renaming something; it’s equivalent to an equals sign. Here’s an example of that from a recent Bizarro comic. Read the apron. I confess I’m not much into rock and roll, so I just barely know that “Kiss” is the guy’s name. Or something.

What about two commas? The rule in writing is that you don’t separate a subject from its verb with a comma. But you may use two commas. Two commas enclose a parenthetical remark. Since it’s parenthetical, it doesn’t count as part of the sentence. Let’s modify the above:

Kiss, the cook, sports a rather unconventional appearance.

You can take out “the cook” and you still have the main sentence. Do not say, “Kiss, the cook looks rather unconventional,” unless you’re talking to Mr. Kiss about a cook.

A little more about parenthetical remarks: You can make them three ways. I already mentioned commas. Use commas for a minor aside. Use parentheses (which I use rather often in my writing) for remarks that are somewhat off topic. Finally, use M-dashes—very handy to know how to use—to emphasize the importance of the remark. You make a M-dash by holding down the Alt key while you type 0151 on the numeric keypad. Mac users, you’re on your own, and some word processors have their own way of making them. I’ll belabor the point:

Kiss (did you know he can cook?) is pretty good with a barbecue grill. Kiss—he is actually a very good cook—served up some excellent spare ribs.

A final parenthetical remark: You really should kiss the cook.