Bad Language Joke

rogersgeorge on December 7th, 2016

That’s bad joke, not bad language, and herein lies a small lesson: Beware using nouns attributively. That’s when you use a noun as an adjective, such as in the title of this post. The reason to beware is because sometimes you can’t tell how that attributive noun is being used, as I point out in the first six words of this post.

(whew!) Finally, here’s the joke:

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How to Make an Adjective out of a Noun

rogersgeorge on November 17th, 2016

Tl;dr version: Add -y or -ey. Some of these constructions are common: we have a mess, and things can get messy. You can make a joke out of this, too: What’s brown and sticky? —a stick! Some other suffixes can make an adjective out of a noun, such as -some. Trouble, troublesome. But adding that y is the most versatile, I think. It means “having the characteristics of.” You can use it on any noun. Hence the last word in today’s comic, Betty:


This is a good example of how to use an optional hyphen. You can put it in to make the meaning clear.

Verbing Nouns

rogersgeorge on October 11th, 2016

I mentioned this topic before, so this post is more a rant than an actual lesson. Look at the first cell in today’s Lola:


She said “loan” instead of “lend.”

Using a noun as a verb has a long and popular (notice I didn’t say “noble”) history in English. It’s so common that sometimes folks for whom English is a second (or third or more) language can get confused. This is a virtue of highly inflected languages—the inflectional endings make it easy to tell nouns from verbs. The trouble is, you have to memorize all those inflections.

My rant is this: don’t use a noun for a verb unless you can’t think of a good word that’s already a verb.

Pronouncing “use” and “have”

rogersgeorge on September 11th, 2012

Sometimes we change the pronunciation of a word depending on how we use the word. Everybody knows about changing the accent on some words to distinguish between their noun and verb usages. Address, accent on the second syllable, is a verb (the speaker will address the crowd). Address, accent on the first syllable is a noun (my address is the name for where I live).

Never mind that there’s also a slight variation in how you pronounce the “a” at the beginning of the word. On second thought, what about that slight difference? In address, the noun, the a is pronounced like the a in AAK! (The phonetic character is æ, and we call it a short a.) But in the verb, the a is pronounced with a sound called the schwa, rather like uh, and it happens to be the most common vowel sound in English, and we don’t even have a letter for it. In fact, ASCII doesn’t have it in its character set. The phonetic symbol looks like an upside down lowercase e.

Okay, that was a long digression. Sorry. Back to “use” and “have.”

Use: Mostly we think of “use” as a verb, and we pronounce it “yuze.” When we (ahem) use the word as a noun, such as when we say that we put something to good use, we pronounce it “use.” The “s” is unvoiced. But what about when you refer to a past customary activity? That’s a verb, and it’s always in the past tense. For example, we say

We used to do it that way.

When you refer to a past customary behavior, do not betray illiteracy by spelling it “We use to do it that way.”

Have: We use “have” all the time as a helping verb, and when we want to indicate possession. We pronounce it “hav,” or to be phonetic, “hæv.”

But when we refer to an obligation, we pronounce it “haf;” the second consonant (the “v”) is unvoiced. (I have to explain the correct spelling or illiterate people will get it wrong.)

I have to help you with your English.

 When you refer to an obligation, do not betray illiteracy by spelling it “haf.”

I did, however, find something that is called a HAF: a high air flow computer case.

Verbing nouns

rogersgeorge on April 21st, 2012

In English we have a habit of taking apparent prefixes and suffixes off a word to make a new word. It’s called back formation. So we have an invite when we used to have an invitation. Grammarians tend to disfavor this, but English is littered with these forms, so we curmudgeons may as well learn to live with them.

Another bad habit that is practiced quite a lot is to make a verb out of a noun. For example, “text.” Is it a noun or a verb? Remember the song, “Matchmaker Matchmaker, catch me a catch”? I remember someone once criticizing this habit when we have perfectly good ways to say something already. They were writing about using “office” as a verb, as in “Where do you office?”

I am slightly embarrassed to confess that I joined this club today with my own neologism. First a little context. A geek joke is running around in the texting community, in which instead of (ahem) texting “K” (short for “okay”), the person texts “potassium.” Get it? (Okay, for my non-chemist non-geek readers, the chemical symbol for the element potassium is K. Hence the joke.)

It probably won’t last long because texters are notoriously frugal with their keystrokes, but I like the joke, and I used it on someone the other day. Then I texted a friend who was in on the joke that I had potassiumed someone.

Bananas are said to be a good source of potassium

Mea culpa.