Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Out of the Closet

I was picking up some take-out Chinese food for dinner, and the guy told me that it would take about fifteen minutes. So, to pass the time, I headed over to the Ross Dress for Less a few doors down to browse. I started flipping through the dresses, and I came upon this really cute one. It was kind of a 1940s silhouette made from a pretty nice material. I flipped over the price tag, because that’s the first thing I always do, and I couldn’t believe my eyes: 49 cents. A super cute dress for 49 cents! Of course, I bought it. When I got home, I bragged to my husband about my fabulous find and he was less than thrilled. “But, it was only 49 cents,” I explained. “It’s not the money,” he said. “There’s no room in the closet!”

He’s totally right; there is no room in the closet. I have so many clothes. I love buying clothes. I love receiving clothes. I just love clothes. I love them so much it’s hard for me to get rid of them. I try cleaning out my closet, but it’s usually not all that cleansing. (But overalls might come back into style. But I wore that on our first date. I might contract mono and lose five pounds and fit into those again. I should save that dress for the daughter I don’t have). I know that my hoarding is completely counter-productive. When I do clean out my closet (or try to), I always rediscover awesome clothes I forgot I had because they were sandwiched between an unworn t-shirt I won two years ago at a work raffle and a faded black top.

As much as I love clothes, I love the written word. I love reading, I love writing, I love words. However, unlike clothes from my closet, I relish cutting superfluous words out of my and my students’ writing. It’s so satisfying to clean out sentences. It makes the writing so much stronger and the really great words stand out so much more. So, imagine my excitement when I ran across this sentence while grading:

The reason why pot should be legal is because we can tax it and raise money.

(Sure, that’s why she wants it to be legal.)

This sentence is so exciting because there are at least two words I can cut.

The definition of why is the reason for, so I don’t need both reason and why. Let’s cut why, leaving us with:

The reason pot should be legal is because we can tax it and raise money.

But, because also means the reason for, so again I am doubling up on the word reason. You know what that means? We also get to cut because:

The reason pot should be legal is we can tax it and raise money.

Or, we can cut reason and keep because:

Pot should be legal because we can tax it and raise money.

Or, we can cut the crap and be honest:

Pot should be legal because then I wouldn’t have to rely on my dodgy dealer.

More blogs I have been enjoying:

Georgina Dollface: Her writing is both hilarious and beautiful.

Substitute Teacher's Saga: This is an amazingly funny post about family.

Wendy Ramer- On 'n On 'n On: For some reason I can't link directly to the post, but her June 24 post nails the torment of bathing suit shopping.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Off the Wagon

I have been watching hours and hours of World Cup soccer over the past couple of weeks. Am I a soccer fan? Not really. Is it because the soccer players are so hot? That may have a big something to do with it. But, if I’m going to be honest, I’m mostly doing it for the same reason I watched only the last two games between the Lakers and the Celtics: I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

I know that makes me kind of a poser, but, what can I say, I get all caught up in the hype.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I jump on the bandwagon of all popular fads. I still am unfamiliar with any Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga songs, and when I was in Vegas last weekend, I was reminded of a trend I won’t ever be on board with- this:

What is it with companies these days? Why are they using lowercase letters for their names? Here are some other offenders:

My theory is that this lowercase trend started with that little i in iPod, and since Apple is so successful, many companies jumped on the lowercase bandwagon. Now, it would be hypocritical for me to judge someone for jumping on a bandwagon, and it's not even the breaking of the capitalization rule that bugs me; it's that it doesn't work for everybody. It looks like at&t can get away with it, but does Treasure Island really want to update itself? I mean, the book was published in 1883. Shouldn’t they try to stick with the theme? (By the way, you should see Treasure Island’s -I mean ti’s -new pirate show. It involves one ship of pirates and one ship of booty short-clad sirens. This is one of the brilliant lines uttered by the sirens: “Who are you calling ahoy?”)

Moral of the story: Break grammar rules (and use puns) with care.

But, don't worry, I didn't spend my time in Vegas ranting about capitalization rules. Well, not all my time. I saw Cirque de Soleil, I won $35 at Roulette, and I while I was there, I found out I had won something else. James Garcia Jr. at Dance on Fire awarded me this:

One of my responsibilities as a Versatile Blogger award winner is to tell you seven facts about myself, so here they are:

1. I have never eaten a hamburger.

2. My name is Jenny, not Jennifer.

3. The only trophy I have ever won was for a read-a-thon in third grade.

4. I can't wink my right eye.

5. The nail on my pinky toe is almost nonexistent.

6. Richard Simmons held me when I was an infant.

7. I once counted out forty-five minutes because my parents told me that's how long we had left on our drive.

My second responsibility is to list fifteen other blogs I have been enjoying. I am going to start with five today (because I have to get to work). I will continue with the list throughout the week.

Drum roll please:

1. Nostomaniac: this entry was one one of the funniest things I have read in a while.
2. The Invisible Seductress: I laughed out loud when I read this.
3. Notes from Nadir: I just started reading this, and I can't wait to go back and read more. So far, I have read beautifully-written stories about her mom.
4. Health and Beauty by Keppi: Speaking of moms, this is my mom's blog. It makes me want to be healthier.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pick Your Battles Wisely

I came home from work the other night, went straight to the fridge to finish off a bottle of this really good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I discovered at Trader Joe’s, only to find that my husband had left the refrigerator door slightly ajar. (It’s okay- the wine was fine.)

So, I shut the fridge door, poured my wine, and got on with my night.

The reason I didn’t say anything to my husband was not to avoid confrontation; it was a matter of picking the battles that will actually make a difference. I thought about saying something to him like, “Hey, Honey, you know you left the fridge open,” but I stopped myself because he never leaves the fridge door open; this was an anomaly. It’s not like how he constantly…oh never mind, I don’t want to air my dirty laundry on this grammar blog.

I apply the same philosophy when I’m grading. If I am grading an essay in which the student uses their instead of there once but uses it correctly the rest of the time, I am not going to mark it. Everybody makes mistakes. I am only going to bring the mistakes to my students’ attention if I feel like the students don’t know better.

So, a while ago, a student used the word choosen instead of chosen. No big deal. Anyone can make a mistake. Then, it happened again. And then I began noticing it popping up in other students’ essays. And it just happened again today, so I can’t keep silent any longer: CHOOSEN IS NOT A WORD!


Monday, June 21, 2010

What Happens in Vegas?

I was walking through the Encore hotel in Vegas this weekend when I heard a female voice say, “I’m a preschool teacher.” The word “teacher” caught my attention, and since I’m nosy, I looked up and saw a woman who, judging from the length of her skirt and the size of her shirt, must have borrowed her outfit from one of her students.

What happens in Vegas? I know it’s hot and I know it’s Sin City, but from the last time I was there a couple of years ago to now, the average skirt length has halved:

And the average neck line has doubled:

Apparently, many women believe that the way to stand out in Vegas is to expose their assets.

To make our writing stand out, we also want to expose our assets. One of the greatest assets we have when writing is words. We have so many wonderful words to choose from, yet sometimes we neglect to really show them off.

For example, I can write:

Most ladies in Vegas wear short skirts.

But, short doesn’t quite capture the severity of what I experienced.

I might opt for itty-bitty or minute, or if I want to give it a more negative connotation, I could use skimpy.

Here’s another example:

Many women in Vegas showed cleavage.

But, c'mon, I can do better than showed.

How about boasted, paraded, flaunted, celebrated? Or if I want to give it a more negative connotation, I could use advertised.

Speaking of advertising cleavage, one of the things that concerns me about this new Vegas dress code is its impact on the prostitutes’ business. From what I understand, prostitution is a viable career in Vegas, yet how are potential customers supposed to discern between the prostitutes and the tourists? Another problem is that when almost everyone is wearing “shockingly” sexy outfits the shock value disappears. When I first arrived, I couldn’t stop gawking, but by casino number three, I didn’t even look up unless there was nipple.

It’s the same with writing. We want to use great words, but we don’t want to look up every single word in the thesaurus just to make our writing fancy. If all of our words are fancy, the images we really want to draw attention to may lose their impact. Also, our writing may come off as pretentious and may even be confusing. For example, after a lecture on descriptive writing, one of my students wrote:

When I was a diminutive girl, my dad used to take me fishing.

I am pretty sure she meant:

When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me fishing.

She must have looked up little in the thesaurus, found diminutive, and thought it would be more descriptive. However, in this case, little- although it may not be as flashy- makes more sense.

And since I won a whopping $35 in roulette and am now addicted, it makes sense that I start planning for my next trip to Vegas. I wonder what I can wear to stand out in the sea of legs and cleavage. Maybe something like this:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Karma- IT'S a Bitch

I am admittedly not the ideal person to share a living space with. I constantly forget to unplug my hot rollers, I kick off my shoes wherever I am and leave them there, I let my clothes pile up in the bedroom.

I may be in denial, but I don’t attribute this behavior to laziness or thoughtlessness; I blame it on absent-mindedness. Most of the time, I don’t even realize that I have kicked off my shoes or tossed my shirt on the dresser.

The problems with this behavior are that I may burn the house down and my husband is super neat and organized so my sloppiness bugs the shit out of him. He is constantly drawing my attention to the socks stuck in the couch, the empty shampoo in the shower and the pair of shoes he has just tripped over. And, he’s totally right: when it’s called to my attention, I can see that the place is a mess. And I know better. I mean, if asked whether it is a better idea to put one’s shoes away in the closet or leave them in the middle of the living room for one’s soul mate to sprain his ankle on, I would confidently say in the closet (unless said soul mate has eaten the last triangle of Toblerone).

It’s kind of the same experience I have when teaching the difference between its and it’s. When I ask my students when we use the it’s with the apostrophe, they say when it stands for it is- which is absolutely right. But, when they write their papers, confusing its and it’s is one of the most common errors they make.

So, if they know right from wrong but don’t put it into practice, why do I even bother? Maybe I shouldn't even bring it to their attention. Maybe my job is pointless.

Is this my karma?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Literally Gave the Shirt off Her Back

A few months ago, the instructors at my school received an email about a professor (from a different campus) who had been put on administrative leave as a result of her Facebook comment: “Had a good day today, didn’t want to kill even one student. :-) Now Friday was a different story…”

Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I think she was just exaggerating; I don’t think she literally wanted to kill her students.

Even if she wrote, “Now Friday was literally a different story…” we still couldn’t be sure if she really meant it.


We don’t only use literally when we mean it in the literal sense- “without exaggeration or inaccuracy”- we also use literally to exaggerate a point.

For example, it’s common to say, “I literally almost died laughing” or “I was so scared that I literally peed my pants.”

But, this is what it means to “literally” pee one’s pants:

When we use literally in conjunction with phrases like "peed my pants," in most cases, we aren’t suggesting that, like Fergie, we actually peed our pants; we are simply trying to emphasize how scared we were.

Using literally in this way- to emphasize rather than in the literal sense- is one of the most common grammar pet peeves people have. And they have a point: If Fergie said, “I was so nervous during my concert, I literally peed my pants,” we would probably incorrectly assume that she was exaggerating.

But, although using literally to emphasize irritates a lot of people, like wearing leggings as pants irritates me, there’s no actual law against it.

In fact, says:

"Since the early 20th century, LITERALLY has been widely used as an intensifier meaning ‘in effect, virtually,’ a sense that contradicts the earlier meaning “actually, without exaggeration…The use is often criticized; nevertheless, it appears in all but the most carefully edited writing. Although this use of LITERALLY irritates some, it probably neither distorts nor enhances the intended meaning of the sentences in which it occurs. The same might often be said of the use of LITERALLY in its earlier sense ‘actually.’” also defines leggings as "close-fitting knit pants," but, as I suspected, it says nothing about having to wear them underneath anything.

You win this round, Lohan.

Well...if you can call this winning:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rebel with a Cause

Maybe you’ve heard about this experiment. It involved two people; one assumed the role of student and the other the role of teacher. When the student gave a wrong answer, the teacher was supposed to deliver an electric shock. With each wrong answer, the shock increased.

It was, however, a set up. The student was actually an actor. He was instructed to say he had a heart condition and plead with the teacher to stop. Most of the teachers wanted to stop, but the experimenter insisted they continue. Because they were told to, 65% of the teachers continued to administer the shock to the “weak-hearted” student.

When I hear stories like that, I really really wish that if I were in that situation I would have been one of the 35% who stopped administering the shock. I worry, though, because I am a rule follower, and not just grammar rules. I always waited twenty minutes after eating to go back in the pool, I never ditched school, I always pay taxes.

But, I would like to think that I follow such rules simply because they make sense. If I didn’t wait the twenty minutes, I would cramp during Marco Polo. If there wasn’t a rule against ditching school, no one would come to school. If nobody paid their taxes, there wouldn’t be public education or bailout money for AIG to use for their fancy massages during their $400,000 week-long spa retreats.

I would like to think that if a rule seemed pointless to me then I wouldn’t be a lemming and just follow it, which is why I am currently in such a dilemma:

I can’t for the life of me understand why funner doesn’t get to be a word.

It seems like it would be a great word, doesn’t it?

How was the experiment?

It was funner than I thought it would be. I never realized how sadistic I actually am; it actually became even funner once I found out that the student had a heart condition.

Who’s in?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Um...This Is Awkward

There’s really nothing more awkward than asking a woman when she’s due and finding out that she’s not even pregnant. It’s also uncomfortable when you ask someone how their job is going only to find out that they have been laid off or when you ask about someone’s significant other to find out that they have just broken up.

That’s why I am really nervous about meeting Pamela Anderson. I mean, I have no “plans” to meet her, but I do live L.A. adjacent, so you never know. (I did just see Reese Witherspoon.) If I ran into Pam today, I honestly wouldn’t know whether or not to ask her, “How’s Tommy?”

Those two have broken up and gotten back together so many times it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Just when I think she’s with Kid Rock, I find out that she and Tommy Lee are back together. It’s confusing.

It’s almost as confusing as the on-again, off-again relationship between every and day.

Sometimes every and day are together: everyday
And sometimes they are apart: every day

Here’s how I remember the difference:

Everyday means daily, ordinary, commonplace.

It’s an everyday occurrence to see Will and Jada together.

Since it’s commonplace to see stable couples together, when every and day are together in one word, it means commonplace.

Every day, on the other hand, means each separate day.

We can remember that by telling ourselves that when every and day are separate, it means we are talking about separate days.

Every day is a different story with Pamela and Tommy.

So, to be safe, when I run into Pam, I just won’t say anything about Tommy. If she wants to talk about it, she can bring it up. And to further avoid any awkwardness, I’ll have to remember not to bring up Dancing with the Stars and Barb Wire.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Big Bang Theory

My mom (circa 1985): Jenny, come on. We’ve got to go.

Me: Wait. I just have to fix my bangs.

My mom ten minutes later as I emerged from the bathroom in an Aqua Net haze: Your bangs look the same as they did before.

I don’t blame my mom. Growing up with the long, straight hair of the 60s, she simply hadn’t cultivated the eye required to appreciate the nuances of 80s bangs perfection. The 80s bangs had to have just the right height, curl, tease, and stiffness. It was really more like sculpture than anything.

Punctuation can do for writing what a good curling iron, hairspray and patience can do for 80s bangs; it can help achieve just the right effect. Punctuation marks are not always interchangeable; however, once you have mastered punctuation, you can use it to create a slightly different empahsis.

For example, in the following sentence I opted for a colon.

Your bangs look totally rad: they look just like Debbie Gibson’s.

I could have used a period after rad. I could have even used a semi-colon. However, I prefer the colon because it’s like a drum roll. It lets the reader know that I’m about to tell them what the bangs look like.

I could have even used a dash:

Your bangs look totally rad- they look just like Debbie Gibson’s.

The dash adds a little hop to my voice, a little more excitement.

See? Isn’t this fun?

Doesn't it make you want to master the art of punctuation?

Or did I inhale too much Aqua Net?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Freedom, I Won't Let You Down

I was at a wedding last weekend, and the best man’s speech reminded me of something: I haven’t been really drunk for a while. Sure, I have a couple of glasses of wine here and a gin and tonic there, but it has been a long time since I was in the best man’s state of inebriation: stumbling, glassy-eyed, repeating myself, professing my love to everyone.

College, of course, was a different story: I downed bottles of Boone’s Strawberry Hill, vomited out car windows, and...actually, I’ll just keep that story to myself. I guess we all go a little crazy at first with our newfound freedoms, but then after one too many hangovers, we learn to embrace hydration and moderation.

I am actually still in the process of learning moderation with one newfound freedom: the ability to start a sentence with and or but. I always thought it was a grammar no-no to start a sentence with and or but, but I’ve been reading up on this stuff, and apparently it’s just another urban legend.

According to this article, starting a sentence with and or but can be useful for the following reasons:

• It maintains an easy, conversational style.
• It preserves a link between sentences, whilst still delivering in a short, punchy vein.
• It reduces the need for long, wordy compound sentences.

As soon as I heard this, I went a little crazy with it. It might not seem that way to you as you read this, but that’s because Emily proofreads this and makes me delete most of them.

My liver wishes it could have had Emily around to delete some of my past excesses.