Friday, July 30, 2010

They're Just Like Us

Cindy Crawford was my high school sweetheart’s celebrity crush. On the one hand, it was cool because at least she and I both had brown hair and brown eyes. On the other hand, it sucked because that’s where the similarities ended. She’s a Pisces; I’m a Capricorn. She’s from Illinois; I’m from California. She has legs that go on for days; I have legs that go on from Monday 11-11:45 (noon in heels).

Imagine how daunting it was to go through the awkward high school years with this as my competition:

I was so relieved when I read an interview with Cindy in which she said, “Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford in the morning.”

Take that, High School Boyfriend!

Well, if Cindy is brave enough to admit that she’s not as perfect as people think she is, then I guess I can do the same. You see, as you can probably imagine, I am the grammar go-to gal on campus. I receive daily phone calls requesting grammar advice from my colleagues. And, sometimes I do know the answer off the top of my head. My secret shame is that often I will Google their questions. Of course, I don’t tell anyone this. I like people to think I’m perfect.

One of the questions I am rarely confident about answering is when I’m asked if two words should be hyphenated, like should it be long legged or long-legged? But, here’s the good news: my grammar gurus don’t always know either. For example, Grammar Girl wrote, “The safest thing to do when you're unsure about hyphenating is to look the words up in a dictionary.” Diane Hacker wrote, “The dictionary will tell you whether to treat a compound word as a hyphenated compound, as one word, or as two words. If the compound word is not in the dictionary, then treat it as two words.”

So, yes, double check with the dictionary, but here are some rules that may help when you are writing in the jungle and have forgotten your dictionary and can’t get Wi-Fi:

· Use a hyphen when two or more words work together to describe a noun.

Sexy-model behavior

(The way sexy models behave)

Sexy model behavior

(When being good is deemed sexy)

· Use a hyphen between compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.

· Use a hyphen with the prefixes self-, ex-, and all-.

My ex-boyfriend’s all-consuming obsession with Cindy Crawford did not boost my self-esteem.

If only I were a Pisces from Illinois!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Does Size Matter?

Is it the size of the boat, or is it the motion of the ocean? Do all good things come in small packages, or should we go big or go home? Is it really the little things that make a difference, or should we look at the big picture?

Obviously, we are terribly conflicted about size in this country. On the one hand, we boast the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, but on the other hand, we spend $40 billion a year on diets. On the one hand, we say that we like our men tall, dark and handsome, yet on the other hand, Justin Bieber.

Our ambivalence about size is nowhere more clearly reflected than in our titles.

It seems as though the “bigger is better” proponents insisted that we keep the small words in titles lowercase, and the “less is more” supporters were like, “Hey, that’s not fair!”

So, they compromised. Some small words in titles are capitalized and some are not.

For example,

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

“With a Little Help from My Friends”

So, what’s the deal? Why is the capitalized if it only has three letters, but from isn’t and it has four? Why is in lowercased but my is capitalized, yet they both only have two letters?

I know, I know. Compromises are always disappointing- like nonfat ice cream.

Well, first of all, all words are capitalized if they begin or end a title- no matter which ones they are. But, if the following words are embedded in a title, they are not capitalized.

• Articles (a, an, the)

Dream a Little Dream

• FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

The Elves and the Shoemaker

• Prepositions of four or fewer letters (in, on, to, by, with, from, for, of, with)

Big Trouble in Little China

All of the other small words are capitalized when they are used in a title, like As, Is, My, Am, I, Me, You.

And, now on to the next issue: Do good things come to those who wait, or does the early bird get the worm?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor

If it’s true that Eskimos have over one hundred words for snow because of the prominent role snow plays in their lives, then we Americans are not as far along with gender equality as I would like to think. Check out at all of the words we have for penis (ala George Carlin):

aaron's rod
blue vein meatroll
bald-headed butler
bald-headed mouse
belly buster
bathtub eel
bearded blood sausage
bird bone
bean tosser
bum tickler
bush beater
crack haunter
cranny hunter
culty gun
carnal stump
dart of love
dearest member
family organ
fiddle bow
fishing rod
gut wrench
giggle stick
giggling pin
gravy maker
grinding tool
gut stick
hair splitter
hanging johnny
holy poker
hot rod
heat-seeking moisture missle
hairy hot dog
jack in the box
jerking iron
jing hang
johhny one-eye, the bald-headed champ
joy knob
joy stick
kidney cracker
ladies' lollipop
lamp of life
life preserver
little brother
little willie
liver turner
live sausage
lobster of love
long john
love dart
love gun
magic wand
marrow bone
master john thursday
master of ceremonies
meat hook
meat whistle
merry maker
middle leg
mister goodwrench
mister tom
natural scythe
old blind rob
one-eyed night crawler in the turtle neck sweater
one-eyed milkman
one-eyed trouser trout
one-eyed wonder worm
pant muscle
pike staff
pile driver
pocket piccolo
pocket rocket
pork sword
pride and joy
pump handle
purple-helmeted warrior of love
quickening peg
rod of love
rolling pin
root rudder
rupert russell the wonder muscle
st. peter
sexing piece
short arm
shove devil
silent flute
skin flute
steaming hot kanga
sugar stick
third leg
throbbing python of love
torch of cupid
trouser snake
tube steak
uncle dick
vomiting cobra
womb ferret
womb weasel

Call me a romantic, but I am partial to torch of cupid.

Our tendency to create multiple words to capture the nuances of society’s treasures does shed some light on something that has baffled me for a while: why we need different words to indicate quantity.

Accumulating possessions does mean almost as much to Americans as does the penis, so I guess it makes sense that we are very specific when talking about quantities.

We use the word number to refer to the quantity of something when it can be counted individually:

The number of words Americans have for penis may outnumber the number of words Eskimos have for snow.

(Words can be counted individually.)

We use the word amount when referring to the quantity of something that can't be counted individually:

Each penis must have the same amount of individuality as a snowflake.

(Individuality can't be counted.)

And since we have such anxiety about losing possessions, we also have different words to indicate when we don't have as much of something.

We use less when we refer to not having as much of something that can't be counted individually. And we use fewer when we don't have as much of something that can be counted individually:

Watch this funny clip from Flight of the Conchords and your day at work will be less crappy. Spoiler alert: Bret and Jemaine would like fewer dicks on the dancefloor.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"I Don't Know You, But I Want You..."

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl that featured three boy/girl bands: The Bird and the Bee, She and Him (Zooey Deschanel’s band), and The Swell Season. The Bird and the Bee and She and Him were good, but as one review of the concert said, “The first few opening bars of The Swell Season's set made it clear that the children had been put to bed, and the adults had come out to party.”

The Swell Season were absolutely amazing. Both Glen and Marketa are crazy talented, but there is just something about Glen Hansard that is so engaging. He plays his music with such raw emotion, yet at the same time he is funny and warm. He is generous with the audience and with his band members. I could have watched him all night.

Yes, I am now officially in love with him.

And I guess it’s no wonder. We have so much in common. He opened the set with Tim Buckley’s “Buzzin’ Fly” interspersed with a verse of Jeff Buckley’s “Grace,” which shows that we share the same taste in music and that he adopts one of my favorite methods of introductions: using somebody else’s words.

Introduction paragraphs are perhaps one of the main causes of writer’s block. It can be so hard to get started with that first word. One way I teach my students to avoid this kind of writer’s block is to start with a quote. Not only does starting with a quote cheat writer’s block; it may also be fun for our readers because they may recognize the quote or the quoter. It’s also a show of generosity because it’s like paying a tribute.

However, when we start our introduction paragraph with a quote, we need to make sure it’s appropriate. Glen aptly started with Jeff Buckley- another raw, emotionally charged musician. It would have been jarring if he started with Ke$ha.

We also need to make sure that we don’t just lazily tack a quote on the beginning and then forget to follow through with its line of thinking. Here’s an example of a quote that’s kind of just tacked on:

“He who hears music,” said Robert Browning, “feels his solitude peopled at once.” I went to The Swell Season concert last night.

Here’s an example of drawing from the quote:

“He who hears music,” said Robert Browning, “feels his solitude peopled at once.” At last night’s The Swell Season concert, as soon as Glen Hansard walked on stage strumming his guitar, my lonely soul felt full.

It’s okay. My husband knows. After the concert, he’s kind of in love with him too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Do You Mean I'm Not the Fairest?

A while ago, someone (okay…my therapist) asked me, “Don’t you like it when people tell you that they think that you have the potential to do a better job at something?”

I thought about her question, and then I answered her honestly (because it‘s therapy and I’d be wasting my money if I lied),“No, I like it when people tell me I’m doing a great job.”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and understand the value of constructive criticism, but I do LOVE compliments. I love when people tell me I look cute. I love when my students tell me I am their favorite teacher. I'm even willing to delude myself into thinking that the salesperson who works on commission honestly thinks the outfit looks "amazing" on me.

So, it made my day yesterday when the man behind me in line at the coffee shop said to me, “That’s a great dress. Do you work in the fashion industry?”

Now, he may say that to all the girls, but the dress was particularly cute, so I indulged the conversation and said, “Well, kind of. I work at a fashion college, but I teach English.”

Usually, when I tell people I teach English at a fashion college, they say, “Why do fashion students need to take English?” And then I have to explain that it’s an accredited college, so the students have to take their general education classes, such as English Composition.

But, not the guy at the coffee shop with the great sense of style. He went straight into matters of English: “I’ve noticed,” he said, “that on television shows they often mix up further and farther.”
I agreed and then put in my grammar two cents, “And I’ve noticed they tend to incorrectly use lay instead of lie.”

How's that for a great start to a day? A compliment and a grammar conversation- and I still had coffee to look forward to.

So, in honor of my grammar and fashion conscious friend, and because I’ve already covered lay and lie here, allow me to present the difference between further and farther.

The difference between further and farther is not what I used to think it was: that further is simply a fancier, more sophisticated form of farther.

We use farther when referring to actual distance:

That coffee shop is farther from my house than the other one, but the compliments make up for the miles.

And we use further when referring to a greater degree:

Please expand further on what you like about my outfit.

It's pretty easy to remember because farther has the word far in it, which refers to physical distance. It also has the word father in it, and when I was little, every time we would go somewhere, I would ask my father, “How much farther?”

So, what did you think about my post? Did you really, really, really like it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sometimes Say Never

On Saturday, I was a little giddy. It may have had a lot to do with the triple latte I had just downed, but it was also because I was excited for one of the women in my writers’ group: an agent requested her manuscript and a proposal. We had even scheduled an “emergency writers’ group” meeting to help her put together her proposal. So, happy as can be, I grabbed my lap top, put it in the computer bag, forgot to zip the computer bag, threw the computer bag over my shoulder, and THUD! My lap top plummeted five feet onto a hardwood floor.

All I can say is thank goodness I heed the lessons I gleaned from Sex and the City. Because of the episode in which Carrie’s computer crashed and she hadn’t backed up any of her files, I have since backed up my files. The other good news is all I needed was a new $65 hard drive; the computer itself was fine.

The bad news is that I compromised my principles. A few months ago, I had a transaction at Best Buy that left me feeling exploited, after which I immediately called my husband and told him, “I am NEVER going to Best Buy again!” But, because it’s close to my house and I knew they would have my hard drive, Best Buy is $65 richer because of me.

You know what they say: never say never. I mean, there was a time when I said I would never get married, that I would never eat sushi, and that I would never wear high-waisted pants. You know what that makes me: a hypocrite! I have to be careful about throwing around such absolute words.

Other such words include always, all, everyone, no one.

We also have to be careful not to throw around such words when we’re writing. For example, I just read this sentence:

Everyone has a different definition of beauty.

I don’t know if that’s true. Does everyone have a different definition of beauty? I would argue that I am not the only one who considers this beautiful:


And I know that many people think this guy is the most beautiful man in the world, but, I don't know, he's just not my type:

Perhaps, it would be more accurate if we wrote:

Not everyone has the same definition of beauty.

Of course, that’s not to say that we should always avoid such all-encompassing words. I can definitively say that I have never met Johnny Depp. But, I am not going to give up hope and say that I never will.

You never know.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yeah... I Guess He's with Me

I don’t have much of an opinion about Russell Brand and Katy Perry as individuals, but as a couple, I'm so in. It's rare that both partners in a relationship are so over-the-top. I mean, imagine the two of them getting dressed to go somewhere: "Wear the one made of aluminium (pronounced alyouminium)." "Unbutton it one, no two, more." "Hang on, Love; I'll grab the scissors and make that slit a little bloody higher." "The shiny gold ones, for sure."

If my husband showed up to an event wearing Russell's outfit, I would probably try to button at least one button while he wasn't looking and, with a sheepish expression on my face, make excuses about his outfit to others: "We only had time to do a load of whites."

I know that married couples are supposed to be supportive of one another, but, is it just me, or do you sometimes get kind of embarrassed by what your partner does and try to distance yourself from his or her actions?

I know that Edgar Alward did. He tried to distance himself from a decision his wife, Jean, made. Edgar and Jean Alward are the married couple that co-wrote the book Punctuation Plain & Simple. Well, actually, I am not sure they are married. They could be brother and sister or mother and son or father and daughter or two people who coincidentally share the same last name, but something in the book leads me to believe they are married.

I was reading the comma section, and it was listing the comma rules just like any other punctuation guide. And then I read this:

"One form of the use of the comma that has recently become apparent to one of the authors of this book is the use of the comma in place of the word that."

Can’t you just feel the passive aggression in "has recently become apparent to ONE of the authors (rolls his eyes in Jean's direction) of this book"? I imagine that Jean told Edgar about this rule and Edgar didn't agree, but Jean insisted, so he reluctantly gave in.

This is the example they used in the book to prove the rule:

The bad news is, there is one more bureaucratic hassle for small businesses. The good news is, it could in the long run save them a lot of trouble and expense.

(I am interpreting the "bureaucratic hassle" as code for Jean’s insistence to include this rule and "trouble and expense" as divorce.)

I think both Edgar and Jean have a point, though.

Like Jean, I have often felt like sentences that start by announcing something with a phrase ending in is need something after the is.

But, like Edgar, I could never find a rule to support it. In fact, so far, the only place I've encoutered it is in their book. I am actually curious how it became "apparent to her." Did she have some sort of epiphany? Did it come to her in a dream?

But, I must say, I do like it. I’m thinking about embracing it.

What about you? Team Edgar or Team Jean?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Play It Again, Taylor

It was summer 1998; the sun was out, the car windows were rolled down, Dave Matthew’s “Crash into Me” was blasting on KROQ. I was singing along so passionately and shamelessly the guy in the car next to me must have wished he had ear plugs: “Crash into me. Whoa oh oh. Crash into meeeee. Baby...” I didn’t ever want the song to end. And, much to my pleasure, the DJ felt the same way; he did something I had never before experienced: he immediately played it again.

When I was little, my mom, sister and I saw Hairspray (the original one with Ricki Lake and Divine), and we loved it so much that when the movie ended, we simply stayed in our seats and watched the next showing.

And just about every time I get a scoop of ice cream and think I am ready to settle into watching my shows, I get up to get a second serving.

Variety isn’t always the spice of life; sometimes it’s repetition.

We can also experience this phenomenon when we are writing. It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when the word we want to use after another word is the same word. For example:

If I had had more ice cream, I would have gone back for a third serving.

I think that that scene in which Taylor Lautner rips off his shirt should be watched over and over and over again.

It’s fine to occasionally use two of the same words in a row, but do we have to insert a comma between them?


In the previous examples, we don’t. We only use the comma when we use two successive identical verbs and one of them ends the subject clause and the other begins the verb clause. For example:

The powers that those abs have, have captivated a nation.

The subject of that sentence is:

The powers that those abs have

And the verb is:

have captivated

Here's another example when we need a comma (I'll underline the subject and italicize the verb):

Unfortunately, however old Taylor is, is not old enough to make me not feel like a pedophile.

Note: I apologize for using awkward sentences for my examples. I couldn't think of better ones at the time to illustrate the point, and now I am too lazy to go back to change them.