Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indecision 2010

The toughest decision I can imagine having to make is this: what if one day I had to choose between going on a date with Johnny Depp and Clive Owen or one with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

Can you imagine the agony of having to choose between a night of unparalleled hotness or one of unadulterated humor. Dinner with a side of physical perfection and an English accent or a side of intelligence and wit. It’s even more agonizing than my savory or sweet breakfast dilemma.

When I'm lucky, timing takes care of these tough decisions for me. Sometimes I don’t even feel like savory. And sometimes- like this weekend- I am headed to Washington DC to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity hosted by both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Woo hoo!

So, today, if I were asked to make that difficult choice, I would probably go with Jon and Stephen. I’ll definitely be absolutely smitten after a day of their hilarity, and the three of us in the same city just makes it so convenient. Johnny is probably in France, and I have no idea where Clive is these days. I am nothing if not practical.

I just hope that these people aren’t in DC protesting anywhere near the rally:

If I play my cards right, I’m hoping there will be a PUBIC option.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's All Well and Good

It was Friday night at 2am. My husband was asleep on the couch and I was watching TV. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. The first knock was followed by louder knocks, which finally woke up my husband. We looked at each other, confused, maybe even a little frightened. The knocks were followed by strange voices identifying themselves as room service.

My husband angrily got up and looked through the peephole. I relaxed when I saw him smile. Turns out it was just some of our very own highly intoxicated friends who were returning from a bar down the street and needed a place to crash.

Usually, I like those kinds of spontaneous visits, but not this time. I was watching Rhinestone, the movie starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone in which country singer Dolly Parton must turn cab driver Stallone into a country singer in two weeks or else she has to extend her contract singing for sleazy Freddy and sleep with him! It was at the end, the part where Stallone was proving himself onstage, and I just wanted to be left in peace to watch Stallone sway back and forth on stage singing (I use that term loosely) country music wearing this outfit:

It’s not often that one gets to see Stallone in rhinestone fringe. Usually, he’s some kind of action hero.

In that way, verbs are like Stallone.

Like we do with Stallone, we tend to associate verbs with action. When we think verb, we think of such words as run, jump, fight, eat, sit, and swim.

But, as I mentioned in the last post, some verbs aren’t about action at all. One type of verb that doesn’t show action is a linking verb, also known as a copulative verb (hee hee hee).

To review, linking verbs connect the subject of the verb to additional information about the subject, often an adjective. Some common linking verbs are to be verbs such as is, am, was, and were.

Ex. Stallone’s outfit is pretty.

Others linking verbs are seem and become:

Ex. Even in their drunken state, my friends seemed surprised that I was voluntarily watching Rhinestone.

Some verbs are versatile. In certain contexts, they are action verbs and in some they are linking verbs, such as look, feel, and smell.

Linking: Dolly Parton looked great.

Action: I looked adoringly at Dolly.

Why does all of this matter?

Because it helps us come to terms with a very important issue: how to answer the question “How are you?”

Is it "I am good" or "I am well"?

Some people freak out when we say, “I am good” instead of "I am well" because they think that a verb should be followed by an adverb, and well is an adverb.

BUT… since am is a linking verb, it is appropriate for an adjective, like good, to follow it.

Therefore, it’s perfectly correct to say, “I am good.”

It’s also okay to say, “I am well.” However, when we use well in this context, it’s as the adjective well, which means healthy, not the adverb well, which means in a good or satisfactory manner.

When someone asks me how I am, I actually prefer to respond, “I am fine.” If you know what I mean. Wink.

Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Naughty Verbs Need Love Too

I had a total Beevis and Butt-head moment yesterday when I read that there is such thing as a “copulative verb.”

Eager to find out more about this provocative-sounding verb, I poked around to get to the bottom of it.

It turns out the copulative verbs are not the verbs you might think. Doink is not a copulative verb. Neither is bone, poke, or grind. Copulate isn't even one. Copulative verb is another term for linking verb.

Do you remember linking verbs? They are, among others, such unassuming verbs such as is, are, was, were, and am.

Linking verbs are about connecting words together, not about actions.

For example, in the following example, are connects you and beautiful. (The example should be read in a Barry White-like voice.)

Baby, you are beautiful.

But, when you think about it, that’s really what copulative verbs should be about. Sure, words love a bit of action, but the focus should really be on the bond formed between them.

Let’s just hope they use commas for protection.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Et Tu, Britain?

In high school, one of my friends had to take math in summer school, and because she wore glasses, everyone tried to cheat off of her tests.

Obviously, this is stereotyping, and stereotyping is wrong and misleading: poor eyesight doesn’t equal higher intelligence.

But I am guilty of something similar: when I hear an English accent, I assume that that person writes well.

I just read an article, however, that showed just how wrong it is to stereotype, even if it's for something positive. According to this article, if the Brits do adhere to the Queen’s English, the Queen has put down the Shakespeare and tuned into Jersey Shore marathons. A British company had to hire an English teacher to give staff “a proper grounding in traditional grammar and punctuation” because the senior executives couldn’t understand the reports from recent graduates. I couldn’t tell whether the article was referring to high school or college graduates, but it doesn’t really matter; I thought proper grounding in grammar and punctuation was part of the British DNA, like gaudy is part of the Kardashians’.

On the one hand, I guess it’s good news that the British aren’t genetically smarter than us. But, to tell you the truth, I am kind of bummed. Britain, to me, was like the last bastion of proper grammar. It was my grammar Shangri-La. It was a place where spell check didn’t exist because it wasn’t necessary, where over one hundred words existed for "grammar" because of its cultural significance, where a and lot never touched.

Sure, I am disappointed, but I still love England. How could I not? It produced this man:

Oh, and this one:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Judge

Every now and then, on this blog and elsewhere, people will express their trepidation about letting me see their writing because they’re afraid I will judge them based on their grammar.

Believe it or not, I really don’t. Technically, I do judge my students’ grammar when I grade their essays, but even their writing ability doesn’t affect what I think of them as people. In general, I tend to have an affinity for the students who laugh at my jokes, compliment my outfits, and my favorites are the ones who tell me I don’t look old enough to teach college.

I like to think of myself less as the grammar police and more as a fairy grammar godmother. I don’t want to castigate people for misplacing a comma; I want to provide people with the tools they need to turn their writing from pumpkins to sparkling coaches.

If I did judge people based on their grammar, I would be a hypocrite. I don’t know all the grammar rules. I am sure I make mistakes all the time. I didn’t even know technically where to put a comma until I was hired to teach a class called Writing Skills in 2005. I tried to wing it the first quarter, but I realized that if I didn’t want to look like an asshole in front of my students I’d actually have to learn the rules.

So, I learned the rules, and it has made my writing life so much easier. Before, when I wasn’t sure whether or not a sentence required a comma, I would totally rewrite the sentence so I didn’t have to think about it. I was terrified of the semi-colon, and ( I can’t believe I am going to admit this) I thought a run-on sentence was just a really long sentence. Now, I just feel a lot more confident about my writing, and this blog is a way I can share that knowledge.

Another reason for this blog is to remind people that grammar does still matter. With the informality of texting and Facebook, I have a feeling that people aren't sure whether or not anyone still cares about grammar, especially in emails. Exhibit A: this excerpt from a student’s email:

I was curious to on my grade report I got the letter F by Writing Skills.I'm guessing I didn't pass the class but what I'm curious about is how? Im hopping its a mistake, I know Im not the best at writing, but I did all my homework accept for two assignments and I did some extra credit.I thought I atleast did ok on the finals also. Does this mean I have to pay for it all over again to?

If she doesn't realize that grammar matters when protesting a failing grade to an English teacher, imagine what she is capable of in the real world.

Basically, all I’m doing here at this blog is spreading some grammar love and awareness. I won’t think any less of you if you write the word alot. It’s totally cool if you want to use your instead of you’re. Go ahead (gulp) insert a comma between two complete sentences.

Just to prove that I am sincere, give me your worst. All comments must be grammatically incorrect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Thought I Knew You

Maybe it’s because there have only been three. Maybe it's because for that brief moment of time it felt like we had merged into one. Maybe it’s because when I get drunk I get emotional, but for some reason, I feel a special connection to the artists whose songs I have sung karaoke to.

Karaoke definitely had the biggest effect on my relationship with Meat Loaf. I have always loved Pat Benetar and the B-52’s, but I haven’t always been a Meat Loaf fan. But you know how karaoke goes; my friend secretly signed me up to sing “I Would Do Anything for Love.” So, I did, and, what can I say, a little tequila-inspired power ballad catharsis in front of my drunk brethren and I felt a real connection with the guy.

But, apparently, I didn’t know Meat Loaf as well as I thought. I don’t know how this conversation between me and a friend started the other day, but somehow it culminated in this disagreement: I was convinced that “Close My Eyes Forever” was a Lita Ford and Meat Loaf duet while my friend was convinced it was Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. I mean, I was CONVINCED. Like I’m glad I don’t have children because I may have bet their lives on it convinced.

Well, my friend immediately looked it up on his iPhone, and it was Ozzy.

Obviously, this resulted in an existential crisis on my part. What could I be sure of anymore? Is there one universal truth or is truth subjective? Johnny Depp is super hot, right? Right???

This doubt has unfortunately bled into my professional life.

I was grading yesterday, and I came upon an error I have seen pop up in my students’ writing lately. It’s kind of a new thing: a handful of students have been starting their sentences with the word majority, but without a or the in front of it, like this:

Majority of Bon Jovi songs are karaoke crowd pleasers.

Before the whole Meat Loaf incident, I had been confidently writing the in front of it, but yesterday, I thought that maybe I should look it up, just in case, you know, they were right.

Well, the good news is that I was right; the bad news is that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about the word majority.

During my research, I learned that majority should only be used with countable nouns. For example, it’s correct to write:

I don’t actually know the majority of Meat Loaf’s songs.

(The number of songs he has can be counted.)

But, it’s incorrect to write:

The majority of my relationship with Meat Loaf was based on lies.

(I can’t count my relationship with Meat Loaf.)

Instead, I should write:

Most of my relationship with Meat Loaf was based on lies.

But I am still pretty confident it was Meat Loaf and Cher who sang “I’ve Got You Babe.”


Brians, Paul. Common Errors in English Usage.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

If I Were a Rich Girl

Sometimes I am so grateful I am a teacher. Not because it provides me with the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives or shape a tiny sliver of America’s future, but because it affords me financial protection: as a teacher, there is no chance in hell I will ever make enough money to allow me to finance my neuroses.

I just read that Lady Gaga’s fear of the supernatural cost her almost fifty grand on a "state of the art" electro-magnetic field meter that can detect ghosts. Fifty grand! With a teacher’s salary, she’d be able to get away with some sage (from Ralphs, not Wholefoods) and maybe a nightlight.

And did you hear what Tim Gunn wrote about Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor? Apparently, she had her bodyguards carry her down a flight of stairs because she was wearing uncomfortable Manolos and didn’t want to take the elevator. I could probably afford a pair of Manolos- if they were the only shoes I bought for the whole year. But, if they got uncomfortable, I couldn’t afford a Bubba to guard me from the impending bunions.

Maybe I am so down-to-earth that no matter how much money I had I would never do such crazy things, but who knows? Money is said to do crazy things to people. Just think- all that money might take my grammar obsession to a whole new level.

I might, for example, hire some minions to capitalize the J's and lowercase the B's on all of jetBlue's planes:

Who do they think they are parading their irresponsible capitalization from LAX to JFK?

I'd probably also hire a team of techies to erase all of Rachel Zoe's misuses of "literally" before I watch the next season of the Rachel Zoe Project. It figuratively drives me crazy.

Or, better yet, I might just hire a troupe to literally act out all of the things that Rachel Zoe says literally occur. For example, it would be kind of cool to experience how one can literally feel like a cow about to moo. Is it similar to the feeling a goat experiences before it's about to bleat? And, I have never seen a person literally pull a dress out of her ass. That should be fun.

I might even try to convince Dave Chappelle to sell me his reversible white panda, bald eagle coat.

What would you do?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


When my husband and I lived in Byron Bay, Australia, our closest beach was a nude beach. It was too convenient and beautiful to forsake, so, yes, now I have seen many grown men naked- especially those in their golden years who like to fish nude with their buddies. After a few visits, we became so comfortable with the unclothed human form, we even stopped snickering at the group of nude yogis who practiced on the beach, although naked Down Dog was a little tough to get used to.

So, after a few months of living there, it should not have been weird when a nude man came up to me and my friends and handed us a flier for a party- but it was. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but as I watched his naked body saunter down the beach, I kept thinking that there was something peculiar about him. Finally, it hit me: he was completely shaved- everywhere.

That was my first and only experience with such an extreme form of “manscaping.” Why did he do it? Did he want to be smooth? Did he want to draw more attention to his penis? Would men also soon adopt landing strips and bedazzle their penises?

Why not? The gender gap is decreasing, and we women have been using tricks to either accentuate or minimize certain assets for ages. There are make-up tricks to make our noses look smaller and our eyes look bigger. We wear high heels to make our legs appear longer. And we are obsessed with manipulating the size of our breasts: In the 1920s women detracted attention away from their breasts by binding them. In the 1950s boobs were big and cone-shaped. And in the 1990s, the Wonderbra did for cleavage what Grunge did for flannels.

In that way, bras are like punctuation marks. Depending on which punctuation marks we use to “cup” certain phrases, we either attract or detract attention from them.

Parentheses around the phrase minimize its importance:

The naked guy at the beach (the hairless one) invited us to a party.

Commas neither accentuate nor minimize. They imply that the phrase is equally as important as the rest of the sentence:

The naked guy at the beach, the hairless one, invited us to a party.

Dashes totally accentuate it:

The naked guy at the beach- the hairless one- invited us to a party.

You know what we should do? Before anyone else thinks of it, we should contact the Fruit of the Loom guys and pitch them the idea of padded underwear for men. What should we call them? I’m thinking something with banana. Or maybe even papaya. It's too bad butternut squash isn't a fruit.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Battle of the Sexes

My dad sent this to me in an email the other day:

An English professor wrote the words: "A woman without her man is nothing" on the chalkboard and asked his students to punctuate it correctly.

All of the males in the class wrote: "A woman, without her man, is nothing."

Are you ready for this...........?

All the females in the class wrote: "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

First of all, I don't believe that all of the male students punctuated the sentence one way and all of the females punctuated it another. But I get the point: punctuation isn’t just used to let us know when a sentence is over or to separate items in a series; it can also be used to perpetuate the battle between the sexes.

Well, women’s income may only be 79.9% of men’s and the NBA may be infinitely more popular than the WNBA, but, sorry guys, the women have won the punctuation challenge.

For the record, let me just say that, as a woman, I find no gratification in the females winning. I have come to peace with the opposite sex. I have put down my sword, so to speak. I believe that men and women are equal and equally need one another. However, as a grammar lesson, let's break down why the females won.

The females punctuated their sentence perfectly to connote that a man is nothing without a woman. But, the males’ sentence didn’t quite manage to suggest the opposite.

If the males would have just left the sentence as it was and not added the commas, they would have tied with the females by successfully connoting that women are nothing without men.

The commas the males added around without her man suggest that without her man is extra information, and thus, can be taken out without altering the meaning of the sentence- but it can’t.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at a sentence in which extra information is correctly set off with commas:

Jane, without her man, managed to open the jar of spaghetti sauce.

If we take out without her man, this is our sentence:

Jane managed to open the jar of spaghetti sauce.

The fact that she opened it without a man present is just added detail. The important thing is that she got the stupid jar open.

Now, let’s go back to the males’ sentence:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

Now, let’s remove without her man:

A woman is nothing.

Oh really? Someone get me my sword.