Monday, May 31, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Good to be Queen

Gretchen: Regina, you're wearing sweatpants. It's Monday.
Regina: So...?
Karen: So that's against the rules, and you can't sit with us.
Regina: Whatever. Those rules aren't real.
Karen: They were real that day I wore a vest!
Regina: Because that vest was disgusting!

Regina George is not the only person who established arbitrary rules and then proceeded to break them. So did this guy:

(No, his rule was not that one must not fashion one’s hairdo after a poodle.)

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Robert Lowth, the guy who’s responsible for the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition.

A preposition is a part of speech that indicates the relationship, usually spatial or temporal, of one word to another. Some common examples are:

at, by, for, into, off, on, out, over, to, under, up, with

And, then look what he goes and writes:

"This is an idiom which our language is strongly inclined to.”

That’s right- he ended a sentence with a preposition. It’s kind of like when Rush Limbaugh said, “If people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.”

So, what’s the deal? Should we say no to ending a sentence with a preposition?

The consensus is not necessarily, but we must use judgment.

Here are some sentences that sound fine with a preposition at the end:

Did you see that vest she had on?
Take that vest off!
At least put on this jacket to cover it up!

But, here are some that sound sloppy:

What are you wearing that ugly vest for?
Where did you get that horrible vest at?

The first one should be rewritten:

Why are you wearing that ugly vest?

The second one should just drop the at because it’s unnecessary:

Where did you get that horrible vest?

I'm assumng this is the vest:

It kinds of reminds me of Robert Lowth's hair.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Faux Faux Pas

When we think fashion faux pas, we think white after Labor Day, socks with sandals, and fanny packs.

When we think relationship faux pas, we think dating a friend’s ex and having sex with heavily tattooed women with Nazi fetishes on your couch whilst married to an Oscar-winning actress.

And, apparently, when we think grammar faux pas, we think split infinitive.

I was alerted to the split infinitive as thee quintessential grammar error only after I had begun teaching. When people find out my profession, they often admit woefully to their habit of splitting infinitives.

To avoid getting too technical, an infinitive is the to form of a verb:

In Europe, it’s considered a faux pas to ask about one's personal wealth, possessions or success in business.

And, a split infinitive is when you split the infinitive with an adverb:

In America, it’s customary to only ask those things.

To be honest, like wearing white after Labor Day, I never really understood why the split infinitive was such a big deal. But, to preserve my grammatical reputation, I would agree: “Yeah, those damn split infinitives!”

Well, it turns out I was right. About both. Apparently, it’s acceptable to wear white after Labor Day and to split infinitives.

What would really be convenient is if the fanny pack could be considered acceptable. Imagine how nice it would be to not have to lug around a purse. LV and Rhi Rhi have given it a go.

What do you think?

Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Steel Horse I Ride

If I am remembering this correctly- that the way to find my porn name is to combine the name of the first street I lived on with the name of my first pet- then my porn name is awesome: Max Beth. As an English instructor, it doesn’t get much better than some porn with a Shakespearean twist. Maybe my tagline could be “Screw your courage to the sticking-place” or “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

We have porn names, striptease classes, and a holiday dedicated to slutty outfits; I’m pretty sure that there’s a little part in all of us that wants to work in the sex industry. I mean, hell, we’re sexual beings, and who isn’t curious about what it’s like to have strangers putting dollar bills in your panties? Oh, you’re not? Yeah, me neither.

Well, for those of you who are, I’d like to make one suggestion: let’s leave our porn name out of our email addresses. Or, let me rephrase that: let’s at least leave our porn name out of email addresses we use for our academic and professional correspondence.

Once I received a student email from I hope I wasn’t projecting my Urban Cowboy fantasies onto my student; cowboywoody is a little suggestive, right? After learning that this student referred to himself as cowboywoody, it was a bit difficult to take him and his work seriously. But, he was not the only one: I receive emails from cuteass this and hottie that. I’m just not sure that is the kind of image you want to project to someone like your future employer- unless it’s Hef. I recommend using some version of your non-porn name, the one on your birth certificate.

Using your given name in your email address is not always that simple, though. You may type in your name and discover that your name has already been taken. When that is the case, a common practice is to add a number after it, like this: Might I suggest that you don’t include 0 in that number. It’s hard to tell between a zero and the letter O, especially when handwritten.

Oh, and stay away from 69 and 420 too- unless you're applying as Snoop Dogg's assistant.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Messing with Perfection

When I was little, I was in love with Tom Cruise and had his Teen Beat photos taped on my wall next to Kirk Cameron’s and Ricky Schroeder’s. Now, I’m not attracted to any of those guys. In my 20s, I was adamantly opposed to plastic surgery, but now I am warming up to the idea of maybe a little around the eyes in five to ten years. Because I’ve realized that my tastes and opinions change, I have difficulty answering questions like, “What’s your favorite color” or “If you could be any animal, which would it be?” However, there are a few things I can assert with confidence: I will always find Johnny Depp sexy, I will always feel like sushi for dinner and Zoolander is my favorite movie.

Zoolander is absolute genius. I get emotional just thinking about it. Shall we? Yes, I think we must:

Hansel: I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree. Richard Gere's a real hero of mine. Sting. Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I respect that.

Hansel: So I'm rappelling down Mount Vesuvius when suddenly I slip, and I start to fall. Just falling, ahh ahh, I'll never forget the terror. When suddenly I realize "Holy shit, Hansel, haven't you been smoking Peyote for six straight days, and couldn't some of this maybe be in your head?"
Derek Zoolander: And?
Hansel: And it was. I was totally fine. I've never even been to Mount Vesuvius.

I could go on all day.

Did you hear they are making a Zoolander 2? Isn’t that great?

Yeah, I don’t know either. At first I was super excited, and then the reality set in. They have made such atrocious sequels to so many classic movies:

Of course, I’ll see Zoolander 2, and I am hopeful. But, right now I am leaning more toward it might be good than it may be good.

Many think might and may mean the same thing, but there is a difference- not as obvious as the differences between Blue Steel, Ferrari, Le Tigra and Magnum- but the difference exists. Both might and may suggest that there’s a possibility; however, might indicates that there’s less of a possibility than may does.

For example:

I will go see Zoolander 2.

It may have some funny parts.

It might be good.

It can’t possibly be as good as the original.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thank You

I had a Cocktail -inspired epiphany when I was thirteen years old. It happened during the part of the movie when Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue were on the beach contemplating the existence of the hard part on the end of a shoelace and named it a flugalbinder. I vowed to myself that I, like Tom and Elizabeth, would cease to take the small things, like flugalbinders, for granted. From that point on, I was going to appreciate everything around me.

Driving with my mom shortly after my epiphany, I told her that I really appreciated the people who draw the lines on the road so we can tell which lane we’re in. She said, “That’s their job.”

That led to my next epiphany: people don’t make street lines out of the goodness of their hearts. After that, I tried to be especially grateful to those people who, without seeking compensation, have created the little things that have enhanced my life. So far, this is what I’ve come up with:

I treasure the person who saw the potential in the coffee bean. I imagine that over the centuries many people would have come into contact with the coffee bean, picked it up, put it in their mouths, screwed up their faces because of the bitter taste, and tossed it angrily onto the ground. So, whoever the genius was who had the foresight to see the coffee bean’s potential, I owe you my sanity and I thank you every single morning.

The other person I appreciate is the one who invented pronouns. Before the pronoun, I imagine this is what language sounded like:

Did you see the trousers Bartholomew was wearing to the party? The trousers Barthlomew wore today are the same trousers Bartholomew wore to last year’s party. Bartholomew should have known that Bartholomew shouldn’t wear the same trousers two years in a row.

I suspect that at some point someone screamed, “If I hear the name Bartholomew or the word trousers one more time, I will hurt somebody!” So, that person invented words to substitute for Bartholomew and trousers, which are now known as pronouns. Below is a list of some of the pronouns we use:

A man’s name = he or him
A woman’s name = she or her
A thing = it or one
A group of men or women or things = they or them

Here’s the section from above using pronouns:

Did you see the trousers Bartholomew was wearing to the party? The ones he wore today are the same ones he wore to last year’s party. He should have known that he shouldn’t wear the same ones two years in a row.

Isn’t it so much better? Thank you pronoun inventor.

Yet, as our use of the coffee bean has evolved over the years,

so has our use of pronouns.

Our change in the use of pronouns corresponds to our change in the view of women. Much like we used to use mankind to define all people (even the penis-free ones), we used to use the male pronoun to refer to persons of either sex. For example:

A bartender should make his drinks strong.

Even though we are talking about a bartender in general- which if you’ve seen Coyote Ugly, you know can be female as well- the tradition was to use the masculine pronoun.

But, thankfully, times they are a changing, and we use words like humankind instead of mankind and no longer use the masculine pronoun as the default. This is what we do instead:

A bartender should make his or her drinks strong.

Or, we can change bartender to bartenders and use a plural, gender-neutral pronoun:

Bartenders should make their drinks strong.

Beware: one of the most common errors is to use the singular subject and a plural pronoun:

A bartender should make their drinks strong.

This is incorrect because bartender is singular and their is plural.

The only time it’s acceptable to use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular noun is if you’ve actually had a strong drink.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Trust Issues

Therapist: Hello Jenny, I haven’t seen you since Arrested Development was cancelled? Are you experiencing lingering withdrawal symptoms?

Me: No. I’ve decided to cling to the false hope that the movie will actually get made. I am here today because I am afraid I am experiencing trust issues.

Therapist: Is this about your husband saying that the Playboy magazines you found under the mattress belong to his friend?

Me: No, we dealt with that. It turns out he only reads Playboy for the articles. I’m having different trust issues.

Therapist: Well, according to Freud, women may experience trust issues because the girl child develops her first sexual impulses towards her mother but realizes that she is not physically equipped to have a heterosexual relationship with her mother, since she does not have a penis and experiences penis envy. Is any of this resonating with you so far?

Me: Not really. I mean, my mom’s cool and everything. By the way, happy birthday, Mom.

Therapist: Well, why don’t you tell me how these trust issues are manifesting?

Me: I was grading an essay yesterday, and after correcting so many spelling mistakes- words like chalenging, habbit, and supposably- I corrected the spelling of the student’s name from Lidia to Lydia. I’m at the point where I don’t even trust my students to spell their own names!

Therapist: I prescribe a glass or two of red and the weekend off.

Me: Done!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Going Rogue

My family loves musical theater. Even my dad. Actually, especially my dad. I grew up going to see productions of Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Les Miserable, Oklahoma… "where the wind comes sweeping down the plains." That’s right, when you grow up watching musicals, you tend to spontaneously break out into song- like the cast of Glee.

I particularly remember seeing the musical A Chorus Line when I was around ten years old because there was one part that really confused me. A Chorus Line is about a group of dancers auditioning for a spot in a Broadway chorus line. Toward the end, the director tells one of the dancers that she is too good to be in the chorus. I remember thinking that if she’s so good why doesn’t he pick her. Spoiler alert: he ends up picking her.

But, now I get it. A chorus is a group of dancers who perform synchronized routines. It would be distracting if one of the dancers were superior to the others. It’ s like what I was saying about Destiny’s Child and Beyonce.

Our sentences also need to be synchronized. Sometimes in our sentences, we have a chorus of items, and sometimes one of the items- maybe even more than one- tries to showcase its own style. For example,

The first dancer liked doing jazz hands, singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me," and to do the Running Man.

Here’s are the members of the chorus:
1. Doing jazz hands
2. Singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me"
3. To do the Running Man

Do you see the problem there? The patterns of the items are not all the same. The third one went rogue. They should all either use the ing pattern:

The first dancer liked doing jazz hands, singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me," and doing the Running Man.

Or the first two items can change to the to pattern:

The first dancer liked to do jazz hands, to sing "Pour Some Sugar on Me," and to do the Running Man.

Sometimes, one of the items goes very rogue. I’m talking Sarah Palin rogue. This, as you can imagine, makes it a lot harder to make it harmonize with the other items. For example,

The dancers were asked to learn a dance routine quickly, accurately, and in a detailed manner.

So, let’s break the items down:
1. Quickly
2. Accurately
3. In a detailed manner

It’s that third item again. It just has to be different. So, to synchronize with the other two items, we’d have to throw an ly on the end. Unfortunately, detailedly is not a word. So, what do we do?

Well, I guess we can change all of the items to adjectives instead of adverbs:

The dancers were asked to learn a dance routine in a quick, accurate, and detailed manner.

But, I think it sounds strange. I’m not too happy about the “quick manner.” So, another option is to ask ourselves if there is a word that ends in ly that means in a detailed manner.

So, we can highlight the word detailed, right-click, click on synonyms and voila- two words we can definitely use: thoroughly or meticulously. I am going to go with meticulously because it’s fancier.

The dancers were asked to learn a dance routine quickly, accurately, and meticulously.

Aaaah! It sounds so much nicer when one of the items is not trying to upstage the others. It’s not all about being one singular sensation.

Did you hear that, Ladies?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Never Say Never

One of the most unfortunate outcomes of the Sandra Bullock and Jesse James situation is that the chances of Sandra and I becoming friends have dramatically decreased. Because Jesse’s motorcycle shop is not far from my house, he and Sandra lived in my neighborhood, and I always imagined Sandra and I striking up a conversation over pedicures and then hitting it off and becoming close friends. When I first heard about Jesse’s infidelities, I even fantasized about being able to be there for Sandra and help counsel her through the trauma.

Of course, I would want to tell her to leave him. From my experience, it’s just so hard to get back the trust after an infidelity. I mean, I know it’s not impossible: Bill and Hillary are still together. But, most people can’t seem to make it work, so my instinct would be to tell Sandra to run (but stay in my neighborhood).

English teachers often find themselves in a similar situation to the one I was in when I was giving imaginary advice to my fantasy friend Sandra. They have a hard time resisting making blanket statements about rules- even though there may be exceptions.

For example, many of my students have told me that they were taught to never start a sentence with the word because.

I understand why teachers tell that to their students. Often, when students begin a sentence with because, they don’t complete the sentence:

Sandra, I don’t think you should get back together with Jesse. Because you deserve someone who appreciates how truly amazing you are.

Now, take a close look at this:

Because you deserve someone who appreciates how truly amazing you are.

It’s not a complete sentence because it doesn’t complete a thought.

So, if teachers tell students never to start a sentence with the word because, students will never make that error. Problem solved.

But, the truth is that we can start a sentence with the word because; we just need make sure we have all the correct parts. We need to have an introductory phrase that begins with because, a comma followed by a complete sentence:

Because you deserve better, you should leave Jesse.

And, although he's my guilty pleasure celebrity crush, I am thinking Sandra and Keanu.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Poor Excuse for an Excuse

As I’m sure you can imagine, being a teacher, I get a lot of excuses for missed classes and assignments. My favorite was when a student told me she was late because she almost got in a car accident.

Of course, shit does happen. I totally get that. There is traffic, car trouble, computer issues, family issues, health issues, and even death. Those things don’t stop once you are in college or get a job. Once my teacher friend’s dog actually ate the students’ homework my friend had brought home to grade.

But, between an excuse and the truth, I would rather my student just tell the truth. I would prefer an “I was too hung over to come to class yesterday” or an “I couldn’t do my homework because I got too wrapped up in Sex and the City Season 5” over a “My car wouldn’t start.”

Now, I am sure that my lie detecting abilities are not 100%- maybe the car wouldn’t start- but I feel like most of the time I can tell, especially from the emails.

So, for those of you who email your teachers and/or bosses with excuses for missed days or work, these two emails I recently received from my students will illustrate what not to do:

Email #1

I'm sorry I was absent from class, I was extremely sick and really couldn't even get out of bed. I also have not had internet access this week until now so I have attached the assignment that was due last week.

• The apology

If I am so sick that I can’t get out of bed, I am not going to be apologizing to anyone. In fact, I expect the universe to apologize to me for making me feel so terrible.

• The words “extremely” and “really”

They make her sound like she doesn’t think I believe her and that she’s trying to convince me. I think she's projecting.

• The impossible

Unless there was a natural or nuclear disaster, I find it hard to believe that there was no Internet access for a week. That’s like saying you haven’t had access to a Starbucks in a week. And speaking of Starbucks, guess what they have there besides mediocre, high-calorie, expensive coffee drinks? Internet access.

Email #2

I am so sorry I was not able to make class today. Unfortunately, I had a death in the family.

• Again, with the sorry

Another problem with the apology is that it makes it sound like the student is coming to class for me when she should be coming to class for herself. In fact, instead of an apology, I would love an email that said, “I am so upset that I couldn’t attend class today. I shudder to think of all the brilliance you imparted that I unfortunately missed out on.”

• And, speaking of the word unfortunately- isn’t “unfortunate” implied when you reveal that there has been a death? Using it in her email makes her sound rather practical instead of emotional, which is what you would be if you lost a relative, right? Unless, perhaps, it’s your great uncle whom you have never met but has left you lots of money- then maybe it is fortunate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Anything Else I Should Know About?

I like to think of myself as an informed citizen.

I stay informed about the wars that take place in strange, foreign lands:

I keep abreast of who has lost the vote:

I even follow treaty negotiations:

So, how did this news get past my radar?

All of a sudden, I see this kid on the cover of People magazine, and I’m like, “Who is this guy?” Well, according to People, he’s the biggest pop star in the world. How did I miss this?

I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. This has been happening to me a lot lately. For example, I have been teaching English for quite a while, and I thought I was aware of the most common errors: using it’s when it should be its or vice versa, inserting a comma before every and, misspelling definitely as definately, which then gets auto corrected to defiantly. But, within the past month, there have been new errors popping up all over my students’ essays and emails.

First new error: writing posses instead of possess.

These are posses:

Possess, on the other hand, means to own something.

Remember that possess owns an extra s.

Second new error: Choosen

Apparently, people are curious to see what the offspring of choose and chosen would look like. Well, it’s like the baby with the dog’s face I saw on the cover of the Enquirer when I was little: it doesn't really exist.

Choosen is not a word.

I do, however, wish that the dog baby was real. It was hilarious.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sasha Very Fierce

Was it not perhaps prophetic that, in light of Beyonce’s incredible solo career, Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle named their group Destiny’s Child rather than Destiny’s Children?

Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams are talented and beautiful women, but I remember watching Destiny’s Child videos, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of Beyonce. It’s like I wanted the other two to go away so I could focus on her. She has what I believe is referred to as the X Factor, or as the French say, a certain je ne sais quoi.

It was the same with Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Who doesn’t love the Jackson Five and ‘N Sync (did I just write that out loud)? But, some people need to leave the group so they can shine brighter.

It’s the same with words. There are some words that in themselves are so powerful and imbued with meaning that they don’t require any supporting words.

For example, one of my students wrote:

She strongly detests her boss.

The problem is that detests in itself is such a strong word. It already means to dislike intensely. It doesn’t need the word strongly in front of it because by definition it’s a strong word. I dislike cooked celery; therefore, if it’s in a dish, I will pick it out. I detest sea urchin; therefore, get it the hell off my plate.
And, ironically, doesn’t putting strongly in front of detests seem to actually weaken detest’s impact?

It’s the same with absolutely phenomenal.

Phenomenal already means highly extraordinary. When we put an absolutely in front of it, it’s overkill. Absolutely looks like it’s competing with phenomenal. They’re both strong words; it’s like deciding who should headline the show: Beyonce or Mary J. Blige.

Other commonly used redundant phrases are:

Totally destroyed (Can something be partially destroyed?)

Unexpected surprise (If we expected it, then it wouldn’t be a surprise.)

Absolutely essential (Essential already means that we are screwed if we forget it.)

Completely f@#ked