Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Bang for Your Buck

Snap, crackle and pop

Copier, scanner and printer

Tall, dark and handsome

If you like these three-in-one deals, have I got a word for you:


Awhile is actually these three words: for a while.

So, we can either write:

I listened to my Rice Krispies speak for a while before eating them.

Or use the more economical version:

I listened to my Rice Krispies speak awhile before eating them.

But we can’t write:

I listened to my Rice Krispies speak for awhile before eating them.

If we did, we would actually be saying:

I listened to my Rice Krispies speak for for a while before eating them.

We also can’t use awhile when we don’t mean for a while. For example, this is wrong:

It’s taking quite awhile to scan this image of tall, dark and handsome.

Because it doesn’t make sense to say:

It’s taking quite for a while to scan this image of tall, dark and handsome.

So we would have to write:

It’s taking quite a while to scan this image of tall, dark and handsome.

But, when it is scanned, I am going to print it out, make several copies of it, pin the copies all over my wall and stare at them awhile. And I mean AWHILE.

The Grammar Curmedgeon. "Awhile/A while."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Whatever It Is I Think I See...

When you look at this magazine cover, what comes to mind?

Do you see two lovely, glowing mothers-to-be?

Do you see two reality TV stars desperate for publicity?

Perhaps the poetic side of you is tickled that their names are alliterative?

You know what I see?


I can’t help it. Ever since I got involved in all this grammar stuff, I’ve become obsessed.

Kendra’s baby bump is the start parenthesis and Kourtney’s is the end parenthesis.

Now do you see it?

We use parentheses to enclose extra information that is not crucial to the meaning of the sentence. (I am not suggesting that these babies-to-be are not important, but let’s be realistic: like a proper tabloid article, the main focus of the article will be the ladies’ weight gain, mood swings, sex lives, and implants.)

According to this US Weekly article, the material inside the parentheses is about five months old. This means that the fetus is about half its birth length and weighs one pound.

My point?

The material inside the parentheses is not fully developed, and when the material inside the parentheses is not fully developed (i.e., when it is not a complete sentence), the period goes outside the end parenthesis, like this:

Kendra has been working out, but Kourtney hasn’t been focused on physical fitness (although she used to be a running enthusiast).

On the other hand, when the material inside the parentheses forms a complete sentence, the period goes inside the parentheses.

Kendra starts each day with a bowl of her favorite cereal, Lucky Charms, and then sends an assistant to fetch a BLT sandwich. (I want an assistant to fetch my food.)

And while we're on the subject of body parts that look like punctuation marks, here's a comma:

And this is a colon on its side:

And I'll stop here before this post becomes R rated.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What About Me?

You know those times when you should be happy for someone, but their success really just makes you feel bad about yourself? For example, you should be happy for your friend when she gets a promotion, but the truth is that it just makes you mad that you didn't get one. Or you should be happy for your best friend when she tells you that her new boyfriend is whisking her off to Paris, but instead it just makes you glare at your husband.

"What's wrong, Honey?"

Well, today, I was grading and the first sentence I read was:

The store displayed their obsequious range of holiday decorations.

An English teacher should be thrilled when her student uses such a beautiful and sophisticated word, right?

Well, not when the student out-vocabularies the teacher. I had never even seen the word obsequious before, and, what can I say, it made me feel a little inadequate.

So, you know how it shouldn’t make you happy when your friend complains that she's exhausted and has no social life because the new promotion requires her to stay at the office until 10pm every night. And it definitely should not make you happy when your best friend tells you that she spent her Paris vacation in bed due to a bad batch of escargot.

Well, what can I say; I was kind of relieved when I looked up obsequious only to discover that my student had misused it.

When I looked it up, this is what I found:

characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning: an obsequious bow.
servilely compliant or deferential: obsequious servants.
obedient; dutiful.

Surely, she didn't mean to convey that the range of holiday decorations was obedient or servile.

I hope you don't think I am being opprobrious when I say that my student was simply not exhibiting perspicacious judgement in her quest to be a sesquipedalian.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Out with the Old, In with the New

In my last post, I suggested that perhaps the reason I haven’t had any kids yet has something to do with the fact that my parents never bought me a Cabbage Patch Kid. And, undoubtedly, that has a lot to do with it. But there may actually be more to my procreation hesitation: Giving birth looks REALLY hard. I love sleep. Nine months without wine and sushi!

And then there’s also the ethical question of overpopulation. I live in Orange County. Our freeways are bumper to bumper, our classrooms are overfilled, and the line was out the door this morning at Starbucks. I wouldn’t feel right about adding another mouth to feed.

That is, unless we eliminate some existing mouths.

If we are going to add new people, maybe we should get rid of some. I’m not suggesting we kill them or anything; we could just move them to Wyoming. (Wikipedia says it’s the least populated state.)

Here’s who I would send to Wyoming:

Mel Gibson (I’d actually be doing him a favor.)

The guy who lives in the condo above us who likes to stomp around all night.

Vanessa Paradis (She’s actually quite lovely, but she’s the main obstacle in my quest to marry Johnny Depp.)

Sarah Palin (I’m doing it for the moose.)

I feel the same way about words.

Here are some words that have just officially become members of the English language:

Bromance n. Close platonic male friendship.

Automagically adv. Automatically in a way that seems magical.

Frenemy n. Friend with whom one has frequent conflict.

Staycation n. Vacation spent at home.

Webisode n. Episode or short film made for viewing online.

Tweet n. Posting made on the social networking site Twitter.

Unfriend v. To remove from a list of personal associates on a website.

And, much to my chagrin:

Chillax v. To calm down and relax.

Here are words I would like to trade out:






Which words (or people) would you like to see replaced?

Towner, Betsy. “New Words Added to English Dictionaries.” AARP.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Swear I'm Not Bitter

I don’t remember a ton about my childhood, but I do remember this: I never got a Cabbage Patch Kid. I wanted one. Everyone else had one. My cousin had Ramona Anne. My best friend had Stephanie Marie. Other parents would get into physical brawls with other parents in Toys "R" Us to get their kids the last Cabbage Patch Kid on the shelf, but not my parents. Not even one little fistfight.

Do I sound bitter? I’m not bitter. Oh no. Unwrapping my Hanukkah gift and finding a box of underwear and socks instead of a cuddly, chubby-cheeked doll complete with its own birth certificate has actually made me a better person. Now, I can totally empathize with others who have been shafted.

Take flat adverbs, for example. I feel so sorry for them. These poor adverbs do the same job as regular adverbs (they modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs), but they just don’t get the fancy ly at the end like almost all other adverbs.

Here’s a list of some flat adverbs:

fast, far, straight, fine, hard

In 1983, you had to move fast if you were going to get a Cabbage Patch Kid.
(Fast modifies the verb move.)

Mom, tell it to me straight; you are never going to buy me a Cabbage Patch Kid, are you?
(Straight modifies the verb tell.)

Slow can also be considered a flat adverb. We tend to drop the ly when slow describes a verb denoting movement:

Drive slow; there’s a Cabbage Patch Baby on board.
(Slow modifies the verb drive.)

Speaking of baby on board… if anyone's wondering why there are no grandchildren yet, perhaps it’s because I never got a Cabbage Patch Kid during my formative years and, consequently, my maternal instinct never adequately developed.

My sock drawer, however, is full.


“Adverbs ending in –ly.” Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips.

“Slow.” Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary.