Category Archives: All Things Wordish

grammar, punctuation, usage, spelling, speech

Reign maker

Thank you, Mitt Romney, for raining on my wilting blog.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Word Nymph’s crop of lexicological sustenance has been as dry as the American plains. Until today.

The presumptive GOP nominee has given us occasion for instruction on a homonym we haven’t addressed in this place. In announcing his selection of a running mate, Romney’s press release said of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.):

“He is Chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he has worked tirelessly leading the effort to reign in federal spending and increase accountability to taxpayers.”

Did you spot it?

Reign in federal spending. Wrong. It’s rein. As in a strap controlling an animal.

Perhaps Mitt was going for the pun. Or maybe his error was hopeful of his intent to reign in the new year. That’s reign, as royalty on a throne.

We see the spellings of these often confused.

It’s rote to me, but here’s a little clue to help get it straight:

Rein – think of Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer

Reign – pertains sovereign occupation of the throne. Sovereign has a g in it; so does reign.

Keep ‘em coming, Mitt. It’s been a long drought.

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Bieber peever

Dear Justin,

I love ya, kiddo. You have a sweet smile. Your music is catchy enough. You’re tight with your mama.

Since you first made the scene, your mother has been right by your side. I’ve read that she took over your schooling when you were on the road. I admire that. But you’re eighteen now. It’s time you took responsibility for your education.

I was encouraged to hear you tell the ladies on The View that you looked forward to continuing to mature and learn. You seem to be a grounded, smart, reasonably articulate young man and, quite likely, you have plenty of smart, articulate people working for you.

Here’s the thing.

It’s your new hit single, “Boyfriend.” You know, don’t you, dear, that “If I was your boyfriend” is incorrect? Not incorrect in the musically acceptable ain’t-got-no way. Incorrect in the it-sounds-right-to-me-and-anyhow-that’s-what-everybody-says way. I’m disappointed that your mother, your fellow songwriters, producers, agents and marketeers didn’t advise you to change one simple word, just to make you sound like the smart young man you probably are.

Justin, in case your lessons skipped over the subjunctive mood, or you missed my blog post on the topic, it’s not “If I was your boyfriend.” It’s “If I were…” As in “If I Were a Rich Man.” That one ought to be easy for you to remember.

When your ditty, now #11 on the Top 40 charts, comes on the radio, I change the station. When Jazzercise plays it during my leg routine, I burn extra calories by fuming over the horrid grammar.

If I were your mother, I’d take a red pen to your little opus. Okay, I’d be willing to overlook all of your colloquialisms. I’d even let you rhyme “go” with “before.” But I’d ask you set a good example for your young fans and get the big stuff right:

“Boyfriend”
Written by Mike Posner, Matthew Musto, Mason Levy (edited by the Word Nymph)

If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go
I can take you places you ain’t never been before
Baby take a chance or you’ll never ever know
Ive got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow
 Swag swag swag, on you
Chillin’ by the fire why while were eatin’ fondue
I dunno about me but I know about you
So say hello to falsetto in three two

I’d like to be everything you want
Hey girl, let me talk to you

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl, you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, I’d never let you go

Tell me what you like yeah tell me what you don’t
I could be your Buzz Lightyear flying across the globe
I don’t never wanna fight yeah, you already know
I‘ma make you shine brightly like you’re laying lying in the snow
Girlfriend, girlfriend, you could be my girlfriend
You could be my girlfriend until the —- world ends
Make you dance do a spin and a twirl and
Voice goin’ crazy on this hook like a whirlwind

I’d like to be everything you want
Hey girl, let me talk to you

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, I’d never let you go

[Bridge]
So give me a chance, ‘cause you’re all I need girl
 Spend a week wit your boy I’ll be calling you my girlfriend
If I was were your man, I’d never leave you girl
I just want to love you, and treat you right

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, never let you go

Na na na, na na na, na na na
Ya girl
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey

If I was were your boyfriend

What?! Your mama didn’t teach you lie versus lay?

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Family versed

Day Two in the re-exploration of family heirlooms and personal relics being exhumed from the crypt:

I am honored to be in possession of a very special book–written, illustrated and hand-assembled by my Aunt Linda. I am not sure what I did to deserve this treasure, but I’m sure glad to have had it for nearly 50 years. The cover is made of sturdy cardboard, covered in amber-colored burlap. The pages inside are typed on onion skin paper. The pictures are drawn in black felt-tip pen.

Every two pages there is a story, and a drawing that goes along with it, written lovingly about someone in Aunt Linda’s life. I’d like to share two here.

The first one, I presume, is about her daughter, my cousin Lesley, whom you met here about a year ago.

Good morning, dear Jesus, this day is for me.
It’s time to be up and about.
“Morning time, Mommy!”, “Morning time, Dad!”
That’s what I’m going to shout.
There’s a number of things that I’m hoping to do
And things that I’m planning to fix,
So wake up, you sleepyheads, get me some juice,
It’s almost a quarter to six.

This one’s about her Goddaughter, me:

I met a girl names Monica (a very pretty name),
And since I’ve talked with Monica I’ve never been the same.
Though she is only five years old she knows her ABC’s,
Can count to ‘most a million, and always uses “please”.
She has a dog called Gretchen who is unlike any other,
And next to Gretchen she loves best her father and her mother.
I like to listen to her jokes – we have a lot of fun –
And she often helps her daddy when he just can’t think of one.

This project helps me realize how amply I am blessed. Now on to digging deeper into the treasure chest.

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Sign here

I’ve hit the mother lode (note, not mother load) of mementos.

My husband has been cleaning out our attic, and my box of collected treasures has emerged from the clutter. I’ve scooped out just the first layer, so let’s call this post the first in a series. There are sure to be more.

In this tranche were all those charms I thought I’d lost, some religious relics, including my First Holy Communion book, an Immaculate Conception medal and an honorable mention certificate from Saint Dominic’s Catholic School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. There were a few old pictures, lots of cards and letters and my photo album from summer semester in Spain.

My favorite relic to be unearthed was an autograph book I got as a souvenir of Disneyland when my father took me there in 1969. I scored no celebrity autographs, unless you count that of the five-year-old daughter of the TV comedy writer with whom we stayed in L.A.

I didn’t wear a watch on that trip. I do remember asking my Dad what time it was about every 10 minutes. When I let him sign the first page of my autograph book, he wrote, “It’s twenty after ten.”

My Uncle Henry made note that he signed it on the weekend man first walked on the moon—which had nothing to do with the poem he penned:

Saint Monica, Saint Bernadette,
Her patron saints, don’t give up yet,
For though you’ve seen the demon’s taint,
You’ve seen the promise of a saint.
Imp or angel, bad or bonnie,
In equal portion, that’s our Monnie.

The other pages hold what we all know as autograph book rhymes. Things like:

Don’t worry if your pay is small, and if your jobs are few.
Remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you.

Remember the girl in the city. Remember the girl in the town.
Remember the girl who ruined your book by writing upside down.

See you in the ocean, see you in the sea.
See you in the bathtub. Oops, pardon me.

When you’re in heaven and it gets hot,
Pepsi-cola hits the spot.

When you get married and live in a hut,
Send me a picture of your first little nut.

When you get married and you have twins
Don’t come to me for safety pins.

It tickles me and makes me laugh
To think you want my autograph.

Never kiss by the garden gate
Because love is blind but the neighbors ain’t.

When I turned 50, my father gave me his mother’s autograph book, which is dated 1927 — 42 years before I had christened mine.

Allow me to share a few ditties from my grandmother’s crackled pages:

Lock up thy heart, keep safe the key,
Forget me not, til I do thee.

I wish I were a bunny with a little tail of fluff.
I’d climb upon your bureau and be your powder puff.

Some write for money, some write for fame,
But I write for the honor of signing just my name.

Down by the river there lies a rock,
And on it is printed, “Forget me not.”

If you get married and live upstairs,
For heaven’s sake, don’t put on airs.

It’s now 43 years after Disneyland and this place is my autograph book. Won’t you please sign it?

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Losing it

Humorist Dave Barry once said of memory loss, the nouns are the first to go.

You know the feeling. You’re deep in conversation and, mid-sentence, you can’t remember the name of a simple object or person’s name. I once worked myself into a panicked froth when it took me two hours to remember Roy Orbison. I knew the face. I knew the music—every lyric to every song. Just couldn’t retrieve the man’s name.

I’m here to tell you, officially, that my memory loss has advanced beyond nouns and into adjectives.

We were having dinner last night with some friends.

One was sharing her frustration with having two parents with Alzheimer’s Disease. Around the table, we knew too many people who had suffered from the awful disease and had far too many friends caring for loved ones with dementia. We talked about Alzheimer’s specifically and dementia in general and pondered how memory loss has become so prevalent.

Someone questioned whether dementia truly is an epidemic, or that we’re just hearing more about it. I posited that perhaps we are more aware because there are large facilities that now house dementia patients, whereas in prior generations, a doddering grandparent simply lived with his or her family, blending into the background of everyday life.

One of our dinner guests observed that even the term dementia seemed to be relatively recent. Back when Granny lived with her kids and grandkids, no one referred to Alzheimer’s or memory loss. There was another word.

Yes, there was another word. But what in the world was it?

Around the table, we all tried to remember. How did we refer to old people who had lost their memories? What was that less politically correct, more descriptively exact, word that we no longer use?

The conversation became uncomfortable. No one could remember this simple adjective.

I told our friend, “Stop trying to remember. It’ll come to you eventually. But when you do remember, even at 3 o’clock in the morning, call me. I’ll be up anyway with age-related insomnia.”

Shortly after our friends pulled out of the driveway, our phone rang. I answered.

“Hello?”

“Senile!”

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Don’t panic

Language has a way of enticing even the smartest of speakers to succumb to sloppiness, prompting misuses to spin out of control. Inspired by one too many examples, I offer today’s friendly reminder.

A rule of thumb:

Hilarious – good.
Hysterical – bad.

Perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but it serves as a helpful reminder that each word has its own distinctive meaning.

With common misuse, the distinction has grown more subtle.

“Hysterical” and “hilarious” are not interchangeable. Yes, online dictionaries have added one as a synonym of the other in recent times, but I’m not buying it.

As a matter of instruction, “hysterical” means to be in emotional shock. Some of its most common synonyms include: irrational, panic-stricken, jumpy, nervous and anxious.

People often describe movies or books or television shows or comedians as hysterical; therein lies the danger.

I suppose it could be accurate to describe a movie as hysterical. That is, if hysteria is a predominant theme. Theoretically, Titanic could be called hysterical, but it certainly is not hilarious.

One might call a comedian hysterical. He might be funny, hilarious, in fact, but is he shrieking uncontrollably? Ben Stein, for example, can be hilarious, but he is never hysterical.

When something is extremely funny, it is hilarious. Full of hilarity. When a person is extremely funny, she is hilarious. If she is having a hissy fit, she is hysterical. Remember, hissy derives from hysteria.

I could say that I found something so hilarious that I became hysterical. But it is I who was hysterical, not the thing that I found hilarious.

There’s the lesson for today. Your homework: Keep an ear out for one week and report back on how often you hear hysterical misused. Extra credit: Correct the offenders and hope they take it in good spirit and don’t become hysterical.

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Drawl come back now

Having written a fair number of executive briefing books in my career, it’s hard for me to resist drafting briefing notes for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as he faces important primaries in the South in a few days.

I trust he has taken a regimen of prophylactic Mylanta to secure his sensitive system from the plattersful of barbeque and hush puppies he’ll gobble along the campaign trails of Mississippi and Alabama this weekend.

He has already bragged about eating “a biscuit” and liking grits, believing this will endear him to Dixie delegates he seeks. At least he used grits, plural, after having professed his love of “sport” in Daytona, at the risk of defeating the purpose of yukking it up with the NASCAR crowd.

Romney boasted about having mastered “y’all,” as if contracting a second person plural were colloquial rocket science.

I informally canvassed cohorts in the southern states to learn what they might contribute to my fictitious briefing book. What terms must the candidate master to prove he’s southern-savvy?

One person cautioned Mr. Romney to stay far away from the Paula Deen method. Simply inserting extra syllables is only patronizing and insulting.

Some suggestions came in under what I believe is an erroneous assumption that good grammar doesn’t matter in the South:  “We’re gonna win this thing, Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” and “I need me some red eye gravy or my grits just ain’t right.” If Candidate Romney buys into these in next week’s primary elections, he might as well not come back for the general.

Some submissions I received were right out of the stereotypical Paula Deen phrase book: “I’m plumb tuckered out,” “I’m fixin’ too go down the road a piece” and “Oh my Lorward.” Most came from people who might delight in poor ol’ Mr. Romney’s taking bad advice.

When I sent out my solicitations yesterday, I was hoping to get a more esoteric glossary, containing a few of the words and phrases—actual, not stereotypical—I had to learn upon marrying into a Southern family. This page from my briefing book will help the southern gentleman from Massachusetts fit in with voters in Miss-sippi and Alabama without a single y’all.

Romney-speak:  I beg your pardon?
Translation:  Do what?

Romney:  When you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, be sure to press the button for Mitt Romney.
Translation:  When you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, be sure to mash the button for Mitt Romney.

Romney:  It appears that would be so.
Translation:  I reckon.

Romney:  In the debates, the other candidates and I took turns addressing the issues.
Translation:  In the debates, the other candidates and I took time about addressing the issues.

Romney:  I’m spending my own money, so put your checkbook away.
Translation:  I’m spending my own money, so put your checkbook up.

Ten thousand bucks you can come up with more?

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