From here-eternity

You’ve probably noticed the Word Nymph has been in hibernation lately. Frankly, this spring hasn’t produced a fertile crop of linguistic irritants. And those peeking their heads above the soil haven’t seemed worthy of shining the sun upon (says she, ending her sentence acceptably with a preposition).

However, there has been one little allergen under my skin for some time; finally, it took a recent project for me to slap some Benedryl on it.

Like pollen in springtime, this one appears everywhere. Flyers, bulletins, invitations, ads, the posts of the most learned of Facebook friends.

“The show will air from 4:00-5:00 p.m.” “The dinner will be held from 6:00-9:00.” “The store will be open from 10-6.” In each of these examples, either something needs to go or something needs to be replaced. Do you see it?

The easiest fix would be to delete from, and say simply that the show will air 4:00-5:00 p.m. Alternatively, we could substitute the dash with to or until. The show will air from 4:00 until 5:00. Or we could say that the store is open between 10:00 and 6:00. But never—ever—should we use from and a dash.

Why is the from-dash so prevalent?

No matter. The subject springs from a conversation with a client last week about the correct way to punctuate ranges of dates and times. If a piece of punctuation is to indicate the time between Monday and Friday, is it a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash?

Typographically speaking, most authorities–the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and countless online sources–accept either a hyphen or an en dash. Preferring to save hyphens for hyphenation, I’d argue for the en dash. And while most authorities specify that there are to be no spaces on either side of en dash (unlike the mighty em dash, which prefers no space around it), there appears to be an exception for dates and times. Monday-Friday, 8:00-10 a.m. Or Tues.-Thurs., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. And that’s little a, little p, with periods, by the way. The big A and big P are disappearing from modern temporal expression, and my eyes aren’t misting over their departure. (Apparently, Robert Bringhurst, the guru of modern typography, disagrees. Let’s postpone further discussion of that until I receive my copy of The Elements of Typographic Style.)

Nonetheless, I was tickled that my client cared as much about this wonky issue as I did and was especially psyched to back up my hunch with hard data. Most of all, I was proud that my client wasn’t the least bit tempted to pull a from-dash.

Happy Spring, which runs from March 20 to June 21.

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Farewell, best friend

Dear Hasbro, say it isn’t so. As if the discontinuation of my china, bed linens, lipstick, wallet, kitchen whisk and hair clips were not enough, my favorite Monopoly token is being tossed out like yesterday’s crossword.

The company has just announced that, among its long-lived Monopoly board pieces—the race car, the Scottie dog, the top hat, the wheelbarrow, the thimble and others—they must phase out one out to make room for another. Seriously?

Enter the new token, the cat. This crazy cat lady has no complaint against Fluffy, but it’s replacing my all-time favorite token, the iron.

The iron is a symbol of what is right and useful in the world. Perhaps its ability to smooth wrinkles and create a polished and professional look appeals to the editor within me. From our everyday khakis to our finest table linens, it’s the tool that makes it all presentable.

True confession of an ironing geek: When I was in my early 20s, every Thursday night, while my peers were noshing at the local happy hour, I stood at my ironing board in front of the television, and pressing my way through Taxi, Barney Miller and Cheers. And then I was all set for a smooth weekend.

Maybe it runs in the family. Years ago, when my mother was imparting essential life skills to her two adolescent sons, she employed one of her finest Momilies: “The tip of the iron is your best friend.”

Hasbro could have phased out the thimble and no one would have noticed.

At least they had the good sense to save the shoe.

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Curb your enthusiasm

I’m steeped in amusement today
By a goof that keeps coming my way.
At least twice I have seen it
So it’s time that we clean it
From the phrases that some of us say.

Consider the little word curb;
It’s used as a noun and a verb.
Appetite or enthusiasm
Or or a bad muscle spasm,
It means to control or disturb.

A curb is a physical restraint;
With that use I have no complaint.
Curbside pickup or check-in,
Correct uses without reckon
But “a steep learning curb” it ain’t!

Note: Learning curb is a good example of an “eggcorn.” Have you more to throw into the basket?

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Tackier than thou

What’s the tackiest gift you received last year? Or ever?

Over the years, my family members and I have engaged fiercely in Olympic-level competitive gag-gift-giving.

My mother and I send each other kitsch personalized with names—of people we don’t know. She once sent me his and hers coffee mugs meant for “Dwight” and “Daisy.” In return, I bought her a doggie bowl from our church thrift shop, personalized for “Georgina.” Mom doesn’t have a dog.

My father and I have exchanged nativity scenes and other collectibles constructed of everything from neon-painted seashells to rusty beer caps.

My husband and I have passed the same can of Pepperidge Farm Vichyssoise back and forth for more than 25 years. Not exactly a tacky souvenir, but something neither of us wanted to keep. Obviously.

It’s my turn to re-gift a 32-year-old bourbon decanter in the likeness of the head of John Lennon. I’ve been mulling who in my life deserves such a treasure. So far, no one qualifies.

Those worthy relics notwithstanding, I’m here to announce that we might have a gold medal winner in this Kitchlympic event. You be the judges. Better yet – it’s not too late to submit an entry.

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Regime change

Twice recently, I noticed a system of healthful habits being described as a regime.

The first reference was in a rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Sally Rogers referred to her new diet regime. My ear twitched a bit, recognizing a potential misuse of regimen, while I also considered it might have been a colloquialism of its time some half a century ago.

Then yesterday, I read the same use in the Washington Post’s Health & Science section, in which the author of a recent book assured readers that, in order to age healthfully, they needn’t “go all out with a major fitness regime…” Prior to this, the only regimes I’d read about in the Post were systems of governmental power. I made a note to investigate.

My first scratch into the matter had me feeling pretty cocky. Indeed, the definitions I located defined a regime as a form of government (e.g., a fascist regime), a government in power, a prevailing social system or pattern, a period during which a particular administration or system prevails.

My cockiness wilted when I read an alternate definition—“a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen”—but I had just enough left to fuel one more regimen-related peeve.

Healthy Regiment

Healthy Regiment

I have a friend who likes to refer to her “regiment” of eating fruits and vegetables. My friend is not alone; the internet has no shortage of references to healthy regiments.

No matter how you slice your produce, there’s no room to rationalize that one. A regiment is an army unit. Period.

One of my favorite sources of analysis on such matters, the Visual Thesaurus, has a thoughtful explanation of regime v. regimen, pulling from various medical publications and etymological authorities to compare the two. They explain that regimen and regime are known as “doublets,” two words that have entered the language from the same source by different routes. They further advise, “If you use regime, you can be confident that you have a couple of centuries of accepted usage on your side. But if you want to make sure you don’t set off anyone’s pet-peeve alarms, stick with regimen.”

So technically, Sally Rogers and the Post are correct, though regime in this context appears to still bother many healthcare professionals. And me.

Nevertheless, Visual Thesaurus states, “Anyone who confuses regimen and regiment betrays ignorance of an elementary verbal distinction.”

They said it, not I.

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Worst wishes

Words to consider as we face another season of long lists and short tempers:

In the season of good will,
If you find you’re wishing ill
To those who help you to prepare,
It’s time to stop and get some air.

This year I dedicate this ditty with apologies to clerks at CVS and FedEx-Kinko’s.

The design and production of our Christmas greetings hit some snags this year. I might be on the naughty list of a few retailers, though I’ve tried to walk the line between charitable kindness and insistence on reasonable service. It’s taken years of experience to recognize that, when I catch myself about to wish someone harm, I need to take a breath and shut up, let up and, if needed, give up and do the job myself.

My husband and I often enjoy designing our own cards, though our creativity waxes and wanes with the years. One of our best featured a picture of our son in front of Italy’s leaning tower, with a caption reading “Pisa on Earth.” Another good one featured the son, after not having seen a barber in eight months, with the caption, “Hairy Christmas.”

One year, I took my design to Ritz Photo, which lost the order, botched the order, lost it again, and then pretty much banned me from the store. Eventually, I cancelled the order and channeled my anger into a new hand-made card:

‘Twas the month before Christmas
When the Welch family went
To order the greeting cards
They’ve traditionally sent.

They chose a cute photo
Of their 10-year-old son.
From a year’s worth of pictures
They chose the best one.

They went to Ritz Photo,
A reputable shop,
To make a photo greeting
But, oh, what a flop!

Surely Ritz can do photos
(Or so one would think)
Who’d have known that their service
To High Heaven would stink?

The incompetence displayed
By the photo shop staff
Got progressively worse
With each stupid gaffe
(They messed it up so many times, one should laugh!)

But it wasn’t so funny
For the Welches, this time
As they felt their patience vanish
And their anger level climb.

Back and forth to the lab
The Christmas greeting was sent
And back and forth and back and forth
Into oblivion it went.

The Welches gave up,
It just wasn’t worth
The stress in this season
Of the Christ Child’s birth.

So with help from their computer
And the angels above
They send you this hand-made
Christmas greeting with love.

Come to think of it, most of the Ritz Photo stores in our area have since closed.

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A zip of the lip

A very wise man—my late father-in-law—was known to say, “He who talks often is seldom heard.”

He also used to ask, “Is all that talking really necessary?”

For someone to whom words are a profession, a hobby, a love, even half a moniker, this Word Nymph has been thinking a lot about silence.

Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the signs appearing before me in recent days. The Sounds of Silence playing on the radio. References to the evils of loquaciousness in my daily horoscope. A favorite hymn in church yesterday, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, stirred me to wordlessness. Message from the universe: Shut yer yap.

In my faith tradition, the upcoming season of Advent is much ado about silence. Many kick off the season with a silent retreat, followed by three weeks of quiet reflection, listening, expectation, focus outside oneself. Regardless of our traditions, this isn’t a bad discipline to follow.

Modern humans have spurred a society that abhors dead air and assaults it with voices. While others speak we are already thinking of what we will say next—and, ever impatient, we interrupt them mid-sentence with our treasured views. As a child whose report cards often reported that “Monica talks too much in class,” I plead talkative as charged.

Modern media have ignited an explosion of expression. Talk radio, talking heads, talk-talk-talk. Tap-tap-tap a 2,500-word Christmas letter and a 750-word status update.

Enough already.

It seems a good time to undertake a new social discipline. While word count is a key metric in my work as an editor, it never occurred to me that I could put it to use elsewhere. What if I followed the Twitter theory and kept my utterances to fewer than 140 characters?

As an experiment, I pledge to do my best for the rest of this year to use my words more judiciously. To the best of my ability I will:

  • Listen first, speak second. After all, there’s a reason we were given two ears and only one mouth.
  • Not feel compelled to fill silence with talking. Silence can create an opening to ideas, energy and more thoughtful words–while excessive talking can suck the energy out of the room and everyone in it.
  • Not overestimate others’ interest in what I have to say. That story, that memory, that dream I find so fascinating? Others, not so much.
  • Not consume more than my share of the airwaves, leaving plenty open for others.
  • Begin fewer sentences with I and My.

Join me, won’t you?

One final comment: Some of the most stirring renditions of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence are the ones without lyrics.

Word Count: 439 (still too many)

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