Tag Archives: language

It’s courtesy, stupid.

Humans communicate far more boldly from behind a wall than they do face to face.

Think about it. Many are quick to brandish a middle finger when cut off in traffic. Even a certain Southern Gentleman I know does it.

What is it about being safely encased in steel and glass that gives people the freedom to flash an obscene gesture or bark an expletive at a complete stranger—even if that person has done something unintentional, such as changing lanes prematurely?

Would we flip a digit at a fellow passenger who butts in line for boarding? Would we invoke the name of one’s dear mother for colliding with our cart at the supermarket? Of course not.

We’re uninhibited with our language on the telephone when we find a customer service rep incompetent or unsympathetic. Would our words be so harsh if we were looking the person in the eye? We know the answer.

If you and I travel in the same social media sphere, then you may recently have witnessed my (very polite) outburst over the way people speak about one another online. While I’ve since made peace with a number of my offenders, this provides occasion to reinforce a simple courtesy: Never say (or mime) anything from behind a wall that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Tuesday night, when the presidetial election results were announced, my Facebook feed erupted with hateful comments. I’m not talking about comments expressing sadness about the outcome or disappointment in the process. Those are understandable when something you’ve hoped for—even worked for—does not turn out your way.

I’m talking about comments describing those who voted differently. Not aimed at circumstances; aimed at people.

The predominant adjective was stupid, with a few “idiots” sprinkled in. “How can people be so stupid?” “Well, that just proves you can’t fix stupid.” “50 percent of the country just showed us that stupid is as stupid does.” “The idiots who re-elected our current president…”

Hey, that’s me you’re talking about. And, in quoting you here, I’ve done you the courtesy of correcting your grammatical and punctuation errors. Just so you don’t look … well, you know.

In all fairness, some of the bullies and their cheerleaders have simmered down. Some have even apologized. I’m grateful for that and for the opportunity to remember that we all need to put the “face” back in Facebook.

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Filed under Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

Folks is folks

My folks—excuse me, my parents—have a few pet word peeves they’ve passed on to me. I’ve written of several already. Another class of them: the way we address each other collectively.

My father hates it when people in service roles, such as waiters or store clerks, call customers “you guys.” For example, “I’m Jason and I’ll be your server. How are you guys doing tonight?”

Similarly, my mother hates it when people refer to other people as “folks.”

Naturally, I’ve become attuned to this and, when I address groups at work, prefer “ladies and gentlemen.” My ears perk up and bristle when I hear “you guys” or “folks.”

Last Friday night, I was on a plane experiencing a delayed departure. After taking an snooze and finding the plane was still on the ground, I began my favorite game of sizing up my fellow passengers and imagining their stories. Seated across the aisle from me were two young gentlemen wearing shorts and flip-flops (an air travel pet peeve of mine), and speaking a language I couldn’t discern. I surmised it was a European language of some sort.

Just then the pilot came on the loudspeaker for his second delay announcement. And for the second time, he began his announcement with “Folks, …”

The gentlemen beside me responded to this in an amused and animated fashion. In their indeterminate language, the only word I could understand was “folks,” which they uttered several times as they seemingly pondered the meaning—or, more probably, the context—of this word.

It sounded to me something like:

 Wat het proefgemiddelde door doet; mensen? Ik heb dit woord “folks” gehoord alvorens maar niet kan begrijpen waarom hij het gebruikt om de passagiers op dit vliegtuig te richten. Ik dacht ” folks” was een word dat wordt gebruikt om ouders te beschrijven. Wij zijn niet de kinderen van deze loods. Ik ben benieuwd waarom hij hij die ons richt deze manier is. “Folks?”

At that moment I decided to not look down on these young men for wearing beach togs on an airplane and instead admired them for questioning the flight captain’s language in addressing his paying passengers with such familiar informality.

 To my mind, a flight captain’s calling us “folks” is the same as our saying to the pilot upon deplaning, “Later, dude.”

Ladies and gentlemen, are you with me?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Rants and Raves, Travel

Year of the Nymph

On March 31, 2010, I wrote my first blog post, questioning the value of blogs. My premise was that no one wants to read anyone else’s innermost thoughts—and blogging seemed to be the place where innermost feelings become outermost feelings. But I went ahead and started Word Nymph anyway.

My one-year anniversary post isn’t going to be anything spectacular, so if you’re reading this blog for the first time today, please dig deeper into the archives before you form a first impression.

If you’re among the small but potent community of regular readers and commenters, thank you. Thank you for your faithfulness, even on days when your basket is brimming with reading matter. Thank you also to the four or five people who advised me in the beginning of this undertaking. And thank you to my husband, who kisses me good night as I sit in the late hours staring at a blank screen and panicking about what I will write about the next day. Three hundred nine times, so far.

Over the course of the year, I’ve heard from people that they want more personal stories of my childhood or of the careless foibles of my adulthood. Others believe I should stick to my knitting; one reader said he was going to unsubscribe because I wasn’t doing enough on language and grammar. At times I’ve wondered how I might satisfy everyone in this regard. But, as Ricky Nelson once sang, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Some readers tell me they can’t keep up with my six-days-a-week schedule,  that they get behind and struggle to catch up. I don’t want people feeling like they’re drinking from a fire hose, so maybe I should slow down, pace myself so I don’t run out of ideas, or worse, generate forced content for the sake of adhering to a self-imposed schedule. On the other hand, some readers call me when I’ve posted late or missed a day, wondering where their Word Nymph is.

As I struggled with these questions, a friend and supporter sent me a link to another blogger’s ideas. These very usefully address my very conundrums. If you’re contemplating starting a blog yourself, or if you’d like to join me in contemplating Word Nymph’s future, you’ll find these thought-provoking—and a good read all around.

I know one thing for certain. Your comments–good or bad, serious or funny–are what make it worth the effort.

That’s it for today. Still thinking about the future. I welcome your ideas.

Thanks again for reading. Must find cake.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Reading, Technology and Social Media

Much ado

It makes me sad when I hear a really interesting word, begin to adopt it into my own vocabulary and then, nearly overnight, hear it thrown about willy-nilly, having lost its distinctive meaning.

This makes me think about the first girls to wear Ugg boots. I still don’t own any because, by the time I became aware of them, they had already saturated the fashion scene and were being worn in places where they have no use, such as at formal events or in the desert Southwest.  There’s a narrow window in which to enjoy something novel before it’s over- or mis-used.

We were watching a morning news program yesterday, a story about a Tacoma, Washington, boy having been sent home from school for wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. The Seattle-based reporter ended the piece, naming the incident a “kerfuffle.” I said to my husband, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’” Just then, our local news anchor said, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’”  The horse is out of the barn.

“Kerfuffle” isn’t a new word and, from what I understand, the British adapted the Scottish “cerfuffle” and made it theirs long ago. It’s just that we don’t hear it all that often. It’s fancy and delicate and best saved for special occasions, much like Grandmother’s white lace tablecloth.

Whereas “kerfuffle” has long referred to commotion, fuss, brouhaha or misunderstanding, it seems many are using it almost euphemistically, to trivialize more heated or violent incidents. One literary blog elaborates.

Other words describing social conflict have evolved over time.

I remember studying the word “altercation” for a vocabulary test in grade school. The definition I memorized was “a wordy quarrel.” Webster’s defines it as a “noisy argument.” News writers and broadcasters now use “altercation” to describe a fist fight, even an incident involving gunfire. They also describe a barroom brawl as a “melee,” a term that has typically referred to combat situations.

As we’ve observed here lately, there is a place for language evolution, though I’m sad to see distinctive words become watered down through overuse. Perhaps there’s also a place for Grandma’s lace tablecloth for Tuesday’s hamburgers; just don’t get ketchup on it.

I missed the Uggs boat and, clearly, my new favorite word is aboard a train that has left the station.

It’s just a simple observation. I won’t make a kerfuffle out of it.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Beauty and Fashion, News, Rants and Raves

The ol’ stumble-and-whinge

The results are in. Most readers who commented on “To niggle or not to niggle?” expressed support for continuing to niggle and whinge over language misuse and abuse.

They said, “Continue to niggle.” “Niggle away.” “Niggle on.” “Go forth niggling boldly.”

I interpret this as a mandate and, hence, won’t declare Word Nymph a whinge-free zone just yet. I will, however, refrain from attributing poor communication to broad classes, including The Young People or These Kids Today, as some word blogs do, though I reserve the right to point out generational trends for instructional purposes only. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) Besides, many of my readers are young people who are far more literate and articulate than I.

Thankfully, StumbleUpon.com, which knows my interest in writing, placed a timely post in my path. I not only stumbled on it, but nearly fell on my face upon reading it.

English teachers and fellow wordies:  take out your red pens and go to work on this one, from a blog called Stepcase Lifehack. Whinge away, my friends. Niggle on.

Fifty (50!) Tools which can help you in Writing – Roy Peter Clark from Poynter Institute has posted up 50 tools that can help you when you do any kinds of writing. This is a extensive list of writing tools, but by no mean you need to apply all of them when you do any writing.”

The writer follows this up with “Links of 50 Writing Tool.”

We might have to visit Stepcase Lifehack again.

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To niggle or not to niggle?

A recent glance at a language blog stopped me in my tracks as I contemplated where I’d like my own language blog to go in the New Year.

In his December 30 post, The Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre, a language blogger, resolved to not nitpick when it comes to the grammatical missteps of others. In essence, he vowed to stop doing many of the things I and those who comment on Word Nymph do on a regular basis. This made me feel a little sheepish.

McIntyre said he’d no longer “whinge” about how young people speak and write these days or lament the decline of the English language. Further, he resolved to stop making or contributing to lists of grammatical pet peeves. Alas, he appears to be a bigger person than I. I just recently engaged my readers in contributing to piles of peeves.

There was one resolution that got my attention “I will not assume that everything Miss Thistlebottom or Sister Scholastica told me about grammar and usage when I was a mere tot is permanently and universally valid.”

I confess that, in my own writing, I often draw on rules I learned in grade school, lessons I seldom questioned and have forever heeded to the letter. I do consult other sources as needed, to verify my understanding of the rules, especially when I am discussing them here.

On one hand, McIntyre appears to be suggesting that we honor the English language as it continues to evolve and not revere ancient laws as ultimate truth. I’m not sure I’m ready to do this. I’m not ready to welcome into accepted practice those errors—many intentional—that have crept into our language so invasively that to oppose them is just too much of a burden. The path of least resistance, in a sense.

On the other hand, he appears to hold dear the virtues of proper speech and writing. I like his New Year’s toast: “Lift a brimming glass at midnight and drink to the hope that in the coming months we will all speak and write with more accuracy, clarity, force, and grace.”

Perhaps what he is saying is that, as writers and speakers, we should continue to uphold our personal standards, while exploring new and clever ways of expressing ourselves, but not judge those who do not.

I agree with this in theory. However, if I follow McIntyre’s worthy example, I am afraid I will have little left about which to write in the New Year.

I never intended to be the grammar police or a word Nazi; I prefer to have fun with language, pointing out interesting rules I am still learning and coming up with interesting ways of remembering them. At the same time, it’s also nice to have an outlet.

This is as much your blog as it is mine. Where do you think we should take it?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Reading, Technology and Social Media

Sounds easy enough

You’ve seen me refer to the Fake AP Stylebook before. The group puts out funny little comments about language every day on Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t use these, you can go elsewhere to see some great examples. Some really get me thinking.

Case in point:  A recent post observed, “there/their/they’re – What, seriously? This confuses you?”

I have never had trouble distinguishing among the three. I don’t find it confusing at all. But it’s not because I’m good at remembering rules necessarily; otherwise, I’d have gotten this bring-versus-take thing down long ago.

What I realized is that it says something about the way my brain works.

When I hear and when I speak, I see the words written out. I suppose this means I am a visual learner or perhaps a visual thinker. I envision words as they are spelled. Maybe that’s why I have such a sensitive ear when it comes to pronunciation. If people saw “sherbet,” maybe they wouldn’t say “sherbert.”

Like the Fake AP Stylebook, when I see there/their/they’re confused, I am tempted to wonder how anyone can get it wrong. I also wonder how anyone graduated from second grade without mastering it, but perhaps I’m too quick to judge.

“There,” “their” and “they’re” are homonyms. They sound exactly the same. It’s no wonder people who are not visual learners might be homonymphobic.

If we had to spell according to how words sound (“sound it out,” we were always told), especially in this confusing language we call English, how can we be expected to commit the difference to paper?

Maybe I can offer some tips.

Let’s start with “there.” “There” is often the answer to “where?” “Where are my glasses? There they are.” On top of my head, usually. So that one’s easy:  Where?  There! Spelled the same (after their respective consonant digraphs).

“They’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are.” Until I had a baby, I thought contractions were easy. You begin with what you are (you’re) trying to say and shorten it; for example, “They are” doing something. With a contraction, typically a letter and a space come out, an apostrophe goes in and, voilà, two words become one. In a sense, they’re getting married. To use song lyrics as a prompt, “They’re Playing Our Song” or, for readers of my generation, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa.” By now they probably are.

I haven’t come up with a tip for “their.” Maybe you have one. For now, let’s just say it’s the other one, and remember, “i” before “e” except after “c.”  Oops, and except in “their.”

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Music, Technology and Social Media