Tag Archives: punctuation

Three-quarters of a year in review

As another year draws to a close, we see psychology and behavior experts appearing in great numbers on the news and talk shows to advise us on our New Year’s resolutions.

On the last day of 2009, one example seemed a little odd amongst the goals of losing weight, finding a job, getting out of debt and repairing relationships. One particular expert said, “for example, if your New Year’s resolution is starting a blog, . . .” I recall thinking, that’s odd. Who would start a blog as a New Year’s resolution?

I suppose the idea percolated within my mind for a month or two, because around the end of February, I started thinking more about it. I launched this one on March 30th and today marks my 233rd blog post of 2010.

After I first had the idea, it took me a while to settle on subject matter. I envisioned a quirky blend of Erma Bombeck and William Safire, who probably were never in the same room together, nor had much in common while they were alive. I tried to define themes within the About Word Nymph page, which still lacks proper cohesion. When people ask me what my blog is about, I tell them it is about language and life. I should probably squeeze that into a tagline somewhere.

If you are new here and are trying to figure out what this place is about, try going to that sidebar over on the right, and searching Topics. Perhaps you like the posts having to do with language but have no use for stories of the blogger’s life stories, or vice versa. If you’re a wordie, look under “All Things Wordish” and read my spin on pleonasms, mondegreens, portmanteaus, bdelygmias, oronyms, toponyms and absolute adjectives, or my gripes about malapropisms, mispronounced words and misunderstood song lyrics. If you want to read about my clumsiness and stupidity, “Foibles and Faux Pas” is for you.

If you are just now stumbling on to Word Nymph, might I suggest starting with a few of my favorites:

On Language:

Not very nice
Not a mute point
Let’s talk for a moment about momentarily
Did you want to ask me that again?
The ants are my friends
Repeat redundancy

 On Life:

Blink and you’ll miss it
Golden Girls
Woof it down
Joined at the unbelted waist
The other woman
Not the end of the world

Crossovers:

Fashion nonsense
Little old lady who?
Justice I am, without one plea
Character study

My personal jury (composed of 12 of my personalities) is still out as to whether Word Nymph was the wisest project for 2010. I will say, however, that the best part by far has been the interaction I enjoy with readers. So, please, everyone, keep your comments, compliments and criticisms coming.

May you wake up tomorrow feeling well and inspired to take on something worthwhile in the New Year.

Cheers.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Foibles and Faux Pas, Holidays, Technology and Social Media

A[n] honorary language convention

A few days ago, a reader asked me to address the subject of indefinite articles preceding words beginning with the letter “h.”

I reviewed my understanding of the rules pertaining to the subject and set it aside pending consultation of a few sources. At the same time, I suspected this might be one of those rules that vary by region and knew I’d have to take that into account as I addressed it.

The timing is apt, as we already have a rousing international debate going, following my comments yesterday about whether periods and commas go inside or outside quotation marks, another issue lacking global agreement.

I was tickled to hear from readers yesterday, who wrote in from such exotic places as Belo Horizonte, Brisbane, Canberra, Jakarta, Lima, Manila, Ontario, Oxford, Vancouver and Tucson on the matter of inside-versus-outside-the-quotes issue, even if they didn’t agree with me. Especially if they didn’t agree with me.

So let’s look at indefinite articles and see if we can keep this global dialogue going.

The question before us: Which indefinite article, “a” or “an,” precedes a word beginning with “h?”

The consensus I glean from U.S. and international sources is that “a” is used before words beginning with “h” unless the “h” is silent, in which case “an” is used.

Many have noticed, as have I, that “an” has come to precede words in which the “h” is pronounced; for example, historic, as “an historic event.”

I’d be inclined to give a little latitude where regional pronunciations vary with regard to the “h.” In the United States, we’d likely say, “an herb,” though Martha Stewart and select others opt for the European pronunciation and, therefore, would use a different indefinite article: “a herb.”

I’d welcome comments by my fellow wordies from around the globe. Better yet, wouldn’t it be fun to convene a global summit on language differences? Unlike the World Trade Organization or the World Health Organization or the International Standards Organization, which strive for international standardization, the goal of the GSLD could be  to understand and celebrate regional approaches to language.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for linguistic anarchy. While there are more than one authoritative style guide, I prefer to choose one and stick to it. Moreover, where style guides agree, I advocate for consistent adherence, at least within U.S. borders. But if we Yankees prefer to keep our punctuation tucked neatly within our quotation marks, and use “an” preceding an “h,” and you English speakers abroad adhere to your own national standards, then I applaud you. I’d also like to sit across a table from you and continue the conversation, maybe sink our teeth in to the Oxford comma, because we obviously share a passion for words.

Does Geneva have room for one more international organization? Is there an honorific (or a honorific?) who’s willing to serve as chair?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Politics, Travel

Ironic, my dear Watson

Perhaps you have read the news that in February, for the first time ever, a computer will compete on Jeopardy!

You might remember when an IBM computer beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997. IBM’s latest challenge was to build upon that feat by taking technology to an even more difficult and complex level—building a computer that processes natural language, complete with humor, irony and sarcasm, as well as nuances, regionalisms and slang.

Having apparently met that challenge, Watson will compete against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter February 14 through the 16, 2011.

The computer, named Watson after IBM’s founder, was developed by technologists and researchers from around the world.

While its debut on Jeopardy! will make a big splash, the goal of the technology is ultimately to forge more advanced communication between humans and computers. This goal undoubtedly will harvest scientific and societal benefits in fields ranging from healthcare to customer service.

However, I cannot help wondering what practical applications Watson might offer if ever the technology became available at the consumer level.

How long before the next software release coming out of Redmond, Washington, will include Microsoft Irony, an application to detect, interpret, even insert rhetorical nuances in interpersonal and corporate communications?

Could Watson displace humor columnists and language bloggers? Will we turn on our televisions and see Watson sitting behind Andy Rooney’s desk on 60 Minutes?

If you were a member of IBM’s global research team, what real-world application would you be itching to create for Watson? Or, as a consumer, what application would you want available for purchase?

Personally, I am hoping Watson will be smart–and courageous–enough to tell Jeopardy! clue-writers to put the periods and commas inside the quotation marks, where they belong.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Technology and Social Media

Punctuation is FUNdamental

Most major national news outlets covered the leaked angry e-mail from Alaska’s former First Dude Todd Palin to Joe Miller, Alaska Republican Senate candidate, and Tim Crawford, treasurer of SarahPAC, regarding Sarah Palin’s presidential aspirations, qualifications and possible support of Miller. But The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank got my attention, in a recent column in which he poked His-and-Hers fun at Ms. Palin’s made up word and Mr. Palin’s gross misuse of punctuation: “Will somebody please refudiate our fear that there is a serious punctuation problem in the Palin household?”

Here’s the e-mail and here’s your challenge. How many punctuation errors can you count?

Joe and Tim,

Hold off on any letter for Joe. Sarah put her ass on the line for Joe and yet he can’t answer a simple question ” is Sarah Palin Qualified to be President”. I DON’T KNOW IF SHE IS.

Joe, please explain how this endorsement stuff works, is it to be completely one sided.

Sarah spent all morning working on a Facebook post for Joe, she won’t use it, not now.

Put yourself in her shoe’s Joe for one day.

Todd

In the 80-word body of the e-mail, I count eight.

Occasionally, when I notice errors, friends and colleagues advise me to go easy on people, especially if they were not fortunate enough to go to college.

First, I am quick to volley back with the fact that some of the most articulate and punctuation-savvy people I know did not go to college. Second, I’d be the first to acquiesce to this advice if I were pointing out errors pertaining to material taught in college.

But didn’t we all learn basic grammar and punctuation long before college? Spelling certainly isn’t a university level course. Didn’t we have to master these fundamentals in order to get into college?

So, out of Todd’s eight errors, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on half, because it was an e-mail he thought no one but its addressees would see and also because I know as well as anyone that some errors might simply be typos.

I’ll ask the English teachers (and English students) who read this blog if they agree. Would you grade Todd on the curve? How many points off for apostrophe abuse, semicolon deficit and misplaced quotation marks? (Notice, Todd, dear, I ended my question with a question mark.)

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Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Politics

Holiday greetings

Allow me to be the first to wish you a happy National Punctuation Day. The seventh annual National Punctuation Day, to be precise.

NPD is the brainchild of one Jeff Rubin, an author and expert in shameless self promotion. He even managed to get the holiday recognized as official in Chase’s Calendar of Events.  If you go there, you will also see that October is Self Promotion Month.

Given all the activities offered on the holiday’s website, you could be a faithful observer of this occasion for weeks.

For example, you could:

  • give yourself a refresher on the correct uses of 13 types of punctuation;
  • enter a Punctuation Haiku contest;
  • make Norma Martinez-Rubin (a.k.a. Mrs. Punctuation)’s famous Semicolon Meat Loaf, the official meatloaf of National Punctuation Day, or make one in the punctuation shape of your choice;
  • sit in on Punctuation Playtime at a participating school, and enjoy punctuation relay tag, a Wynken, Blynken and Nod punctuation contest or a punctuation rap performed by facilitators and students;
  • purchase T-shirts, latte mugs, greeting cards and punctuation posters from the official NPD website; and
  • as the Rubin suggests, take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words. Stop in those stores to correct the owners. If the owners are not there, leave notes.

Or you could observe the holiday by reading some the blog posts I’ve written on punctuation.

Forgive me; I’m just gearing up for Self Promotion Month.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Painful contraction

I have long wondered about the phrase “aren’t I?” As contractions go, it runs afoul of the norm and this bothers me.

It was only recently that it bugged me enough to do some digging.

Logic would dictate that the proper phrase be “am I not?” But how would it be contracted?

“Are you not?”  is really “are not you?”and is contracted as “aren’t you?” This makes sense.

But here’s the problem. “Are” does not agree with “I” in a sentence. “Am” does:  I am. I am not. Am I not? Am not I? So then why not “amn’t I?”

Well, I consulted a lot of sources, and each took me deeper into obscurity.

This might not be the absolute truth, but what I gleaned from all I read is that “aren’t I” is incorrect but accepted. Just like plenty of words and phrases we’ve talked about here.

It also seems that, at one time, “amn’t I?” may actually have been considered correct in contemporary Scottish-English as an informal contraction of “am I not?”

Further, some say “ain’t” may have first come about as an attempt to contract “am I not” and later became used colloquially in lieu of “are not” and “has not.” Ain’t that something?

There is also a theory that “amn’t” made appearances as “an’t” in 18th century texts but, when pronounced by the British, sounded more like “ahnt” and later became “aren’t.”

I’ll bet there are readers who know the answer to this mystery and would be willing to share it with the rest of us.

Aren’t I just opening up a can of worms?

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Filed under All Things Wordish

Apostrophe awareness

It was a sign. Literally.

I had apostrophe abuse on the brain, after my next door neighbor had sent me an entertaining video on the topic, along with a message asking, “Will this be the next Schoolhouse Rock?” Who can forget this 1970s classic? Wasn’t everyone’s favorite “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” Or did you prefer “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here?”

We’ve talked so much, maybe too much, about apostrophe abuse lately. Still, it’s epidemic. As I considered whether to wax critical on this overdone topic yet again, I saw a sign. 

While taking a walk yesterday afternoon, The Apostrophe Song bouncing in my head, I almost literally stumbled on this placard, as if it had come up to greet me.

Considering I believe in signs, I knew this one was telling me to share the video my neighbor had shared. I think of it as a public service announcement of sorts, increasing awareness of an abuse that still goes unchallenged and giving us the tools to fight it.

It turns out that the video was produced by Adelaide, Australia-based company Cool Rules, which produces learning tools for children. If you’re looking for an easy way to remember when the apostrophe is appropriate and when it is not, or need a fun way to teach others, or even if you just like a catchy tune, give it a listen. And if you don’t care for the pop version, Cool Rules also offers the ditty in hip hop, rock and acoustic varieties.

It’ll make you nostalgic for Schoolhouse Rock.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Music, Technology and Social Media