- She began acting as a small child.
- She began acting like a small child.
Or, who knows? Maybe first one, then the other.
But whenever you write as — and whenever you write like — be careful!
Or, who knows? Maybe first one, then the other.
But whenever you write as — and whenever you write like — be careful!
Yes, very puzzling that all the children had grown up only being called “Booker.”
Very confusing roll calls in that classroom.
You thought English was a complicated language?
You should see English-speaking people trying to speak Spanish:
This CNN.com article will take you 20 seconds to read, and I guarantee, tu sonreirás.
This is just like those left-wingers at CNN.com — suggesting that the White House should be building Covid-19 outbreaks.
I am unspeakably confused.
Either the leader of North Carolina is protesting something … or the leader of NC protests is against something … or someone is against stay-at-home tests … or someone is not necessarily against stay-at-home tests, but absolutely against stay-at-home tests that are positive …
Or (this is the unlikeliest of all) the leader of North Carolina Protests Against Stay-at-Home “Tests Positive” IS ACTUALLY FOR Coronavirus!
Who could be for coronavirus?
Well, I guess if you’re against stay-at-home “tests positive” — if you want the people who test at home to turn up positive for coronavirus — and you’re the leader of North Carolina’s protests, then yeah, I can see how you’d support coronavirus … uh … I guess.
It’s also possible that COVID-19 makes you write incomprehensible headlines.
In which case: Editors, beware. Wear your mask.
It’s Katie Clarke’s birthday, so hark ye!
Professional, she: no malarkey.
She’s beautiful, brilliant,
She’s sweet Katie Clarke (but spelled Clarke).
Honest, officer, I wasn’t transporting this diplomat. He must have snuck into my suitcase while I had my back turned.
If I only want to donate to the largest New York City soup kitchen, or if I only want to donate to the largest New York City church, this Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker doesn’t quite tell me what I need to know.
Maybe all those capital letters, on Church and Holy and Apostles, slows me down and fools me into thinking that the subsequent descriptor refers to The Very Important Noun I Just Read.
Old news, I know, but this March 13 post is still annoying me, long after Tom first defiled himself by donning a Tampa Bay jersey.
In English, we say have shown, not have showed.
(Which of course makes speakers of most other languages absolutely crazy. Because what’s the past participle for, anyway?)
To be fair, writer Sam Marsdale doesn’t control his own headlines. In the digital world, as in the old-fashioned newspaper biz, some editor decides how an article will be headlined.
So some editor at CBSSports.com has showed that he or she needs to learn about the past participle.
Note to other editorial teams: Don’t trade for this editor.
His grandfather knew people died of the flu, but then, ironically, got hit by a bus on Fifth Avenue.
OK, just kidding. Pandemic humor. Some days, it’s the only way to cope.
I hope you were able to care for the insects.
Or at least take the diseases off their weary backs.
(Still not sure if the insects were deadly, or just the diseases they were carrying. Not that it matters, if they’re dropping their burdens at your door. Assuming they wear a mask and gloves. Good luck!)
(P.S. Pronouns are the open lesions on the skin of our language. Beware.)
Sorry, I’m confused.
You don’t have a secure uplink, and that’s your problem?
Or you have a secure uplink, but that’s not your problem?
Tell me clearly what your problem is, and maybe I can help you.
In which case, I sympathize.
Every time I lose command of my gerunds, I regret it.
The perceptive Kevin Z. sends this gem of a headline from Ohio:
Imagine her surprise.
She was all “Buy this iPhone or you’re dead,” and then he turns the tables and takes her money!
What a strange new world we live in.
I understand Apple’s pandemic-era sales may be weak, but let’s not arm the salespeople, please.
Well, it’s probably not a matter of life or death, but let me offer this bit of advice to refugees from the Maryland public schools:
Shutdown is the noun form. Shut down is the verb form.
You can shut down (two words) the shutdown (one word), but it doesn’t make quite as elegant a sign at the protest.
Of course, it doesn’t seem that elegant is what you’re going for.
On the other hand, if you’re going for an agonizing premature death, which you’ve accidentally inflicted on yourself — or others in your home or community because you were a symptom-free carrier of the virus without realizing it — and either way, you decided to help shut down the shutdown, then yeah, you’re right on target.
In which case, forget the English lesson. Rest in peace.
You have to change your ways, if you’re gonna tour.
Either that, or you have to hyphenate.
From the insightful Rebecca B. in Virginia:
Rebecca’s compassionate response:
“How sad not to have access to children!”
I would also miss the seniors.
Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a number of very entertaining working families, too. Especially after a few weeks cooped up together in quarantine, they get all goofy.
On a more serious note, check out the humanitarian work I’m involved in, at NewThing.net.
I get that Paul is content, and that his son is named Antoine. But which of them is studying in France? And who’s phoning whose friends? And will they deliver fresh veggies curbside if I wear a mask?
If you get a call from either Paul or Antoine, please ask, and please report back.
I’m reading my novel, Pleasure and Power, a chapter or two at a time, on Facebook Live every evening at 5 p.m. EDT. Join me, or check the video later. Thanks!
English was complicated, even before coronavirus.
Carry-out is complicated now, too. Because we’re doing more of it, and we’re using our complicated language to do it.
In Essex, Mass., you can order steamers. But what this actually means depends on your understanding of two words.
Order can mean demand (as in I order you to bring me steamed clams), or it can mean using your credit card to request (as in One large order of steamed clams, please).
Meanwhile, a steamer is a clam that has been steamed, or at least could be steamed. (Dictionary.com has never been to New England, I guess; they think this term only applies to soft-shell clams. Utterly untrue.)
But a steamer can also be the pot you do the steaming in, or the person who does the steaming. (Not to mention: a steamship.)
So, on the phone with my favorite seafood restaurant, do I intend to request some pots? Or perhaps bark commands to some worker in the kitchen?
To be safe, I can say like or request, rather than order.
But to make sure I get what I’m hungry for … well, they really need to change the word to steamees.
These are times of scarcity. You can’t find coffee-flavored ice cream. There are no more frozen TV dinners. All the toilet paper in the world is being held by the 17 people who first believed COVID-19 was a thing.
So don’t waste words. No telling when you’ll run low on them.
Use but, or use yet. Don’t use both. It’s like using six squares, when three squares would do.
I’m reading my novel aloud, bit by bit, on camera every day at 5 pm on Facebook. Tune in live, or watch the video(s) anytime. See you there.
You can be recognized in a place, or as a thing, or for an action. You can be recognized behind a mask, despite your embarrassment, while you’re hoarding toilet paper. All sorts of prepositions go with recognize.
But not into. You can’t be recognized into anything.
I take that back. If there’s a Bad Writing Hall of Fame, that’s something you might could be recognized into of it.
I’m reading my novel aloud, bit by bit, on camera every day at 5 pm on Facebook. Tune in live, or watch the video(s) anytime. See you there.
Did he section and photograph the craters, or the tektites?
It doesn’t matter all that much, I guess. You can probably photograph your crater as easily as you can section your tektite.
But what if it’s directions for a life-or-death procedure? Next you’ll locate the gland with the tumor in it, which must be cut out completely.
The moment you write which, stop and look back at all the words in the sentence so far, and ask yourself this simple question:
Which of those words does which refer to?
It’s a pandemic, folks. We’re in lockdown. People are reading more than ever. Don’t torture them. Write better.
As a lockdown diversion, I’ll read you my novel on Facebook Live, a chapter or two a day, every evening at 5 pm EDT, beginning today, Monday, April 13th. If you miss it, no worries; the video will be posted on the same page. See you there.
Honor and donor should rhyme, but they don’t.
Honor rhymes with, uh, just about nothing.
I have a friend named Conor, and another friend named Connor, but if Connor rhymes with honor, then it seems Conor should rhyme with boner.
(There’s a website that helps you find words that rhyme, and it says honor rhymes with yawner, but the way I learned to talk, in Chicago, those are different sounds. It’s the difference between don and dawn … yon and yawn. Even some folks here in New England, where I now live — people who say Dawn when they’re talking about Don — differentiate by pressing down really hard on the word dawn, so it comes out sounding to me like dwawn.)
So anyway, honor and donor should rhyme, but they don’t. It’s an honor to be a donor. You’re doing a good deed. And if you’re raising funds, it’s an honor to have a donor.
All of that to say this: I’m raising funds, and it would be an honor for me if you were to be a donor.
This Wednesday evening, March 25th, at 7 p.m. EDT, I’m throwing a lighthearted virtual party on Facebook Live to launch my funny new book, Ipswich in Stitches, and raise funds for humanitarian work in the former Soviet Union.
Tune in on the “New Thing, Inc.” Facebook page, and join the revelry.
I’ll read some funny bits from my funny new cartoon-illustrated book, Ipswich in Stitches, which we’re launching at the party.
And anyone who donates $30 or more to the cause — helping orphans, the homeless, the disabled, and others in need in Belarus, the country that got slammed by Chernobyl — automatically pre-orders an autographed copy of the book.
Questions, comments, complaints? Email me via Unconventional@DougBrendel.com.
Well, I’m not sure this was the last decade of blockbusters from Disney and Marvel. D&M may have some blockbusters in decades ahead.
Maybe we’re talking about the past decade, not the last decade?
Last can be most recent … or … THE END. The final. Finito.
Like, will we look back on coronavirus as a past pandemic, or actually the last?
Last, I hope.
My real-life workload is heavy. I’ll take a break now. While I’m gone, sneeze into your elbow. Visit NewThing.net. Do good things. Aloha.
Don’t put it there. Put it where it goes.
Why do we say this? When we put it there, it’s not going. It’s staying.
Going is the opposite of staying, isn’t it?
Why don’t we say Put it where it stays?
Makes my Belarusian NewThing.net friends crazy.
I wouldn’t quit the GOAT.
It’s odd, anyway, for the employer to resign the employee. Usually we think in terms of the worker quitting the boss.
Maybe instead of losing Brady, the Patriots could trade a draft choice to acquire a hyphen, and re-sign the star.
“Mueller learned this after publicly saying he hoped Russia would find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her private server.”
Russia would get the stuff from her private server?
(I would like to meet her private server. A well dressed butler, perhaps?)
I think what Mueller actually hoped was that Russia would find emails deleted from her private server.
Because Hillary, for all her faults, never really had a private server.
Unless you count Bill. And his service, over the years, has been spotty.
(When you write a verb-preposition combination like deleted from, make sure the verb stays really cozy with the preposition. Once the preposition goes wandering off, there’s no telling what trouble it will get into.)
48 before? Or 48 hours after?
It’s important, General. We don’t know whether to have our troops march or take a couple days off.
Within doesn’t tell you before or after. It just tells you within. So bracketing within with of — “within 48 hours of” — doesn’t tell you what you need to know.
“Within — of”: Ready, aim, fire.
Where did the government take the parents? The parents didn’t know. They looked around and said to themselves, Where are we?
They were understandably rattled, perhaps, because the government had just separated them from their children.
[This from a New Yorker magazine article revealing that President Trump’s immigration guru, Stephen Miller, deliberately structured U.S. policy to treat children badly in order to keep immigrants from coming to our country. (“Miller made clear to us that, if you start to treat children badly enough, you’ll be able to convince other parents to stop trying to come with theirs.”) Can we Americans take pride in this? I’m not sure we really know where our government is taking us.]
From a terrific New Yorker story about composting and other stuff:
So shiitake was spookier than golden oyster … and way, way spookier than the lion’s mane.
Decide for yourself.
And while you’re at it, decide to avoid this classic error: Each is more than the last, not the next.
The New Yorker has such brilliant editors and proofreaders, every mistake they make is more shocking than the next … er, uh … the last.
Mark your calendar and join me for my book launch party, in person or on Facebook Live: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25. Details on Facebook here.
Got this in my Massachusetts mailbox….
Don’t think I can make it, sorry. Let me know if the show ever comes to [Massachusetts].
Suleimani, not Trump.
At least I think….
From a New Yorker story about comedian James Corden:
Love this guy. Ordinary comedians’ guests arrive by limo.
I didn’t realize Trump went to Baghdad. Risky, I think, ordering that drone strike while he was in the area himself.
Memo from the boss:
They rarely request revisions? Or they rarely apologize?
One way, they’re an awesome client! Hang onto them!
The other way, they’re creeps. Throw them over.
Will Teddy Bridgewater go to the Patriots?
How Teddy became so familiar with Brees’s cleats is a disturbing question. What’s going on in that locker room?
But honestly, if Bridgewater goes to the Patriots, you know they’re going to let him wear whoever’s cleats he wants. They have no morals.
It does strike me as kind of creepy, though.
“Fare share” is when you Uber with a stranger.
If the Saints make the playoffs next season, should they try Lyft?
It’s a fare question.
The biggest reason to visit the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando is to see the dancing cocktails.
The fact that they can eat while dancing is also very impressive.
How the ten-year-old catches up to the eleven-year-old and they both turn twelve together is a fantastic trick.
Does the former ten-year-old keep going faster, and turn thirteen first?
Birthday parties must be so confusing in this family….
Moving that comma would simplify everything:
Speaking of birthday parties, you’re invited to one, sort of.
I do have a back. And a neck. Does this mean I can’t go on this ride?
What a leader. Finally we have someone willing to take on CNN town hall violence.
I love Ian Frazier.
I don’t mean that way. It’s not like we plan to be married in the spring.
But I have adored his writing ever since it began appearing in the pages of the New Yorker.
And his essay last week about typos made me yelp with joy.
So I’m sharing it with you here, today. It will take you maybe 2 minutes to read, and I predict they’ll be the funnest 2 minutes of your day.
When was this again?
Someone at CNN.com doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the word when.
It’s a question.
When doesn’t tell you whether it’s before or after. It asks whether it’s before or after.
Next, we’ll review who, what, where, why, and how … because obviously, you were out sick that day in middle school.
(Not snarky enough for ya? Follow Outsidah.com.)
Perfect for the “last Sunday after Epiphany,” according to the Episcopal Church lectionary:
I was gonna save this for Christmas but I couldn’t wait.
Angels gotta have some fun too, I guess.
You can squander your chances.
Or you can throw away your chances.
But if you squander away your chances, you’re in a league of your own. Like, beyond English.
(This sportswriter might have confused two common English-language words: squandered and pissed. I make this mistake all the time.)
For a moment there, I thought practically everybody noticed how clean the clinic is.
And I was like, Awesome janitors!
1126 Hill Circle-Kissing Camels Estates
What exactly is circle-kissing?
Whatever it is, camels do it. Imagine what that looks like.
And they named some estates after those circle-kissing camels!
(The short HYPHEN attaches one word to another, like this: Circle-kissing is not recommended, except for camels, and only when they’re really, really committed to each other. The long DASH separates one word or phrase from another, like this: Camels — in spite of wanting to — don’t kiss.)
For another variety of grins, visit Outsidah.com
If it’s seen, but it didn’t arrive, this is fake news.
(Thanks to a faithful ComplicatedEnglish.com reader whose birthday is today! Happy birthday, DGB!)
(Going on a little vacation. Back soon! Visit Outsidah.com in the meantime.)
Writer/editor Sarah C. Jones confesses that she had to read this a few times before she realized the headline was missing a word.
Fortunately she figured it out before she hurled that spud at her unsuspecting husband.
Put the tuber down, ma’am, and nobody gets hurt.
Happy Valentine’s Day, America! For a dose of real love, check out NewThing.net
If even God has to fast and pray to work up an exorcism … wow.
The opposition was unreasonable, demanding that they talk for more than two years.
Who could possibly have the energy to engage after talking for more than two years?
Ninety minutes, tops; that’s what I say. I talked for 90 minutes once. It can be done.
Of course, right afterward, that church fired me.
English is not only a complicated language.
It’s also irrational.
As my personal trainer, the brilliant Jen T., has astutely observed:
This is particularly important when someone is screaming at you to pick up the pace of your reps.
Let’s stop right here.
Could means will potentially.
So you never need both could and potentially.
Please, please make sure your Instagram handle isn’t misspelled.
You can have a warehouse — or you can have a whorehouse — but you can’t have a wharehouse.
And you absolutely can’t have a worehouse.
Instagram! This reminds me: Follow my humanitarian charity on Instagram: It’s NewThingNet
An “advance reservation” is a reservation you make beforehand. (Which is redundant, since the definition of a reservation is something that’s arranged in advance. But whatever.)
But if something is advanced, it’s exceptional. My kid is doing great in Advanced Statistics.
So what would an “advanced reservation” be? A reservation that’s doing really well in school? Nah. Maybe just a really intelligent way of booking a table for dinner….
Grammarist.com sorts this out really well. Check it out.
Follow the fun at Outsidah.com and you’ll soon get an invitation to my book launch party. No reservations, advance OR advanced, required.
Headline writers, striving for brevity, can only eliminate so many words before their meaning becomes unfathomable.
Consider all the ways this headline could be interpreted:
Or make up your own interpretation. Like Rudy does.
Follow our humanitarian work in the former USSR on Instagram @NewThingNet!
You don’t write President, Donald Trump.
You write President Donald Trump.
Title followed by name. It’s a natural progression. It’s how we normally talk. No comma needed.
You don’t write Donald Trump President.
You write Donald Trump, President.
Name, title. Not the way we normally talk. Comma needed.
If you’re going to make this mistake, at least keep the font small, so people don’t notice.
DON’T SET IT UP IN 480-POINT TYPE, WITH MISPLACED COMMAS AS BIG AS BELUGAS.
Let the sign say:
The Community House
And a fine Community House it is. Except for the damn commas.
Way more important than commas … and often just as much fun! … Follow NewThing.net.
Follow me at Outsidah.com for amusing commentary on life in small-town New England from the standpoint of a newcomer.
He couldn’t share anything more. He was dead. Get a clue, PBS.
Follow our humanitarian charity at NewThing.net!
He may have died of shock when the June childbirth turned out to be triplets.
Gentlemen, be careful where you stick your dash. Triplets happen.
Okay, I know what it is to have fun when dealing with someone.
And I know what it is to have my hands full when dealing with someone.
But I’m not sure what it is to “have my hands fun” when dealing with someone.
We might want to watch really, really carefully during the big game today, just to see who’s having “hands fun.”
(In particular, keep an eye out for “quarterback under center.” I think this may be an ideal opportunity for hands fun.)
Britain took three and a half years, plus bloomin’ CNN.com gave them three bloody bonus hyphens — to use at a later date, wot?
Warning: Wrongly hyphenated terms will now be inspected at the border. Ten shillings per hyphen. Hyphenate at your own risk.
I love the trick words in our language.
Besides can mean other than OR in addition to — which are opposites-ish, right?
No wonder learning English is such a pain for people from other language groups.
Tomorrow I’ll head to Belarus for 10 days or so of humanitarian volunteer work with NewThing.net, where I’ll make my Russian-speaking friends a little bit crazy, because as you know, English is a complicated language.
Join the adventure by choosing one or more of these channels today:
Next time I talk to you, Я буду в Минске!
Who gets the money?
So the doc tests you, but then takes the drug himself.
Just to make sure it works, I guess.
Well, a cache (pronounced the same as cash) is a hiding place, or a storage area on a computer system…
…while cachet (usually pronounced cash-AY) refers to superior status (among other meanings — none of which have anything to do with a cache).
Rhule didn’t end up taking the Giants job, by the way.
Maybe they didn’t offer him enough cache.
“…Steele said he’s not biased against President Trump because he was ‘friendly’ with Ivanka…”
Of course the President was friendly with her. She’s his daughter.
When Donald and Ivanka have a falling-out, someone will alert us, I’m sure.
I didn’t know Obama had ever been arrested. Somebody finally got their wish, I guess.
Oh wait, maybe it was Schakowsky who got arrested.
Oh wait, maybe it was Blagojevich?
Somebody check the prison cell, please, and let us know who’s actually in there.
(In the meantime, avoid those mysterious possessive pronouns. Every time you see his in your first draft, place it under arrest, replace it with whose, and re-read. You’ll probably find that you want to change whose to somebody’s name.)
Wally kind of liked Amanda?
Or Amanda kind of liked Connie?
Be careful with the phrase so much as. It can get you into bed with the wrong person.
Great campaign. But remind me, please … Which cities did you choose for it?
Huh? Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean we chose the cities. We chose the students. And they were ecstatic!
Good. And I’m overjoyed by the clarity of your writing.
Rewrite, please, and let me see this again.
It’s so complicated.
It’s not just about what you see on the page or screen, but also what you hear in your head.
When I mean to write led, the past tense of lead, I think “LEAD” — I hear the toxic element in my head.
(There may be a poem there, I’m not sure. I was ahead; I thought I lead. But it was toxic, left me dead. Nah. Never mind. No poem there.)
“…McGahn tried Trump to take out the part about the three times….”
This has to be a typo, right? There’s a missing word or phrase?
Or tried is just the wrong word, mistakenly used?
Can’t anybody deal with this man?
You’re not under investigation! Just enjoy it! Life is good! Until the impeachment trial, anyway!
Is this just a cultural/geographical thing?
When I was growing up in the Chicago area, we never said we were members to something.
During that long, hot quarter-century I spent in the Sonoran Desert (that’s you, Scottsdale, AZ), I never once took a membership to something.
But here in New England, these past 10 years or so, it seems to be:
I have a membership to…
It’s like “I have an attraction to…” “I have an attachment to…” But weirder.
Maybe when you sign up for the Ipswich Y, they do something weirdly biological to you?
Oh, wait. I just Googled it. That was me, back in 2013.
Sorry. Never mind.
Wait. What happens after 15 straight days of sitting out in the blazing sun? Then they take your sunglasses away? What kind of resort is this?
I will be curious, not it will be curious. Or it will be interesting.
OK, technically you can use “curious” to mean “interesting” or “unusual” (he used a curious term); but who actually says it will be curious to see? I guess sportswriters, mostly.
And this I’m sure of:
You can put emphasis on an effort, or put energy into an effort, or demonstrate any number of qualities in an effort; but you can’t put emphasis in an effort.
Not in American English, anyway. (Brits, kindly advise.)
Depending on what you pour over your research, you may be at risk of a fire. Or a cocktail. Or both.
On the other hand, you could pore over your research, and avoid the conflagration.
And the hangover.
Bright young lady, writing home to Mom:
Even prouder that the student is her own parent!
The things they teach young people in college these days….
I’ve been advised to go easy on the football references, but it is playoff season after all, and I am a Patriots fan, so…
OK, just so long as he doesn’t bare anything else.
Keep the hoodie on, Bill.
Another reason to love Benjamin Dreyer’s very fun book Dreyer’s English: He is almost as skeptical of pronouns as I am.
(He talks about pronouns in his chapter on fiction, but the pronoun epidemic is way beyond such borders.)
Avoid referring to two people by the same pronoun in the same paragraph.
He, she, him, her, they, their, it … they’re all evil, and need to be expunged.
Get that wife to go after them. Or that mother. Whichever is meaner.
Not the kind of party you’d want to hang around at. Voting? From a party? Really? How about dancing? Drinking, maybe? Was there no hanky-panky? Not even any panky?
Or maybe this New Yorker writer intended to say:
To me, it all still sounds politics-wise, party-foolish. Sort of British, actually, if you want to sink to stereotypes.
Let us begin the New Year with Frank Lloyd Wright.
Last week I visited his fascinating “Kentuck Knob” house in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The (very good) tour guide, as we entered the residence, pointed out the bronze plaque affixed to the outer wall adjacent to the front door.
“The house has received a National Historic distinction,” she said.
Actually, I think she meant that the house has received a National Historic designation.
You receive a designation because you have some kind of distinction.
Or will I have the distinction of being wrong on the very first day of the year?
Proud commentary from a non-profit organization:
It’s not a weight-loss group, btw.
Freelance editor Sarah C. Jones asks: “Which hand?”
Either references two. Neither is about two, too.
If you’re talking about three, you can’t use either or neither.
You can say any. Or you can say none. But you can’t say either or neither.
Maybe these families got shunned for having inferior writers?
This marine biologist has an awesome career.
He’s not just studying ocean life; he’s got exotic creatures reviewing his findings alongside him!
(Let’s not even bother him by pointing out that he’s switched from the past tense to the present tense in the middle of his sentence, and it’s given us whiplash. Whiplash is nothing when you have a paddlefish doing your data with you.)
Clubfoot is nothing to laugh about. But the medical condition known as “neglected clubfoot” really needs a new name — or at least a hyphen … so at least the hospitals caring for these patients don’t get a reputation for ignoring their patients.
Imagine being a forgotten Alzheimer’s patient. See? Not funny.
Some observers perhaps characterized it as “sauntering”?
Time magazine might have been better off saying “In New York City, a reported 250,000 marched in Battery Park.” It was the number, not the manner of movement, that wasn’t absolutely confirmed.
Come to think of it, I like the idea of alternative protest styles; 250,000 people somersaulting, for example, would be interesting to see. Or jitterbugging.
(Please note that I’ve abbreviated this grim story for you, as my Christmas gift to you.)
A couple was found dead? Or were found dead?
Yes, really. It’s your choice.
(Another Christmas gift. You’re welcome.)
As long as you maintain a consistent standard throughout the piece you’re writing, you get to make this rule yourself.
Peace on earth, good will toward writers.
But the problem was climate policy inside the U.N. summit.
Missed opportunity, I say.
Oh, wait. You mean she came from Wales to demonstrate outside the U.N. summit for sweeping changes on climate policy?
Now I get it.
He never shares the stuff he’s made by himself.
What a rat.
I’ve never known teens to unfold a bacchanal with anything like fear and fascination.
Lust and infatuation, maybe, but never fear and fascination. (It was a bacchanal, after all.)
Unless you’re talking about those secret emotions they never reveal till they’re my age and writing their memoirs.
No, I think what this writer meant was:
I know the feeling.
And yeah, I remember those other feelings too.
I hate to see our governor supporting addiction.
Okay, I’m kidding.
It would really be misinterpretable if there were a hyphen there: addiction-support.
But there isn’t. So never mind.
If you’ve used it, please don’t recycle it.
At least not for my benefit.
(File this under H, for Things that make you go Hmmmmm….)
I used to think things were simple.
“Used to” is a tricky little phrase in American English.
When I read “Money used to make us richer,” I think I’m about to read something clever about how money no longer makes us richer.
But no. The phrase used to can go two ways.
The paragraph in question confuses me not just once but twice. The second sentence starts out Money used to buy possessions — but it’s not talking about something that happened in the good ol’ days. Turns out, it’s talking about Money which is used to buy possessions.
Both sentences are technically correct — but accidentally confusing.
(And yes, money did make us richer in the good ol’ days. Remember penny candy? No? Well, enjoy your youth. I’d kill to be your age.)
Okay, who’s worthy of support?
You? Or the organizations targeted?
I just want to know where to send my check.
Of course if you’re passed from family member to family member you can’t care for a tiny newborn.
But how to fix this sentence?
Do you think I’ve been beating up on The Writer’s Almanac too much lately?
Do you think Garrison Keillor will phone me and complain?
Or write me a limerick, maybe? (I’m LOVING his new limerick-based memoir.)
Well, anyway, this is from TWA 11/10/19:
So Mabel was quite liberal — she was the wife of a young woman.
No problem. Garrison Keillor is a liberal too.
Love ya, Garrison!
All the other elected Democrats in Louisiana are thinner.
To be statewide is to be really wide.
(And you thought Mississippi was our fattest state.)
Oh, wait, they meant Edwards is the only statewide-elected Democrat.
Okay, now it begins to make sense.
See what a handy little tool the properly used hyphen is?
(And see how invisible the hyphen becomes after the adverb properly?)
English is not just complicated when you write it down and/or read it.
It’s also complicated when you speak it and/or listen to it.
And in Boston, even maw so.
If you come visit me, ya prolly gonna need dis infamaysh’n.
(Happy Friday the thuh-teenth.)
And the poor guy had just announced the day before!
I think they were wary, not weary. Yup — that’s what the article said, after all.
Hope none of those instantly weary Bloomberg employees got sacked for lack of energy on the job.
Thank you, New Yorker, for pointing this out.
Yeah, a geriatric psychiatrist would be an elderly medical professional.
I think those folks you’re quoting needed to come up with a different description:
English is a complicated language. And the older you get, the complicateder.
Sorry, I do mind.
Because nevermind is a noun.
It may “make you no nevermind,” but if you’re telling me not to mind, you need two words:
“Oh, never mind.”
Yes, I thought you would blow me off like that.
Bonus note, following up on this morning’s beef about the brilliant Garrison Keillor:
English, meanwhile, can be challenging to deploy efficiently.
Anytime you start a sentence with There are, you’ve probably already wasted two words.
And anytime you find that are embedded in a sentence, you’ve probably wasted another word, maybe two.
Then look for which is.
There and that and which are technically English-language words, but they are largely comprised of shredded cardboard. They are filler. Avoid them.
Nuff said. In English, anyway.
Maybe this is what comes from growing up in Sunday school and learning all those “Thou shalt nots” and “Fear nots”…
But when I see “Love not,” I automatically assume that whatever follows is what I’m not supposed to love.
In this case, “Not Your Average Joe’s” is the name of the restaurant (and a very fine restaurant it is, if you ask me).
But their sign-up handout headline is a problem for me.
I guess it’s not your average restaurant name.
Quotation marks around “Not Your Average Joe’s” might help, eh?
Honestly, please: If you’re going to scam me, at least use proper English.
Dear doug, (No, sorry, in English we capitalize people’s names)
Your email address might be temporarily closed due to the non recent (you need a hyphen between non and recent) upgrade of your account and failure to upgrade your email will lead to permanent closure of your email. (Sorry, this isn’t how we refer to email programs, but whatever.)
Please kindly UPGRADE HERE your records (I think you mean upgrade your records here, because the person you’re trying to scam speaks American English)
Once the information provided matches what is on our record, your (oops, you’ve got a phantom hard return there, after your and before email)
email will work normal. (normally — adverb)
Sincerely, Godaddy (oh yeah, you should probably configure correctly the name of the company you’re posing as: it’s GoDaddy, with a capital D in the middle there) Service Team. (Eh, here in America, we don’t put a period at the end of the sign-off)
I could help these people. I could become a language consultant to online scammers. I bet I could make a reasonable living at it. Sheesh.
For a second there, I thought WikiLeaks wrote the stolen Democratic emails.
Which would be a pretty weird new storyline, wouldn’t it.
(Honestly, there are so many prepositional phrases in this sentence — (1) on Friday, (2) of lying (3) to Congress (4) in a case, (5) on President Donald Trump’s anticipation, (6) of the release, (7) of stolen Democratic emails, (8) in 2016, (9) by WikiLeaks … I almost suspect that some CNN writer is getting a per-prepositional-phrase commission. Would that be legal?)
There. All better now.
Is it just me?
Or is this just wrong?
Dictionary.com tells me that only means “without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively.”
So how can you be one of the only?
Maybe I’m one of the only people who doesn’t have a government job?
From faithful blog-follower David B., in Virginia, this brief article from The Guardian: Read it and weep.
And you thought this blog was picayune! There was a whole society dedicated to preserving the “much-abused” apostrophe?
From faithful ComplicatedEnglish.com follower Lauren O., a report about the South Dakota publicity campaign which either accidentally or tongue-in-cheekily suggests … uh … well, you decide for yourself:
(Lauren O.’s sister-in-law is from South Dakota, so Lauren’s family is having quite the laugh about this one.)
OK, so, if you follow the link and watch the governor’s video, you get it. Good cause. Lots of buzz. Mission accomplished.
Watch your as.
After as many, you need an as possible to go with it, somewhere there.
I know it can be a long journey, from the beginning of a sentence all the way to the end — easy to lose track of where you’ve been, what you’ve said, where you’re going, what-all you need to pack….
This isn’t an editorial business you’re talking about, is it? Because it might be better to cut your losses.
Even the most interesting writers sometimes have an interesting habit of reusing the same interesting words without realizing it.
This is why God invented global search.
I’m confused. Is this a contract that somehow pays the guy $17 million but then could raise as much as $24 million from other sources? Is this a fundraising thing?
Sure, if you have the potential to raise $24 million, then yeah, I’d be inclined to pay you $17 million. If I had $17 million to spend. Which I don’t.
Of course, if you’ve simply misused the term “raise up,” and what you really meant was that the contract has the potential to increase the guy’s pay to $24 million, then heck no. All bets are off.
From a Topsfield (Mass.) Fire Department statement about an accident:
Sort of ironic that the Atlantic EMS crew got hurt too.
Sorry, guys. Hope you’re feeling better.
You know how some articles are broken up with subheads? It’s not very often that writers write the subheads as they’re crafting the text. Typically, subheads are added later — and maybe not even by the writer. Sometimes it’s an editor who adds the subheads.
In any case, the subheads need to make sense in the flow of the text. Because that’s how the reader is going to consume them.
So don’t stick a subhead into the middle of a thought. For example:
…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.
Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits
However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too. Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….
When you get to “However,” it seems the subsequent paragraph is contradicting the subhead. Then, by the end of the sentence, you realize, no: The subhead has jerked you around. Your brain has to pull the steering wheel to get back onto the road.
If a sentence starts with However, But, On the contrary, or any change-of-direction indicator, you probably shouldn’t put a subhead before it. Relocate the subhead after the change-of-direction indicator:
…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.
However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too.
Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits
Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….
Do not jerk your readers around. Do not force their brains to grab the wheel. In such a moment, a driver is apt to curse, and worse.
Thanksgiving is for football, so here’s a football post:
Happy Thanksgiving! Hope it doesn’t reign.
Save your breath. Keep extra words tucked away for use later. After means when it’s over, so you don’t need is over. Saying after it’s over is sort of like saying when it’s over is over.
In Biden’s case, who knows? Perhaps when it’s over actually IS over. We’ll see.
From a missionary’s biography:
One hopes she was actually lying in bed, and not doing what chickens do when they’re laying.
Or — ahem — anything else that might be inappropriate for a teenager.
Some would say the Democrats actually had plenty of outside help. Like from Trump himself, for example.
But we don’t get into politics here.
I don’t think I’ll be going with this website company, but I haven’t ruled it out completely — even though they don’t seem to know how to spell completely.
Nor do they seem to understand that setup is a noun.
But otherwise, I’m sure they’re a fine company.
Just, you know … if you use them to build your website … check their spelling before you go live.
For a website where (I think) everything is spelled right, take a look at NewThing.net, my humanitarian charity. Click on BLOG and then follow our adventures in the former USSR!
Sorry to deepen your crisis of self-doubt, buddy, but it’s eight-year-old, not eight year old. You need the hyphens if you use it as a noun.
Don’t give up on yourself, my friend. There is hope for you. Hyphens can be learned.
Pronouns, maybe not. But hyphens, probably.
I revere history writer Jill Lepore, but she loves the past perfect tense and nobody has the nerve to stop her.
The past perfect routinely gums up her otherwise crisp writing.
I humbly suggest that in this paragraph, you can change most or all of the past perfect to simple past tense and the reader will glide through the text more easily:
Simple, straightforward, not perfect.
Why do they call it perfect, anyway? It’s the one and only thing that makes Jill im.
I wasn’t aware that the number of college graduates had surged so dramatically. Just a few years ago, the figure was under 7%.
Carrie Fisher’s daughter, who wrote this piece about her mother for Time, must have access to more recent information.
Or maybe it’s just that a rogue comma escaped the Death Star and tried to hide out there in her prose, between like most folks and I was trying.
Send in Skywalker and some starfighters to get that rogue comma out of there, and billions of non-graduates will breathe a sigh of relief to know that they’re still a huge majority in the universe.
You have a urinary tract. So do I.
What my urinary track might be, I’m not quite sure.
I guess if there’s a tiny train that carries away one’s waste products….
A car plows into the front of a house. John Muldoon, newspaperman extraordinaire, is on the scene. He files his report, complete with verbatim testimony:
Since cohesive means unified, we can assume the guy wasn’t broken into pieces by the crash.
Thank goodness there was a witness on the scene to report the details accurately. If only he could have spoken proper English. You know what I mean: coherent English.
OK, yes, sorry, I know: That was insensitive of me. A man has been taken to the hospital. I should show some respect.
[bowing my head]
(To his credit, John Muldoon inserted a [sic] after cohesive in his report. When you’re sic, you go to the hospital, right?)
Well, Walmart does bring in a lot of revenue, but I’m not quite sure how it can possibly bring in “more revenue than it does.”
I may bring in more revenue than I deserve, but that’s different. (Because I’m not Walmart.)
Dear friend, kindly take notice. It would have been so easy for the writer to specify:
“…noting that Walmart still brings in more revenue than Amazon does.”
But in our buy-it-online culture today, you can get a cheap pronoun delivered to your keyboard in a third as many strokes.
Which is how our language dies.
[Hanging head, mourning.]
From the delightful Lauren O. in northeastern Ohio, who seems to while away the hours, as she stands in traffic on her daily work commute, by reading everything on the vehicles ahead of her:
Am I really gonna trust you with my chimney if you can’t fix your own punctuation?
As recently as November 5th, we addressed this issue. Yet here is some poster designer, whose work is on display in the Community House in Hamilton, Mass., who not only defies me, but does so in 428-point Bodoni bold.
You are either renowned architect Guy Lowell OR you are Guy Lowell, renowned architect.
You are either President Donald Trump OR you are Donald Trump, ex-president.
(You only get to use those commas if you’re towing the title behind you, like a stranded boat — I guess because in that case you need the commas to serve as hooks.)
A New Yorker article about Amazon includes this statement:
So Amazon does or doesn’t avoid taxes?
So many negative concepts in this one sentence — unlike, doesn’t, avoiding — even the New Yorker‘s traditional scattering of commas like birdseed doesn’t seem to sort out the meaning for us.
Just guessing here: Yeah, Amazon avoids taxes.
But maybe not by transfering profits to foreign countries.
Just a bunch of other ways.
Just guessing here.
I think it may be illegal for me to show you the delightful Seth Fleishman cartoon in the 10/21 issue of The New Yorker, so I’ll just describe it to you.
A guy is sitting at a table in a restaurant. The bread in the basket is speaking to him:
“You are so smart.”
“You look amazing.”
“You inspire me.”
And the caption under the cartoon says…
I love it. The cartoonist used complimentary correctly!
(Did you mean free? Or flattering? Both complimentary.
Forming part of a related pair? That’s complementary.)
(How would the cartoon have to be drawn differently if the caption read COMPLEMENTARY BREAD? Hmm….)
I heard about a group called the Chainsmokers, and their supposedly cool song entitled “Push My Luck,” and I looked them up on YouTube, and in the middle of the “read the lyrics” video, I got this ad from Avidia Bank, which proclaims:
Would you trust a bank that can’t spell?
If they miss the letter i in unlimited, might they miss the numeral 1 in your $1,794.68 deposit?
And even if you would trust a bank that can’t spell unlimited, would you trust a bank that uses amount where it’s supposed to be number?
Maybe this is just somebody posing as “Avidia Bank” and playing a little joke on the Complicated English guy.
Oh, no, wait. I looked them up. They seem to be real. Sheesh.
Anyway, I’m sticking with Institution for Savings. They’re awesome.
For issues of real-life significance, check out Doug’s humanitarian work in the former USSR. Thanks!
Not the same thing.
And, come to think of it, you can put guilt on a sportswriter … for not knowing the difference.
(But then, to tell you the truth, this early 2019 pre-season item is so stale, the Patriots have already blown this moment. So, what can I say? Go, 49ers?)
Can we settle this once and for all, please?
Yes, here in America, we believe in the power of the press.
But even the press can’t create similarities between great stars.
The similarities were noted by the press, perhaps, or suggested by the press, maybe even fabricated by the press, but not made by the press.
(Please understand: The press can indeed make certain things. Like a mess, for example. Or a mistake. Like here.)
It’s a headline on the WPBeginner.com site:
In the old days, we learned this as kids: “I before E, except after C…”
I guess they’re not teaching this anymore?
WPBeginner, by the way, stands for WordPress Beginner. So maybe they’re only hiring Spelling Beginners?
See Dick spell.
Spell, Dick, spell.
Spell well, Dick.
Spell, spell, spell.
This is from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s statement to CNN:
He makes a frequently observed error which does not confuse the meaning but simply leaves the reader with that creepy what’s wrong here? feeling.
In English, our brains are trained to ask certain questions as we’re reading along:
We want to see that actions have included and that actions continue to include.
But Gov. Inslee has given us only one verb (include) of the two we need (have included and continue to include).
What the honorable governor intended to say was:
This, clearly, is why his otherwise honorable presidential campaign went nowhere. It was the verbs that did him in.
May he have and continue to succeed. No, wait, that’s wrong….
The next time you receive an invitation to a party with a thoughtful request like this…
I suggest you respond like this:
This local newspaper has commas to burn.
If the designation comes before the name, there’s no need for commas:
If the designation comes after the name, use the commas:
Of course, once you set off a descriptor, it’s tempting to make the most of it:
Commas have their advantages, see? Just don’t waste them.
I like The Skimm — in fact, I subscribe — but I’m disappointed when they don’t observe the basics of English language usage:
We’ve been over this before, so it’s clear that The Skimm isn’t following this blog and taking notes scrupulously.
I have to chuckle.
How many NFL scouts took part in drills at the combine?
Some took part in drills at the bar. That’s about as close as they came.
If you start a sentence and find yourself coming to a comma, make sure that what comes after the comma is properly connected to what came before the comma.
Okay, play ball.
This makes my friend (Lauren O., in northeastern Ohio) crazy, and me too.
Let’s just sort this out here and now, once and for all:
(Yes, you may now send an admiring note from a fan.)
A local online headline (thank you, Stoney):
Stoney’s insightful observation:
Word order is important.
Where you put your just changes its meaning.
(The word just is so deadly in English, it deserves a blog of its own.)
Just for Halloween — an unsettling item from Ohio-based Friend-of-Complicated-English Amy B.:
Amy B.’s rewrite:
Amy B.’s advice: “Make it sound less strange (or eerie).”
Good advice for writers, even when you’re not writing about a dead body.
P.S.: Erie, eerie. I get it.
Time magazine reports:
Whose lawyer is Rudy? Trump’s? The Ukrainian’s? Or Barr’s?
Just so Rudy knows where to send the bill….
Write less. Live longer.
Here’s a two-word phrase you never need to write again — which could extend your life by several months, depending on how often you use this dreadful filler:
This phrase sends a signal that what follows only barely made the cut before being considered too boring for words.
Unplug Interestingly enough and plug in something else. Perhaps:
or, in a pinch:
But never, ever add the energy-draining qualifier enough.
Adding enough after an adverb is like subtracting — but just so you get back almost all the way to zero.
The Lord keeps showing up in actors’ bios in theatre programs:
God and his friends especially. A manager you can replace.
From Time magazine’s 10/7/19 story on Canada’s Mr. Trudeau:
Is this a list of three things (USMCA, pact, and Partnership)?
Or is USMCA a pact with the European Union?
No way to be sure, unless you happen to know that NAFTA has nothing to do with the E.U.
Sure, you know that. But the editor shouldn’t have assumed you know that. Because what if you didn’t?
(In honor of Teddy Roosevelt‘s birthday today, we’ll ignore the “Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump” detail.)
From coverage of the ongoing mess in jolly old England:
See, this is the problem.
If you can’t carry out your functions without justification, why bother carrying them out at all?