Word of the Week: Wanton

28 Jan

Wanton (adj.): Done or used without justification; deliberate without motivation or provocation; unrestrained

Similar to: Promiscuous, capricious, licentious

Example: The wanton manner with which the P.F. Chang’s waiter served our table upset my stomach.  Although it could have been the soup.  Come to think of it, it was definitely the soup.


Scarring Our Children

21 Jan

Anytime an ambulance came to our elementary school, we all went nuts.  It was crazy.  It was exciting.  It was scary.  

I still remember all of the big injuries of my elementary school career: Casey, who broke his arm like three times; Carley, who fell off the monkey bars flat onto her face and straight up BROKE HER WHOLE FACE; the time Sara got attacked by diabetes (this is how I was made to understand it) and passed out on the stairs and then she got to eat those orange sugar tablets, which was super unfair because my mom never packed me diabetes candy.

Once, our school rented something called a Star Lab.  It was basically this large inflatable dome accessible via army crawling through a tunnel; entire classrooms of students could fit inside at once, and then constellations were projected on the domed ceiling.  All I really remember of Star Lab, though, is that once, some girl blacked out and had to be unceremoniously dragged out through the ET tunnel, and the entire 5th grade reacted how you might expect: with pure, unadulterated jealousy.

For weeks — weeks! — we all (mostly the girls) staged blacking out fits.  They could hit in the hallways, they could hit in the classroom, and they could definitely hit in Star Lab.  By our definition, “blacking out” in the hallway might mean that the afflicted person suddenly stopped walking and stared off into space (ha! space!) until an observant friend ran up to the afflicted, waved her hand furiously in the sick girl’s face and shouted, “You’re blacking out! You’re blacking out!”  This inevitably cured us: at least for the next twenty minutes or so.  

So it’s no wonder that it’s always been my dream to be that person who both excites and scars school children with my own terrible injury or illness.  Well, world, I have one thing to say: 





That’s right, ladies and gents: on Wednesday morning, I was taken away from the elementary school where I work in an ambulance!  Yes!  As I was wheeled past dozens of  impressionable young students with looks of shock, horror, and total jealousy on their faces, I couldn’t help but think, “Blgrhahfad.”  I was very sick.

But while illness and injury may seem like the best way to scar our children (and don’t kids deserve the best), there’s actually a more effective way of doing it: by teaching them bad writing habits early on.  That’s right, I transitioned.  As I always say, “Everything fun must become boring.”  (Copyright: Our wedding vows, 2012).

There are quite a few nasty writing habits we learn early on that just don’t hold true.  Let’s look at a few.

1. Over-reliance on adjectives.  We actually discussed this in our first post.  Get a refresher course on just how and when you should just adjectives in your writing here.  

The short of it is this: avoid them as much as possible.

2. The knee-jerk reaction that it’s always “I” and never “me.”  Learn about when it’s “I” and when it’s “me” right here.

The short of it: it’s not you, but sometimes it is me.

3. You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but.”

The truth: you can!  I’m actually a terrible example of this, because I love starting sentences with “but” or “and.”  In truth, if I paid a little more attention to my structure, I could stand to lose a few of them.  But (see?) starting a sentence with a conjunction can be a perfectly acceptable choice for the purpose of style, flow, or God-given American right.  

There’s no hard and fast rule for when you can.  Just don’t follow my example and start most of your sentences this way, and make sure that you’re still writing complete sentences.

4. The bigger word is always the better word.  This is more of a high school problem than an elementary one, but still: yeesh.  Read about thesaurus abuse here.

The short of it: the bigger word is not always the better word.

5. A paper or an essay has five paragraphs: an introduction, a conclusion, and three body paragraphs.

Look, if that’s your assignment, then yes, please just do that.  But I’ve seen too many students — college students! — trapped in this mindset, trying desperately to cram content that needs to roam into five paragraphs.

An introduction can be more than one paragraph.  There, I said it.  Generally, you should try to keep it under a page, but sometimes you can’t, and that’s okay.

You may have two body paragraphs.  You may have eighty.  You should not be hitting on more than one subject per paragraph.  If your paragraph is longer than a page, then you need to at least make sure there isn’t somewhere you should split it (for example, if your paragraph is about Mac hardware, and you’ve gone on for a page about the keyboard and you’ve still got a good half page to write about the mouse, then go ahead and split that into two hardware paragraphs).  There might not be a place to split it.  That’s okay.  

And there you go: one more step toward unlearning everything you learned in elementary school.  Just for good measure: Santa’s not real, Columbus was a jerk, and the Civil War was actually fought over people fighting about what the Civil War was fought over.




Word of the Week: Parsimonious

6 Jan

Parsimonious (adj.): Showing excessive frugality or stinginess

Similar to: Stingy, greedy, miserly

Example: Some call my hobby of stealing tin cups from orphans to melt into a free fortress of tin to guard my own money parsimonious, but just wait, as soon as Kim and Kanye’s kid starts doing it, you’ll all be wishing you had thought of it sooner.

Lay vs. Lie

30 Dec

My grandma wanted me to re-post about lie vs. lay.  It’s a bit dated, but here it is!

My fiancé’s name is Evan.  I say this because I will from now on refer to him only as Evan.  Why?  Because there is nothing–and I mean nothing–more toolish than making references to one’s fiancé.  I feel like it is name dropping at its most obnoxious: which is to be expected, since it requires the use of a French word.  Even when the speaker doesn’t intend it, using the word “fiancé” in a sentence is a red flag upon which is written, “I need attention. VALIDATE ME.”  Incidentally, I believe that exact sentence is written on the French flag.

Above my bed is the large Bob Dylan poster you see below, and so while I write these, it appears that he is looking over my shoulder.  Because of this, Evan’s (see, I only call him Evan now) favorite new game is to give me grammar blog ideas in Bob Dylan’s voice, quoting the most ridiculous Bob Dylan lyrics he can.  You have to imagine the following suggestions in the most exaggerated, nasal-y Dylan voice possible.

“Hey. Hey. You should write  a blog about Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, with his memories in a trunk.”

“Hey. You should write a post about how Aladdin and his lamp sit with Utopian hermit monks side saddle on the golden calf.”

“Hey. Write about how Georgia Sam, he had a bloody nose, and the Welfare Department, they wouldn’t give him no clothes.”

A few minutes of silence go by as I’m typing.  Then, from across the room, Bob Dylan’s voice suggests:

“Hey. I know. Write a post about how I walked by a Guernsey cow who directed me to the Bowery slums where people carried signs around saying, ‘Ban the bums.’  Write about how the funniest woman I ever seen was the great-granddaughter of Mr. Clean, and how she takes about fifteen baths a day and wants me to grow a moustache on my face.  Write about the ghost of Belle Star–she hands down her wits to Jezebel the nun, and she violently knits a bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits at the head of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Now, I like to think that I have subtly woven these themes into my writing.  But there’s one piece of advice I have to reject from my talking Bob Dylan poster.  If he ever wanted me to write about his song “Lay Lady Lay,” I would have to put my proverbial foot down.  “No, Bob,” I would say.  “I cannot write about that song because it is grammatically incorrect.”

So while Bob fumes on my wall, let’s explore lie vs. lay.  Let’s also ignore that I am talking to a poster.

In the present tense, it’s pretty simple: lay is used when there is a direct object.  You would lay down a blanket (if you were putting a blanket on the ground or on a bed).  You would lay down a book (if you put it on the table or on the floor).  Remember it this way: a bag of Lay’s potato chips is a physical thing.  If you need to stop eating those chips, you would lay down the bag of Lay’s.  Lay Lady Lay would only be correct if the Lady was actually laying something across Bob’s big brass bed.  I would completely accept the song if it went something like: “Lay lady lay, lay a plastic sheet across my big brass bed, because I suffer from incontinence.”

Lie is used when there is no direct object involved: just a single person.  You would lie down to take a nap.  You might tell somebody to lie still.  Remember it this way: you are lying to yourself when you say that you’re only going to lie down for a 20 minute nap.  It’s cold, and your blankets are warm, and once you lie down, you ain’t going nowhere.

It’s a little tougher once we get to the past tense and past participle tense(the latter of which will be preceded by hashad, or have).  First, I’ll give you the chart.

Present Tense         Past Tense                  Past Participle 

Lie                                   Lay                                  Lain

Lay                                  Laid                                 Laid

Here is what the verb “lie” looks like conjugated out into sentences.


I have to lie down because I am tired.


I lay down yesterday because I was tired.

Past Perfect:

I had lain there for hours before anyone woke me.

And here is what the verb “lay” looks like conjugated out into sentences.


“Lay down that remote!” she yelled.


He laid the baby down in the crib.

Past Perfect:

He has laid bricks for twenty years.

These are tough to remember.  There is crossover and repetition, and it’s frankly ridiculous.  The present tense of lay is the same as the past tense of lie?  The past and the past perfect of lay are both laid?  And don’t tell me that lain is a word.  Lain can’t be a word.  It sounds like the name of a character on a show like Gossip Girl.  “Hello.  I’m Lain Rotisserie van der Mario Cart.  I am 16, but I have a receding hair line, I run a hedge fund, and bars apparently never card me.”

But it’s all true.  The best you can do is try to memorize that chart, and if you can’t, print a copy  and keep it with you at all times.  No one wants to be at party and be caught using the wrong form of lie or lay, that’s for sure!

It’s like the old saying goes: “Boys don’t make passes at girls who don’t have a laminated grammar chart in their purse.”

Word of the Week: Ethereal

21 Dec

Ethereal (adj.): Light, airy, celestial

Similar to: Heavenly, intangible, spiritual

Example: Contrary to popular belief, ethereal is a word that describes celestial lightness or grandeur; it is not just what my brother with a speech impediment calls Cap’n Crunch.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means: Part IV

12 Dec

Here we are to clear up some commonly confused words, just in time for the holiday season!

1. Acute vs. chronic

These are sometimes used interchangeably, especially when referring to illnesses.  It should not be so!

Acute means sharp or rapidly worsening.  As in, “Whenever I see a couple acute triangles, I can’t help but asking, ‘Baby, what’s your sine?  You better tell me quick, cos otherwise I’m gonna go on an astrological tangent!'”

Chronic means long-lasting or habitual.  I’ve been wanting to do a report about chronic diseases in Colorado and Washington, but haven’t been able to get an interview because literally not one single person has been out of the house since Election Day.

2. Allusion vs. illusion

An allusion is a direct or implied reference to something else–often in literature.  I’m hoping that in the upcoming season of Arrested Development, there’s a scene where Gob will point out to Michael that the scene where Harry Winkler jumps over a shark is a reference to that infamous episode of Happy Days, and then Michael doesn’t get it, and Gob growls, “Allusions, Michael!”

An illusion is a false perception of reality.  Magicians use this whenever they make you believe that they have had girlfriends.

3. Ensure vs. insure

Ensure, besides being The Dying Person’s Eggnog ™, means to guarantee or reassure.  As in, “When I saw the rotting peach with a pair of false teeth stuck in it, I had to perform multiple tests in order to ensure that it was not, in fact, Jon Heder.  In the end, it turns out it was Jon Heder, and if you’re wondering how he’s doing, well, he’s sad.”

Insure means to purchase insurance.  I don’t have any insurance jokes.

4. Bemused vs. amused.

These two are often used interchangeably.  They shouldn’t be!

Bemused means to be bewildered, confused, or occupied.  If this very fact bemuses you, and you have a hard time keeping the two separate, just remember that scene in Twilight.  You know, the one where the Cullens be playin’ baseball, and Victoria be huntin’ Bella, and the music be Muse.

Amused means pleasurably entertained or occupied.  The LOL of medieval times was a king snorting at a peasant and saying to an onlooker, “This amuses me.”  The ROFL was beheading.  It was a dark time.

5. Can’t vs. cant.

Can’t is a contraction for “can not.”  You may recognize this contraction from the product “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”  What you may not know is that this product dates back to Biblical times, when Doubting Thomas, peering down at his glass of wine, exclaimed, “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” and Jesus was just like, “So this is really gonna be your thing, huh?”

Cant is actually a word, but you’re probably not going to use it much, and the fact that it is a word doesn’t give you an excuse to forget the apostrophe when you mean to write “can’t.”  However, if you ever need a word to describe a slope or a slant, or a type of slang or jargon particular to a group of people, cant is your word.

You must also be careful not to mix either of these up with Kant, who is the philosopher famous for his belief in philosophers whose names you have to be really, really careful pronouncing.

Word of the Week: Irate

4 Dec

Definition (adj.): Very angry

Similar to: Furious, livid, incensed

Example: An irate Chad Kroeger was recently arrested after the police received multiple phone calls that a “1980s sand Jesus” was screaming and threatening an unidentified second party, accusing this second party of “copying everything I do!”  The second party was later identified as a pile of excrement.

[Editor’s note: Sources close to Kroeger have informed us that this incident was actually the motivation behind the song “This Is How You Remind Me.”]

Capital Punishment

25 Nov

Okay, I admit it: I did some experimenting in college.

Here’s a bigger confession: I went to a small, private university associated with the Wesleyan church, and we weren’t allowed to do most things.  In fact, we signed a contract agreeing that we–and this may have been the actual wording–“wouldn’t do most things.”

So my experimenting looked a little different than the average co-ed (which, by the way, our dorms were not).  I don’t want my kids–or most human beings that I know–to understand how lame my school was, so I already have a plan for handling it.  When I reminisce aloud about my “wild college years,” I’ll be specifically remembering my many transgressions: that time I took a couple of apples from the cafeteria, even though we totally weren’t supposed to; that time I thought about skipping chapel, but didn’t, but really, really thought about it; that time when we threw a drugless, alcohol-less rave for my friend’s 21st birthday, complete with black lights (gasp!), glow sticks (what makes them glow?! Satan?!), and (here’s where, when I’m talking to my kids, I’ll explain that mommy has a past, and that she hopes to God that she made those mistakes so they wouldn’t have to) … dancing.  I won’t go completely into the details of how this hedonistic sin-fest ended, but I can tell you that it involved an RA practically kicking down a door to discover a group of students playing “Guess Who?” and the student body president fleeing the scene, shouting as he sprinted, “I WAS NEVER HERE!”

I’m sorry to admit, that … all actually happened.

So did I do some experimenting?  Sure.  And unlike the above, my experimenting was of a nature that I believe is typical of the experience of most college girls who consider themselves “literary.”

It’s taken me a few years to be able to own up to this, but here it goes: I went through a, uh, phase.  I was far from home, I was lonely, I was questioning everything I had been raised to believe; and sometimes late at night, in the dark, the only light coming from the “on” indicator on a candle warmer because we weren’t allowed to have open flames, I would put on an Indigo Girls album and  then … this is difficult to say … I would open my Xanga and write an entry without a single capital letter.

That’s right: there was a year or so there in college when I thought that the only way to write deep, important things was to do it without the use of capital letters.  The way I saw things, I could write, “I want to go to New York,” but why would I do THAT when I could instead say, “i want to go to new york.”  See the difference?  The person who wrote the former was probably some money-loving, soul-lacking rube who hated literature and having important thoughts, whereas the person who wrote the latter, by virtue of abandoning capital letters alone, was probably the deepest person you ever knew, who wore scarves EVEN WHEN IT WASN’T COLD OUT, and who, by virtue of abandoning capital letters alone, probably wanted to go to new york for really deep reasons, like for humanity, or whatever.

Thankfully, the phase ended, and all that remains is a love for e.e. cummings and a bad taste in my mouth whenever I see that someone has started another capital letter-less blog.  “Why do I keep eating rotten eggs while I read these?!” I ask myself, as I click through their lower-case posts.

I want you to be able to avoid my mistake, so to that end, here is a quick lesson on capital letters.

I’m not going to talk about the basics (like the first letter of a sentence); instead, I’m going to focus on the areas with which people (including me) tend to struggle.


Seasons (fall, winter, spring, summer) should be lower-case unless the season is part of a proper name.  Examples of this might include Spring Semester, Summer Olympics, or Winter Man, the “man whose first name is Winter.”

Just being attached to another word does not make a season proper, however.  The Summer Olympics are an official title for a real thing, so “summer” should be capitalized.  A “summer tan” is not an official thing, so it remains lower-case.

Family Relationships

Capitalize these when they are used as a proper name.  For example:

“Hello, Mother.”

“I think that Uncle Japheth is very creepy.”

Do not capitalize them if they are not used as someone’s proper name.  For example:

“I want to give this pie to my aunt.”

“Is that your mother?”

Job Titles

If the job title comes before the name, capitalize it.  If it comes after, do not.

For example, you would write that I am “Supreme Commander Grammarsaurus Rex” — note that “Supreme Commander” is capitalized.  However, if you turned the sentence around, you would have to say, “Grammarsaurus Rex is supreme commander.”  Either way, I’d like to say thank you, and also, feed me a grape.


Capitalize it when you’re referring to the planet.  Don’t capitalize it when you’re referring to the stuff on the ground.


These are similar to seasons.  Capitalize them when they are part of proper name (like a location in the country, such as the Southwest).  Do not capitalize them as general compass directions.  So if you were to write out directions for somebody, you would say, “Head south on Rt. 71.”  And even though I would be proud that you were grammatically correct, I would still write you back, saying, “Get a smart phone.”

Deities, Religious Figures and Texts, Etc.

Capitalize ’em all: God, Buddha, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Bible, Hermes, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, Michael Jordan (see: basketball), Kristen Wiig (see: life), etc.  The only instance where you should not capitalize is when referring to gods in general.

I’d say this is less of a grammatical rule and more of a “might as well play it safe” rule.

Regular Stuff  

Just to make sure I cover my bases: you should also capitalize the first letter of every sentence, the letter “I” when it is used as a pronoun, titles, and proper nouns (including names, places, organizations, and sometimes things).

So now you know how to capitalize properly.  You also know my college shame.

But I know your shame, too, oh you who went to real school.  I have visited your campuses.  I have stepped foot in your fraternities.  And when I say “stepped foot,” I mean that literally.  I mean that I stepped on your nasty floors, and they were so sticky that my foot came right out of my shoe.  I mean, just right out.

Say what you will about my lame college experience, but AT LEAST WE KEPT OUR SHOES ON.


Word of the Week: Farctate

15 Nov

Farctate (adj.): The state of being stuffed with food

Similar to: Stuffed, full, solid

Example: “Yikes, I’m stuffed!” exclaimed the farctate taxidermist, gravy dripping down his chin.  He caught the irony, but chose to ignore it.

Word of the Week: Timorous

6 Nov

Timorous (adj.): Full of fear; timid

Similar to: Apprehensive, hesitant, tremulous

Example: When I think that this election may never be over, and NPR will continue coverage infinitely instead of getting back to my regularly scheduled programs about how Chopin’s junior-high doodles can predict the likelihood that Norwegian post-poster-funk-music-inspired knittings will influence the debt crisis in Greece, then I feel timorous.

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