Tag Archives: Grammar

Dear John,

6 Jun

There’s no easy way to say this.  Otorhinolaryngologist?  OtorhinolarynGOLogist?  I’m not sure.

It should come as no surprise to you that you’re being dumped.  I’ve been alluding to it all over the internet.  Haven’t you been reading my cagey, elusive Facebook statuses?  They were classics.   “Sometimes I just wish …”?  Gold.  “I wish you could feel how I feel … because then you’d feel bad …”  Right to the point.  “That moment when you’ve ended your graduate school career and so are no longer technically allowed to write a university-sponsored blog?”  Well, that one was a little more clear.

But I’ve been dropping hints that this relationship is over.  Because if you thought that that one status –“He’s the reason for the teardrops on my guitar … heart symbol” — was just a friendly reminder about the erosive effects of water on polished maple, then you were WRONG, but should maybe consider a career in woodworking, because we could really use people like you.

So there’s no easy way to say this: Hepaticocholangiocholecystenterostom–oh, I already made a joke like that?  That’s my bad.  That’s on me.

This is the last OFFICIAL post of Grammarsaurus Rex.  Some of you may not know this, but this blog has been graciously sponsored by the University of Cincinnati.  I have recently ended my glorious career as a graduate student there, and as such, will no longer be writing for them.

The next phase in the UC grammar blog project will continue at english1001.weebly.com under brand new authorship and ownership.  I know nothing about this blog, except that I am certain it will be wonderful, as the author sent me a nice email and that made me feel good.  I am also unsure what a weebly is, though I have to assume that it is something like an epileptic cousin of a Furby.

At some point, I will likely transition this blog to a new domain.  It may focus on grammar; it may not.  We’ll see.  But I’ll notify you when and if that time comes.  But for now, I’m taking some time to finally get to know the real me.  Whoops, sorry: that was a typo.  I meant get to know the real Mii.  I’m going to spend a lot of time playing video games.

So this is where we end things.  You know how it goes.  All six of the friends drop their keys on the dining room table and they head down to Central Perk.  The gang is put on trial for being horrible people.  Hawkeye spies the “goodbye” message left by B.J.  Dukie’s descent is juxtaposed with Bubble’s ascent and we all weep for Bodymore, Murderland.  The island was … purgatory?

Also, my identical twin would like to point out that “it’s not you; it’s me.”  But this is less of a commentary on this psedu-breakup note and more of a thing she said looking at an old photograph.

LYLAS,

Grammarsaurus Rex

This post is not to be confused with a current “Saved as Draft” posted entitled “Dear Don Jon previews … thank you.”

 

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That Moment When … You’ve Forgotten What Constitutes a Complete Sentence

19 Mar

Dear People of the Internet,

I’m afraid we need to have a talk.

I know you really like pictures to go with your words, so you might understand it better this way:

we-need-to-talk

I think you know what I’m going to say.  You’ve known it since the beginning, but for some reason, we’ve been letting you get away with it.  It’s our fault, really.  We should have given you better boundaries.  I’m sorry, people of the Internet.  But I’m telling you now.  Here it goes:

Those “that moment when” word blobs you’re so fond of writing?  You know what I’m talking about.  Here’s a short list of some real examples I just found on Google:

“That moment when the ugliest guy you know gets a girlfriend and you’re still single.”

“That moment when you find out you have no homework.”

“That moment when you hear a familiar beat and then you finally recognize what song it is.”

That moment when … wait, what?  What are you saying about that moment?  WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY AT ALL?!  What is this, Internet, Rear Window: Part II?  BECAUSE YOU ARE KILLING ME WITH SUSPENSE.

(That moment when the blog lady references a movie you’ve never heard of.)

I don’t want to be harsh, but … honey.  Sweetie.  Internet.  I don’t know how to tell you this, but those … those aren’t sentences.  Not even a little bit.  I know you don’t care much about grammar (believe me, I’ve seen your YouTube comments, and we need to have a long, long talk about the comment, “shut uppp your muslim lolololol,” starting with what a contraction is, and ending with me asking you what that had to do with David going to the dentist), so forget about the fact that you’re not using sentences by any stretch of the imagination.

You’re just not saying anything.  You are not expressing an actual thought, and I’m afraid that you think you are.  I’m afraid you think you’re making some profound comment on the shared awkward and painful experiences of adolescence, but bro?  YOU FORGOT TO.

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 8.05.05 PM

Here’s what I think you’re trying to do.  I think you’re trying to say things like:

“That moment when you lock your keys in the car is a major bummer.”

“That moment when you look directly at a solar eclipse is the moment when you realize that your eyes hurt.”

Do you realize how much you tease us when you leave out the ends of those sentences?  Do you realize that without saying something about “that moment when,” you leave your life up to endless interpretation?

And do you really want to perpetually live out the ending to Lost in Translation?  Do any of us really want to live in a world where Bill Murray is primarily a serious actor?  Do you know that in that world Steve Martin visits you once a day and lectures you about art and explains that Two Wild and Crazy Guys are really a darkly ironic depiction on the hedonism of modern life?

Look, I get it, Internet.  You’re busy.  There’s a lot going on right now.  In fact, as we speak, the following is happening:

  • Buzz Feed just published 16,000 new articles about 9 MORE reasons why the 90s was the best decade ever (spoiler alert: Clarissa Explains It All, Big League Chew, Justin Timberlake looking different than he does now, Legends of the Hidden Temple, slap bracelets,Warheads, Lite-Brite, Fruitopia, and CLOTHES THAT LOOK FUNNY!)
  • There’s a new tearjerker video on YouTube that features soldiers coming home to their reptiles (spoiler alert: oddly anticlimactic)
  • Someone just created a Ryan Gosling “hey girl” meme for YOUR SPECIFIC LIFE SITUATION.  That’s right, AS WE SPEAK, Ryan Gosling is wearing a tank-top, holding a puppy, looking you right in your deserving-of-love eyes and saying, “Hey girl.  I know that you graduated with a B.S. in Marketing at a time when the economy was going through some stuff, and even though long term, you really see yourself opening your own business, you’re currently temping in an office complex three days a week and then helping your parents (who live next door) with some remodeling they’re doing on the other kitchen the other two days a week, even though they’re not paying you, when you’re honestly putting a lot of time into it and have even made quite a few runs to Home Depot and you’re spending your own money on this, and you don’t need them to pay you, but it just would be nice if it was offered.”
  • Oh, wait, Buzz Feed just published 4,000 more 90s articles.

So you’re busy.  I know.  But I’m asking you to just try your best, Internet, to say something.  If the Internet was about nothing, then it would be a Seinfeld episode.

Actually, now that I think about it, this all might be a Seinfeld episode.

I Dreamt a Dream

25 Feb

The evolution of my feelings towards Anne Hathaway can be summed up by these, my chronological thought snippets:

“… prinCESS of Genovia.  That is fun to say!  This makes her a great actress!  Marlon Brando never had long princessy names like that.  Side note: remember to find out who Marlon Brando is.  I’m pretty sure a Wayan’s brother, but make sure.  May also be a type of cereal.”

“Ella Enchanted? More like ‘Smella Enchanted!’ Or: Ella Enchanted? More like, ‘Ella En-shant be getting any Academy Award nominations!’  Side note: you are ready for your battle rap career.  I know you’re nervous, but every battle rap crowd loves a good Ella Enchanted reference.  Just remember this, above all else: people who aren’t white definitely know and care about Anne Hathaway.” 

“OMG, DEER! DEER IN MY HEADLIGHTS! No … nope, Anne Hathaway.”

“Princess Diaries II: Royal Engagement?  I say, Princess Diaries II: Royal EnRAGEment … that this film had to end!  What a daring vision! What a journey!  Although that no-name playing Queen Clarisse really brought Anne down.”

Then there was a long period of time in which I did not think about Anne Hathaway at all.  Then:

“Hey, good call, Christopher Nolan: I kind of like her as Catwoman.  And wow, what a brave choice on Anne’s part: it’s not easy to follow America’s favorite Cat Woman, Halle Berry/most aunts.”

Then, as in all great love stories, ours took a turn when one night, I had a dream that Anne owned a small, dirty hair salon in south central Florida.  I came in for a consult, but we mostly ended up shooting the breeze and talking about life.  We finally got down to talking about hair, and I told her I was thinking about going for a pixie cut, but that I was scared.  She looked me in the eyes, and with the earnestness of a pixie-haired lemur said, “Don’t cut off all your hair.  That’s too much change.  But you should buzz off all of the sides.”

Little did dream Anne know, but shady business-owners in Florida giving me nonsensical beauty advice is my love language.  Once, the janitor at rip-off theme park Dysney Whirld told me that if I colored my face the same way I colored my nails, I’d almost be a bird, and we dated for six years.

So because of this, I would have liked her even if Les Mis hadn’t happened, but then it DID happen, and now I love her.

But you, like me, were probably unable to pay attention to most of Les Mis after Anne’s iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” scene because you were all like, “When is the past tense of dream dreamed, and when is it dreamt? Is it a Briti–AHH, THIN DEER ON THE SCREEN, THIN DEER ON THE SCREE–nope, nope, Anne again.”

To solve all of your problems, here’s a quick and easy look at some of the most commonly used irregular verbs (i.e. verbs that might have a past tense that ends in a ‘t.’).

Verbs where the past tense CAN end with a t, but where the -ed ending is more common:

Dreamt: The most common way (in American English) to make this past tense is to make dream into dreamed.  Dreamt is an acceptable option, but it is much more common in British English.

Burnt: Burned is a much more common past tense, but when it’s turned into an adjective, burnt is more popular (see: burnt sienna, brown’s best chance at love).

Leapt: This is a fairly well-accepted variant on the past tense of leap.  Be sure not to spell it “lept,” though.

Verbs where the -t ending in place of the -ed ending is still technically an option, but it’s very uncommon and very British and you will probably be judged for doing it unless you’re entrenched in some kind of Angophile fan-fic world, in which case, being judged is probably not really your biggest concern at this point, is it?:

Clapt (instead of clapped)

Leant (instead of leaned)

Learnt (instead of learned)

Slipt (instead of slipped)

Smelt (instead of smelled … which is funny, because smelt is also a fish, and, you know, eww)

Spilt (instead of spilled)

Words where the -t ending is the ONLY acceptable past tense ending:

Bent (past tense of bend)

Crept (past tense of creep)

Dealt (past tense of deal)

Felt (past tense of feel)

Left (past tense of leave … although the real past tense of leaves are buds! Yes! Got ’em with a nature zing!)

Lent (past tense of lend)

Lost (past tense of lose)

Meant (past tense of mean)

Sent (past tense of send)

Slept (past tense of sleep)

Spent (past tense of spend)

Wept (past tense of weep)

This list is not comprehensive, but it does cover many of the big players in the irregular verbs game.

I know you’re probably sick of reading this since it’s just been a repeat of all the post-Oscars Les Mis stuff you’ve been reading all day anyway.  You know, because there’s anything Oscars-related besides Jennifer Lawrence worth talking about anyway.

But before I totally lose you, two fun Les Mis facts:

1. Russell Crowe was not aware at any point that he was being filmed.  All of his scenes were cut from a paparazzo’s secret footage of an argument Russell was having with his publicist.

2. Pantene Pro-V tried to book Anne Hathaway’s character for a shampoo ad campaign, but it fell apart.  Something about the “ghost of Victor Hugo threatening to haunt everyone at Pantene per a clause in his contract” or whatever.

The ad campaign?  “Fantine Pro-V.  For when you’re a prostitute and all your hair is gone.”

You Give Grammar a Bad (Last) Name

3 Feb

I have some gaps in my knowledge of classic movies.  My parents were really strict with what we could watch growing up, and once they loosened the reins a bit, I was way too busy caring about playing sports to bother with petty things like the how the history of our cinema is really the history of us.  I was trying to win sport games!

I’ve made up a lot of lost ground, but there are, of course, still gaps in my film history.  I think this may influence my understanding of what does and does not make a “good” movie.  My ignorance leads to situations like the one I had last night, where I had this actual phone conversation with my friend Mandy:

Mandy: (describing her experience watching the Oscar-nominated film Amour) I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience like that watching a film.  I was misty-eyed the entire time.  It was so intense and so sad, but it was such a perfect picture of love and the inevitability of death.  The love in that movie is the kind of love I hope my married friends have.

Me: I’ve only had an experience with a movie like that once.  Actually, I think it was something we watched together in college.  Do you remember John Tucker Must Die?

[Okay, okay, I admit it: this conversation actually did happen, but it was obviously a joke.  I would never be friends with someone who watched French films.  And did you know that the main characters are like, really old?  Gross.]

But I closed another gap this last week: I finally saw The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.  We didn’t watch The Godfather: Part III because I’m pretty sure Herman Cain had a role in that one, and I heard there’s this ridiculous scene where Michael goes, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” and Herman goes, “We are still talking about Pokemon, correct?”  And plus, can you imagine how Herman would treat the women in that film?  I bet he’d turn them into total caricatures, like, every woman would either be a virgin or a prostitute or someone’s mother.  Can you imagine?

Of course, I knew some of the classic moments before watching either of the movies.  I was most excited to see the “leave the gun; take the canoli” scene, as it was such a gutsy move: a before-its-time-guns suck-carbs-rule jab at both the NRA and the Atkins’ diet?!  I hear that Francis Ford Coppola had to deal with blowback for that particular act of political suicide for years, most notably having to live to see his daughter direct Lost in Translation.

I was confused about some of the other scenes, though.  Sure, I had heard all about this whole “hoarse in bed” thing, but I was like, well, that really doesn’t sound like a very big deal, couldn’t the guy have just taken some Nyquil?  Turns out it was something different.

But overall, I think I reacted to the movies the same way that most red-blooded Americans do: it got me thinking about the grammar of last names.

The whole Godfather franchise revolves around different families: most notably, the Corleone family.  And sure, as movie viewers, we get to see dumb surface-y things like the juxtaposition of the descent into evil and the ascent into power, and what the family and individual looks like at the point of intersection; but what we DON’T see are all the behind-the-scenes stuff, like the infamous deleted scene where Fredo is trying to send the annual family Christmas letter, and he’s all like, “Hey, pop!  I know I can just sign this ‘The Corleones,’ but what would we do if our name ended with a ‘y’?  Oh my god, what would we do if our name ended with an ‘s’?  Hey, pop, real quick while I got your attention, do you love Michael more than me?  Also, what do we do about apostrophes?”

Of course, we never get any response because Don Corleone is too busy stuffing acorns into his cheeks to prepare for winter.

But don’t worry, Fredo.  I’ve got the answers for you.  Come on, let’s get in the boat and go out on the lake and talk about it.

Basic Pluralizations

To pluralize a last name, you keep the name intact.  For most last names, you can just add an -s.  Brown becomes Browns.  Miller becomes Millers.

If the last name ends with a -y, resist the temptation to change it to -ies for the plural.  The last name Cassidy would NOT be pluralized as “the Cassidies.”  Just add the -s, as in, “The Cassidys are pleased to invite you over for a special screening of Butch Cassid–hey, wait, THAT’S OUR NAME!”

Tricky Pluralizations

English is ridiculous.  That’s what you need to remember.

So, if the last name ends with an -s, -x, -z, -ch, or -sh, you need to add an -es to make it plural.  So that means you need to write things like:

-The Williamses love you

-The Xeroxes hope they didn’t copy your idea for a Superbowl party

-The Roaches hate sunlight

Possessive Form

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.  You don’t need to be adding stray s’s all over the place.  You’re going to run into one of four situations.  Here they are:

1. A basic last name like Brown or Tatum.  If you aren’t making the name plural, then you only add an apostrophe + s.  For example:

Mr. Brown’s car

Mary Tatum’s inferiority complex

2. A last name that you have pluralized because you are referring to more than one member of the family.  Take care of the pluralization before you worry about the apostrophe.  That’s my #1 tip.  Follow the rules above.  Brown becomes Browns.  Roach becomes Roaches.

No matter what the last name, if you make it plural, it will end in ‘s.’  Don’t be frightened.  Once you have made it plural, just tack on an apostrophe at the end.  Simple as that.  You don’t need to add an apostrophe + s.  Just the final apostrophe after you’ve pluralized it.  So, for example:

The Browns’ annual tree-lighting ceremony was, to be honest, underwhelming.

The Roaches’ way of life was confusing to their neighbors

3. A singular last name that ends with ‘s.’  A last name like “Jones” is what I’m talking about here.  Don’t worry – it’s easy!  If you are referring to a singular Jones (like Sarah Jones or Professor Jones), follow the rules for a singular possessive above and add the apostrophe + s.  It looks like this:

Sarah Jones’s name was boring.

4. The plural form of a name that ends with ‘s.’

This one is fun.  You can either use the -es + apostrophe ending, or, my personal favorite: DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING.  JUST PUT A FINAL APOSTROPHE AT THE END.  Boom.  You’re done!  Here’s what both would look like:

The Joneses’ Christmas card was ugly. (Option 1)

The Jones’ Christmas card was ugly. (Option 2)

The Edwardses’ family dynamic was strange. (Option 1)

The Edwards’ family dynamic was strange. (Option 2)

I personally favor Option 2.  It’s a lot prettier and a lot less confusing, at least to me.

And honestly, I’ve had enough confusion this past week.  People talk about how great these Godfather movies are, but no one ever talks about how confusing they can be.  During Part II, I kept waiting for Ben Stiller to show up so that he and DeNiro can have that famous “circle of trust” talk, but no dice.  And  I spent all of Part I thinking that when Marlon Brando kept talking about “an offer he can’t refuse,” he was referring to Target’s Red Card.  I mean, 5% off every purchase, no strings attached?  How does anyone turn down THAT?

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.

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

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.

Earth

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

Directions

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.

So.

Marvel Presents: Sentence Fragments vs. The Avengers

28 Oct

Some things just belong together.  Just ask Jake Johnson, a guy who thinks he is parody-ing Jack Johnson by changing the words to his songs slightly.

I experienced the ultimate coming-together movie (that is, if you don’t count Human Centipede) last night: The Avengers.  This has been a long time coming.  I myself am not a big fan of superhero movies.  For me, the real heroes are those Greek sandwiches.  Oh, and those guys who star in the Cialias commercials.

Evan, on the other hand, is … how do I put this nicely? …. a huge nerd.  [Note: Evan just read this and said, “I’m really more of a geek.”  So … I rest my case.]  He didn’t get to watch all of the movies leading up to The Avengers when they were in theaters, so he’s been watching them lately, and mostly in secret, away from my judging eyes and judging words (like, “I’m judging you!” and “Order in the court!”).  Because he is being sneaky about it, he has had to watch these movies in installments, and that means that it took me a few days to figure out that the “documentary on Norse mythology” that he was watching was actually Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth (or, as his fellow Mermen like to call him, “The L’Oreal Sand King”).

The Avengers basically goes like this: an evil Rubix cube is threatening to release enough energy to destroy earth.  Thor’s (and, based on the hair line, also Paul Ryan’s) half-brother “Loco Loki the Dirty River Eel King” steals Moses’ staff and sneers a lot, so you know he’s bad.  Nick Fury is apparently a good guy, but it’s hard to tell because he didn’t have his own movie before, and also, he never says that line about the snakes on the plane, so it’s a bit of a let down.  Regardless, the universe is in trouble because of the Tesla-glowbox, so obviously, all of the greatest superheroes in American folklore must assemble.  You know … Superman … Spiderman … Batman … wait.

Instead of superheroes I KNOW, we get … Hawkeye?  The Black Widow?  Folks, the only superpower Scarlett Johansson has is the ability to inspire hatred in all women.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret: Dr. Bruce Banner’s degree is actually an honorary DFA from Strayer University.  So.

Anyway, they all meet up, and, as you would expect, all of the sudden I’m a part of the movie, only I can’t move my legs, so I have to army crawl out of a Victoria’s Secret without letting the displays (which are disguised as chalkboards) catch me, which is a real bummer, because an army of red ants (who I just kind of understand  are actually my former elementary school teachers, but they’re still ants, but I just kind of get it) has kidnapped my sister and they keep saying that they’ll give her back if I can “throttle the moment.”

Full disclosure: I may have slept through most of this movie.

But there’s one thing that The Avengers did teach me, I think: you’ve got to have all superpower cylinders firing if you’re going to destroy the Blacklight Tetris Square.  Without just one of them (unless one died while I was asleep), I imagine, the film’s (I’m assuming positive?) ending (I’m assuming the movie did end?) would not have worked (I’m assuming it all worked out and audiences were pleased with its conclusion?).  Look, throw me a bone.  I’m trying to move from The Avengers to sentence fragments.  You need all the pieces, blah blah blah.

Sentence fragments.

Most simply, a sentence fragment is a group of words who are trying to be a sentence, but who lack the ingredients necessary to make a sentence: namely, a subject and a verb.

Let’s get imperatives out of the way.  An imperative is a verb that commands someone to do something.  “Stop!” or “Duck!” are imperatives.  They don’t have to follow sentence rules: “Stop!” (as a command) is a full sentence, because the “you” is implied when an imperative is used.  However, unless you are a writer on an old-timey cop show, you generally skip out on saying things like, “Stop, you!” or “You there, stop!”  Writers on modern police shows have much less actual dialogue to worry about, in part because they can drop the implied “you,” and in part because Stage Direction: (Pulls out Taser) really puts a leash on the creative process.

[Little known fact: “Taser?  I hardly KNOW her!” is a hilarious joke that is not appreciated by a policemen in pursuit of a female subject.]

I’ve run into a lot of students who think that a sentence fragment is just a really short sentence.  This is not necessarily true.  I ate, while quite short, is a complete sentence.  I am is also a complete sentence.  I was eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a complete sentence, and as long as you have a banana, an apple, a slice of toast, a bowl of oatmeal, a glass of milk, a multi-vitamin, protein shake and a mineral enema along with it, it’s also part of this complete breakfast.

Sometimes, fragments get lost in proofreading.  I happy is obviously a fragment, because it is missing a verb.  You could fix this by adding a verb: I was happy or I became happy would complete the sentence.  You could also say I hate Happy if you believe that that smug dog on 7th Heaven needs to be knocked down a few levels.  You look like what my dryer leaves behind after a load of whites, Happy.  No one cares that you’re starring as yourself.

The same goes if you forget a subject.  Running away is a fragment because there is no subject.  In the fields, at dusk is a sentence fragment that, though it has nouns, does not have a subject OR a verb.

But sentence fragments can be more than sentences you just forgot to finish writing, or sentences you were writing while pretending to listen to a friend on the phone.  (“Uh huh … uh huh … no, I’m listening … right, you’re so right, it’s ridiculous that the Gregorian chant is a form of monophonic liturgical music … no, of course, you deserve better”).

So let me open up a can of worms and only let a worm or two escape: a sentence can have nouns and (what appear to be) verbs and STILL NOT HAVE A SUBJECT OR A VERB.  What?!  This is crazier than [that plot twist in The Avengers] when [Thor was Norse the whole time? Hawkeye is Keyser Soze?)!

If you write a sentence that is a dependent clause only, then you have written a sentence fragment.  Dependent clauses often start with words like because, although, however, or if (to name a few).  You can’t get away with writing “Because she was tired.”  That is a sentence fragment, even though it looks like it has a subject (she) and a verb (was).  Those are objects of a dependent clause and are not strong enough to be the subject and the verb.  Plus, you can almost hear it: Because she was tired sounds weak.  It leads you to think–almost subconsciously–she did WHAT because she was tired?  Or she’s feeling WHAT because she was tired?

That’s because a dependent clause needs a strong independent clause on which to rely.  You might write something as simple as “She fell asleep because she was tired,” and boom, your problem is solved.  You’ve got a subject (she) and a verb (fell asleep).  You’ve got the important ingredients for a sentence, and you’ve defeated the dreaded sentence fragment.

Just like (I imagine!) the heroes defeated the villain in that movie I definitely watched in its entirety, The Avengers!  The one thing that I know after totally watching all of that movie is that I’m looking forward to more spin-offs.  From what I gathered from the part of the movie I was awake for, the premise is basically to get as many random match-ups as possible in two hours.  I imagine that the script to The Avengers pretty much just reads: Whoa, what would happen if The Hulk and Thor got in a fight?!  What about Ironman and Captain America?!  What about Ironman and HIS OWN EGO?!

Let’s get real, guys.  The last time I saw that many unnecessary combinations I was at a family photo shoot at a wedding.

“Okay, okay.  Now, for this one, we’re gonna want to get all of the cousins on the bride’s side who have HAD ORTHODONTIC WORK DONE.  One more time, cousins on the bride’s side who have HAD BRACES.  Cousins without braces, stand to the side, you’re gonna go ahead and hop in on the next one.  It’s going to be you guys plus bridesmaids who tried to hem their own dresses and are hoping the bride won’t notice.  You’re going to put these pictures in frames.”

The whether outside is frightful.

7 Oct

I once thought that nothing could get in between me and my love of autumn, but darn it all, they’ve done it again: teenage girls and their subsequent access to the Internet have ruined another thing I love.

First, they took YOLO (for those not in the know, this stands for “you only live once”) and they now say it before they do stupid things.  That’s fine.  I was okay letting YOLO go, because once I started hanging out with a bunch of reincarnationists, it turned into a whole thing.  You know, we’d be doing something crazy like sky diving, and when I jumped out of the plane, I’d scream, “YOLO!” and then they would jump out after me yelling, “I’m coming back as a bear!”  So more power to you, teenagers.  Take YOLO; you can have it.  Because you’re right: you do only live once.  And like you, whenever I am faced with the reality of my own mortality, I realize that if I found a pair of glasses with chunky black frames, I could totally take a picture of myself and caption it as “nerd lol.”

They also ruin music.  Let’s not forget that before all of this “I listened to this band before they were cool and now that people like them and this band I’ve revered for years is actually receiving the airplay and critical play they deserve, they’re totally ruined” hipster nonsense, teenage girls getting a hold of good music really DID ruin it for the rest of us.  When a band you’ve worshipped for years becomes, “Omg I totally love them, they’re from that episode of Grey’s, right?” or “I love Radiohead.  That’s the name of that movie where the guy holds that big stereo up outside some girl’s house, right?  I heard that movie was made in the 1940s,” it can be a little deflating.

But now they’ve really done it.  Now they’ve ruined fall.  Fall used to be my perfect season, the season where everything was beautiful and right, and where we all just kind of understood that the weather was perfect and everything was happy and darn it all, but we were going to go apple picking.

These teenage girls like fall, too, and that’s their prerogative.  But instead of quietly enjoying it like the rest of us, they’ve taken to social media sites like mad.  If I see one more Bieber-loving snot reeking of Ax and eau de Pro-Active post one more picture of a tree overlaid with white text that says stuff like “i cant wait for fall & campfires & s’mores & sweatshirt weather” and some such nonsense with all their friends commenting with hearts they made on their keyboard, I’m going to Hannah their Montanas all the way to next Christmas.

All that about weather being said, today’s post is about whether.  And if.  And what the difference between them is.

These transitions are getting more and more abrupt.

Whether and if are not interchangeable words.  The basic difference for usage is this:

  • If should be used if the sentence is conditional.
  • Whether should be used to show two or more alternatives.

Here are some examples:

Knock once if you are a friend, knock twice if you are a foe, knock eighty-eight times if you have OCD and your family will die if you don’t.

In this sentence, every time “if” is used, it represents a condition.  Under the condition that you are a friend, you knock once.  Under the condition that you are a foe, you knock twice.  And so on.

Now, let’s try a “whether” sentence.

Because my weather app on my phone was broken, I didn’t know whether it was sunny or stormy outside.

In this sentence, there are two or more alternatives (in this case, sunny or stormy), so whether is used, and quite cleverly, I might add, because of the subject matter.  If would not be correct in this sentence because it is not conditional.

I’ll give you an example of how choosing if instead of whether (or vice-versa) could confuse the meaning of the sentence.

I didn’t know whether you would play the trumpet or the cornet.

I didn’t know if you would play the trumpet or the cornet.

In the first sentence, the use of whether indicates options: you’re definitely going to play something, but are you going to play the trumpet or the cornet?  In the second sentence, we have a condition: I don’t know if you’re going to play ANYTHING at all.  I may have offered you the trumpet and the cornet and choices, but we still don’t know IF that is going to happen.

So you work on correctly using whether and if, and I’ll work on all of this rage I have against teenage girls and their Internet affair with fall.  After all, I do need to remember this: one day, they will be adults.  Productive members of society.  They will no longer be teenagers posting ridiculous fall memes all over the Internet.

They will be posting pictures of their sandwiches.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means: Part III, Or, Commonly Confused Words.

5 Sep

Taking things out of their context can be a dangerous thing.

Take, for example, the whole tradition of bridesmaids.  In the context of weddings, it’s perfectly appropriate–and even expected–to ask your closest friends to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes and shoes and gifts and jewelry and travel all so that they can dress up in the same clothes and stand in a line holding a bouquet of flowers while you kiss somebody.

We just accept this, like it’s no big deal, like it’s a totally normal thing to do.  But the other day, I wanted to kiss this dude I’m married to now*, and so I called up all of my friends and said, “Quick! Wrap up a toaster or a set of wine glasses, put your hair in a curly sideways ponytail, and get down here to stand in a line next to me! Oh, the theme is ‘Reclaimed Rustic Garden Antique Vintage Throwback Owl Owl Owl Owl Owl.’  And instead of giving the guests favors, we’re going to donate to the charity of–hello?  Hello?” and all of the sudden everyone’s acting like this is a super weird thing to do.

[*On a non-grammatical note, I should say that I am married now, and while it’s excellent and fantastic, I do not like to use the phrase “my husband.”  Yes, sure, that’s what he is, but there’s something painfully stuffy and braggadocious about typing it.  You know, unlike the word braggadocious.

It was hard enough to say “my fiancé.”  Eventually I did just because it was easier, but for a long time I referred to him, “my boyfriend who proposed to me and I said yes.”  I suppose that, following the same idea, the long-form for “husband” would be, “That guy who watches those silly football matches with beer drinks and never leaves the toilet seat down and forgets to do home maintenance hammer projects and has an actual medical problem with obesity even though I’m thin and model-esque! Laugh track! Sitcoms! All men are fools!”]

The point I’m making is this: it is important to keep things in their proper context.  With that in mind, the following is a list of commonly confused words that you should stop using in the wrong context.

1. A lot vs. alot

A lot means “many” or “a whole bunch.”

Alot is not a word.

2. All ready vs. already

All ready: Completed prepared.  As in, “The shepherd’s pie was all ready to be eaten.  The hunter’s pie was not.”

Already: By this time; so soon, so early.  As in, “Shouldn’t the hunter’s pie already be done?”

3. Eminent vs. imminent

Eminent: Well-known; influential.  As in, “Eminem was an eminent presence in his college elective course, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, I’M FROM DETROIT AND I’M GONNA CUT YOU: Seuss Gets Pissed, Or, An Introduction to Caucasian Rhyme.'”

Imminent: Impending; soon to occur.  As in, “If my knees feel achy, I know a storm is imminent.  Especially if my knees are achy from kicking Thor in the gut for not agreeing with me that ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ is totally his song.”

4. Precede vs. proceed.

Precede: To come before.  As in, “A new study shows that 80-90% of occurrences wherein an infectious disease is passed from one person to another are preceded by the phrase, ‘Hey, isn’t Ke$ha great?'”

Proceed: To move forward; to carry on.  As in, “The best way to proceed on an airport’s moving walk-way is this: move to the right if you’re in a hurry, and stay on the left if you’re like me, spread-eagle on the moving ground, gasping, ‘GAIA, BLESSED MOTHER, YOU’RE HAVING A SEIZURE.'”

5. Accept vs. except

Accept: To take or receive; to consent to.  As in, “My friends accept me for who I am: their boss, who has written friendship into their contracts.”

Except: With the exclusion of.  As in, “My friends accept me for who I am because of the contract, except for my best friends, who also accept me as ‘the defendant’ in their civil suit against me.  Best friends are so funny! And litigious!”

So remember: context, context, context.  It’s like the other day, when I got into a big fight with a police officer.  At first he was really mad and all arrest-y because I said, “I’m gonna punch you in the stomach until you can’t breathe!”  But the thing is, if he had waited for me to give him the context–“I’m gonna punch you in the stomach until you can’t breathe BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO GET TO A ROBBERY”–I have a feeling he would have been a little more understanding.  Instead, he gave me the Nicholas Sparks treatment, which is basically where I get tasered and then someone I love gets cancer, and also, I’m an awful writer.

 

 

 

Titles

15 Aug

 

Hello! We’re back!  We were on a long “getting married” hiatus, but now we’re back and … well, we’re back!

I was under the mistaken impression that upon getting married I would receive a new, fancier, more grown-up title.  I was thusly fully prepared to be introduced for the rest of my life as Her Royal Highness, Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo, PrinCESS of Genovia.

It turns out that actually, now I’m just technically a Mrs.  I don’t get a crown or anything, but I do automatically get a 10% discount off of holiday-themed vests.

Titles actually played a semi-important role in our wedding.  Our gift to our guests was a super awesome mix CD that told our story in song.  It isn’t so much that music plays a central role in both of our lives and in our relationship: it’s more than I made an ill-advised investment in jewel cases about a year back, and I’ve got some product to move.

Choosing the songs for the CD was actually pretty simple; it was coming up with a title that was a little more difficult.  We spent an afternoon brainstorming.  We could name it something like “Kidz Bop Kidz Sing a Two-Song Sampler of Jewel’s Poetry Put to the Sounds of STOMP! Because of, You Know, the Homeless Thing,” but apparently the kidz were so appalled by how terrible Jewel’s poems were that they stormed out of the recording session, muttering things like, “‘I feel my flesh burn beneath the teeth of their inDIFFERENCE’?!  Are you kidding me?  A girl in her high school creative writing class called, Jewel, and she wants her mixed metaphors back.  Come on, guys, we need to lay down that Smash Mouth track again.  Puberty’s knockin’.”

We could have named it “Here for the Right Reasons and Other Sounds of ABC’s The Bachelor: Hot Tub Splashes and Regret,” but, you know, we didn’t.  We could have named it “Oops!…I Did It Again.  No, Guys, For Real, Stop the Truck: The Accidental Re-release of Britney Spears’ Second Studio Album,” but we didn’t.

Instead, we named it “Evan and Riane’s 100% Guaranteed Music Elixir: Now, THAT’S What I Call Marriage! Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mix CD.”

The grammatical question these titles raise is a question I run into a lot while writing papers: how do you decide what to capitalize in a title and what to not?

The rules actually change depending on whether you’re following APA, MLA, the Chicago Manual, or something else.  If you have a specific requirement, you should follow those rules.  However, for our purposes, I am going to use the Associated Press style, which is fairly simple and widely accepted.

1. The first and last word of the title should always be capitalized, no matter what.  Even if your title is “I Swear the Last Word of This Title Won’t Be Capitalized.”

2. Capitalize nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, subordinating conjunctions, SOME regular conjunctions, and any word that is longer than three letters.

3. Do not capitalize the following words: a, an, and, at, but, by, for, in, nor, of, on, or, so, the, to, up, yet.

4. What about short words like “is”?

Refer to #2.  The length of the word is not the first thing that determines whether it is capitalized or not.  The purpose of the word matters more.  Is is a verb, and all verbs should be capitalized.  Therefore, is should be capitalized.

5. What if the first word or the last word in my sentence or title is automatically un-capitalized, like iPhone or e.e. cummings?

Your best bet is to re-write your title so that you don’t even have to deal with that problem.  All styles, despite their differences, want the first and last word capitalized, so quit making waves!  If you can’t re-write your sentence to do this, different styles are going to recommend you do different things, so stick with what your style book says.  My recommendation would be to keep the lowercase if it is meant to be there (keeping iPhone instead of changing it to IPhone); however, the Associated Press would disagree.

One final note if you’re looking to make an investment: it turns out that plastic jewel cases are not the wave of the future after all.  I should have realized.  They’re just hard, clear pieces of plastic … wait a minute.  What. if. we. could make. colored. jewel cases?

I have to make a phone call.

 

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