Tag Archives: Writing

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 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 (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.


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.





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.



26 Jun

The other day, Evan was trying to explain to me that he wasn’t very cool.  I, being the loving fiancée that I am, tried to convince him otherwise.  The following is the actual conversation that occurred:

Evan: I’m just … really not very cool.

Riane: Yes you are! You … well … um … you know a lot of facts about the presidents!

Yep.  The one point I could think of to counter his concern that he wasn’t cool was to remind him that at his coolest point possible, he was a guy who knew lots of facts about presidents.  And it’s true.  He does.  The man has more opinions about James K. Polk and William Henry Harrison than anyone our age should (to be clear, according to a recent poll by Seventeen Magazine, the president that is currently “in vogue” for 20-somethings is James Buchanan; they conveniently included a fold-out poster of Buchanan wearing a hilarious t-shirt that read, “I went to Mt. Rushmore and all I got was the gout, and then I died from it!”)

My point is that my support (“You know lots of facts about presidents!”) for my argument (“You’re actually pretty cool!”) was poor.

This post is dedicated to the dozens of students I tutored in the Writing Center this year who were confused about what did and did not constitute support for an argument.  This is a less focused topic than some of our more nuanced discussions (Oxford commas, subjunctives, etc.), but I want to use it as a foundation for the next post, which will focus more specifically on quotation marks.

So, patrons of the Writing Center, here is what I wish you knew:

1. If you take something word-for-word from somewhere else–be that a book, article, magazine, etc.–you must put it in quotation marks.  I learned this the hard way in one of my recent dreams when I turned in a copy of East of Eden as my thesis on Steinbeck, thinking it would suffice.  The professor in my dream chastised me, pointing out that I “should have cited this!”

As I just demonstrated, direct quotes from dreams should also be placed within quotation marks.  For example, if I ever wanted to write a letter friend-dumping my dear friend Lauren, I would probably include as support the fact that in a dream I had the other night, she told me that the if I “looked in the newspapers from the past” I would “probably find a lot of bad stuff about me, like that I used to kill bunnies and bite dog’s ears.”  And even though I was friend-dumping her (which I have no intention of doing, despite the ear-biting thing), I think she would really appreciate that I credited my sources.

I think this is the real reason people are so upset when they get left at the altar.

“He said he was calling the wedding off!” I’ve often heard a jilted bride sob.  “And even worse, he ended a sentence with a preposition!”

2.  This should go without saying, but you can’t make facts or quotations up.  I read MORE THAN ONE PAPER this year that claimed that coming to the U.S. for college was a good idea because getting a degree from a U.S. school guaranteed a job.  In one of the papers where I read this, I suggested that this seemed to be counter-intuitive to everything going on in the economy and news, but at the very least, if the writer could find some article or reference that supported this, then she could make that claim.

She came back to the Writing Center with the same sentence.  She had added no citation or source, but instead, opened the sentence with, “According to the news ….”

I’m going to use her paper as the basis for a book I’m thinking about writing.  I’m going to call it: “The Economy is Great and Nobody Blames All of Their Problems On It: Life in a World Where Nothing Gives You Cancer, John Carter Was a Totally Successful Gamble, The Big Bang Theory Doesn’t Riff on the Same ‘Nerd’ Joke Over and Over Ad Nauseum, People Use the Word ‘Literally’ Correctly and In Moderation, and Where Mitt Romney is Definitely Not a Robot, With a Forward by Osama bin Laden, a guy who is still alive and who is totally pulling off a man tank-top.”

3. Everything you say that isn’t common knowledge MUST HAVE A SOURCE.  If you got the information somewhere, you need to credit that.  It’s usually easy to remember this when you’re directly quoting something — when you’re taking a phrase or sentence or paragraph word for word.  But you also need to do this when you just pull a statistic or a fact; you also need to do it when, say, for example, it’s something you learned in class (on some Power Point somewhere).  You may remember what the professor said, and so you may be tempted to throw it in your paper like it’s your own knowledge.  But the reader needs to know where you got that information, so he can judge if you’re credible–and if your information is credible.

So either go back into that PowerPoint and find your professor’s source, or find an alternative source that lends you support.  You don’t need sources if you’re telling a personal story, or if you’re discussing things that are common knowledge–that the sky is blue, for example, or that the Miami Heat don’t cry all the time because they’re a bunch of selfish, entitled babies, but rather, because they watch the first ten minutes of Up before every game.

When we talk about quotations, we’ll get more into the specifics about HOW to do these things.

For now, there you have it.  The bare bones basics of supportive facts.  This week, practice.  Try being as supportive as an under-wire bra who thinks you’re totally too good for that guy and you should just take some time to DO YOU, and honestly, who really thinks you’re going to make it as an artist, because she has never seen someone do horses in watercolor like THAT before.


8 Jun

Stop the presses!

I’m sure the rest of you are still buzzing about the recent news from the AP, some of you because the word hopefully is now acceptable as a sentence modifier, and some of you because you are bees.

Wait, what?  That wasn’t at the top of your news feeds?  You don’t keep a scrapbook of grammar-related news (titled “Good Times, Off-Rhymes”)?  You haven’t been furiously tweeting things like, “Hopefully now acceptable? #sodumb #smh #lmao #byob #rsvp ” and “HOPEFULLY i dont punch sum1 at the apa in da face” and “Hey mercifully you’re a great sentence modifier and i’mma let you finish but hopefully had one of the best music videos of all time #thatfellapartattheend”?

Apparently I need to back up.

Hey, did you know that until recently, hopefully was not acceptable as a sentence modifier?  But now it is!

What was the big stink about “hopefully”?  The basic problem was that it was a modifier that didn’t really modify anything.  Let’s look at how this word is used in everyday speech, and then you might see why people have made such a big stink about it:

Hopefully, the show on Saturday will be great.

What is hopefully modifying (or describing) in this sentence?  Is the show itself hopeful?  Is it the sentence’s speaker who is hopeful?  Is it the patrons of the show who are hopeful?  It’s completely unclear.

Hopefully, he will leave soon.

The same issues arise here.  This sentence would (according to the old rules) only be correct if the author meant to indicate that he would be leaving in a hopeful manner.  However, the way that this construction is often used, it could also mean that the speaker hopes he will leave soon or that someone else hopes that he will leave soon.

The AP initially suggested that hopefully be replaced with “it is to be hoped.”  Oh boy, AP.  There’s no way you’re going to get anyone on your side.  That’s like saying, “Hey, teenagers.  We don’t think you should drink alcohol until you’re 21.  But how about as a fun alternative, you churn this milk into butter and then wait for it to melt back into milk, and then drink that?”  That’s like abstinence-only Sex Education saying, “Hey teenagers, the best way to not get pregnant is to abstain.  But instead, why don’t you do crossword puzzles together through can-and-string telephones?  It’s almost the same thing!”

So people kept saying hopefully, and the AP finally made the big announcement that they were succumbing to the tide of American usage like a bunch of weaklings.  Hopefully is now allowed as a vague sentence modifier.

Of course, the AP could also have made an announcement that said, “Did you know that you weren’t allowed to say hopefully?  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, as you were.”

Overall, it’s a good thing the AP made that choice, because it’s always good to let the American Public dictate what is and is not correct.  After all, we are the people who gave Tyra Banks two different television shows.  We are the people who accept that children can be named things like Moxie Crimefighter and Fifi Trixiebell (both, God help me, real names).  We let Kate Gosselin on TV with HER HAIR LIKE THAT and no one even responded to my posts on message boards about a possible lynching.

Yes, AP, you should bend to our whims.  Because if there’s anything that a Croc-wearing, soul patch-sporting, deep-fried butter eating group of people has earned, it’s influence.


Run On, Sentences!

21 May

The amount of money I have is directly proportional to how seriously I take expiration dates.

If I have a lot of money, I pay a lot of attention to expiration dates.  Well, I imagine that I would.  As this has never been the case, I’m going to have to imagine.  So, in this imaginary scenario where I have lots of money, if the carton is telling me that the milk expires on May 21st, then on May 21st, why, I throw out the remaining milk and go to the store and buy milk that is fresh.  And then I ride home on my jetpack and read people’s minds.  Again, this scenario is imaginary.

In real life, where I do not have very much money, I treat expiration dates with–what’s the right word here?–skepticism.  I don’t consider myself much of a conspiracy theorist (what if the Lone Gunman fired at Tupac from the moon?!) , but when I’m out of money, my thoughts about expiration dates tend to get … creative.

What IS time?!  Who decides when milk goes “bad”?  Is milk from the wrong side of town?  Did milk lack the appropriate role models growing up, and now he’s acting out?  Who are THEY to tell me when I can and can’t drink my milk?  Who are THEY to tell me that I didn’t WANT my milk to have a certain level of … density?  Nanny state!  I want my country back!  USA! USA! USA! I have to go to the hospital.

So when the most adequate descriptor for most of the food in your fridge is “congealed,” then maybe it’s time for new groceries.  My food has been around too long.

You know what else is around too long?  Run-on sentences!  As an MC Hammer impersonator with a weird speech impediment once said: “Stop. Grammar time.”

There’s a popular misconception that a run-on sentence is just a really long sentence.  That’s simply not true.  A really long sentence that is properly punctuated is perfectly acceptable.  Here is an example of a very long–but grammatically correct–sentence from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway:

“It was not to them (not to Hugh, or Richard, or even to devoted Miss Brush) the liberator of the pent egotism, which is a strong martial woman, well nourished, well descended, of direct impulses, downright feelings, and little introspective power (broad and simple–why could not every one be broad and simple? she asked) feels rise within her, once youth is past, and must eject upon some object–it may be Emigration, it may be Emancipation; but whatever it be, this object round which the essence of her soul is daily secreted, becomes inevitably prismatic, lustrous, half looking glass, half precious stone; now carefully hidden in case people should sneer at it; now proudly displayed.”

I’m not going to opine on the benefits or pit-falls of long sentences such as that.  But it’s important to note that the length of a sentence does not denote whether a sentence is a run-on or not.

Run-on sentences consist of two or more  complete sentences that have been fused together without the proper punctuation, and because of this, need to be either properly punctuated or turned into two (or more) sentences.  Here are some examples of run-on sentences:

He was a doctor he was also a father.

Sarah is a nice girl, she bakes me cookies.

Notice that while both of these sentences are rather short, they are both run-on sentences.  This is because they both contain two complete sentences that do not have the proper internal punctuation.  A complete sentence (also known as an “independent clause”) has a subject and a verb and can stand by itself–hence the term “independent.”  A little known fact is that “Miss Independent,” an early hit by Kelly Clarkson, is an homage to a clause who always swore she would be independent, but soon found herself head over heels and, next thing you know, part of a committed compound sentence.  Another little known fact: this situation was also the reason that Facebook added the “It’s Complicated” to its relationship option.  This was a compromise from the original suggestion to have the option read, “It’s Compound-Complex.”

Okay.  Back to independent clauses.  Remember: it needs a subject and a verb and to be able to make sense by itself.  If you look at the first example, you can see that it contains two independent clauses that meet these requirements:

1. He was a doctor.

2. He was also a father.

Both of these have a subject (“he”) and a verb (“was”).  They make sense by themselves.  They are independent clauses.  The same goes for the second example sentence.  Here’s how it breaks down:

1. Sarah is a nice girl.

2. She bakes me cookies.

So how do we make these sentences not be run-ons anymore?  There are several options:

1. Make them separate sentences by ending them with periods.  That option looks like this:

He was a doctor.  He was also a father.

Sarah is a nice girl.  She bakes me cookies.

2. Connect them with a comma AND a conjunction.  Conjunctions include words like and, but, so, etc.  A comma by itself does not work.  A conjunction by itself does not work.  You must have BOTH.  That option looks like this:

He was a doctor, but he was also a father.

Sarah is a nice girl, and she bakes me cookies.

3. Connect them with a semicolon.  You can read more about semicolons here, but for our current purposes, know that a semicolon is a strong as a period to hold two independent clauses together.  That option looks like this:

He was a doctor; he was also a father.

Sarah is a nice girl; she bakes me cookies.

These options work no matter how long your sentences are.  As long as you’ve treated each independent clause appropriately (making sure that it is connected to the next independent clause in one of those ways), you’ll be fine.  As far as choosing HOW to fix your run-ons: that all depends on your writing style and what makes sense/sounds the best for that specific sentence.

Also, based on reader feedback on my shocking reveal about “Miss Independent,” my assistant has been trying to reach a representative for Destiny’s Child to confirm whether their 2000 hit “Independent Women, Pt. 1” was also an homage to independent clauses, but so far, the only information my assistant has been able to bring back is, “Destiny’s Child is not a band anymore; also, I’m not your assistant, I’m the assistant manager at this Subway.  Do you want white or wheat?”  We have such a rapport, my assistant and I!

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