Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Only O.K...

...if you're talking about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Otherwise, it's not okay.

Ah, the power of three. Yesterday I had three brushes with this topic so I'm sharing them with you today. It's about the wonderful qualities of our mother tongue...that's English for those who are wondering.

ENGLISH! Learn it. Words, all words, have power. Use them wisely. Use them well. Find a grammar and style book that you like and refer to it. My favorite is Strunk & White's, The Element of Style. It's short, easy to read, easy to use.

For those of us who are wordsmiths, yes, the debate is constantly afoot about the idea that languages are living and must be allowed to change and modify. However, there's a fine line between change and deterioration. We're allowing it to erode through laziness and the need for speed. Technology is taking its toll. Unacceptable says The Queen. Class is now in session.

There is a great article in yesterday's Tribune Review written by Rege Behe entitled Shortcuts cost language a lot of its style. Give it a read. Behe says that it's not alright (no such word,) what we're doing to language these days. And, it's absolutely all right that he feels that way. He agrees with me; we've become worse for the obsession to be expedient. Case in point:

Melissa was telling us that she got this text yesterday: "HBTY. HBTY. HBDM. HBTY." Disturbing. It was her mother 'singing' Happy Birthday. Sigh. I'm not sure what's more weird. The fact that she text messages at all...the fact that the birthday wish came in code...the fact that it would have been so much better if mom had called and said or sang it. I'm going with all three.

Come on. Are you really so busy that it would kill you to type, see you, instead of CU?

Here is a list of some of The Queen's pet peeves:

Spell check, DOESN'T! You can't rely on it because it can't discern your intent. Regardless, (Notice I did not use irregardless, WHICH IS NOT A WORD! Although it is in the dictionary now because so many knot heads use it...but then again, ain't is in the dictionary too; need I say more?), use it anyway as the first pass on your work. At the very least, it will highlight things for your attention and consideration. Cripes. It's right there! Don't be so lax. Click it and see what it turns up. Even for your e-mails. It's too easy not to use it. Unless you're terminally lazy.

There, their, and they're: Learn the difference. There is no reason that their luggage is lost so they're truly pissed. Got it now?

Its, It's, Its': Its- belonging to it. It's- the contraction of it is. Its'- a failing grade when I was teaching and read it in a paper. Why? Because it's not a flippin' word! Stop doing that!

I.E. vs E.G. : We all know that I.E. is used to site an example. But, did you know that it's most correctly used only when speaking? It's Latin, id est= that is. As in, 'that is to say.' The say is your tip-off. However, when you are writing and wish to give an example, it's most correct to use, E.G. Latin exempli gratia=for example. Perhaps it's not earth shattering to use them interchangeably, but like every tool, using it correctly gives optimum performance.

I vs Me: This confuses many of us. Understandably. Which is correct? Easy enough to figure and train yourself. When you're not sure about using I or me, split them apart. Do you want Joe & I to take you? Split it: Do you want Joe to take you/Do you want I to take you? See, it's immediately apparent that you should use, me.

Let's do it a different way: Me & Joe will take you. Joe will take you./Me will take you; not unless you're two years old. Otherwise, it is- I will take you. You would be correct to say, I & Joe will take you, but it's stilted speech, so to be absolutely correct, you'd change to: Joe & I will take you.

Give yourself the gift of the deciding split and the entire me & I nightmare goes away.

Stop ending your questions with 'at.' Stop talking just before your mouth says it. "Where are you at?" NO! "Where are you?" Stop in time and save our ears.

Here's another: "What did you want it for?" When you hear yourself ending questions with prepositions, it's because you're not asking the correct question. Learn to ask better questions. The real question here is not what, it's why: "Why did you want it?" See? Easy.

It's, "i before e except after c, or as sounding like a, as in neighbor and weigh. Most of us know the first part of this handy device, but many didn't get the last bit. So, I share it with you today!

Melissa says that, often, when she's reading this blog, she feels as if I, "Sneezed commas." I had to laugh! It's a great description. There were five of us around the table when she made her observation. Three of the five, including me, went to Catholic school and were taught by Grammar Nazis, e.g. The Sisters. I am exceedingly grateful to the nuns for having the fortitude to teach us the rules of usage and correct form. It is what distinguishes many of us. The three Catholic kids stood firm on the whole comma debate. We get twitchy if we don't use commas to separate any, and all, independent clauses. Commas were sacrosanct and it's difficult to cut them without great trepidation...

I admit, even for me, punctuation is really, really tricky and deserving of its own blog. So, I'm not going there today. Except to say, give yourself an exclamation point moratorium- no more than a carefully considered few to a communication. Because, if everything is emphatic, then nothing is emphatic.

I also know that writing styles change. Rule of thumb- si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In other words, learn the style manual that is currently acceptable at your place of business or school and adhere to it. The AP Style Manual has done away with many of the sneezed commas that used to be de rigueur. While I'm learning to reduce their numbers, I'll never view them as extraneous.

One that I insist on though, is the serial comma. I absolutely abide by it. The flag is not red, white and blue. There is no color named, 'white and blue.' Doesn't exist. Being most specific, the flag is red, white, and blue. We can argue this one over drinks some night.

As this relates to the various modes of communication now at our disposal, we've become shiftless instead of more efficient. We've become less personal in our personal communication. We're systematically removing human interaction. Stop it! Use tools in descending order. Stop sinking to the lowest, most distancing, mode of communicating as your first choice. Whenever possible:
- speak face to face. Yes, it can take additional effort but do it!
- If you can't, then call.
- If that's not possible, email.
- If that's not possible or you are mobile, text.
- If you want your communication to be lasting, write it.

The caveat to this rule: In order to be most effective in your communication, learn the recipient's preferred form of communicating and use it as much as possible. For example, I really don't like the phone; I prefer email and check it with alarming frequency. If you want to get something back from me as soon as possible, always go for email first. However, if you prefer the phone, I'll give you what you need your way.

Finally: Remember, all rules were made to be broken. But, you need to know there are rules and consciously decide to run counter to them. This is most obvious in creative writing. Acceptable. But you must know the rules.

My friend Frank sent this yesterday, and although I can't determine who the author may be, it's well worth sharing so enjoy:

This is English

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England.
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If in the past, teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.


Namaste' Till Next Time,


Samantha said...

A healthy rant. Think we probably had one brush with "okay" in common yesterday.

I don't like the phone either. My boyfriend hates that I prefer him to text me, as he thinks it's rude, but I'm far more likely to respond to a text, and find the shrill ring of the phone a huge disturbance when I'm busy, so I may just ignore it.

Yes! commmas and their use, or lack of, in subordinate clauses. Where have they gone?
Though I hate to point out that you made a spelling error quite early on: Discern / Decern ? I will fetch my red pen .....

Lots of love, Sam

Holly said...

Dear Girl, it was caught and changed but I thank you so much for keeping me honest. Pleas always feel free to help with these niggling pesky things!

Anonymous said...

To the Blog Followers-at-Large:

Okay, I really shouldn't get started on this, because I could go on about it all day. Grammar and spelling are my pet peeves of all pet peeves. Even in my world of numbers, mathematics, and music; I simply can not stand to have someone write or text to me, "Your welcome" or even worse "UR welcome." That is just a minor one. It seems that down here in the world of WV porch gliders, folks just did not pay much attention in public school or perhaps it's that just don't really care.

I have my 1979 edition of "The Elements of Style" within three feet of my desk at work and a PDF version on my desktop at work and at home. I am continually trying to convert those that just don't get it. It would make life much simpler and communication would be much easier to understand if they just spoke, wrote, texted, etc. IN ENGLISH!!!

I'll put my head back down now.

Cheers, Lurker-in-Chief

melissa said...

Please...send the part about ending sentences with "at" to EVERYONE I KNOW.

It's (it is) as annoying as chewing tinfoil. Which, by the way, (clauses) is not actually tin.

People who end sentences with "at" risk seeing the worst side of me first; since THEY'RE bound to be corrected. I can't stand it and it takes superhuman effort not to say anything. :)

I had a great time last night laughing about commas (I agree with you on the serial one) and my ridiculous inability to create beautifully chaotic decor in my home. Thanks! LOVE YOU. Or, as my mother would say...
(and the ellipses are for Zach)

jkc said...

Doesn't this bring back memories of 30 years of teaching English and Composition!

Helpful Buckeye said...

Wow, Holly, now I know I'll need to be a lot more careful when writing my blog! Your ideas are "spot on," as they say. Thanks for making all those points. The only qualifier I would like to make is that language, like just about everything else in nature, is constantly evolving. Always has been, always will be.


Holly said...

I couldn't agree more which is why I had to say it's a question of evolution, but it shouldn't be a question of decay! Glad you added your thoughts to the topic today.

Toni said...

My fear: that only those who really care (& hence probably don't need the reminders) will have read this to the conclusion; those who need to read this for all its content probably high-tailed it to the next blog on their list about 3 paragraphs in. sigh. I loved it. The Elements of Style is also on my shelf and has been for donkeys' years.

Toni said...

I have only one spoken pet peeve that is quite capable of turning me homocidal ... 'LOOKIT'.

Holly said...

Lookit, I can't change the world, but I'll continue to try so long as you will! lol

Erin said...

I'm glad my grammatical faux pas gave you fodder for your blog! ;o) I agree with you on everything except the Oxford(serial) comma. There is some serious comma-hatred in my life. Morrie was just asking me for the name of a good gramatical guide book to have at the office--I'll make sure I recommend your favorite!

Anonymous said...

I had text messaging removed from my phone (I do not text and I rather not pay for the text you send me), I don't have a computer at home, only at work. So, if you need to contact me at home, please call or better yet, stop by. I would love to see you.

The Elements of Style book is still in use in most classes in the Dept. of Mass Communication and Communication Studies at Towson University. A grammar test is now required by all PR and Adv students.

Robert said...


I couldn’t agree more with the words you wrote today. I can't stand the constant bastardization of the English language. Perhaps that’s why I love George Carlin so much. If you have never heard his airport routine I’m sure you’ll find it hilarious. Links below.




Desert Grace Boutique said...

I am with you on this one. I refuse to text message.
If I want to communicate with someone, I call them.
I do get annoyed with all the typos I see on the internet. Keep up the good work! I love your blog.

Ribbon said...

Hi Just out and about having a bit of a blog hop and landed here.

I like to think that communication is beyond the written word.

Great post & I'll be back :-)

best wishes Ribbon

Cam@Journey Wildly said...

I have Rules for Writers from my sophomore year in college.

Even so, I still use too many commas. I am certain of this fact. It's a problem. I am too liberal with the commas.

Your, you're, there, their, they're...AHHH. Drives me nuts.

Life With Dogs said...


I have a love/hate relationship with punctuation, and I ain't likely to escape the spell its' cast on me.

All those little commas taunt me; there proper placement eluding me with each new post.

Damn I'm a horrible writer now that I consider it. Thanks for reminding me!

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