Well, this is embarrassing

After studying Greek for a week, I realized I just wasn’t enjoying myself. The writing was tripping me up because of all the letters that look like English letters but sound different, and th…

Source: Well, this is embarrassing

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Without further adieu

Well, it’s time to call in the euthanasia team and put this baby out of its misery. Not all projects are meant to last and last, and there’s something to be said for knowing when to fold. When I first cracked open this E.G.G., I envisioned starting a community of like-minded grammar and style geeks, ardently debating commas, copulas and dangling clauses.

While many people have told me how much they enjoy the blog (and every bit of positive feedback was appreciated), it hasn’t engendered the kind of response and dialogue I Goodbye #1envisioned. My daughter says it’s because it talks down to people, rather than inviting them in. She may be right. Or not. One of my favourite books, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (the subject of my fifth post), talks down to readers for 200 pages and yet managed to sell several million copies in a bunch of editions, including one for children. Focused on commas, no less. I’m hard-pressed to figure out how “avoid using a comma before a restrictive clause” would keep a third-grader turning the pages by flashlight, but whatever.

Truth is, nobody knows why some projects grow sea legs and others don’t. If we had that kind of crystal ball, we’d all know what to call the next Huffington Post and when to sell it for upwards of $300 million.

In any case, it’s been a slice. I’ve enjoyed the process and the feedback I received. While my audience remained small, it was a kick knowing that people from as far as Brazil and Australia read my posts. I can only imagine how successful bloggers like that adorable Hyperbole and a Half writer must feel.

I’ll probably invite you to have a look at my next blog project, whenever and whatever that is. (I have some ideas, and rest assured they have nothing to do with grammar.)

Without further adieu (to borrow a charming malapropism I encountered in the aforementioned Huff Post), I shall now take my leave. So long, farewell, adios muchachos y muchachas, over and out.

Image

I know this is an orange, not an egg, but I like it…..

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Angels dancing on a pin

I belong to a LinkedIn discussion group called LinkEds & Writers. Topics range from writer’s block to prickly clients to (a soft spot of mine) syntactical hair-splitting.

A few days ago, a member of the group asked a question about a point of grammar that was apparently causing some friction between her and her editor: “Which is correct: 200 varieties of apple trees or 200 varieties of apple tree?”

An early respondent had me nodding when she wrote: “Tree is better than trees. You’ve already communicated the plural in varieties, so the second plural is redundant.” But then another poster came up with this: “Say ‘a variety of child is in the garden’ or ‘a variety of children are in the garden’ aloud. The ear instantly recognizes the correct answer. Plural form.” Can’t argue with that, I thought. On the other hand… it’s a different usage of variety, isn’t it? 

Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, I kept coming up with new on-the-other-hands. So did the 75 other people who posted. Last I checked, the question still hasn’t been settled.

We have a deposed president in Egypt, nuclear tensions in North Korea, and economic instability throughout the world, and yet a bunch of us are pouring our passion into a single letter S. As one poster put it, “I love beingImage a member of the hair-splittin’est group on LinkedIn!”

What makes that S, or its absence, important? For us Homo Pedanticus members, the answer to that question amounts to understanding ourselves. I’d like to think we care about such things because of lofty ideals such as Truth, Beauty and Goodness. A more likely explanation is that we feel hugely impotent to solve the world’s big problems, like disease and detonating bombs, so we turn our angst on a letter.

ImageOr maybe we just have too much time on our hands and need to plow a field or two. There’s nothing like breaking a sweat to put pluralization in perspective. Failing that, there’s always the Gordian knot approach. As one poster, evidently frustrated with the discussion, proposed: “Just rewrite the damn thing: Wow! Look at all those apple trees!”

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Purity or pedantry?

Whenever I need a brutally honest opinion about something, I can count on my kids to supply it. Like yesterday, for example. I had sent one of my clients the first draft of a meeting report, which she returned to me with a few revision notes and a handful of copy-edits. I could live with all the copy-edits except one. (Warning: we’re about to get into the outer reaches of who-gives-an-eff grammatical minutiae.)

In my first draft, I had written: “When treating osteoarthritis, doctors need to consider not only the pain but also the inflammation.” My supervisor had added two commas to the sentence, which now read: “When treating osteoarthritis, doctors need to consider, not only the pain, but also the inflammation.”

My grammar police lights a’flashing, I proceeded to hunt for online evidence of my rectitude, which of course I had no trouble finding. (As the saying goes, the Internet has everything.) This British grammar site summed it up nicely: “If you have set off some words with a pair of bracketing commas, and you find you can’t remove those words without destroying the sentence, you have done something wrong.”

Ego #4

When I sent the revised document back to my client, I inserted the following comment next to the offending sentence: “I believe a comma pair is used to enclose a statement that be removed without affecting the integrity of the sentence (much like brackets). That’s not the case here, so I think the comma after ‘treat’ should be deleted.” I supplied a couple of web links as supporting evidence.

As soon as I had pressed Send, I began to worry: What if I offended her? What if she thinks I’m an insufferable pedant? (And what if it’s true?) What if I never work for her again? Then came the justifications: If it was worth her while to insert the commas, it’s worth my while to remove them. It’s my name and my reputation at stake. And besides, isn’t punctuational purity a rather noble pursuit?

Unable to still the warring voices in my head, I turned to my 16-year-old daughter. “Did I do the right thing?” I asked her, “or did I dig myself a big fat hole to lie in?” Tara’s immediate verdict: “It was OK for you to request that the comma be deleted. It was even OK for you to explain your reasoning. It was not OK for you to supply the links. That’s just one-upmanship.”

Ego #2“But, but,” I sputtered. “Don’t the links help me make my case?” “Your case for being an insufferable pedant? Yes, they do.” My 15-year-old son happened to pass by at that moment. “It’s all ego,” was his terse summation.

But was it? I’d like to think I’ve moved beyond the need to show off to employers – that I was propelled by the dictates of editorial integrity rather than naked ego. I tried to express this to Jackson. “OK, maybe ninety percent ego and ten percent everything else,” he said.

It all turned out fine in the end. My client sent me an email saying she agreed with my reasoning and had removed the errant comma. With a different client, though, the exchange might have taken a less amiable turn.

Reminder to self: A deleted comma may not be worth the loss of a client who supplies a third of my annual revenue.

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Error Etiquette

Is it OK to point out people’s language mistakes? You can argue it both ways. On the one hand, overlooking syntactic slipups (of the “I speak English pretty goodHB etiquette #5” variety) seems part of common courtesy, like disregarding someone’s use of the wrong fork at a sit-down dinner with Prince Andrew. I’d also rather avoid being seen as a grammar cop and leaving my conversational partners terrified to open their mouths lest the wrong words come out, like my former English students in Tokyo.

A therapist I used to see (after returning from Tokyo, in fact, my life a mess by any standard) offered an alternative point of view. I was complaining to him about a guy I was casually dating, whose stunning looks didn’t quite offset his arrested vocabulary and propensity for malapropisms. I’ll call him George. I explained that I found myself restricting my own use of language to avoid hitting George with words he didn’t know, and smiling politely when he identified himself as a “vivacious reader” or declared his “arid interest in motorsports.”

Error Etiquette #3According to said therapist, my self-censorship betrayed a lack of consideration for George. His reasoning: I was depriving George of the opportunity to improve his language skills and clearly thought him too dumb to care. Taking the therapist’s insight to heart, I used the word “hedonistic” on my next date with George and took his blank look as an invitation to define it. “I can look it up in the dictionary if I want,” George said curtly. So much for that experiment.

Since then, my general policy has been to keep mum about people’s English errors – except if they’re writers, editors, English teachers, or my husband. Of course, my husband can get back at me by pointing out my flagrant incompetence in getting computers, cell phones and DVD players to do my bidding. Given how many areas of modern life require these skills, he’s several eye-rolls ahead of me.

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Eats, Shites and Leaves

As I see it, being parodied is a pretty reliable barometer of success. For an up-to-the-minute example, we need look no further than Psy and the 33,000+ parodies his Gangnam Style song/video has spawned. When Weird Al Yankovic hitched his wagon to the parody star, he chose the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson for his material. So it pleased me to learn, when opening my birthday presents last week, that Lynne Truss’s 2006 diatribe against bad punctuation, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, had made enough of a mark to warrant a parody.

I have extolled Truss’s virtues in one my previous posts, so I’ll simply add this: Amid the meterological, economical and political storms rocking the globe, you’ve got to admire a woman who cares about commas and expounds on apostrophes – someone who understands, in other words, that instructions for saving our planet can be no mightier than the language they’re clothed in.

Eats, Shites and Leaves doesn’t disappoint, either. The inside flap describes the book as “a celebration of all things shite about the misuse of English, highlighting theESL #3 prevalence of absent apostrophes, ghastly grammar, suspect sentences and rambling repetitiveness.” In other words, the book I should have written. It’s the sort of book that merits a permanent spot on a word lover’s night table. When you need a break from reading about melting polar ice, just flip it open at random and you’re practically guaranteed a chuckle.

In a section called Carping On, the author, who goes by A. Parody, poses linguistic questions most of us have probably never considered: Do you find it reassuring that doctors call what they do practice? Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds? Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?

Some of the book’s “rules of good writing” come right out of my playbook, such as: a) eschew obfuscation, b) employ the vernacular, and c) hopefully you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them. In a similar vein, the book offers up common pleonasms, such as usual custom, revert back, and final conclusion, for the reader’s cackling pleasure.

ESL #3Sprinkling the book are quotes from famous verbal bumblers, with George W. Bush and Dan Quayle taking centre-stage. Here’s a sampling: “They say this issue wouldn’t resignate with the people. They’ve been proved wrong, it does resignate.” [Bush] “My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will never, never surrender to what is right.” [Quayle]  And the pièce de résistance: “The illiteracy level of our children are appalling.” [Bush]

If you like euphemisms, you’ll find enough of them to fit any situation requiring decorum. When it’s unseemly to refer to someone as crazy, for instance, you can say “a sandwich short of a picnic.” And forget “doing the nasty” as a euphemism for having sex – that’s so yesterday. Instead, you can say “parallel parking” or “fixing the plumbing.”

I hope I’ve given the die-hard word nerds among you enough of a taste that you’ll do the ka-ching thing and buy the book. And no, A. Parody is not me. Would that it were.

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Eats, Shites and Leaves

As I see it, being parodied is a pretty reliable barometer of success. For an up-to-the-minute example, we need look no further than Psy and the 33,000+ parodies his Gangnam Style song/video has spawned. When Weird Al Yankovic hitched his wagon to the parody star, he chose the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson for his material. So it pleased me to learn, when opening my birthday presents last week, that Lynne Truss’s 2006 diatribe against bad punctuation, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, had made enough of a mark to warrant a parody.

I have extolled Truss’s virtues in one my previous posts, so I’ll simply add this: Amid the meterological, economical and political storms rocking the globe, you’ve got to admire a woman who cares about commas and expounds on apostrophes – someone who understands, in other words, that instructions for saving our planet can be no mightier than the language they’re clothed in.

Eats, Shites and Leaves doesn’t disappoint, either. The inside flap describes the book as “a celebration of all things shite about the misuse of English, highlighting the prevalence of absent apostrophes, ghastly grammar, suspect sentences and rambling repetitiveness.” In other words, the book I should have written. It’s the sort of book that merits a permanent spot on a word lover’s night table. When you need a break from reading about melting polar ice, just flip it open at random and you’re practically guaranteed a chuckle.

In a section called Carping On, the author, who goes by A. Parody, poses linguistic questions most of us have probably never considered: Do you find it reassuring that doctors call what they do practice? Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds? Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?

Some of the book’s “rules of good writing” come right out of my playbook, such as: a) eschew obfuscation, b) employ the vernacular, and c) hopefully you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them. In a similar vein, the book offers up common pleonasms, such as usual custom, revert back, and final conclusion, for the reader’s cackling pleasure.

ESL #3

Sprinkled throughout the book are quotes from famous verbal bumblers, with George W. Bush and Dan Quayle taking centre-stage. Here’s a sampling: “My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will never, never surrender to what is right.” [Quayle]  “They say this issue wouldn’t resignate with the people. They’ve been proved wrong, it does resignate.” [Bush] And the pièce de résistance: “The illiteracy level of our children are appalling.” [Bush]

If you like euphemisms, you’ll find enough of them to fit any situation requiring decorum. When it’s unseemly to refer to someone as crazy, for instance, you can say “a sandwich short of a picnic.” And forget “doing the nasty” as a euphemism for having sex – that’s so yesterday. Instead, you can say “parallel parking” or “fixing the plumbing.”

I hope I’ve given the die-hard word nerds among you enough of a taste that you’ll do the ka-ching thing and buy the book. And no, A. Parody is not me. Would that it were.

Posted in Grammar, Language, Punctuation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments