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Jun. 4th, 2008

grammar time

It's like I did this myself...

Find more graph humor and song chart memes here.

Jan. 19th, 2008

grammar time

You say neether and I say nyther...

... and that's fine. But you need to pronounce Nevada correctly.
I've been meaning to write this post for months now because it's a SERIOUS pet peeve of mine, and I finally found proper motivation.

I've lived in Nevada for over 25 years, and I promise you, there is a correct and an incorrect way to pronounce the state's name. While not foolproof, the difference is often used as a shibboleth to distinguish established residents from new and non-residents. It is also often used as a test to determine how informed a visiting politician is, although many seem to have wised up to it.

Correct: Nevada, where the first 'a' is a short vowel, sounding like the 'a' in 'cat'.
Incorrect: Nevada, where the first 'a' sounds like the 'ah' in "Open up and say 'ah' while I shove this pickaxe down your throat for mispronouncing Nevada."

Granted, the second pronunciation is closer to (but not exactly) the original Spanish pronunciation of the word--which means "snow-covered" or "covered in snow" and refers to the mountains of the state--but there are plenty of cities and states out there whose names were Anglicized when they were made proper nouns, and no one says their pronunciation is wrong. In fact, not a single U.S. state whose name has Spanish origins is pronounced the Spanish way. Not one! Just think about Florida, Oregon, Colorado, California, Montana, and New Mexico. How about cities like Los Angeles, Cape Canaveral or Toledo. And even Las Vegas! None of those places are supposed to be pronounced with their original Spanish pronunciation, and neither is Nevada.

This is not just a quirk of some people who live here. The pronunciation of our state name is an official thing. The Nevada State Archivist wrote an article1 about it. Back in 2005 the Nevada Commission on Tourism issued2 a specialty license plate that included a breve3 over the first 'a' to indicate the correct way to pronounce Nevada. [image]

I often hear a response like "tomato, tomahto" when I talk about this mispronunciation. But it isn't the same thing. With 'tomato' it's just a difference in pronunciations, the spelling and meaning are the same. But with 'Nevada' it's different. The state's name is derived from the Spanish word. Think of it kind of like 'august'. You don't say, "My brother was born in aw-GUST," do you? Of course not. Multiple pronunciations, multiple definitions, one spelling. The technical word for this is 'heteronym'. Now, it's slightly different because my state's name is taken from the Spanish word, but it still applies. So no, it's not "tomato, tomahto" at all.

Nevada is the most mispronounced state name in the union. But it's far worse on the east side of the Mississippi than it is on the west. This incorrect pronunciation has been mostly perpetuated by "talking heads" on the news. East Coast newsreaders learn how to pronounce Uzbekistan but won't take 20 seconds to do a little regional research to learn how to pronounce the names of western states like Nevada and Oregon. WTF? This serves to spread the bad pronunciation to the average citizens of the country, who assume news anchors are "well informed" about the world.

This is an awfully hard topic to cover in print, since it centers around pronunciation. I was about to make a voice post to further clarify the pronounciations when I found this recent NBC Nightly News broadcast (1/16/08):

To all the people who say we pronounce it wrong or think this is a non-issue that Nevadans need to get over: A Nevadan's desire to hear their state name pronounced correctly doesn't have anything to do with insecurities, culture, psychology, or language. What if your name was Linda? Would you want people to call you Lean-duh, the Spanish pronunciation of the word that means 'pretty'? No, because your name is pronounced Lynn-duh, not Lean-duh. You want to hear your name pronounced correctly, and why shouldn't you? It's your name and you dictate how to pronounce it. Well, we want to hear our state's name pronounced correctly. Because it's OUR state's name! And WE decided how to pronounce it, and we say Nevăda! So, actually, it's a matter of pride and respect. And also of clarity. Pronounce it our way and you are talking about the state. Pronounce it the Spanish way and you are using the Spanish word that means "snow covered" so your sentence will make no sense. That is what it is all about. Get over yourself, naysayer, you pronounce it wrong. Deal with that.

Final point: I know people from Mexico and Cuba who live here and pronounce it the correct way. Don't call the whole thing off, call it Nevăda.

Some fun:
I've kept a list off and on of people who do and don't pronounce Nevada correctly. I don't watch the news or care about politics, so I don't keep a list like the one mentioned in the video. Mine is mostly made up of people on television shows I watch. This is incomplete and ongoing, and I welcome your submissions.

I love lists!Collapse )

Related Links:
Arthur knows everything.
State archivist says it's home rule for proper pronunciations
Nevada's Wikipedia article
Nevada's definition @ the MSN Encarta Dictionary - I love this entry. No mention of the Spanish etymology and the correct pronunciation. Go MSN! You rule at online dictionaries.

1. Pronouncing Nevada
2. Nevada Commission on Tourism Unveils Specialty License Plate to Help Fund Tourism-Building Projects
3. Breve - A breve (Latin brevis "short, brief") is a diacritical mark ˘, shaped like the bottom half of a circle. It indicates the pronunciation of a short vowel.
Image source: NBC story tonight on pronouncing 'Nevada'

Oct. 11th, 2007


Just An Interesting Link

I love reading about US regional language differences, so I found this interesting.

The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy


Jul. 13th, 2007

beat you in the name of grammar

Just a quick bit of ridiculousness...

Though I may have all ready lost my hope for humanity, this kills the chance of it returning:

New dictionary includes 'ginormous.'

Merriam-Webster has lost any respect it may have possibly had.

Stay tuned for more on dictionaries, I'm in the middle of a post that matters to me more today than ever before.

Jul. 3rd, 2007

word nerd


Logophilia: The love of words.

I realize that only the largest of all geeks have favorite words, and I'm proud to admit that I have several.

Defenestrate - To throw somebody or something out of a window. (I think the TV show Dark Angel introduced me to this word, and I just love it. It's a great word, but it doesn't resemble its definition at all, IMO.)
Illumination - Enlightenment; decoration on a page. (I owe my appreciation of this word to the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)
Flibbertigibbet - A flighty person. (A versatile word, used in many places like Shakespeare's King Lear, The Sound of Music, and Joe Verses the Volcano. :D)
Crepuscular - Active in low light; of or like twilight. (Thank you, Bill Engvall, for introducing me to this word. I like it because it is so odd. It sounds like it should have something to do with anatomy; when you look at the actual meaning, it seems too harsh to mean that.)
Sesquipedalian - a word with many letters or syllables. (Hellooooo irony.)
Apothecary - Pharmacy; pharmacist. (I dunno why I like this, I just do.)
Coccyx - The human tailbone. (Yes, I like it because it sounds dirty. LOL I once broke mine and had much fun explaining the little pillow. Me: "I broke my coccyx." Other person: "Your WHAT?")
Uvula - Flap in the throat. (Yup, that hangy-downy thing in the back of your throat, it's your uvula. Sounds dirty also, but you'll impress your doctor if you ever use the word during a checkup!)
Chicken - A kind of fowl, Gallus domesticus. (You read it right, chicken. In the car the other day, while on hold with seftiri I started listing out loud the things I needed to buy at my destination, the grocery store. Chicken was the main item and the more I said it, the more I liked it. ChickenChickenChickenChickenChicken)
Banana - Long curved yellow fruit. (Again, I just like to say it.)
Queue - Line; list of data. (It is apparently the longest word that is pronounced the same as the first letter. Fascinating.)
Sequoia - Large tree that grows in California, Sequoia sempervirens, Sequoiadendron giganteum. (It uses every vowel just once! And a 'q'! How great is that? Scrabble gold!)
Facetious - Intended to be funny. (Another panvowel* [word that uses every vowel just once]. But it uses them in alphabetical order! Awesome!)
Vestibule - Enclosed area. (I blame Chandler on Friends for my liking of this word.)
Shibboleth - Identifying word or custom; common saying or belief; catchword or slogan. (I learned this word from an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.)
Bookkeeper - Individual who keeps track of money transactions. (I like it because it has three consecutive letter pairs, 'oo' 'kk' 'ee'.)

Note: I like the WORDS, not necessarily the concept. There's a difference. The words don't have to be particularly cerebral in definition, either.
Also: If the word has more than one definition, I've shown the one(s) I like the best.

*I'm not positive of this term. I can't find the term elsewhere, nor can I find a different term to fit the definition.

Got any favorite words to share?

Related Links:
Merriam-Webster Top 10 Favorite Words of 2004
FUCK!: The Perfect Word

Jul. 1st, 2007

language definition

Who killed 'Whom?'

'Whom' has been dying a slow and painful death for decades. Many people consider 'whom' a problem word. Few people seem to know how to use it properly. Even worse, many people consider the rules of its usage "archaic" and often ignore them. Very few people correctly use it in speech. And those who know the rules don't usually bother to apply them. It's understandable then, that many people don't use the word, especially in informal contexts such as casual conversations and emails to friends. But if we are trying to be careful writers and speakers, the differences between 'who' and 'whom' are something to remember.

First thing for you to know is that who/whom is a pair of pronouns just like he/him and she/her. There's a quick and easy trick that I'll tell you about later, but you get to actually learn first.

We'll start with 'who.' Use 'who' when you are referring to the subject of a verb. (The subject of a verb is the person or thing that is performing the action. Never use 'who' when referring to a thing.)

Who paid for the meal?
I didn't see who stole your newspaper.
I wonder who is upstairs. (the verb is "to be"; i.e. "who is")

Now for 'whom.' Use 'whom' when you are referring to the object of a verb. (The object of a verb is the person or thing that is receiving the action. Never use 'whom' when referring to a thing.)

Whom should I vote for?
To whom did you give the letter?
You know exactly whom I'm talking about.

Note: Always use 'whom' after prepositions such as 'to', 'with', 'by', 'on', 'in', 'near' etc.
Note: These rules also apply to the use of 'whoever' and 'whomever'.

And I said above, who/whom is simply a pair of pronouns. So just swap them out!. 'Who' is used where a nominative pronoun could also be used; if you can substitute 'I', 'we', 'he', 'she', 'you', or 'they' for it, then 'who' is correct. 'Whom' is used where an objective pronoun could be; if you can substitute 'me', 'us', 'him', 'her', or 'them', then 'whom' is correct.

Whom did you see leave? - Did you see him leave?
Who did you say left? - Did you say he left?
Who gave us the day off? - He gave us the day off.

Seems easy enough, usually. But when you get into longer and more complicated sentences it requires more forethought.

He knows who/whom to call. - He knows to call him. [use whom]
The members who/whom have paid their dues are qualified to vote. - Members are qualified to vote if they paid their dues. [use who]
Who/whom did you say called? - Did you say he called? [use who]
She was a person who/whom the politicians could not influence. - The politicians could not influence a person like her. [use whom].

So just stop and think about it; many intelligent people pause while they're talking. They're thinking before they speak!

Knowing when to use 'whom' is more than most people can manage. And if people rarely use 'whom' in spoken English, they quickly become disinclined to use it in written English. Clumsy speech influences us more than careful writing does.

If 'whom' sounds "pretentious" in spoken English, it's only because we seldom hear it used. And though 'whom' is on the endangered list, it endures here and there, among those who still value elegance in language.

Show 'whom' the respect it deserves. Use it correctly. :)

Grammar Monster: Who & Whom
The American Heritage Book of English Usage
Dr. Grammar: Who or Whom?
Whom's Doom
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English

Jun. 26th, 2007

grammar time

Let's be literal.

Literal. The misuse of 'literal' and 'literally' have bugged me for a long time now, and a recent commercial for Rejuvalife has reminded me to post about it. The commercial in question claims that their product can help you "literally reclaim younger skin." Definitely not the worse use of 'literally' that I've ever seen or heard, but also not correct.

First, let's look at dictionary.com's definition of 'literally':
literally (–adverb)
1. in the literal or strict sense: What does the word mean literally?
2. in a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.
3. actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy: The city was literally destroyed.
4. in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.
[Origin: 1525–35; literal -ly]
So according to the first three definitions of the word, in order to "literally reclaim younger skin" you'd have to gather up all your dead, sloughed off skin cells and reaffix them to your body with this cosmetic. Ew.

Yes, the fourth definition makes that sentence okay, because it is possible to reclaim younger skin "in effect," but according to the usage note listed with the above definition, 'literally' didn't originate with two opposite definitions, meaning it wasn't always the Janus word (a single word that has opposite meanings; also called autoantonyms, contranyms, contronyms, antilogies, and enantiodromes) it seems to be now:
—Usage note: Since the early 20th century, literally has been widely used as an intensifier meaning "in effect, virtually," a sense that contradicts the earlier meaning "actually, without exaggeration": The senator was literally buried alive in the Iowa primaries. The parties were literally trading horses in an effort to reach a compromise. The use is often criticized; nevertheless, it appears in all but the most carefully edited writing. Although this use of literally irritates some, it probably neither distorts nor enhances the intended meaning of the sentences in which it occurs. The same might often be said of the use of literally in its earlier sense "actually": The garrison was literally wiped out: no one survived.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
Of course it 'appears in all but the most carefully edited writing!' Most people don't realize that one is an incorrect use of the word, because they've heard it used both ways. I hate how the dictionaries give into the butchering of the English language and add alternate definitions to justify the misuse. How long does a word have to misused before one or more dictionaries will turn that misuse proper? Just because a word is used in a certain way doesn't mean that needs to be an official definition of the word. That just means it's a slang usage. More recent slang usages of words are noted in dictionaries, but because this word was ruined in the early 20th century (according to other sources it happened much earlier than that), people have completely forgotten that it isn't proper. The point that this misuse of 'literally' "neither distorts nor enhances the intended meaning of the sentence" is meaningless. Obviously it doesn't distort the intended meaning of a sentence. Technically, nothing can distort it, because only the author of the sentence knows the intended meaning. But it does distort the understood meaning, depending on which definition the reader applies. If you ask me, this 'usage note' is poorly written and doesn't make a point.

Though I usually don't like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website, I prefer its definition of 'literally':
Function: adverb
1 : in a literal sense or manner : ACTUALLY <took the remark literally> <was literally insane>
2 : in effect : VIRTUALLY <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice -- Norman Cousins>
usage Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.
I think the usage note needs to add that if sense 2 isn't used as a hyperbole, then the usage is incorrect.

Even the definition of the word 'literal' backs up the idea that 'literally' has acquired an incorrect definition:
literal (-adjective)
1. in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the literal meaning of a word.
2. following the words of the original very closely and exactly: a literal translation of Goethe.
3. true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual: a literal description of conditions.
4. being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy: the literal extermination of a city.
5. (of persons) tending to construe words in the strict sense or in an unimaginative way; matter-of-fact; prosaic.
6. of or pertaining to the letters of the alphabet.
7. of the nature of letters.
8. expressed by letters.
9. affecting a letter or letters: a literal error.
10. a typographical error, esp. involving a single letter.
[Origin: 1350-1400; Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin litterālis, of letters, from Latin littera, lītera, letter; see letter]
Where in those 10 definitions of 'literal' do you see anything that will allow the addition of 'ly' to the end of it to so distort the meaning of the word that it means the opposite? Especially when you look at the definition of 'ly':
1. a suffix forming adverbs from adjectives: gladly; gradually; secondly.
2. a suffix meaning "every," attached to certain nouns denoting units of time: hourly; daily.
3. an adjective suffix meaning "-like": saintly; cowardly.
Nope. That suffix doesn't express a reversal of the word's original meaning.

Now let's look at the etymology of the word literal:
literal - 1382, "taking words in their natural meaning" (originally in ref. to Scripture and opposed to mystical or allegorical), from O.Fr. literal, from L.L. lit(t)eralis "of or belonging to letters or writing," from L. lit(t)era "letter." Sense of "verbally exact" is attested from 1599. Literal-minded is attested from 1869. Literally is often used erroneously, even by writers like Dryden and Pope, to indicate "what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense" (1687), which is opposite to the word's real meaning.
So if you look at the origins of the word, you see nothing about it meaning 'virtually' or 'very nearly.' It comes from the Latin word for 'letter' and is defined as 'exactly as described' or 'according to the letter.' This is where I believe the misuse began. The use of 'literally' in the sentence "He copied the paragraph literally," is the most perfect use according to the etymology, but it's rarely used this way. When we use the words 'literal' and 'literally' to refer to thoughts or actions—instead of words or individual letters—it is the beginning of the slippery slide into figurative (mis)use.

I can find no information giving a historical need for the misuse of the word 'literally.' The only reason other than possible ignorance of the real definition, is misuse for irony and humor that was misunderstood, distorted, and accepted. For literary examples of abuse, see this column.

Ambrose Bierce included 'literally' in Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, offering the sentence—"His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet."—as suspect. "It is bad enough to exaggerate," he wrote, "but to affirm the truth of the exaggeration is intolerable." H.W. Fowler complained in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage that, "We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that ... we do not hesitate to insert the very word that we ought to be at pains to repudiate."

If you still don't quite understand the correct vs. incorrect usages of 'literal' and 'literally,' here are some examples:
-He copied the sentence literally.
-That is a literal translation.
-Read that in the literal sense.
-Misspelling a word is a literal error.
-Never say something you don't want taken literally.

-The house literally burned to the ground. (Works if no part of the house was left standing.)
-I literally ran from the car to the store. (If you ran the moment you got out of the car until you reached the door of the store, then this is okay.)

-The house literally burned to the ground. (If some of the house was still in place, like a fireplace or a wall or two, this is incorrect.)
-She was so thirsty she literally drank the lake dry. (That's not possible.)
-He jumped so high he literally touched a star. (Also not possible.)
-When I gave him the bad news he literally blew up in my face. (Although an informal definition of "to blow up" is "to lose one's temper," under the technical definitions, this use conveys an incorrect [and traumatizing] image.)
-The founder literally gave birth to the new fraternity. (Um, woah, wrong and impossible on so many levels. Check this out!)

-The drawing she made was literally perfect. (That's redundant. Something can either be perfect or imperfect. To put literally in front of perfect is unnecessary.)
-My dog was literally half the size of his dog. (Again, it's redundant and unnecessary. It's only there for emphasis, any other words work better in that case.)
-I literally ate the whole hamburger. (Good, because I was worried you ate half and snorted the rest.)

Makes me mourn for the death of our language:
You gotta see it to believe it! Under the heading "Showering down."
To finally wind down this posting, my recommendation for use:

Don't use it. You'll use it wrong. :)

Seriously. Just try to leave 'literally' out. If you can't, I recommend replacing it with a synonym. You'll avoid confusion, if nothing else. (Just don't use 'basically,' 'virtually' or 'actually' please!)

Must see!

Strongly Recommended Additional Reading:
Robert Fulford's column about the word 'literally'

Related Links:
-A blog dedicated to "tracking abuse of the word 'literally.'": Literally, A Web Log
-Article: The Trouble with 'literally.'

As always, I'd love your input, and to see misuses of 'literal' and 'literally' that you come across. I also welcome anything you find that talks about the misuse of these words. Thanks!

May. 7th, 2007

statler &amp; waldorf

A writing piece.

I entered the very first lj_contests contest: LiveJournal's Non-Fiction Writing Essay Contest. According to that post: "The topic should center on how women’s issues and/or women’s history have affected you personally." Official Rules & Regulations

The contest started only a few days after my grandmother's funeral, and she was the inspiration for the essay I wrote. I know, essay, that sound very junior high, but what can you expect, really?

My entry.Collapse )

So that was my entry. I went for more of a journalistic, biographical writing style, mostly because I was still quite emotional over it, so this was the best approach for my feelings. I didn't include any mention of her death because that wasn't the focus of the story, her life and accomplishments were.

Anyway, according to the contest rules, there were two winners. One chosen by the LJ staff and one chosen by the members of the LJ community (out of the pre-selected ten that were up for vote). You can read those ten entries in the community (one through five and six through ten), as well as the non-eligible showcase favorites and the two grand prize winners.

That's all folks! (For this entry, that is. I know I've been neglecting this journal, hopefully that'll be fixed soon.) Thanks for reading my essay, and feel free to tell me what you think!

Jan. 12th, 2007

shoes fit of joy

And I took this while talking on the phone!

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

Thanks to oracledelphi617 for pointing me to this quiz.

Jan. 4th, 2007

grammar time

Look before you publish.

Here's a good idea: Read over what you write to be sure it makes sense before you print it and send it to millions of people. Maybe have somebody else read it too.

The company I'm currently working for is in the process of closing, and recently had the mail forwarded. After submitting the info to the USPS we received a form letter of sorts. Here is the entire letter:
The purpose of this letter is to confirm that this request to forward mail is correct.

If this Change-Of-Address Order is for someone who has already moved from this address, no action is needed.

If the information above is correct, no action is needed.

If anything is incorrect with the Change-Of-Address order shown above, or if you did not ask the Postal Service to forward your mail, please call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

It is important that we work together to ensure proper mail delivery. The United States Postal Service values you as a customer, and we appreciate the opportunity to serve you.

Si Ud. no habla ingles o no comprende esta carta, favor de llevar esta carta a su oficina local de correo para ayuda.

(If you do not speak English or you do not understand this letter, please take it with you to your local post office for assistance.)
If you're curious, that last line is a translation of the Spanish. Which is unnecessary, because really, if you do not (technically) understand the letter, how would you know whether or not to take it with you to the post office, or even know to go to the post office AT ALL?! If you can read English, what's hard to understand about that letter? And if you can't read English or Spanish, what good does that translation/warning do? This illustrates the importance of betas and editors. They don't know what you meant, only what you said!

I laughed my ass off for several minutes after reading that letter, and even showed the letter to my dad (my boss) and he thought it was amusing too, so I thought I'd share the funny.

Stupid people should have to wear signs.

I'm going to end this with a related and amusing image.

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