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Jan. 2nd, 2007

grammar time

The misuse of 'infamous.'

Yesterday I decided to search some torrent sites and make sure I was up to date on all my TV shows. I randomly searched for an favorite of mine that I keep hoping will come out on DVD, Touching Evil (USA version). Luckily for me someone has the entire series (1 season, 13 episodes) available in one easy torrent. So I started the download. Then I got a nice laugh from the "description."

A little excerpt of that description for you: "The infamous 'Touching Evil' series from the USA Network (summer 2004) starring Jeffrey Donovan and Vera Farmiga (among others). Cancelled after one season apparently due to lack of viewership. As anyone will tell you, this is a good show. Highly watchable, even just the one season."

Let's ignore the erroneous and annoying assumption that everyone knows it was a good show, and focus on the misuse of 'infamous.' People do this all the time and it drives me nuts. I'm not sure what they think they're saying when they use it incorrectly, but from the context in this case, 'infamous' is definitely not the proper word.

Let's look at the definitions according to dictionary.com:
infamous [in-fuh-muhs] –adjective
1. having an extremely bad reputation: an infamous city.
2. deserving of or causing an evil reputation; shamefully malign; detestable: an infamous deed.
—Synonyms 1. disreputable, ill-famed, notorious. 2. disgraceful, scandalous; nefarious, odious, wicked, shocking, vile, base, heinous, villainous.
—Antonyms 1. reputable. 2. praiseworthy, admirable.
famous [fey-muh s] –adjective
1. having a widespread reputation, usually of a favorable nature; renowned; celebrated: a famous writer.
2. Informal. first-rate; excellent: The singer gave a famous performance.
3. notorious (used pejoratively)
—Synonyms 1. famed, notable, illustrious. Famous, celebrated, eminent, distinguished refer to someone or something widely and favorably known. Famous is the general word: a famous lighthouse. Celebrated originally referred to something commemorated, but now usually refers to someone or something widely known for conspicuous merit, services, etc.: a celebrated writer. Eminent implies high standing among one's contemporaries, esp. in one's own profession or craft: an eminent physician. Distinguished adds to eminent the idea of honors conferred more or less publicly: a distinguished scientist.
—Antonyms 1. unknown, obscure.

Famous people: Harrison Ford, Jennifer Aniston, George Washington, Trent Reznor...
Infamous people: Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Ted Bundy, Billy the Kid...

So to sum it up: Famous=Good and Infamous=Bad. And judging from the "As anyone will tell you, this is a good show" part of the description I quoted above, the writer liked the show (and the show didn't have a bad reputation) and therefore shouldn't have said 'infamous.' I wouldn't have used 'famous' either, maybe one of the synonyms of 'famous,' but not 'famous' because it wasn't popular enough to stay on-air, so it certainly wasn't famous.

The only thing I can think of to help remember the difference (if you don't just know it) is to remember something about how it is GOOD to use as few letters as possible, and since 'famous' is shorter than 'infamous,' 'famous' is good and 'infamous' is bad. That's all I got. Other ideas are welcome.

While we're sort of on the subject, 'notorious' means the same thing as 'infamous' and should only be used in a negative sense. Please do not use either 'notorious' or 'infamous' in a positive way hoping to be ironic. Doing that in writing just doesn't work. Here you go... 'notorious,' 'infamous,' and 'negative' all have Ns, so they are similar. That could help with remembering, also.

Dec. 26th, 2006

language definition


“Xmas” is not originally an attempt to exclude Christ from Christmas, but uses an abbreviation of the Greek spelling of the word “Christ” with the “X” representing the Greek letter chi. However, so few people know this that it is probably better not to use this popular abbreviation in religious contexts. (You can read more about this here. Of course, like all Wikipedia articles, this may not be completely accurate.)

This has been a tiny, holiday update brought to you by Christmas and the letter "X".

Dec. 21st, 2006

grammar time


Right now I feel like focusing on a pet peeve of mine, the misuse of homonyms, especially the "big four": your/you're, their/there/they're, its/it's, and too/to.

Yes, this stuff is BASIC, but I see mistakes EVERYWHERE!

Homonyms: Words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
No, homonyms are not gay members of a sentient race of plants in the Wheel of Time book series. Yes, I'm a geek and proud of it!

  • Your: "Your" is possessive, showing that 'you' owns the item in question (the 'you' is the addressee, the person the pronoun refers to). "Your" will always be followed by a noun, because nouns can be possessed. There can be adjectives between "your" and the noun, but there has to be a noun eventually. If your sentence doesn't have anything to do with someone possessing or owning something, using "your" is improper.
    "I saw your dog the other day." (you own the dog)
  • You're: "You're" is a contraction of the words "you are." Whenever two words are combined into contractions, there is an apostrophe in place of the removed letter(s), but the meaning stays the same. If you can't substitute "you are" in place of "you're," you're using it improperly.
    "If you do that, you're going to get hurt." (you're=you are)
  • Test: Whenever you're writing and have to choose between "your" and "you're", just think of the sentence with "you are" instead. If it sounds right, use "you're." If it doesn't, use "your."
  • Their: "Their" is possessive like "your," and is used like "your," though it shows ownership by two or more people that aren't involved in the conversation. "Their" is also always followed by a noun, or one or more adjectives and then a noun.
    "The clown ate their cotton candy." (cotton candy=noun)
  • There: "There" signifies a location.
    "There is the house, right there. But there isn't a place to park."
  • They're: "They're" is a contraction of "they are."
    "Who knows where they're going now!? Not me." (they're=they are)
  • Tests: "Their" contains the word "heir," and heirs possess things, eventually. :) "There" contains the word "here," which also has to do with locations. "They're" means "they are." Keep all that in mind when deciding which version to use.
  • Its: "Its" is possessive, showing that 'it' owns the item in question.
    "The cat wants some of its catnip." (the nip is the cat's)
  • It's: "It's" is a contraction of "it is." Again with the contractions. You see a pattern by now, I bet. Hopefully the pattern will help you remember. The ones with the apostrophes are contractions. Say the full words to see if you've got it right.
    "Next thing you know, it's five and the day is over." (it's=it is)
  • Test: Like with your/you're above, say "it is" in place of the its/it's. If it sounds right, ditch that second 'i' and use "it's." Otherwise it's "its!"
  • Story: During my sophomore year of high school I had a teacher that gave us spelling tests. One day during such a test, she said, "Its. The dog lost its bone." Now when we missed a word we had to write it over and over again (correctly) for a full sheet of paper. Here's my question: How on earth would writing "its" five million times help someone figure out how to USE it correctly? You know it was misspelled because people put the apostrophe in there, and not a 'z' or something!
  • Too: The only alternate meanings of "too" are "also" and "in excess." So if one of those can replace it, use "too." (Ha! A little pun. Puns are the best thing about homonyms.)
  • To: If not "too," use "to."
  • Test: Note the extra O on "too." That can remind you that this word has to do with adding more on to something.
These are the groupings I see misused the most and the ones that bug me to no end. I see others on occasion: hole/whole, threw/through, whether/weather, steak/stake, by/bye/buy, principal/principle, we're/were, new/knew... But the quickest way to make me laugh at a piece of writing it to misuse the "big four." I don't know why.

In case you're curious about other homonyms, there is a good list of them here.

Have any thoughts of other homonym related content I should include? Comment away!

Dec. 18th, 2006

grammar time

More than you ever wanted to know about genericized trademarks.

For my first post I'm going to explain the term genericized trademark.

A genericized trademark is a trademark or brand name that has become a description, basically turning the brand name generic. A proper noun turned common, or even into a verb. Mostly this is done to describe a service or product. Let's look at some examples.

(But first, from here on out, when I use "GT" I mean "genericized trademark.")

Kleenex is a brand name. Tissue is the generic name. But when someone says, "Please hand me a Kleenex," they mean tissue. So the 'k' on Kleenex in that sentence should almost be lowercase because the person is not technically using it as a brand name, though it is one, which is why it stays capitalized. Now because Kleenex is a popular brand name they often end up with a Kleenex anyway, but if it isn't a Kleenex brand tissue, the person being addressed won't go hunt for one that is, they'll just grab the tissue that is available and it's possible that neither party will catch on to the use of a GT.

You'd probably be surprised by even a partial list of GTs. Here are some that I came up with:
  • Q-Tips is a brand name. Cotton swabs is the generic name. I actually had to think for a minute to come up with cotton swabs because Q-Tips is so genericized.
  • Xerox is a brand name. Photocopier is the generic name. We don't Xerox documents, we photocopy them.
  • Band-Aids are adhesive bandages. I had to look at a Band-Aid box for that one. Is there another brand name of adhesive bandages? I can't think of one.
  • Vaseline is a brand name. Petroleum jelly is the generic name.
  • Chapstick is a brand name. Lip balm is the generic name. I often trip people up when they ask me if they can use my Chapstick by saying I don't have any, as I'm slipping it back into my pocket. They call me names or a liar or whatever and finally I say something like, "Oh, you mean my lip balm. Sure. Here." I'm weird like that.
  • Jell-O is a gelatin dessert.
  • Miracle Whip is salad dressing and sandwich spread made by Kraft Foods.
  • Sharpies are permanent markers.
  • Highlighters (Hi-Lighters or Hi-Liters) are highlighting markers.
  • Wite Out and Liquid Paper are correction fluids.
  • Post-It Notes are self-adhering notepads.
  • Scotch tape is transparent adhesive tape.
  • Super Glue and Krazy Glue are.... cyanoacrylate adhesive. Simplified things, didn't those names?
  • Velcro is a hook and loop fastener.
  • Saran Wrap and Glad Wrap are plastic wrap. Or as I call it, plasti-crap. :)
  • Ziplock is a brand name for (zippered) storage bags.
  • Crock-Pots are brand name slow cookers made by Rival Industries. Seriously. I got an email a few days ago that supports that. It always says slow cooker and not Crock-Pot. And if you go to the Crock-Pot website you can see a ® in the graphics of the site at the end of the name Crock-Pot.*
  • Tupperware is a line of plastic storage containers.
  • Polaroid is instant photography.
  • Advil is a brand of ibuprofen.
  • Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen, people!
  • Jacuzzis are whirlpool baths or hot tubs.
  • Styrofoam is polystyrene.
  • Jet Skis are motorized personal watercraft.
  • Mace is tear gas, an aerosol spray tear gas.
  • Rollerblades are inline skates.
  • Play-Doh is modeling compound. I suppose that's what it is. That's what it calls on the label. Maybe it's clay. Whatever.
  • Sheetrock is drywall.
Some are not as common as others, or are regional.
  • Coke is the shortened version of Coca-Cola, a brand name of a carbonated beverage, but in the Southern US is often genericized.
  • Levi's are denim jeans. That's not as common as it used to be. Could also be more regional.
  • Goodwill is a charity.
Recent genericizations:
  • Walkman and Discman: portable cassette and CD players, specifically made by Sony.
  • FedEx: A courier service that transports packages. The name has been turned into a verb meaning "to send something by courier service." e.g. "I FedExed it to them yesterday."
  • Photoshop: A computer program used to make and alter images. "Photoshopping" or " 'shopping" means "to digitally edit an image." e.g. "I 'shopped it to look like Nessie was in the lake."
  • TiVo: A digital video recorder. TiVo is often used to mean any type of DVR as well as turned into a verb meaning "to digitally record." e.g. "We're going bowling tonight, but there's a new episode of Veronica Mars on that I can't miss, so I'll just TiVo it."
  • Google: A company name as well as the name of an online search engine. Recently added to the dictionary as a verb meaning "to search the internet using Google." e.g. "I googled myself the other day, it was weird."
Now, the use of GTs is accepted, but not always proper (as I will demonstrate later on). And, as you can probably see, the majority of those trademarks are the most popular or most well-known product of its kind, or even the only one of its kind. That is probably the main reason why that trademark became genericized. Granted, a certain level of genericity can demonstrate just how successful a product, or mark, is. However, generic use of a trademark presents a risk to the enforcement of trademark rights and may lead to genericide, which is the process by which trademark rights are diminished or lost because of common use, and the mark essentially becomes the very name of the product. So once it gets to the point that the company can no longer legally enforce their rights regarding that mark, the mark would then become part of the public domain.This has happened on several occasions; Phillips-head screws were patented in 1936, but it was lost 13 years later; the patent on the word thermos was lost in 1963; the Allen wrench name is also no longer trademarked; the pilates trademark was canceled by a court in 2000. Understandably, many companies take issue with GTs because of genericide.

Like I said above, there is technically nothing wrong with using a GT in your writings, so long as you do it properly.
  • Incorrect: "They bought a jacuzzi." Or, "They bought a Jacuzzi hot tub."
    The first incorrect example is incorrect because Jacuzzi is a brand name and should be capitalized. The second example is incorrect because a Jacuzzi is a hot tub, so saying 'Jacuzzi hot tub' is redundant.
    Corrected: "They bought a Jacuzzi." Or, "They bought a Jacuzzi brand hot tub."
  • Incorrect: "Go Xerox this for me." Or, "Don't forget to TiVo Supernatural tonight!"
    It is always incorrect to use a brand name as a verb, even if you capitalize it. Yes, "To google" is in the dictionary as a verb, so that could be an exception, though it shouldn't be.
    Corrected: "Go photocopy this for me." Or, "Don't forget to record Supernatural tonight!"
  • Use GTs wisely. When you want to refer to a brand name product, feel free to do so. If your character cooks, it can be with a Crock-Pot. But if your character just wants a tissue, call it a tissue.
And now, finally, the GT that inspired this post...

IPODS ARE MP3 PLAYERS. Or even better, digital music players.

I was reading through a blog about my phone the other day when I came upon a comment to a post that referred to the phone's ability to play mp3s. It said, "I'd love to have this phone become my ipod."

(This is where I demonstrate why a GT isn't always proper and can even be used improperly.)

Uh, no, it can't ever become your iPod because it is a phone made by LG, not an mp3 player made by Apple!!!! I become infuriated when people call my mp3 player an iPod. It isn't an iPod (an mp3 player made by Apple), it's a Jukebox Zen (an mp3 player manufactured by Creative). The use is improper, not to mention it's an insult to a superior product. But that's a different argument.

(Chances are that person does own an iPod, but I'd bet my next paycheck he/she doesn't know the difference between an iPod and another mp3 player anyway.)

Anyway, here's a bit of fun trivia about yet another GT. Frisbee = flying disc. The Frisbie name started with the Frisbie Baking Company (1871-1958). Of course their name was on the bottom of each pie tin, and hungry college students soon found that the empty pie tin took to the air well and could be caught and tossed back. Thus the first Frisbees were invented, though it would be decades before men unaffiliated with the Frisbie Baking Company would apply for the patent on their plastic flying disc. And change the spelling of the name. (If you know me, you know why I knew this before I started this post and why I didn't type "a bit of random trivia" above.)

That's all folks!

(And because I'm insane like this.... Instead of saying "I'd love to have this phone become my ipod" the commenter actually should have said, "I'd love to have this phone take the place of my iPod" or even "..... phone replace my iPod." So the sentence is improper both grammatically and with its use of a GT. Though had he/she written the sentence properly, this post wouldn't exist. You decide which is the better outcome.)

*Looking for the trademark symbol is a good way to investigate generalized trademarks. The ® means the item is a "registered trademark," a trademark that is officially registered and governmentally recognized. The ™ symbol means "trademark," but one that isn't registered, so basically it just stakes a claim.

Wikipedia Article: Genericized Trademarks
Wikipedia Listing: List of generic and genericized trademarks
What's In A Word? Patents & Trademarks
History of the Frisbee
US Patent & Trademark Office - Basic Facts About Trademarks
Accidental Blogger: Fast Track To Merriam-Webster

Dec. 17th, 2006

grammar time


Have a question? Ask me here.

Dec. 5th, 2006

grammar time

(sans subject)

this entry was intentionally left blank

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