Saturday, April 25, 2009
"Try and Remember A Time in September"
Consider this notice I saw posted recently:
"Be sure and remove your papers from the table before leaving the room."
"Oh," you say, "Is there something wrong with that sentence? Looks perfectly fine to me."
What does it mean?
"Um...is this is trick question? Because I think it means: make sure to pick up my stuff before heading out."
Well! If the writer had actually written "Make sure that you remove your papers..." that at least would have been correct grammar. Because, and here the grammar cop is almost reduced to tears, because there is no verb form in the english language that uses and as a substitute for to.
That's right. "...And remove" is completely meaningless in this sentence. The writer should have written "Be sure to remove....". Otherwise the sentence is really two ideas, one of which could be construed as redundant:
1. Be sure. This sentence is grammatically an imperative or a command to the reader to not be mistaken. Yes. Isn't that what "Be sure" means?
2. And remove your papers from the table before leaving the room. Since strictly speaking, no sentence can begin with a conjunctive, it would be better written as simply another imperative statement to "Remove your papers from the table before leaving the room." (Can you count how many times though I have committed that lapse in grammar here myself?)
So, what we really have here, in this crime against literacy, is a command to be sure, (but really we don't know what we are supposed to be sure of), and a command to remove your papers. I would argue that being sure is completely redundant and rather patronizing.
"But", you sputter, "I use that construct all the time in spoken english and it is universally understood by everyone I communicate with". There is only one way, I tell you, to construct an infinitive (which is how the sentence should be built) and that is with the root of the verb remove plus the word to.* The same applies to the use of "try and" and "go".
In case you think that my rantings would hold up in the high court of literacy, alas, it appears they would not, as suggested by Mark Israel:
"These colloquial constructions are synonymous, or nearly so, with "try to", "be sure to", and "go and" respectively, those equivalents being undisputedly acceptable in both formal and informal style. They are syntactic curiosities in that they can only be used in conjugations identical to the infinitive: we can say "to try and do it", "try and do it" (imperative), "I'll try and do it", "if I try and do it", and "he did try and make the best of it", but not "if he tries and does it" or "he tried and did it" with the same sense."
And Bartelby lets us know that:
"For generations, commentators have criticized try and, as in I’ll try and see her tomorrow, preferring try to in such constructions. Both have been in constant use throughout the period, however, and the main difference is that try and is almost always limited to Casual and Impromptu levels and their written imitations, whereas try to is Standard, appropriate at all levels."
I suggest that you be the judge of this matter for I have become weary of the fight.
Infinitive: the root of a verb plus the word to. To sleep, perchance to dream. A present infinitive describes a present condition: "I like to sleep." The perfect infinitive describes a time earlier than that of the verb: "I would like to have won that game."
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
I Need a Place to Quiess My Weary Head
1. Quiess the Testing Environment.
So...what the heck does quiess mean, everyone asked. Well the grammar detective squad got right on it. Turns out that there is no such verb. Doesn't exist. Never did. What's happened is that some geek who knows more about fibre optic cabling than language thinks (s)he is also an expert in the fine art of human communication. The nerd has gotten it into her head that just because she knows the $5.00 word queiscent and can use it in a sentence to impress her new boyfriend, that she can make up a word that she thinks derives from the root. In fact, it's a feeble attempt to create a verb from the Latin quiescere that means "to become quiet or rest". So our misguided geek wants to put the testing environment in a state of quiet or inactivity, perhaps to distinguish that state from a complete shutdown of servers and services. That's my guess. Here is the definition that has gotten our technical guru into all the trouble in the first place: (from the online Webster's dictionary -)
Main Entry: qui·es·cent
Etymology: Latin quiescent-, quiescens, present participle of quiescere to become quiet, rest, from quies
1 : marked by inactivity or repose : tranquilly at rest 2 : causing no trouble or symptoms
synonyms see latent
— qui·es·cent·ly adverb
Monday, September 19, 2005
Can Legs Ever Be Akimbo?
Sunday, August 28, 2005
What is a Candlelight Vigual?
A vigil is, according to the Merriam-Webster, an act or period of watching or surveillance. It can mean a watch before a religious festival, spiritual preparation before a religious feast, evening devotion or prayers and keeping awake during a time when sleep is customary. It is also associated with keeping an evening watch of any kind. This particular word is prounounced vij-ill. There is no extra syllable ooo in this word.
The word prounouced as vig-ooo-all does not exist. If anyone call tell me what the etymology of pronouncing vigil this way is, since it is so prevalent, I would be most interested.
So next time you want to tell your friends about a candlelight vigil you went to, do your listener a big favour and prounounce the second word as vij-ill.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Isn't the Word Herb Prounounced "Hurb"?
If you are referring to Herb the person, then by all means prounounce it hurb. In fact you must. There is no other way to call out to Herb. If you mean a variety of plants that include rosemary, thyme, basil, peppermint, corriander, and parsley, to mention only a few, then you can prounounce it in one of two ways: hurb or urb. Both are perfectly acceptable.
I have done an independent (and very unscientific) survey and have found that at least in Toronto, Canada if you are over forty the chances of prounouncing it as urb are extremely good. If you under forty you will invariably prounounce it as hurb and screw up your nose if you hear urb. But now you will also know what generation the speaker is from!
Thursday, August 11, 2005
How do You Prounounce the Word Victuals?
First, we should get the meaning of this word out of the way. Victuals means food or provisions, especially food meant for people. So let me tell you how I think it is supposed to be prounounced (and it seems that I am not alone in this): vick two alls or if I say it faster: vickchewls. You may be very surprised as I was to learn that this word should be pronounced: vitilz. vittles. Listen to it yourself: victual. Now vittles, by the way, is an valid alternate, and I think, more reasonable spelling.
I think I only ever heard this word used on The Beverly Hillbillies. (Didn't Jed often tell Granny to put them vittles on the table?) Or Hee Haw. Its etymology is from Middle French adopted into Middle English originating from the Latin victus meaning nourishment. Who knew?
And it may interest you to know that someone who provides victuals is known as a victualler and that this is pronounced as vittler
If you have similiar stories about your disconnect between a word you saw in print and how you misprounounced it - I invite you to let me know about it. Let us share your pain.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Why Does J.D. Salinger use the Word Crumby?
I think I might find myself using crumbier in my writing rather than crummier, but crummiest rather than crumbiest. They just feel more natural. Whatever turns your crank, as they say, because all four are acceptable. So are crumminess and crumbiness if you want to be a an advocate for variety. As always, the watchword is consistency in your writing. We can at least be thankful that for all the dozens of times Salinger used it in his novel, (his main character also found most of the people in his life phony and used the word to excess), it was always spelled the same way.
If you do use crumby in your written communications rest assured that you can hold your head up high and cite its use in that classic work of the twentieth century.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
"Lay. Lie. You've Got Me on My Knees. Lay. Lie." - Eric Clapton
I will not blame you if you now want to go straight past this particular column. I can imagine that your eyes are glazing over. I know I would have been inclined to surf entirely away from this blog.
Thanks for sticking around. Now: Let' s get down to business.
The main difference between the verbs to lay and to lie is that lay is usually transitive, meaning the verb refers to an object and lie is usually intransitive, meaning it does not refer directly to an object. It is the difference between the chicken lays an egg and the tired chicken lies down.
Lay, as a verb, means, in general and most commonly, to place or put something down. This can be as in lay that egg, lay a bet, lay flooring, lay the land to waste. It also means to assert or allege as in lay claim to my fortune. And of course, it can be used as a synonym for copulation. The past tense of this word is laid. She laid a bet on my behalf. The chicken laid an egg. The army laid the land to waste. He laid claim to my enormous fortune on the occasion of my death. For the first time in many months, he was finally laid. The past participle is also laid as in: He has laid tile many times before.
Lie, as a verb can mean to recline in a horizontal position. She went inside to lie down. It can also mean to be in a place or to exist in a certain state as in the water must lie deep below the ground, the egg lies beneath the chicken, the matter lies in your hands, he lies in wait for his enemy. The past tense of lie is lay and this is often where the confusion exists for speakers and writers. Yesterday she lay down. We discovered that the jewels lay in the dragon's lair. Last year the matter lay in your hands but now it lies in mine. The past participle is lain. He has lain in wait for his enemy for many days.
(I don't think anyone reading this has any trouble with the verb lie that means to tell an untruth. Its past tense and past participle is lied . Do not lie about where you were last night. She lied to me about where she was last night. He has lied about where he found that chicken. )
Martin H. Manser in his book Good Word Guide reminds us that to lay low and to lie low are two very different things. Laying low means to actually place something down or in a low position. To lie low is the one that means to be in hiding. Now you know.
The Merriam-Webster people seem very intolerant of those of us who use these words interchangeably. They acknowledge that "...lay has been used in the...sense of lie since the 14th century." That is a very long time. But still they admonish: "Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do." Whoa. Harsh.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Is There Something Wrong with Writing I Should of Taken the Road Less Travelled?
Of, my well meaning friend, is a preposition that has a variety of meanings and functions none of which fulfill the requirements of being a verb.
I know your staff and peers are just being being polite. I have been there. I have had to endure this kind of grammar offence from my managers. Really. It is not worth embarrassing you over it. But just stop doing it. Please. Knowing readers will appreciate it and have new respect for you.
Note: Careful readers will notice that Mark Z. Danielewski uses the construction everywhere in his novel House of Leaves. This usage does not make the practice correct. If anybody can give me a reasonable explanation for why he would dare ticking off discerning lovers of literature like that, I would be most interested.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Do Discreet and Discrete Mean the Same Thing?
Discrete is an adjective which indicates separateness and disctinctiveness. He had to remove the discrete parts of the mechanism that were causing the problem. Each discrete formula has its own properties. The discrete colouring of the animal was very striking.
Friday, July 22, 2005
How Do I Pronounce Slough?
I have completely avoided the word in its slow or slew form, and while I may say it from time to time, hardly ever write it in its sluff form. Hopefully, you will be more courageous than I.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
When Did the Millennium Start?
It is the same with centuries. The twentieth century did not end on December 31, 1999. It ended on December 31, 2000. The twenty-first century began in 2001. It might sound better but Prince had no business partying like it was 1999. There was no point.
If you wish you can refer to the year 2000 as the dawn of the new millennium. This is a perhaps romantic way of referring to the actual millennium without actually having to commit to when it actually started.
While we're on the subject, don't spell this word wrong. There are two ls and two ns.
(See http://www.maa.mhn.de/Scholar/calendar.html#gcal for an interesting explanation of the history of how our years are currently reckoned.)
Monday, July 18, 2005
Are i.e. and e.g. Interchangeable?
Formally both e.g. and i.e. are spelled using the full stops. It is becoming more acceptable to render them as eg and ie. The best rule of thumb is to be consistent. If you omit the stops in one place omit them everywhere in your written practice, otherwise always put them in.
Friday, July 15, 2005
What is The Difference Between a Pandemic and an Epidemic?
From what I can tell an epidemic is an outbreak of disease (or sometimes other event) that affects many people over a large geographic area. A pandemic seems to be an outbreak of disease that affects many people over an even wider geographic area. The Greek root pan connotes the notion of all or universality. I have seen the word pandemic qualified as a global epidemic. But a pandemic does not have to be global to be used in the context of bigger than an epidemic. In other places, I see them used quite interchangeably.
Dictionaries I've consulted are quite noncommital on the differences.
What is the Etymology of Paparazzi?
Fellini is reported to have decided on that character's name after reading a book that contained a character by the name of Coriolano Paparazzo who owned a hotel. The book was called By the Ionian Sea by George Gissing.
The movie itself is considered a classic and should by all means be seen.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Does Punctuation Really Matter?
If you like our service
Tell a friend
If you don't tell us
I can take this advice two very different ways. In one interpretation it reads that if I like the service and fail to inform the dry cleaner, then tell a friend instead that you like the service. The second interpretation and the one I assumed the dry cleaner meant was that if I like the service then please tell a friend, otherwise if I do not like the service inform the dry cleaner so presumedly the owner can remedy the situation and get the business back on track. The fact that I can read the sign in two ways makes the message ambiguous and therefore reflects poor communication. It makes an otherwise pithy attempt to reach out to consumers confusing.
Because I am a self appointed member of the grammar police and because there was no punctuation in places that reflected the true intent of the message, I could not help but read it the first way. I went back to the office and was distracted as only an officer of the force could be under the circumstances. I had a dilemma. How do I go back to the dry cleaner and explain my concern in a way that would make a difference? Would I be ignored? Laughed at? Be given a vacant stare? Have something thrown at me? The next day I tried my hand at explaining the situation to the on-duty clerk. At first she couldn't see it but then when I explained that perhaps what was really meant was : "If you like our service tell a friend, period. If you don't, comma, tell us." The comma, in particular,I suggested, really helps the reader understand that the auxilliary verb don't refers back to liking or not liking the service. Her face brightened. "Yes," she agreed, "I see the problem now." A few days later the sign had been changed to use the well placed comma and a period. Just another victory for the word warrior.
One can legitimately argue that now, the apparent sentence: If you don't, tell us, is actually not a sentence at all. It is a sentence fragment that looks like it is part of the previous sentence instead. A comma would be completely unnecessary if the fragment were to be changed to a real sentence like this: If you don't like the service tell us. But then the advice, which is really a piece of found poetry, would not have that snappy ring to it. Poetry and poetic licence in this case really require a snappy ring.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Can I Use the Word Irregardless in Scrabble?
Thursday, July 07, 2005
What is the Difference Between Enquire and Inquire?
To emigrate, however, always means a very different thing from immigrate. If I leave the country to take up citizenship elsewhere, then I have emigrated. And I could be an emigre, but this word often refers to a political exile. It is more likely that I am a plain vanilla emigrant. In the country I have moved to I will be considered to have immigrated into it. And I will likely be treated in many matters as an immigrant in my new land.
Consider explode and implode. An explosion is an outward event. According to the Pocket Oxford, it means to "expand suddenly with a loud noise owing to the release of internal energy." An implosion is an inward event. A "burst[ing] inward", according to the Oxford, instead. An explosion that is directed inwards rather than outwards. I must admit, I find that quite hard to visualize.
In any case, you need no longer wonder if the National Enquirer could have been named the National Inquirer since either name would serve the same purpose in providing the same kind of information.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
What is the Etymology of Curfew?
The common meaning of curfew is a designated hour at which adolescents are required to be home in the evening by order of their parents or when all citizens or military personnel are required to retreat indoors by order of the state. But it is derived from the French covrefeu spoken in the middle ages, which was the signal to bank a fire for the evening and further means "cover the fire". The root feu itself is derived from the Latin focus which means "hearth".
What is the Difference Between Entomology and Etymology?
Monday, July 04, 2005
What is a Skeptic and How is it Spelled?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a skeptic is someone who has "an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object". The Oxford Dictionary says that it is someone who is "inclined to doubt accepted opinions; critical; incredulous."
Americans spell it skeptic, while the rest of the English speaking world prefers sceptic. This use of k rather than c extends to the adjectival form: skeptical, the adverbal form: skeptically, and the abstract noun skepticism. Both forms of spelling are perfectly acceptable and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
However, please don't hesitate to exercise sceptism as you enjoy my column. On the other hand, you had better be ready to back up your outrageous claims about the correct usage of language before you tangle with me.
(Of course, if you spot an error in my writing - I will be the first to eat a most generous portion of humble pie).
Saturday, July 02, 2005
What is Poetic Licence*?
That's what poetic licence really means.
*Incidently: In British English usage, (what the rest of the world uses), the noun is legitimately spelled licence . As in : Did you remember to pick up the marriage licence? It is the verb that is spelled license. As in: We cannot license this vehicle for use. American usage accepts the spelling license for both the noun and the verb.
What's the Plural of Criteria?
Criteria is already plural as in : According to what criteria will you choose a new car to buy? By way of this example, you would use more than one factor to decide on the purchase of new car. You would undoubtedly consider the cost, colour, fuel efficiency, and safety features among other factors to make your decision.
The set of criteria you have presented will help us determine the right course of action.
If only one factor is being considered in a matter, then the singular form criterion should be used. His crime was the criterion by which his character was judged.
We can't help but notice however that in the spoken language and increasingly in the written form, criteria is now often used both as a singular and plural form of the noun. Grammar and usage experts discourage this practice. And I will not contradict them.
What is The Difference Between Between and Among?
The word between should only be used when referring to the relationship of two things. Among refers to the relationship of three or more things.
John told Mary she had to choose between the sweet and sour.
John told Mary she had to choose her poison from among the ingredients.