Sunday, September 28, 2008

Let's Settle Farther and Further Right Now

Farther and further are actually different words and should be used differently. It's not some old to-may-to/to-mah-to pronounciation hold-out.

Is the store farther or further down the road?
This one is easy.

Farther actually means "more distant" or "more advanced."
Further indicates "additional" or advancement to a greater degree, as in time.

The store is farther down the road.

You read further into the textbook.

Do you farther or further your education by reading further into the textbook?
Let me know.....

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Lurid, Livid Little FYI

Lurid, although interesting, is frequently misused. That which is lurid gives off a ghastly yellowish red light, such as flames with smoke, or reflecting or made visible by such light. By extension, this also means giving uncertain or unearthly light of any kind, such as lurid flashes of lightening; or a lurid atmosphere.

Please distinguish it from livid, which means black and blue, ashen, or lead-colored.
Livid does not mean angry and lurid does not mean lewd, or sexually vulgar.

So the child molester doesn't give a lurid smile, unless he is bathed in yellow light. What he probably gives is a lewd smile, or perhaps a leering glance.

And you should probably describe your mother as "furious" rather than "livid" when you break her favorite crystal vase, unless you drop the vase on her head, in which case she might indeed be black and blue.

Lay Lady Lay

First off, if Mr. Dylan were truly trying to get the lady in his big brass bed, he would have told her, "Lie Lady Lie" and, captured by his exquisite grammar, she might have given in. Doubtless, she left immediately upon hearing the phrase and Mr. Dylan was forced to work on his songwriting all by himself. Perhaps he devoted his lonely time to co-writing the lyrics for Mr. Clapton's song Lay Down Sally, as both of the songs erroneously use lay for lie.

Here is how you remember when to use lay and when to use lie:

Lay requires a direct object and lie does not. You lie down on the big brass bed. You lay your guitar down on the big brass bed.
If it is a person getting horizontal by himself, it's lie, if a person is putting something down, including another person, it's lay.

Just to completely befuddle you, you use lay for the past tense of lie, as in "Last night I lay down and went to sleep." And as a past participle, you would say, "Last night I had lain down to go to sleep, when I heard a noise."

Now, to take it a step further, it is also not uncommon to hear lay as past-tense for laid, as in, "He lay the package down on the table." This is wrong.
Say instead, "He laid the package down on the table."

If Mr. Dylan had known this, he might have gotten laid more often but then again, we wouldn't have the wealth of Mr. Dylan's songs to clutter up open mike coffee houses around the world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Pronounciation Niblet

Here is s simple tip for sounding well-educated, even when you aren't. There is nothing wrong, by the way, with not having been afforded a superior education when you were a child and young adult. It's never too late. Educate yourself!

Regarding the suffixes "-ive" and "-ively," know this: these suffixes are frequently mispronounced, especially in the words positive and positively. In traditional American English speech, they are pronounced pos' i-tive and pos' i-tive-ly.

Avoid pos- i-tive'-ly if you don't want to sound like a roob.

Monday, September 22, 2008

English Pronounciation in a Nutshell

I love this poem. I'd like to give the author credit, but s/he is unknown. If you are anything but a native English speaker, you may have trouble with it. Native English speakers, be honest and let me know if you had a perfect run-through. Non-native English speakers -- good luck with it! Feel free to comment. I may post a recording of it at some point.

Multi-national personnel at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language ... until they tried to pronounce it. To help them discard an array of accents, the verses below were devised. After trying them, a Frenchman said he'd prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sleeve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jangle and Jar

No, I'm not talking about your change jug. I'm talking about two borderline quirky words which can be useful when used properly.

Historically, jangle is discord, and jangling is wrangling or babbling. Jar, however, is a clashing as of opinions or interests. Jangling disconcerts or discomposes us: jarring produces conflict, causing us to clash the one with the other, thus producing ill-will where good nature should prevail.

I'm not being sexist, just using this sentence as an example: A nagging woman can destroy the peace and happiness in her home by jarring her husband, and an irritable host may jangle his company by ill-humor.

Modern use of these two words include use as descriptions for sound. Jarring is a harsh, rough, irritating sound, and jangling is described as a harsh or discordant sound such as "keys jangling in a pocket."
Let's not limit the use of these two good words. Use the older versions -- it's more fun, which is why I often put on my spectacles to find my trousers.
Here's a page full of fun lists of sound-alikes that can be played in matchit type games like this one (click to play)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


This phrase is so important to proper grammatical health that I submit that a body one cannot live without it.

The phrases "It is I" and "It is me" have long been the cause of controversy.

Little Billy visited his grandmother and was standing in front of her dressing mirror, saying, "Yes, that's me."
"Billy," said his grandmother, "You should say "That is I.""
Little Billy said, "Well it may be I, but it looks like me."

Little Billy was right in his conclusion. for me is the object of the preposition unto understood.
In the vernacular, both "It is I" and "It is me" are used, and "It is me" finds greater favor with the masses. But many grammarians are against it. They insist that one must always say "It is I," never "It is me," and that the same course must be followed with every personal pronoun following the verb to be, and in apposition with its subject. That's right. It's an appositive. Remember that from high school?

This same sort of error is commonly made with such phrases as "She is better looking than me," in which, if the elliptical verb were supplied, the correct construction would readily be seen to be "She is better looking than I (am)."

Does this make sense? Let me know.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Have and Have Known

Lest you think I am a grammatical stickler and am obsessing over minutiae, spend a few minutes listening to random conversations in public and I'll bet you hear this next phrase on my Teeth-Gritter List.

"The bank was closed. Had I have known it, I wouldn't have bothered to drive down there."
Or worse, "The bank was closed. Had I of known it..."

Close your jaws all the way. Grit them together hard. Now, grind your teeth until you get a headache. That's exactly how I feel when I hear this phrase several times per week.

Please, keep me out of head gear! Simply say instead, "The bank was closed. Had I known it, I wouldn't have bothered to drive down there."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Clean Up Your Use of Guest

Oh hot ice! Freezing fire! And familiar obscure Shakespearean oxymorons.  Here's a puzzle.

If somebody has a guest, it is already assumed that the guest was invited to partake of the hospitality and entertainment of his his; hence avoid using the phrase "an invited guest" as it is redundant, and what's more -- tautological. Guests by definition are invited.

By definition, all guests are invited, therefore an "uninvited guest" is also pointless, and an oxymoron, to boot.

Refrain from use of either of these phrases and I'll give you a gold star on your grammar star chart.

Need help practicing your oxymorons. I invite you to play the oxymoron game. Be my guest!

What's interesting is that so many common expressions are oxymorons:

  • loosely packed
  • instant classic
  • act natural
  • irregular pattern
  • slumber party
Isn't it amazing?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Improving Grammar One Step at a Time

This is so easy and quick it's the grammatical equivalent of making Jello.

Improve your speech and writing with this simple phrase trick:

Instead of saying or writing, "He went on to say, " or, "He goes on to say," simply say or write, "He continued, " or, "He continues..."

It sounds slightly more formal, slightly more educated, and uses fewer words. What's not to love?
Now if only I had a grammatical equivalent of fruit cocktail to add to the grammatical Jello.....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Every One

With the exception of my own daughter, I have yet to hear a high school student use the phrase "every one" correctly, and my own daughter only does it because I pain-reinforced her into using it correctly. She's in high school after all and it's no fun to not fit in.

Nearly all native English speaking American children, and their elementary and middle school teachers would say, regarding the players on a football team, "Every one of them are good."


"Every one of them is good." Let's remediate and save the nation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Estimate and Esteem

It seems as if I should have to mention it, but just in case:

Esteem and estimate both imply appreciation of value, but when we esteem a thing we judge its actual and intrinsic value, while when we estimate it we arrive at its worth by calculation.

You can estimate the esteem you feel for a person, and you can esteem a person for his honesty. You can also estimate, or approximate something, such as its worth, size, or weight, or estimate as in form an opinion or judgment. Just don't mix the two up, or I'll have to charge you a dollar.