A Poem I Enjoy

Seems everybody is gloomy and pessimistic about the state of our culture. I first ran into this poem more than 50 years ago. (I suppose I ought to add a verse of my own, eh?) I ran into a couple variations of it; I think it dates to the early 1900’s. Okay, I thought about it. The first two lines are mine. (My grandad was president of the National Livestock Exchange.)

My granddad, with his livestock hogs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad, viewing earth’s worn cogs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in his house of logs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in the Flemish bogs.
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in his old skin togs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
So here’s one thing I have to state –
Those dogs have had a good long wait!

So don’t give up!

Correct, but not Good

Many people write perfectly grammatical sentences that aren’t very good. Unnecessary words, modifiers out of place, that sort of thing. Here’s a (ahem) good example. Look at the item about the pencil:

Believe it or Not has long been a favorite of mine, and I don’t often find solecisms in it. This sentence has two!

Here’s the sentence:

The metal sleeve on a pencil, which holds the eraser, is called the ferrule

  • First, the comma before “which” is correct. But the remark is not an aside! They should have written “the metal sleeve on a pencil that holds the eraser…”
  • Also, they got things in the wrong order. The pencil engineering is more accurate if you say “The metal sleeve that holds the eraser on a pencil…”

Smoother, now, isn’t it?

Can Anything be More Important than Good Spelling?

Well, according to Perry Bible Fellowship, the Orca thinks not…

Unless the cartoonist is suggesting that reality is more important than spelling. On closer examination I see the Orca got the whole group of penguins, not just the lecturer. Hmm.

Two comics about spelling in one day! How can I resist???

By the way, don’t trust your spell checker a whole lot.

Why But?

English has a type of word called  a coordinating conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions go between two parts of a sentence, and they imply that the two parts are more or less equivalent, at least grammatically. You know coordinating conjunctions as “and” and “but.”

“But” is interesting because it connects the two things and implies some kind of opposition between the two things. For example,

I am sick, but I don’t think I’m contagious.

We think of contagiousness as going with sickness, so the sentence uses “but” to contradict this usual circumstance.

If I may digress a bit, I attended a sales class once in which the instructor said to avoid using but, because it’s negative.

It’s a fine encyclopedia, but it’s inexpensive.

should be

It’s a fine encyclopedia, and it’s inexpensive.

Hmm. Try getting rid of some buts and see how it feels. (It feels funny, but/and interesting.)

And that leads to my intended object lesson for this post, compliments of Curtis, which hinges on the kid ignoring the implied contradiction between corniness and the feeling of love in his dad’s statement, which definitely needs the but.

The lesson: Pay attention to your buts.

Another Wrong Word

I see this goof often enough that I think we’re going to lose this battle, (but if you write anything the least bit expository (you know—when you explain something (which this blog is about, after all))) you should use the correct word, regardless of what everybody else does. (Okay, I could have written a less convoluted sentence there, but I thought it would be fun to nest a couple parentheses.)

Anyway, the bad word is nauseous. At least it is when you mean nauseated.

Piranha Club - 12/27/2017

The rule: nauseous means you (or something) makes people want to throw up. Nauseated means you (or someone) feels like throwing up.

Don’t be nauseous to us who know better! We don’t like to feel nauseated!


Per Again

The most common type of persons who make this mistake are ones who want to be formal, but don’t know how to do it right, so they do it wrong, and end up being pretentious instead of formal.

Don’t write “as per”!!! It’s wrong! It’s a pretentiousism. Harrumpf.

Here’s the comic. Comics are a good place for this poor grammar, and it fits rather well into this guy’s persona.

Sally Forth - 12/26/2017

He had so many ways to say this correctly: according to, in line with, as we traditionally do, as usual; even just end the sentence after “Thanksgiving.”



My Email got into the Funnies!

‘Nuff said. It’s the holidays.

Barney and Clyde for Dec 23.

I am kind of a party pooper, so I googled “derivation of curmudgeon.” Here’s what I got:

curmudgeon. 1570s, of unknown origin; the suggestion, based on a misreading of a garbled note from Johnson, that it is from French coeur mechant “evil heart” is not taken seriously; the first syllable may be cur “dog.”

Who, not whom!

You can pretty easily find grammar posts that tell you to use “whom” when your instinct tells you to use “who.” These mainly contain dire warnings about direct objects and objects of prepositions.

Well, sometimes the word in question isn’t an object, it’s a subject! Take a look at this Hi and Lois, last panel:

Hi and Lois - 12/23/2017

Does that sixth grade English teacher in you tell you it should be “whom”? I hope not, because “who” is correct!

Let’s analyze the sentence. First, look at the verbs:

  • think (okay, “do think,” but you can ignore the “do.” “Do” just makes it emphatic.)
  • asked
  • to fill
  • gets

Wow! Four verbs! Not bad for a sentence in a comic. Now, figure out which words are the subjects of those verbs:

  • you think
  • ? asked
  • me to fill (subjects of infinitives are in the objective case. See an earlier post.)
  • he gets

The only possible candidate is who, so don’t be afraid to use “who” when it’s a subject.

Counting to Two

Some words imply two of something. “Pair,” and “second,” for example. And we say “lesser of two evils.” You can be between two things, but if you you have more than two, you are among them.

A few other words imply two-ness and sometimes we get them wrong. Here’s an example:

Some puzzles require a mind for math, others a keen eye. Then there are brainteasers that are so nonsensical the biggest challenge is saying them with a straight face. The “cows and chickens” riddle falls into the latter group.

That next-to-last word should be “last.” “Latter” means “second of two,” and he’s got three types of riddle here.

The rule: count both your blessings only if you have two of them, and use the right word when you do have exactly two of something.

PS—”nonsensical” should have a comma after it.

Commas at the Beginning

You might find this post boring. It’s a straight-out grammar lesson.

Here are the rules:

  • Separate interjections (such as “However, …”) and direct address (someone’s name or title) from the sentence with a comma.
  • Separate an introductory clause from the rest of the sentence with a comma.
  • Separate an introductory prepositional phrase from the rest of the sentence if it contains five or more words.
  • Some common shorter prepositional phrases, such as “for example,” get the comma, too. This rule is flexible. If you have a short prepositional phrase, and it feels as if it needs a comma, go for it.

Okay, take a look at this:

However, the Coppersmith’s algorithm allows quite a lot of flexibility. Tom, you can’t do that!

Easy enough. Now how about this one:

To speed up the prime number generation, smart card manufacturers implement various optimisations.

(British spelling. Ignore that). The sentence starts with “to.” Prepositional phrase, right? Well, no. It’s actually an infinitive. Infinitives are verbs. If it has a verb, it’s a clause. So I could rewrite this as:

To speed things up, smart card manufacturers implement various optimisations.

Fewer than five words, still gets the comma. If fact, look at a sentence I just wrote:

If it has a verb, it’s a clause.

“Has” is a verb, so you have a clause. A lot of introductory clauses start with words like “if” and “when.” We call them introductory adverbs. In fact, if you got rid of that introductory adverb, you’d have a complete sentence, which requires a period, not a comma. If you write:

It has a verb, it’s a clause.

Get rid of that comma! Use a period! Two independent sentences separated by a comma is called a comma splice, and that’s a no-no.

Sorry—it’s pretty hard to find a comic about commas.

PS—Wouldn’t you know! I ran into one at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: