Small Mistake, Big Mistake

The guilty panel is panel three in this Curtis.

Small mistake: using “may” when you mean “might.” “May” implies permission, though it’s become a mild version of “might.” Still, you’re wise to say “might” when that’s what you mean, especially when you’re explaining something.

The big mistake is common among folks who paid some attention in English class. They typical scenario is when some kid says, “Me and Tom want to go fishing.” and the teacher says, “It’s ‘Tom and I want to go fishing’.” The kid gets into the habit of using “I” all the time in compounds even when the compound is the object of a preposition, which we have here. Dad should have said, “…for your mother and me to give…”

So I guess Dad’s report card was about the same as Curtis’.


I hardly need to say anything here. The cop has it right. The fourth panel his irony is sarcasm, too, by the way. Anyway, here’s the Beardo:

Why did the guy with the beard say it was ironic when it was just bad luck? Because it was the opposite of what he expected to happen.

By the way, it should be “well-read cop,” with the hyphen. Compound adjective.

Two Unique Words

“Unique” means “one of a kind.” How can I have two unique words??? They are unique in different ways. First, the comic. It’s in the first panel:

“Tsk” is the only word in English that requires an intake of breath.

The other word, I can’t spell. In English no word starts with “ng.” French has the sound of a dog barking, “ngaf” But we don’t officially have that initial sound in English. Except when you’re being supercilious when someone approaches you and you say, ngyaas?” Usually we spell it “yass” but the version of the word I’m referring to here takes a bit of a runway to get off the ground.

Can you think of any unique words? Say so in the comments.

PS—Maybe “tsk” isn’t unique. If you were surprised by something horrible (such as a big spider on the bed, for instance) you might say “AAAH” with a big intake of breath. That word can go both ways. And maybe we can say “tsk” is still unique because it doesn’t have any vowels. Except when you’re trying to get someone’s attention quietly: psst.

Thematic Vowels

Not much useful information today, class, but interesting, I think. I see the term thematic vowel more in Greek than in English, but you should get the idea. I suppose you should see the comic first:

That “o” in front of “nym” in each of those words is the thematic vowel. It’s what you get when you put two root words together to make a compound. Sometimes the two adjacent vowels combine to something else.

“-nym” is from “onoma,” and it means name. So you have that “o” sitting there.

“syn-” is from “sun” (pronounced “soon”) and it means with. No vowel, so you get the “o” for the thematic vowel.

“ant-” is from “anti” and it means against. “o” is stronger than “i” so you end up with “o” for the thematic vowel.

“pseud-” is from “pseudos,” and it means false. Two “o’s,” so they combine to an “o.”

Now let’s throw you a curve.

We have the word antipasto. “Against pasta,” right? Nope! That “anti” used to be “ante,” meaning before. Over the years, that “e” in Latin changed to “i” in Italian. In Latin, “I love you” is “te amo,” but in Italian you say “ti amo.” So antipasto refers to a course that comes before the noodles.

You don’t need to know much about thematic vowels to write well, but use your spell checker just in case.


Why I Don’t Like Pronouns

I mentioned this several times in the past. Pronouns are tricky because figuring out the antecedent can be tricky. (The antecedent is the word the pronoun refers to.) And that trickiness is the basis of the humor in this Grizzwells comic:

The writing rule: Avoid pronouns whenever you can.

An Incorrect Gender-neutral Plural

We have permission to use “they” and “their” and so on when we don’t want to specify masculine or feminine singular. But if the thing we’re talking about is actually neuter, you don’t have to use “they” or “their.” “It” and “its” are okay!

So panel two should have “its employees”:

Wordiness is not Betterness

I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. You don’t need “event” here! Harrumpf.

Seems weather forecasters feel that they sound more important (or professional or esoteric) if they say “weather event.” But “storm,” “rain,” “tornado,” “high winds,” or whatever, all are more precise and convey more information with fewer words.

What about “impact” here? It hadn’t happened yet for “impact” back in the 1800’s, but in English, a lot of words can be either a noun or a verb (we have “a hit,” and “to hit,” for example), and many words can go either way. Back then, “impact” was still a noun.

I should add that a lot of grammarians don’t particularly like this feature of English, particularly when we already have perfectly good nouns and verbs in the lexicon. For instance, “to office” is pretty bad.

So remember the second rule of expository writing: be concise.

What Does It Take to be True?

I read the first sentence in the first panel of today’s Inkpen and it made me stop. When does saying something make it true? Could I think of an example? I’ll let you think about that while you look at the comic, the rest of which isn’t really germane to this post…

I thought of two examples before I read the rest of the comic. And let’s allow more verbs than just “say.”

I am writing this sentence.
You are reading this sentence.

Of course we could get philosophical here and you could point out that the first sentence was true only when I was writing it, and the second isn’t true until you read it.

So all right then; think of a better sentence! Share it in the comments.

Correct Whom!

No comment, it’s just a correct usage of “whom,” and I like to point out when someone does something right that a lot of people get wrong. Well, I confess I don’t think I expected it from the depicted  source…

Comic About Online Comments

Mr. Fitz is a comic about a teacher, and today’s comic is a riff on an all-too-common error. Hardly needs to be commented on.

You do get the mistakes, right???