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???


Personification is when you have something not-human do something that only humans do. We can extend that definition from non-human/human to inanimate/living.

For example, the magma under a volcano is not alive. But we have this sentence from the Washington Post:

As pressure builds in the magma chamber, the magma seeks out weak spots in the surrounding rock, squeezing through the earth until it reaches a vent to the surface.

Magma doesn’t “seek out” anything; that’s something only living creatures do. You could be literal and say the magma is pushed through weak spots. (Or get rid of the passive, and say that the pressure forces the magma through the weak spots.)

Here’s another:

“Magma is going to look for the easiest way out,” she said.

See if you can change that second sentence to not have personification.

Here’s a lesson of sorts: Personification isn’t necessarily wrong. It can make a passage more vivid. Just be aware when you’re using personification. Rule of thumb: the more technical the writing, the less personification.

And of course, perhaps, a diagram might be even more vivid than personification.

Image result for kilauea volcano diagram

Looking for a Writing Job?

Apparently the Border Patrol need a couple writers. Here’s a sample of a paragraph from one of their press releases. It’s pretty bad:

On April 23, 2018, Border Patrol agents assigned to the Laredo Sector Marine Unit rescued two subjects in distress found struggling to stay afloat in the Rio Grande River near Zacate Creek. The two subjects were pulled on board the marine vessel and treated by an Emergency Medical Technician. The two subjects were determined to be from the country of Mexico.

Here’s a link to an article about some of the edits that this paragraph needs. Before you click the link, do an edit yourself, then see what the writer of the article came up with. (I’m resisting the temptation to do it myself.)

Dis-, Mis-, and Un- Are Not Quite Synonyms

Our first root word today, class, is interested.

Uninterested means you don’t care.
Disinterested means you don’t have a stake in the outcome.
We don’t have misinterested as a word.

Here’s another root—used

Unused means something isn’t being used but it could be.
Misused means something is being used incorrectly, especially in a damaging way.
Disused means something has been abandoned; it is no longer used at all.

Where am I going with all these? I dunno; they just crossed my mind. Here’s the sentence, though, that got me started. It’s from Atlas Obscura, and it’s interesting, even though I already knew the subject matter:

He estimates that there are more than 100,000 miles of old, disused stone walls out there, or enough to circle the globe four times.