Some Words go Two Ways

Some common words are one word when they’re adjectives and two words when they are nouns. Lots of text in this comic, but look at the bottom full line in the second panel.

“Everyday” as one word is an adjective! What she means is “every day.”

Here are a couple more that come to mind:

  • altogether, all together;
  • already, all ready;
  • alright, all right;
  • aftermath, after math. (Okay, not many are likely to confuse those two.)

Can you make a couple correct sentences with them? Can you list a few more such words? (Put them in the comments.)

That third one is particularly irritating to me. Here’s a good quote about it:

Word Fact: Alright vs. All Right. … The form alright is a one-word spelling of the phrase all right. Alright is commonly used in written dialogue and informal writing, but all right is the only acceptable form in edited writing. Basically, it is not all right to use alright in place of all right in standard English.
“Edited writing”—a nice turn of phrase.

Shameless Plug—for Somebody Else

I’ve recommended A Word A Day a couple times in the past (and still do), and someone once asked about places to post their short stories, so I posted links to a few sites, and I always give credit when I quote comics (and usually other sites, unless it would embarrass them). Recently another site has been posting links to this site! I confess that I’m flattered, even though sometimes this sort of thing is a racket of some kind.

Well, the site is legit. At least I’m not the only one he mentions, and he stays on the topic of technical writing a lot. It’s an effort to have a social network site for tech writers. In fact, I joined up a long time ago and then forgot I had done so! Too busy tech writing, I guess.

Anyway, I’ll return the favor and post a link to his site:

Technical Writing World.

Give it a look. Maybe sign up.

Two Ways to do a Pun

I was going to continue with serious lessons, but today I ran into two comics that are not only both on the same topic, but they illustrate one of the finer points of punning.

Type 1: When the pronunciation of the misused words is the same,

Crankshaft - 07/13/2017

Type 2: When the pronunciation is almost the same,

Take It From The Tinkersons - 07/13/2017

Which reminds me of my sister’s favorite pun, which goes something like this: “I thought that was water dripping from your nose, but it’s not.”

She has a fiendish laugh to go with it.

Compound What?

Here’s a sentence. Is it right or wrong? (Maybe I should say, “Is the grammar correct?”)

While Subversion is still primarily a copy-modify-merge system, it still recognizes the need to lock an occasional file and thus provide mechanisms for this.

I saw this in some instructional material for a file management program named Subversion. (Yes, the first word should be “Although,” but that’s not the thing I’m thinking about.) What about “provide”? Shouldn’t it be “provides” to go with “recognizes”? After all, the subject of the sentence is “it,” right?

Well, yes, the word could be “provides” to go with the singular subject. But the sentence is correct nonetheless! Can you tell why?

Because instead of the sentence having a compound predicate, it has a compound infinitive! It’s “to lock” and “to provide.” That “to” serves both words.

This is one of those (rare) cases where no matter which you do, you’re right!


Watch your subject

The rule is that if you have a singular subject, you must have a singular verb. (And if you have a plural subject, the verb must be plural.) We call it subject-verb agreement. Take a look at this sentence:

By July 15, an average of 2,500 tons of supplies was being flown into the city every day.

It’s from a passage in This Day in History for June 26. Is the sentence correct or not?

It’s an easy sentence to get wrong, but they got it right! The subject is average, not tons, and not supplies. The latter two words are objects of prepositions, so neither can be the subject of the sentence. So average has to be the subject.

Be careful out there. Those prepositional objects’ll get you if you’re not alert.

Bad Puns

Hardly worth a comment. I counted six, and they’re all bad. John Atkinson’s a pretty good cartoonist, but this time he outdid himself for badness.

Okay, in two days I’ll post something worthwhile.

Another Example of Goedel’s proof

Okay, I’m being lazy; this is an easy post. I do have some good stuff in the saddlebag, though.

A while back (actually last May) I wrote about Goedel’s proof, about how he proved that it’s impossible to have a completely consistent set of rules about anything. If you skipped the post, you should go read it. It’s not exactly about writing, it’s about a fact of life: We’ll never figure things out completely because contradictions always exist.

So here’s proof. Is this Break of Day comic logical or not?

Answer: Yes, it’s logical, but it’s also contradictory.

PS. I can’t help making a writing comment: It should be “…petition to help stop us.”

Denominatives and Verbal Nouns

I mentioned this topic twice before over the years (here and here), but not with the actual names. So here’s an appropriate Calvin and Hobbes comic, and my definitions afterwards.

When you make a verb out of a noun, we call the word a denominative. For example, chair.

When you make a noun out of a verb, that’s a verbal noun. For example, run.

This is so common in English, and we’ve been doing it for so long, I think sometimes it’s hard to decide whether the verb or the noun came first. It’s easier in highly inflected languages; you just put a verb or noun inflection on the root word and there you have it. In English you need to rely on the context.

The humor comes in, of course, when you do this to a word that this doesn’t often happen to, such as the noun verb.

Anthropomorphism in Technical Writing

A while back I wrote a series of posts on figures of speech. Figures of speech are ways of playing fast and loose with the language, on purpose, and managing to be understood when you do so. Someone (Hi, Sara) asked me to write about anthropomorphism, a figure of speech you don’t generally find in technical writing. Technical writing is supposed to be as direct and plain as possible.

Anthropomorphism is attributing animal (or inanimate) characteristics to humans (You lucky duck, you) or human characteristics to animals (or inanimate things), such as when you draw a comic with talking animals. Ahem:

Does this figure of speech have a place in technical writing? Perhaps, if it’s the best way to make an obscure point clear. Abstruse subjects can be made easier to understand with an illustration, an analogy, and that illustration could, sometimes, be an anthropomorphism.

I run into this a lot in the field of computing. We say computers think, have memory, and want things. A message recently popped up on my screen saying that a website wanted to know my location. Pure anthropomorphism! More than one mathematician has said that an asymptote (look it up) is a line that wants to approach something but never quite can. I’ve heard genuine astronomers refer to the man in the moon, an image of a face. As luck would have it, I just ran into this passage from a Scientific American article:

When I look at the Moon I see the history of our planet engraved on its pale grey surface. I have to see something, I still can’t make out this “man” you tell me about.

I suppose I could include an anthropomorphism that goes the other way. The first thing that came to mind was the title of an old hymn, Rock of Ages.

Now that you’ve seen a few examples, keep your eye open for this figure of speech in technical subjects. If you think of or notice a good one, share it in the comments.