If a Viking Can Get It Right…

We should be able to get it right too! Bottom row:

  • There—refers to something, including the rest of a sentence
  • Their—belongs to something or someone
  • They’re—contraction of “they are.”

Though personally, I don’t think the King of England would get it wrong…

Pronunciation Matters

Some kinds of homonyms are spelled the (about) same but pronounced differently. When the pronunciation is the difference, it’s important.


We match the Italian pronunciation fairly closely, but not the French. The French pronunciation is something like “wah-la,” accent on the second syllable. It’s more fun if you go find someone who’s French and ask them to pronounce it for you. The spellings “voila” and “viola” are part of the humor, by the way.

A Quotational Nit Pick

When you quote someone, make sure you get the quote right. Adding to or subtracting from the original is a no-no. Look at the last panel:


The Scout motto is just “Be prepared.” (Someone once asked Baden-Powell “Be prepared for what?” and he answered, “Any old thing.”)

Perhaps we have the excuse that he called it “my scout motto,” but I still say he should have gotten it right. Harrumpf.

Reminder About the Dieresis

Since I ran into someone doing it correctly, I thought I’d remind you about the dieresis, those two dots that look like an umlaut above a letter in English.


Only a few words retain the dieresis now, but naïve is one of them. It means you pronounce the two vowels separately, not together. “Naïve” is really a two-syllable word!

To get those dots over a letter i, hold down the Alt key while you type 139 on the numeric keypad.

Another Antecedent Problem

Here Dagwood offers his boss two antecedents to reply to. He spells them out in the second panel:


(Short versions: “promise,” or “get mad.”)

I see this pop up occasionally in conversations. And it’s not infrequently a source of conversational humor.

But when you write expositorily, try to avoid this ambiguity!

Bert or Kurt?

I always thought this kind of self-contradictory statement was a consequence of Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem (qv), but here I see it attributed to Bertrand Russell.


This is philosophically (or mathematically) equivalent to the statement “This sentence is false.” Gödel definitely warned that things that refer to themselves can get you into trouble.

Another Redundancy

This error is close to me because of my proximity to chickens. If you have chickens, you know not to do this, right? Bottom right.


It’s like saying a baby infant.

Contradiction or not?

When you multiply something by a hundred, you get more or bigger, right? In math class we used to add two zeros to a number to multiply it by a hundred. Well, take a look at this sentence:

The galaxies – 100 times less massive than our Milky Way – are now among the smallest known to host such big black holes.


Can you have something a hundred times less? If you can, what are you multiplying by a hundred?

Yes, the sentence is idiomatic, but still, I think it’s better to write what you mean. The sentence means one hundredth as massive.


Oh—here’s a picture:

Galaxy with inset illustration of a green spiral with jets coming out top and bottom.
Artist’s concept of a dwarf galaxy, its shape distorted, most likely by a past interaction with another galaxy, and a massive black hole in its outskirts (bright spot, far right). Image via Sophia Dagnello/ NRAO/ AUI/ NSF.

Another Diatribe Against Pronouns

I’ve mentioned this topic before. Use the search box to find more.

Don’t use pronouns if you can help it because you might face antecedent confusion. Like this funny:

I got the photo from Facebook, so I don’t have a link beyond “King of Kash.”

Not Me!

I just had to comment on this:


I can think lying down, but I have to be at least sitting to write!

At least he said “lying down” instead of “laying down.” I gotta give him that.