A Solution to the Gender-neutral Possessive Pronoun

As I presume you know by now, English doesn’t have a gender-neutral possessive pronoun. The default has long been to use the masculine or the technically incorrect plural. Here’s an example of using the masculine. The sentence is in a presentation on computer security, slide 21:

Tiny issues / differences in initial state (single bitflips) can make a machine spin out of control, and the attacker can carefully control the escalating error to his advantage.

Perhaps the presenter was drawn to the idea that most attackers are men, or just preferred not to use the singular “their.”

Here’s another solution: Change the subject to plural!

Tiny issues / differences in initial state (single bitflips) can make a machine spin out of control, and the attackers can carefully control the escalating error to their advantage.

The plural isn’t always an option, but when I can use the plural, it’s the option that I prefer.

Another Correct “Whom”!

I don’t run into correct whoms often, so I like to post them when I see one as good examples, The Lockhorns in this case.

The subject and verb are “you think,” which makes “whom” the direct object. Myself, I’d be a little more cheerful about that perfume ad…

Grammar Police Comic

It’s dumb, not even funny. But it’s about me, so I guess I should post it, right?

He should have quotes around “Ten hyphen four.” Harrumpf.

A Tricky Compound

Occasionally I warn about using the wrong case for compound objects of prepositions (between him and I is wrong, him and me is correct). So Ordinary Bill has a little test for you. Warning: it’s tricky. Look at the last panel:

Was she correct to say “my boyfriend and I”? Should she have said “my boyfriend and me”? Why or why not?

Well, she’s correct! We don’t have a preposition here, so it’s not a compound object. We don’t exactly have a verb, either. We do have an implied verb, taken from what the garbage man says. Her implied verb is “is.” Ah, so compound direct object, right? Nope! Linking verbs (any form of “to be” in this case) take predicate nominatives. The linking verb is equivalent to an equals sign, so both ends of the sentence are equal, hence both are nominative. Her full statement is something like, “Nope, it is  just my boyfriend and I.” Maybe she’s saying “Just my boyfriend and I create this mess.” (That would make it a compound subject, which is a little easier to deal with.)

(Yes, saying “the English teacher is I” is correct, even though it sounds bad. Instead, say, “I am the English teacher.”

 

Rules and Exceptions

Occasionally you might hear the expression about the exception proving the rule. Almost always it’s used incorrectly. People say “the exception proves the rule” meaning something like “the exception shows Proves) that the rule exists.” This is nonsense. This comic, last panel, is typical:

The word “proves” in this expression means “tests.” (It’s an old usage. You’ll find it in the KJV.) The real point of the expression is to assert that if you can break (test/prove) a rule and get away with it, it’s not a rule. If breaking the rule causes a violation, the rule is real.

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’.

Irony

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.