Another Word English Doesn’t Have

Last two words in the first panel of this Flo and Friends:

We don’t have a contraction for “am not.”

The word would be something like “amn’t.” I clearly remember my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Clemens telling us that the correct form is “am I not,” and I do hear that sometimes. (I use it myself). Of course, there’s “ain’t,” but that word ain’t got no couth! I don’t know why, but using “ain’t” is something like picking your nose in public, or having your shirt on inside out.

So I guess we’re stuck with “am I not,” are we not?

Getting the Subjunctive Right

The key to the subjunctive is that the subjunctive is contrary to reality. This is not about lies (lies pretend to be reality), but about correctly describing something that isn’t. The gradeschooler in the first panel of  this Frazz gets it right:

She even says it’s a wish. Don’t say something like, “I wish there was…” when you aren’t referring to something that doesn’t exist.

On a side note, I’ll add that the Greeks had a mood even stronger than the subjunctive, used only for wishes. It’s called the optative. We have to make the subjunctive work for both wishes and contrary-to-fact things.

Need a non-wish subjunctive: How about “He would go on vacation, but he’s too busy.”

An Old Joke

It’s bad, too. Not only unhistorical, but probably sexist, maybe even racist.

Know why the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness?
Because Moses wouldn’t ask for directions!

Here’s another take on this reputation we poor men have. Never heard the term, myself, until I saw the comic.

Maybe that’s why there’s so much bad writing out there—people won’t ask for an editor!

This Has to be a Typo

I can’t believe a professional writer would make this mistake:

University of Delaware marine scientist Danielle Dixson has the next five years of research pretty well covered: She recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of $750,000 to study climate change’s affect on the symbiotic relationship between clownfish and sea anemones.

I made the offending word bold to make the solecism easy to spot. This error is most common among folks who didn’t pay a whole lot of attention in English class. Professionals know better.

Affect is a verb (okay, except in the field of psychology, where it’s pronounced “æfekt,” accent on the first syllable, not “uhfekt,” accent on the second syllable)
Effect is a noun that means a result (and as with many nouns in English, you can use it as a verb meaning “to cause.”)

Here affect is misused. The sentence wants a noun in that spot, so it should be effect. Harrumpf.

PS—I ran into another article getting this wrong. Here’s the quote:

“2018 has unfortunately been a prime example of global warming’s effect on the jet stream,” Humphrey writes. He predicts that warm temperatures will continue to melt sea ice, and could eventually effect permafrost, or ground that stays frozen permanently (as it’s name suggests).

The first sentence quotes Humphrey, the source, who correctly uses “effect” as a noun. The second sentence uses “effect” as a verb, which means the warm temperatures could cause the permafrost. This is the opposite of what the writer means.

Come on, professionals. Get your act together.



The definition on the board in this Andertoons comic is mostly correct.

Idioms aren’t limited to phrases, however. Idioms can be anything from a single word to several sentences. In fact, small variations in spelling can be idiomatic. Think of writing in a southern accent, or should I say suhthun acksayent?

However, the point of this post is a heads up. If you’re a native speaker of English, you most likely don’t have much trouble understanding idioms, and often don’t even think about them. Here’s the heads up:

When you write something that might be translated, avoid idioms!

You want your readers to understand what you mean without having to puzzle over what you wrote. Idioms don’t lend themselves to effective translation in expository writing, so avoid them.

Here, I’ll give you an example, a German idiom. What does it mean in English? (I’ll translate it literally for you)

That’s like a Bohemian village!

How would you say that in English?

Well, I’m going to almost give away the answer because I found a comic with the answer in it. Which one is it?

Simple Truth and Great Truth

This comic reminded me of an aphorism I heard a while back.

The opposite of a simple truth is false. The opposite of a great truth is also true!

So this guy doesn’t realize that his parents told great truths.

Egoism vs. Egotism

First the definition:

Egoism is a school of philosophy that says, “Only I exist. Everything else is  the product of my imagination.”
Egotism says “I am better, more important than, everyone and everything.”

Now the test. Does this guy have it right or wrong?

If you said he has it wrong, you’d be right!

Now how about this one?

Yup! He used the correct word.

Eager vs. Anxious

I think I mentioned this before, but it’s been a while.

Anxious means to anticipate with fear,
Eager means to anticipate with delight.

So don’t be like Citizen Dog.

Extra Syllables

General rule: don’t do this.

The lesson is the point of this Gray Matters comic. Adding adding an extra syllable is a pretentiousism, the need to sound classier than you are. Believe me, it defeats the purpose.

Comic writers are generally pretty good with the language, but this Jumpstart has another rather common extra-syllabified (I almost wrote syllableified)  word. I suppose he could use the excuse that he’s writing for the character…

On a related note, I’ve never heard anyone use “idololatry,”

Not Sure How to Describe This

Look at the sentence in the last panel, courtesy of Rabbits Against Magic.  Doesn’t feel quite right, does it?

That first preposition isn’t right somehow. Maybe I see a suggested contradiction between “in the opposite direction” and “to the White House.”

“Opposite” can stand by itself just fine:

They’re moving opposite the direction to the White House.

Or maybe something even simpler:

They’re moving away from the White House.

How would you smooth out that sentence?