Correct Use of the Subjunctive

We use the subjunctive when we want to express something contrary to reality. (Greek has a mood called the optative, which is a step farther back than the subjunctive; it expresses a wish. In English we would say something like “would that I were dead”—but I digress.) Okay, this being contrary to reality poses a problem for this guy, in a way, and therein lies the humor.

(This is Scary Gary (the vampire on the left) for May 2, 2017.)

Owen the ghost feels alive, so for him, being dead is contrary to reality, hence the subjunctive. The humor, of course, is in his misinterpretation of Gary’s question. But his grammar is perfect.

What I’d like to know is how Gary can balance a full coffee cup on the arm of an overstuffed sofa.

Quantum Mechanics in a Grammar Post?

Well, sort of. Really it’s about Latin plurals.

I’m learning that people prefer these posts to be short and (heh) sweet. Grammar does tend to get complicated at times, so I’ll try not to put so much, um, content into my posts.

Here’s a really short one about quantum mechanics, that should be doable, right?

Here’s the quote, from an article in This Day in History:

Planck’s theory held that radiant energy is made up of particle-like components, known as “quantum.”

Alas, the writer got his Latin plural wrong. The sentence should end with “quanta.” “Quanta” is like “data” and “criteria.” Those are plurals, and their singulars are “quantum,” “datum,” and “criterion.”

How’s that for short—only quantum mechanics and Latin plurals.

A Tiny Typographical Trick

You know what an x looks like, right? Among other things, it often signifies closing something; that’s why you see one in the upper right corners of a lot of computer windows.  But x’s have another common use that’s incorrect! Incorrect of you know the trick, anyway.

Many houses are built at least partly out of 2×4 lumber, right? You said “two by four” when you read that, right?

I hate to tell you this, (Actually, I’m delighted to tell you this. It’s the whole point of this post.) but that’s not supposed to be an x between the 2 and the 4. It’s supposed to be a times sign! (Multiplication symbol if you want to be fancy.) This is a pretty common mistake. Even the guru of computer security, Bruce Schneier has made it at least once. I quote:

Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email­ — usually in a 1×1 pixel image, so tiny it’s invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts.

We have a pretty good excuse: They typical keyboard doesn’t have a key for the times sign. Herein lies your trick:

Hold down the Alt key and type 0215 on the numeric keypad. Release the Alt key. There’s your times sign!

Now you can have typographically correct lumber, dimensions, and equations. Go for it.

An Entirely Grammar-Driven Comic

Dan Dougherty said it all; I don’t need to say anything. Um, you do know the difference between “may” and “can,” right?

The lesson: Be careful about correcting others’ English.

Good Old Like and As

“Like” and “as” are easy to get mixed up. It doesn’t help a lot to say that “as” is an adverb and “like” is a preposition. Too complicated. You might find it easier to remember, perhaps, that “as” goes with verbs, and “like” goes with nouns and pronouns.

Here’s a guy who sounds right both times, uses two different constructions, and we understand him, but he’s wrong! Take a look at the second panel in the Dec 9, 2017 edition of Mr. Fitz:

“Think like I do” sounds right. That’s because you have the verb “do,” that goes with “I.” But technically, it should be “think as I do.” By the way, it’s a good idea to include that “do” in this sort of construction; doing so removes ambiguity.

Then he hauls off and says, “think like me.” And that also sounds correct! It sounds correct because “like” feels like a preposition with that “me” all by itself after it. Well, “like” is a preposition. But he’s modifying a verb (think) with an adjective phrase. That’s a no-no. Take the book title “Black Like Me.” The color, black, an adjective, goes with the pronoun “me.” That’s correct. If he had said “a thinker like me,” since “thinker” is a noun, he would be correct, at least grammatically.

Heavy-duty grammar lesson today. Sorry.

Liquidating Comedy Club Electronics

Disposing Of Our Old Electronics

liquidated sound equipmentTher will be some major upgrades in one of our performance halls in 2018. We are excited to announce that the outdated PA System and old electronics that our comedians were performing on will be liquidated and taken away. We are looking to hire an electronics recycler that will come in and break down the outdated PA System that includes an old mixing board, microphones, computer, amplifier, speakers, cabling, lighting, fog machine, and everything else we used for our evening productions. Ushering in the new year we will hire a local A/V company to come in and install the new electronic audio/visual equipment that we purchased from Sweetwater in September. 2018 will feature a slew of new hosts and comedians that will leave our audiences hunched over in laughter. One thing we are excited about is improving the quality of sound and the quality of recordings the new equipment will bring. Too often there is line noise that interferes with the recordings, requiring us to use a digital audio editor to clean it out before we push the recordings to the internet for sale. Our artists work very hard on their acts and the audience pays a premium to watch their routines, the least we can do is give them a venue that has quality electrical equipment that functions professionally and makes the experience one to remember. I am personally pleased with this decision by management to liquidate the old electronics and think it will increase the ticket sales in 2018. If you live in or around Brooklyn New York and want to enjoy an evening out for a drink and some entertainment then swing by and check out a show. Bring a friend, bring a date, but leave the laughing gas at home because we will provide you with 120 minutes of non-stop laughter and quality entertainment only like New York can! So spread the word that the outdated performance hall has been liquidated of its old audio/visual equipment and there is a whole new experience for everyone to enjoy. Also, please share this post with friends and family to help support local business, We appreciate your patronage in 2017 and look forward to making 2018 an even better year in comedy.

READ: Moving To Brooklyn From New Jersey

Another Gödel Joke

This post doesn’t have much to do with good writing, but I happen to like jokes that relate to Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. The gist of the theorem is that he proved mathematically that you can’t have a complete logical system, one that doesn’t have unanswerable questions and has no contradictions. This was much to his colleague Bertrand Russell’s displeasure, who was in the midst of writing a book (Principia Mathematica) to prove the completeness of mathematics. Here’s a link to a joke about that:

Epitaphs in the Graveyard of Mathematics

It’s the second one, but they’re all funny if you know a little math.

Okay, that’s a lot of preliminaries to get to the joke in the comic Dog Eat Doug that I had in mind in the first place. Part of Gödel’s proof hinged on the fact that when something refers to itself, you can get into trouble.

Interesting bit of onomatopoeia there, too. I dare you to try this question on Siri.

PS–since it happened to come up, here’s a link to an article that actually mentions the incompleteness theorem:

The mathematics of Christmas: A review of the Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus

It Sounds Wrong, but it’s Right

Okay, the intransitive verb “lie-lay-lain” is one we often get wrong in the present tense. We say “I’m gonna go lay down,” when we mean “I’m gonna go lie down.” (note there’s no direct object.)  “Lie,” the correct word, sounds okay even when we often say “lay.”

Ah, but the past tense of lie, which is “lay,” sounds wrong even when it’s correct! I think we’re just too used to something like a “-d” at the end of past tense verbs. Here’s a guy (Mike Peterson of Comic Strip of the Day for December 7, 2017) using it correctly. It’s the past tense:

He may not have been the worst of the lot, but he lay down with the dogs and now he’s getting up with the fleas.

Sorry, he’s right. It’s “lay.” “Laid” is wrong. I suppose Mike could have written, “…he laid his body down with the dogs…” That would be a little strange, but also grammatical.

The rule: “lay” is past tense of “lie.” Deal with it.

A Testimonial for Good English

Look what Dilbert said to derogate this document: Full of typos!

The rule: typographical errors matter. I wrote about this in the past more than once.

Sigh. A couple days later Scott repeated the joke:

And a subtle dig—the gal is their tech writer. She could see what the developer couldn’t.

That’s why you need us tech writers: we can see things you can’t.

The Second Most Common Mistake

—in English! In English! I’m sure this is nowhere near the top of the list of mistakes humans make. This might not even be second on the English grammar list, but I think it comes right after the one where someone, trying deliberately to be high-class, says “between him and I.”

This error is using “whom” when “who” is actually correct (or in this case, “whomever” and “whoever.”). First, the rule: when you have a subordinate clause, work from the inside out. Here’s an example of the mistake, from Edge of Adventure. Look at the first panel in the bottom row. Can you tell why he should have said “whoever”?

Yes, “to” is a preposition, and the clause that comes after it is its object. But that clause has its own subject and verb! And since we work from the inside out, being the subject of that clause takes precedence over the whole clause being an object, so it’s “whoever did this.” If you really want a “whom” in that sentence you could say something like “…to whomever I find on the trail.” Now “I” is the subject, and “whomever” is the direct object of “I find.” Make sense?

So sometimes you have permission to use “who.” Be careful.