Parenting and Grammar

Changing the subject is a common defense mechanism, I think.

The kid is right about the grammar, though. “Whom” is the object of a preposition.

Two Verbs and Two Commas

I run into this mainly in spoken English. Saying “is” twice.

“The reason that technology is interesting is, once you do this process of focusing the light to get heat, you can store heat much more cheaply than you can store electricity,” says Asegun Henry, lead researcher on the study.

Having “is” in there twice seems wrong, doesn’t it? It’s not!

Let’s parse the sentence. The subject is “reason”; “that technology is interesting” is a subordinate clause that functions as an adjective describing “reason.” So what’s the main verb? It’s that second “is.” (Everything from “once” to “heat” is parenthetical, so you can set that part aside.) Then we have “you can store heat…” and that’s a noun clause, a predicate nominative.

So we end up with “The reason is (that) you can store heat.” It’s a perfectly grammatical sentence, if somewhat cumbersome.

Woof! Let’s do a comic in the next post.

Premise, Premises

The last post was about pairs of words that people get mixed up. Here’s another pair. They aren’t even synonyms.

A premise is a starting point in logic, a foundational statement. For example, “All men are mortal” is a premise.
Premises refers to property, buildings, land, and so on, occupied or owned by someone or something. It always ends in “s” and we usually treat the word as a plural.

The two words are not synonyms!

Here’s an example of correct usage:

Kubernetes is currently supported as a hosted service on all three major public cloud providers—Google, AWS and Microsoft Azure—and has a broad system of vendors that also provide Kubernetes distributions that can run on-premises or in the cloud.

If the article had said “on-premise” it would have been incorrect. I’m not goint to quote anyone using the word incorrectly because I don’t want to embarrass them. But I could.

PS—Alert readers might notice that I used a singular verb, “refers,” in my definition of “premises.” Was I treating “premises” as a singular? Well, no. I elided (left off) the actual subject of the sentence, which is “The word.” I could have written “The word “premises” refers to…” but I wanted to be concise. And it gave me an excuse to put in this postscript.

A Semicolon Rule

Semicolons are rather like strong commas and weak periods. The rhino geek below makes a point that’s usually true. Semicolons are supposed to connect two independent clauses that are on the same topic. In other words, closely related sentences. Independent clauses don’t usually start with a conjunction.

The rule about conjunctions is a bit mechanistic, though usually it’s correct. Too bad for him.

Confused Synonyms

Occasionally I mention words that people get wrong, such as comprise,
nauseous, niggardly (same post as nauseous), and enormity.

Guess I’m being lazy today. The comic says it all. Second panel.

Get your words right!

PS—Wouldn’t you know, I ran into another comic that illustrates two (count ’em) mistaken words in common phrases:

PPS—And I ran into a correct use of “venom.” The article is about ten uncommon animals.

As for the platypus, which is also native to Australia, the male platypus has a toxin-releasing spur on its hind foot, making it one of the very few venomous mammals in the world.


Reduplication is repeating a syllable with a slight change to the vowel or to a consonant. Reduplication is how you make the present and past perfect tenses in Greek, so you probably know the word already if you studied Greek. 

We have it in English, too, but we don’t mention it (except maybe in linguistic circles). We use reduplication mainly in onomatopoetic words: tic tock, clip clop, and so on. 

Why do I mention this? I ran into an article that mentions reduplication that also mentions a topic I wrote about two or so years ago but didn’t know the source, so I’m giving credit now. 

(I wrote about ablaut a while back, too, but in a different context. In case you’re interested, it’s here. Ablaut is when you change a vowel following a pattern.)

Here’s a paragraph from the article:

You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or ‘cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one.

It’s an interesting article; I recommend you read the whole thing.

PS—sigh. Wouldn’t you know, today I ran into a comic that features ablaut reduplication.

PPS—and here’s a serious use of the word:

The name comes from Hawaiian ʻoumuamua, meaning ‘scout’ (from ʻou, meaning ‘reach out for’, and mua, reduplicated for emphasis, meaning ‘first, in advance of’), and reflects the way this object is like a scout or messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to humanity. (That apostrophe at the beginning of the name is a glottal stop, not an orphaned single quote.)

JJB [astrophysig] 

Use a Hyphen When You Need One

The rule about hyphenating compound words is that the hyphen tends to go away if the word is common enough. We used to write “to-day” instead of “today,” for example. A more recent change is “web site” to “website,” now unhyphenated even when used as a compound adjective. 

Here’s one that should definitely still get the hyphen:

On April 30, the Pu‘u ‘O‘o crater on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, suddenly collapsed. It was the starting point for the volcano’s monthslong eruption, which went on to produce 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of lava that transformed the landscape and ultimately destroyed 700 homes.

That’s a months-long eruption. That “nthsl” is just too long, and besides, where does the “s” go? I’m not aware of anything called a “slong.” It’s a good thing that the sentence didn’t have “swimmingpoolsworth.”

Remember, the goal of expository writing is to be clear. Try not to have bumps in your readers’ road.

PS—Those apostrophes in P’u ‘O’o aren’t contractions. They represent glottal stops, which English uses, but doesn’t have a letter for.

LOL and Such—Linguistic Change

The quote below, from one Vykki, is a response below a comic where a guy wants to communicate with a deaf person, but he doesn’t know ASL very well. This post is actually about that comment.

I’ve also heard people say “LOL” out loud—either as “ell oh ell” or “lawl”—while not actually laughing. Basically, LOL has evolved to be something other than an abbreviation for “laughing out loud”, in much the same way that “ok” is no longer an abbreviation. (There’s a fun thought: 150 years from now, people might say, “Did you know that ‘eloel’ came from ‘laughing out loud’? That’s crazy!” Assuming they remember its origins at all—the origins of many words and phrases, including “ok”, are debated, and perhaps that one will be too.)

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I have heard someone say “LOL” myself, once, maybe twice. (Perhaps I don’t swing in the appropriate circles), but I think Vykki couldn’t have said it better. Language changes. We curmudgeons have to deal with it.

Another Mondegreen

You all know what mondegreens are, because I wrote about them before. Here, for example. Well, I ran into a new one, so here you are:

New to me, anyway. 

A Brand Name

I don’t refer to brand names much, but I can state a rule: Do it the way the owner of the brand wants. Take a look at this:

The Lego company says that “Lego” has no plural. If you want to refer to one of the pieces, call them “Lego blocks” or “Lego pieces.” But don’t call them “Legos.”

So—It’s a box of Lego, not a box of Legos.