Lightweight Homonym Goof

Do you see the mistake?

I think Ralph Hagen, cartoonist for The Barn, actually didn’t think, and picked the first spelling that came to mind. But what do I know?

Okay, here’s the answer:

Peddling—to actively work at getting someone to buy something

Pedaling—to operate the pedals on a mechanical device such as a bicycle

A Measuring-Counting Conundrum

Some things we can measure or we can count, depending on the situation. Two of these are distance and time. Both consist of discrete units that are infinitely divisible, limited only by your choice of precision. So you can count the number of miles to town or measure the distance to town to whatever precision you like.

So how do you choose whether to use words such as “few” and “number” (for counting) or “less” and “amount” (for measuring)? Here we see Off the Mark’s cat getting it wrong:

Here’s a good rule of thumb if you’re ever in doubt:

If the word is singular, use “amount.”
If the word is plural, use “number.”

So you have an amount of time but a number of minutes.

Piece of cake.

PS—I just ran into someone at a higher level than a cat (Matthew Hickey, a security researcher and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hacker House) getting it wrong:

“The [passcodes] don’t always go to the [secure enclave processor] in some instances — due to pocket dialing [or] overly fast inputs — so although it ‘looks’ like pins are being tested they aren’t always sent and so they don’t count, the devices register less counts than visible,” he tweeted.

Yay! A Correct “Comprise”

So many so-called writers use the pretentiousism of “is comprised of” that I mention correct usages every chance I get. Here’s our current correct construction, from Jonathan Amos, of the BBC, no less:

The Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT) is actually a four-in-one instrument. It comprises three smaller refractors around a top-end, 14-inch (35.5cm) aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Remember, “comprise” goes from the single, multi-part thing to a list of its parts.

“Centered Around” Again

Remember, the center of something is a point. It doesn’t go around anything. This guy does it wrong twice:

It’s interesting that the analysis doesn’t really center around the security properties of Telegram, but more around its ubiquity as a messaging platform in the country.

The correct wording is “center on” but in a sentence like this, with two instances of the usage, a bit of creativity is in order. Here are a few choices. What do you recommend?

  • discuss
  • cover
  • talk about
  • mention
  • report on
  • reveal
  • isn’t about
  • _____________

A Subtle Goof

It’s in the first panel of this Mr. Fitz, which has a student speaking, whom I wouldn’t be surprised to see making this mistake. It’s easy to make. Do you see it? (It’s not the extra “a” in the second sentence; that’s just a typo.)

Hint: The mistake has to do with agreement.

Okay, I won’t go into all the details about the full construction of this sentence, but “us” and “an adult” are equivalent. Hence, they should agree in number, meaning both singular or both plural, not one of each.

He should have said, “…teaching us to be adults” or “teaching me to be an adult.”

See how the agreement makes the sentence a little smoother?

Go thou and do likewise.

PS—Since I started with a test, I’ll end with one. It also has to do with agreement. Here’s a sentence from an email my wife sent me:

It’s nice to know that someone else besides you &  Dave knows how busy I actually am.

Okay, should “knows” stay singular or be changed to plural?

Sanskrit, Latin, Hebrew, now French

A month or so ago I referenced Sanskrit, Latin, and alluded to Hebrew culture. Here’s some French.

The term Frazz and that first grader are talking about is “esprit de l’escalier” pronounced es pree dee les kal yay. It refers to that witty reply you didn’t think of until too late. Literally “wit on the staircase”; that is, after you had left and gone upstairs. Ah, those French.

Awhile and a While

I haven’t run into this solecism lately, but I ran into the lesson on Facebook. Here it is:

The noun phrase “a while” can and often does follow a preposition, such as “for” or “in.” The adverb “awhile” cannot follow a preposition.

If you can replace “a while” with another article and noun such as “a year,” you know you want the two-word version. If you can replace “awhile” with another adverb such as “briefly,” you know you want the one-word version.

I think you can find the site here. This post from them is from June 18.

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.