About Asterisks

Another quickie. I generally stay out of politics, but the other day I made a comment and asked a question about asterisks (still don’t have the answer), and today I saw another asterisk. So here it is. I still think the usual number is five or six.

I once or twice made comments about what the rest of the symbols mean, too.

A Word of Advice about Being Right

The word “right” has at least three reasonably unrelated meanings, though they share a derivation. Right can refer to your political leanings, it can mean the opposite of left, and it is a synonym for being correct. (the shared derivation is not etymological but cultural in the case of politics, which used to refer to the right-hand side of the aisle.) And then there’s pun-fodder in the homonym “rite.”

Here’s an example of confusing right and left from good old Gasoline Alley:

So we have a situation ripe for ambiguity, which is the enemy of good expository writing. In spoken language you can get away with it (ahem, usually) because you have the aid of tone of voice, but when you’re writing, here’s my advice:

When that’s what you mean, always write “correct” instead of “right.”

I remember watching a John Cleese movie that ended with a scene of a (humorous) almost-car crash because the driver and passenger confused the meaning of “right.”

Maybe you should always use “correct” when that’s what you mean.

Visual Puns

Good old Bob Thaves, the master of puns. Here’s his latest:

Now a too-simple quiz: Why are those two letters an F and an E?

By the way, most asterisks have five or six pedals, not eight. They are called pedals, right?

Two Biblical Ellipses

The Bible is often misquoted. I ran into a common misquote recently from a fellow who experienced a motorcycle mishap that demonstrated the wisdom of wearing “all the gear all the time,” as we responsible motorcyclists say. He ended his misadventure with

Pride goeth before the fall.

The actual verse is

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Leaving out that part in the middle is called ellipsis. Ellipsis isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I recommend you be careful with it.

And that reminds me of one of my dad’s favorite Biblical misquotes, also an ellipsis. The verse is

For the love of money is the root of all evil:

My dad says

Money is the root of all evil, and a man needs roots!

Do you have a favorite Biblical misquote? Share in the comments.

Bring and Take

Here’s a quickie. In English, “bring” and “take” are from the point of view of the speaker, not the point of view of the carrier. “Bring” is toward the speaker, “take” is away from the speaker. This is a rather mushy rule, but this Ben comic, in which the kid gets it wrong, definitely feels wrong to a native speaker, so it should help you remember how to use those two words.

They call it Clutter, I call it Fluff

Here’s the headline to a pretty good article about writing.

Clutter

How to remove extra words that make you sound boring

I quoted it because they jimmied up the graphics to make it hard to copy and paste, so you’ll have to follow the link in my first line to see what the formatting looks like.

The article is a pretty good read, even with an incorrect adverb in the first line of the first paragraph. I agree with what the writer says we should do when we write, but the motivation I offer is not about being boring (that’s egotistical), but about whether the reader can absorb the content of the writing without thinking about the writing itself. That’s getting the job done. Here are a few places where I mentioned this concept before: here, here, here, and here.

 

Prepositions are Tricky

This probably seems a minor quibble, but the first panel in this comic has the wrong preposition. It should be “on” or “about.”

On the Fastrack - 07/25/2017

You pretty much need to be a native speaker of the language to get prepositions right all the time (and even then, you can find geographical differences, say, between the US and UK).

I don’t have a good solution, either. Maybe try googling phrases like “preposition for thesis topic.” Or ask a curmudgeon.

Two Harrumpfs

No comic today, but something to think about.

My second gold rule of writing is to be correct. This from This Day in History for July 20:

In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit.

The whole moon is dark half the time! They went to the FAR side of the moon! I know, “dark” is a synonym for “unknown,” and I presume they were using a professional writer who decided to write, um, informally. Still, why not be accurate?

While I’m at it, here’s another example of bad writing from the same article:

After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hoursApollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.

“Into” is unnecessary. (It’s redundant. “Entering” includes the idea of going into.) I call this kind of mistake “fluff.” It goes against my third rule, to be concise. If you don’t need a word, don’t use it.

Double harrumpf.

ASL Question

Maybe I’m passing up a good opportunity here; after all, this comic is even about a point of grammar. But I’ve mentioned that solecism enough times that both of you dear readers should know how to get “your” and “you’re” correct by now, right?

Here’s today’s Dustin:

Dustin - 07/20/2017

So here’s my question. Well, two: Putting your fingers in an “L” shape against your forehead is a sign in American Sign Language. What does the sign mean? and does it matter which hand you use?

If you happen to know, send me a note in the comments, would you?

This is Why We Have Hyphenated Adjectives

We call them compound adjectives. Sometimes when you have two (or more) adjectives before a noun they both refer to the noun. The big red boat, for example.

But sometimes the first adjective refers to the second adjective, and together they modify the noun. Black-eyed Susan, for example.

So here’s a comic to illustrate what might happen when you forget that hyphen.

Free range eggs!

Mightn’t you say that the first adjective is really an adverb? After all, don’t adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs? Good point. That’s why we use the hyphen, to show that two adjectives are working together. If you used an actual adverb, you wouldn’t need the hyphen. A messily ruined shirt, for example. No hyphen.