Category Archives: Punctuation

In the news … (Jan 9)

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That Gerund Is Funky: words, grammar, usage and language in the news this month.

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As cartoonists and demonstrators around the world raise and wield their pens in protest against the recent atrocities in France, the BBC asks the question: who first wrote or uttered the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”? Continue reading

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky – Dec 5

WNYC's How To Speak New York screenshot

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In grammar and usage news this month: a nationwide pun ban; how to pluralize your last name; grammar in Christmas carols; a new book from Steven Pinker; and how to talk like a New Yorker. Continue reading

‘Strophes: straight or curly, smart or dumb?

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Ah, the apostrophe.

It’s unquestionably the most misused punctuation mark in the English language — so much so that its errant form has its own nickname: “the greengrocer’s apostrophe” (and that’s from widespread abuse on signage by guilty tradesmen). Orange’s and lemon’s: says who?

But it does have a bit of a bad rap, this aerial word-comma: it’s really not as complicated as the world seems to think it is. Except perhaps when it comes to its typography, not to its role in spelling. Continue reading

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (Sep 26)

TGIF. In language and usage news this fortnight: a school that teaches in Manx Gaelic; an emergency poet; costly slips of the tongue; zombie nouns; an ominous auto-correct error; punctuation problems in a pre-K campaign; and can Benedict Cumberbatch not say penguinContinue reading

TGIF : That Gerund Is Funky (Aug 29)

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TGIF. In language and usage news this fortnight: grammar rules that can sometimes be broken; a socialite’s guide to elegant expletives; a mispronunciation leads to the renaming of a TV show (if only briefly); the fading art of diagramming sentences; and a childhood spelling error of adult proportions.

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“You shudder at a split infinitive, know when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ and would never confuse ‘less’ with ‘fewer’ – but are these rules always right, elegant or sensible?” In The Guardian, linguist Steven Pinker identifies 10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes). Continue reading

In the news … (Aug 22)

 

MoS2 Template Master

TGIF. In language, grammar and usage news this week: does how we write tell others how smart we are? Do punctuation and grammar matter when we’re flirting digitally? Does the language of a restaurant’s menu tell us how expensive the restaurant is? Plus some spelling challenges presented to U.S. foreign policy reporters; movie titles that make us cringe; and the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks …

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How you write can affect how smart others perceive you to be. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “Typing … in the Comic Sans font … could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent. The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”

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“The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon.” So Roy Peter Clark maintains on Poynter.

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The Huffington Post has identified 18 movies whose titles make every grammar geek cringe. It’s mostly a case of missing hyphens (“40 Year-Old Virgin” has a slightly pedophiliac quality to it) and apostrophes (“Two Weeks Notice” cries out for one); but when it comes to Zach Braff’s new movie, he’s

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“Funky or very informal spelling” is the biggest turnoff for both men and women when it comes to digital flirting, according to the results of a digital flirting rules survey done by Omlet, a chat app. …For women, the second biggest turnoff was the lack of punctuation and grammar.” Delaware’s News Journal has the story.

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The Hill has published an article on the spelling challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Is it ISIS or ISIL?

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Does the language of a restaurant’s menu indicate how expensive it is? Dan Jurafsky has found that it does, as reported in the Atlantic. “Fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf)…. Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like deliciousflaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words.” Does that mean I get a bargain when “steak frites” is on the menu?

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TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 25)

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An appropriate name for this type of doctor ... (seen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side)

TGIF. Language and usage in the news this week: a missing comma in a tweet; how to pronounce a footballer’s name; Zach Braff’s bad grammar; and a different typ(o) of freedom …

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AP sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy when it left an important comma out of one its tweets:

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Yes, we do need commas. Even when we’re tweeting …

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Zach Braff used bad grammar on purpose in the title of his new movie, Wish I Was Here. Continue reading

In the news (May 30)

hotbreakfastWhy punctuation matters (Somewhere in America, Memorial Day, May 26)

TGIF: Language in the news and on the web this week includes a spelling bee tie, a poetic birthday celebration in Siberia; some words that mean the opposite of themselves; some foreign words that are untranslatable; voting words into the dictionary; a very fashionable pronunciation guide; and a war against euphemism and cliche.

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Two boys won this year’s National Scripps Spelling Bee. As CBS News reported, “Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, shared the title after a riveting final-round duel in which they nearly exhausted the 25 designated championship words. After they spelled a dozen words correctly in a row, they both were named champions.”

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To mark the 215th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Pushkin on June 6, one of Russia’s greatest poets, the Siberian city Novosibirsk is going to offer free rides on its underground to anyone who can recite at least two verses from any of his Pushkin’s poems. The BBC reports on this poetic event.

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Here’s one of the reasons I love mental_floss: today it gives us 25 words that are their own opposites – otherwise known as contronyms. “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Confused? Yeah … That’s what contranyms can do. (And even contranym doesn’t know how to spell itself, let alone decide what it means.)

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Do you think adorkable or duckface should be legitimate, dictionary-worthy words? Well, if you feel strongly enough either way, you can have your say. According to a report in The Economist, Collins Dictionary is going to add a word to its dictionary based on votes collected through Twitter.

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Is your inability to pronounce designers’ names making your life a misery? If so, Harper’s Bazaar has come to the rescue, publishing an A-Z cheat sheet to help you tackle Moschino, Hermes, Miu Miu, Lanvin and more. You never need be embarrassed again when getting your fashion lingo on …

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Bored Panda brings us 30 untranslatable words from other languages – with some attractive illustrations by Anjana Iyer. This picture captures the meaning of the Japanese word bakku-shan, for example, in a way that the English language simply can’t.

Bakku-shan

Anjana Iyer, from Bored Panda

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Ending on a serious note this week, Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker wrote movingly about the need to speak clearly and directly when conveying hard truths. Commenting after the recent California shooting, Gopnik commended the father of one of the victims for doing just this. “The war against euphemism and cliché matters not because we can guarantee that eliminating them will help us speak nothing but the truth but, rather, because eliminating them from our language is an act of courage that helps us get just a little closer to the truth. Clear speech takes courage.”

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