Category Archives: Grammar

Of Brooches, Broaches, And Coincidences

The world is more interconnected than I’d imagine, even though I think about this often.

I received a text today: “X, the brooches are 1/2 off. You ought to come and add to your collection.”

Not having a-n-y idea who the text was from, I resisted the urge to reply. Before making it home, I imagined that it could only be one of two places, so I pulled into the flea market parking lot and went inside.

I limited myself to four, although they were affordable.

When I went to pay for them, I didn’t mention the text.

“Hello, X,” the cashier said.

The cashier remembered me, noting I didn’t have a brooch on my shirt today. (I’d forgotten it, along with several other things, even though I had the items next to the door.) I still had on my work badge. It is difficult to overlook the single large “X” on it.

“You can’t beat half off of something you’d buy for full price,” she added.

I told her that I was about to embark on making my own and deciding whether to get soldering tools or use felt and glue. With enough creativity, just about anything can be converted to a brooch or clip.

“But I will still stop by and see what catches my eye. It’s mainly color, of all kinds.”

When I got home, I laughed, realizing that one of today’s projects was painting some long floor tiles cobalt metallic blue. They, of course, aren’t going on the floor. What kind of foolishness would that be? 🙂

Part of my laugh was that it didn’t occur to me to ask who sent the text, or if I had encountered multiple coincidences by picking that particular flea market.

The mystery remains.

And I love that this is true.

P.S. Grammatically speaking, both ‘broach’ and ‘brooch’ are correct for these pieces of jewelry.

Love, X

Heretoforward March

“Lymph, v.:  to walk with a lisp.”

One of my favorite people asked me half-jokingly if “heretoforward” was a word. When she used it, I understood it in context.

My short answer to the question? Yes, because it conveyed meaning.

Is it proper? Who cares?

I added it to my dictionaries to ensure I use it in the future without being reminded of some arbitrary rule.

“Heretofore” is a ‘real’ word. It supposedly means ‘before now,’ or ‘previously.’

If that stupid word is a ‘real’ word, then so too is ‘heretoforward.’ English is stuffed with ridiculous words, thousands of them, most of them orphans.

It reminds me of the word ‘overmorrow,’ which means ‘the day after tomorrow.’ It’s a good word, one that shouldn’t have fallen out of favor. If we’re going to use logic, let’s take a hard look at some of the rules we take for granted, especially those which make it hard for regular people to immediately understand how our language can be used. I didn’t put the word ‘properly’ in that last sentence because ‘proper’ is a unicorn.

Regarding language, I am not a perfectionist and certainly not a purist. I like language that breaks things and evolves rapidly. If you search the ‘language’ or ‘grammar’ tags of my blog, I’ll probably irritate you with my consistent message: language exists in its present form because we politely agree that it does. It really is that simple.

You can accuse me of laziness all you want. Heretoforward, it won’t bother me. I’ll be over here doing whatever I want with the language. I won’t stray too far because I’m not writing “A Clockwork Orange.” The point is to convey meaning. If I can do that while causing the purists’ hair to stand on end, even better.

Since I’m helping someone new learn a bit of Spanish, I find myself reminding her that English is a bastard language and trying to impose its arbitrary rules on other languages is a recipe for disgust.

P.S. Commenting to tell me how stupid I am wastes your time, not mine. Ha!

Language Belongs To All Of Us

“If we have to guess or spell words phonetically in order to be able to say them properly, why don’t we just change the spelling to be phonetic in the first place?”

I’m a better-than-average speller, but I despise the way our language makes people uncomfortable when using it. Most peoole use only 800 or so distinct words in a day. And most communication is verbal. One of my biggest pleasures is trashing the expectations of those who disagree. We all abuse the language in our own way. It belongs to all of us, to use and misuse as we wish.

Earlier, I witnessed a needless haranguing over language. I intervened jokingly. The self-appointed expert asked me something to exert dominance. I replied in Spanish. “I wasn’t talking in Spanish and I don’t understand it.” I laughed. “No, but he does, so who is the asshole now?”

I intended to write more, but I slipped and fell off my soapbox.

Grammar Police Tripping Themselves

ERRORS GRAMMAR KERMIT

As a bona fide imperfectionist, I’ve spent time over the last couple of years preaching the futility of the bulk of our spelling and grammar rules. I’ve observed many lashings regarding language. One reason I’m careful of such hypocrisy is that we all make spectacular errors. Even using a professional version of Grammarly, I have to laugh at some of the glaring bits of stupidity that amazingly went past my eyeballs. Given that our language is needlessly complex on multiple levels, it’s a bit outlandish to presume you’re not making errors.

You are. We notice.

I’m throwing a caution flag at people who nitpick irrelevant errors of presentation.

I had a list of examples to include with this post. I opted to forego it though, in part because those wearing the badge of grammar police seldom have a light-hearted sense of humor about it.

As for me, I don’t mind when people point out I’ve made an error. They’re going to need a lot of free time though, given the volume of my nonsense and my lack of regard for errors when I make them.

P.S. It’s All P.S.

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People sometimes ask me why I named my original blog “P.S. Parenthetically Speaking.” It currently resides at my own website, xteri.me

First, if you’re reading the written language, it’s safe to skip over anything contained inside parentheses. (Weirdly enough, if you’re doing math, the portion inside the parentheses is vitally important.) My blog was designed as a ‘take it or leave it’ valve for my life. I’m not curing disease or mapping the most efficient economic system in my posts.

Second, ‘P.S.’ is an afterthought and also able to be skipped without too much harm to the content. When letters were the rage, a ‘P.S.’ in a personal letter usually contained fond sentiments or a personal note to close the letter.

Third, most adults can’t spell the words parenthetically, parentheses, or daiquiri. (The last word, in particular, and especially if one’s been imbibing.)

Finally, I liked the idea of someone attempting to speak parenthetically. I’m not sure if this would entail them making wide arm brackets as they spoke. One of my fascinations with language is the disparity and complexity of the written language versus the spoken one. We spend much more of our lives speaking than we do reading or writing; yet, we’ve allowed our language to be our master.

P.S. Language doesn’t need to be difficult.

The Etiquette Practicality Exception

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I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”

Pure manure.

One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.

It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.

The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.

Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.

Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.

We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.

If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.

I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.

I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.

I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.

I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.

As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.

As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.

Obituary: Apostrophe

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Obituary

Today marked the passing of the dubious Apostrophe, whose real named is spelled ‘. The word “Apostrophe” is Greek, meaning “…the act of turning away…” It was born sometime in the 1500s. Shakespeare was a close friend of Apostrophe, employing him haphazardly and without regard to decorum. Through the centuries, writers and the general public have argued relentlessly over the usage of Apostrophe. Some have foolishly attempted to speak on behalf of Apostrophe; all are posers and speaking on his behalf without authority. No one truly understood Apostrophe or his real purpose.

The Apostrophe suffered a slow and agonizing death, one literally punctuated by debates about its viability. Apostrophonies (ardent admirers of Apostrophe) wept in silence, unsure if theyll be able to communicate without their beloved obsolete claw mark. Plans are being made to address whether we will or wont be able to understand written English after its passing. Its unclear what the cause of death was for the misunderstood punctuation mark, although an autopsy points to a complete lack of a reason to continue living as the most likely culprit.

We will still be able to determine possessive forms in writing, even in Apostrohpes absence. We have also surrendered any intention of honoring the ridiculous use of an apostrophe for so-called awkward plurals and the bane of all sane people, the plural possessive.

If youre not sure what was intended when reading, simply read it aloud to immediately clear up any confusion on the matter. The spoken word and Apostrophe have never needed one another.

In observance of the death of the Apostrophe, its remains will be cremated and its ashes scattered in the mouths of angry grammarians everywhere.

A eulogy will be provided by Apostrophes terminally ill cousins, Colon and Semicolon. It isnt clear whether Colon will be able to speak without several lengthy pauses.

The funeral is at 11 oclock on Wednesday.

This Language Is Yours To Use As You Wish

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I’ve had people ask me what makes you think you’re a grammarian?
My simple answer: “…the same thing that makes all other self-proclaimed grammarians.” Who makes dictionaries? What makes a ‘word?’ While I’m no expert on English, I’m a lover of words in multiple languages – and certainly, someone who spends an extraordinary amount of time with words dancing in delight inside my head. They are not my enemy, even when I bend them in uncertain ways.

My only enemy in language is the obtuse and illogical insistence that our language has ever reached a finished state. English is a mutt of a language and we are its barking dogs. We all share in its ownership and therefore bear some ability to shape it.

It all obfuscates the simple truth that our language does not have a governing body. Everything you know about the certainty and spectacle of language is based on the falsehood of having an overriding authority that dictates correctness. No such thing exists. Even if it did we would most likely ignore it. Usage determines correctness no matter how much you cluck about it or violently disagree. It is always been that way and it always will. The language we use today will not be the same as that used in 100 years. Correctness will adjust to the wear-and-tear of our assault on it.

I’ve had many people ask me about my status as an authority on language. My authority is the same as anyone else, except that I had an epiphany. I listened as 4 English experts disagreed on a basic idea regarding a simple expression, one which other languages do entirely differently. At the end of the table, another lover of language leaned in and asked those arguing, “But was the meaning perfectly clear in its expression?” The experts were flummoxed. “It seems to me that you’re confusing objective with process.”

The entire framework is an illusion. That many people read my derision of the self-proclaimed authorities on language and nod their heads in agreement with me doesn’t merely demonstrate that a lot of people hate the stupidity and structure of our language. It’s also because they recognize the truth of my message. And the same way that people realized they don’t need an intercessory to engage with their creator, we also aren’t in need of an external authority for language correctness. It’s our fault that we’ve allowed our written language to be so ridiculously arcane and complex. We can have deep universal and human conversations, even technical ones, without any need for spelling or punctuation – the customary nonsense that is demanded of us when we put pen-to-paper. The snobbery of grammar nerds is appalling precisely because they don’t recognize their own ignorance even as they protest and trumpet that they alone know the correct usage.

Language, spelling, syntax. All these things are evolving and moving targets, much like the wrinkled brow of the self-avowed expert on language.

Language is a living animal. Anything so fundamental to human expression doesn’t need years of study or advanced comprehension of ridiculously complex rules riddled with imaginary exceptions. It needs sanity. Almost all of our language is used informally and verbally.

While it’s amusing to some to feel versed on the English language, the greater truth is that our set of rules for its usage bear no resemblance to the purpose of language: communication and expression. We are all equally and preposterously ignorant for allowing language to be a burden on its users. Many see “Your welcome” and see it as a sign of ignorance. I do as well, except the ignorance is in the eye of the accuser. Those who use “your” instead of the contraction “you’re” are going to win the battle. You just don’t know it.

Likewise, I empower anyone reading this to stop heeding the grammarians as he or she attempts to correct you. It’s perfectly fine to define usage as ‘purist,’ because no one follows all the rules and most of us routinely butcher most of them without consequence.

My agony is in recognition of the hypocrisy on the part of my fellow humans. We’re all wrong – and always have been.

We own the language. All of us, even if it curls your eyebrows to understand.

The Joy of Lexicography – TED

 

What Makes a Word ‘Real’ – TED

Endergong and Exergong (New Words)

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I’m creating two new words for the English language today.

Are they necessary? No, but neither is “philtrum,” which is the line or cleft between your nose and upper lip. (To the tubercle of the upper lip, to be ridiculously obtuse and exact.)

Luckily for me, the litmus test for word inclusion in our shared collective English language is that there isn’t one. Yes, usage determines inclusion, but a word is a word the second that any meaning is attached to it, even if it doesn’t thrive.  Even “callipygian,” which is an artful way of describing buttocks that won’t get you punched in the epiglottis.

As Douglas Adams once paraphrased, it’s this kind of fact that generally pisses people off.

An endergonic reaction is one in which energy is absorbed and an exergonic reaction is one which results in energy released.

My two new words are these: ‘endergong’ and ‘exergong.’ Words which terminate in “gong” are gorgeous words. Perhaps if the movie had been titled “Gong With The Wind,” it might have fared even better with the general public. We’ll never know. And no, we frankly don’t give a damn.

An ‘endergong’ is someone who requires or takes in more energy than he or she adds to the social fabric.

An ‘exergong’ is someone who adds more to the social fabric than he or she consumes.

The implication is that exergong is a more positive word, characterizing positivity, freedom, and openness. You feel happier with exergongs surrounding you.

An endergong is someone who sulks at the table, complaining about everyone and everything, even the free beer you just handed him or her.

You’re welcome.

P.S. If you don’t like the words, please send a postcard to the American Society For Language, which is a non-existent organization that won’t read whatever it is you have to say about it.

Chillax, It’s Totes English For All Of Us

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It’s not about whether you accept a word as standard usage or not; it’s that our shared language ignores your opinion. That semicolon that I just used? Obsolete. Or out-dated, if you prefer more unwieldy adjectives. (Much like the letter ‘c’ in ‘adjective.’)

Words need no invitation. They are born from our careless lips and either languish or flourish. It’s just as futile as arguing whether a tulip is more beautiful than a dandelion. (The correct answer is undoubtedly ‘dandelion,’ though, for the record.) English is coldly practical about your derision of its children. It also allows many of its creations to wither without a second glance. Language is neither math nor codified science and there is no universal standard which determines which children live under its roof. Not to hound the point, but even the word ‘dog’ wasn’t originally our word. It took a long time for it to replace ‘hound.’ Yet, we now have both words, with ‘dog’ being top-dog. (And 10 other ones, for good measure, ones into which you can stick your canines.) Irregular verb conjugations dissolve over time, much like our ability to have an expansive view of subjective subjects. Being difficult largely results in a short trip to the dustbin. Oddly enough, though, English has a wordlist longer than any other language. We steal words like pieces of candy from grandma’s purse.

In the 70+ years you’ll use our language, massive change will creep into it. You can resist or embrace it. It’s why we no longer speak Latin and that even basic spelling fills a chasm between us and our mother tongue in England. You’re standing in a river as it flows.

A better use of your time, though, would be to learn at least one other language. It will help to rupture the nonsensical insistence that ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ is anything except a label. It’s hard for me to understand how someone who hasn’t mastered more than language can ignore the certainty of expression another language provides. Competing languages express the same thoughts, hopes, and ideas of one’s mother tongue, yet do so under an alien alphabet and syntax. This is the only proof you need that wasting one’s life over semantics in a language is folly. Early English was considered too crude to express abstract concepts. Some speculate that this is still the case. Some of our current users make us wince in pain and beg to have pencils shoved into our ear canals.

It’s fascinating that language is designed first and foremost for communication yet so many fights pour from the incessant evolution of its form and content. The only winnable war where words reside is to yield and abstain from the fight. Just as most people can’t adequately explain the engines in their personal vehicles, most can’t diagram a sentence or correctly detail the preferred syntax of the language they use for their entire lives.

Whether you want to be in the same boat with those who share your language, you’re there nonetheless, all of us with rows in the water, all of us both perpetrator and victim to the infinite nuances and bastardizations of words and expression. You can row backward if you want but it is counterproductive.

Observing harsh criticisms of language’s evolution, I am confounded. The history of our language is one of appropriation, misuse, creation, and abuse. Why then do so many seemingly ignore the tower of linguistic history behind us?

If you loathe words such as bae, bling, hangry, deglobalization, listicle, ginger, humblebrag, infomania, bromance, totes, chillax, binge-watch, meme, staycation, or any of the other hundreds of words taking up residence in our collective lexicon, I can only say that you’re going to have an unpleasant road ahead of you. It’s what we’ve always done. We welcome all comers to our dictionary. Some stand at the doorstep longer than others but usage knocks loudly and those with an upturned nose lose their votes as time and repetition makes way for all manner of poorly-constructed houseguests.

Language belongs to all who use it. You’ll pass on soon enough, leaving your usage in a hazy trail of rules which will not hold up over time. Language is for the living. The greater your resistance, the more likely that your own evolution of expression is now frozen in a fixed place, one which you’ve placed in a tidy box marked ‘Finished.’ Because it is – and you are.