Archives for 2013

Grammar Lesson of the Day: but

Grammar Lesson of the Day: But. “Never begin a sentence with but.”  So my college freshmen tell me.  They also tell me that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat (everybody knew it was round), that women in the Middle Ages were no better than cattle (they had more freedom than they would enjoy until the twentieth century), that people in the Middle Ages were morose and grim (they were boisterous partiers who loved color), that they were morbidly fascinated with demons … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: what

 Word of the Day: what. I like how hillbillies pronounce this relative pronoun: hwut. It’s truest to the spelling and the history of the word. Wally Cleaver pronounced it that way, too. He said hwen and hwere and hwy? A well-brought-up lad he was. The monks who introduced the Roman alphabet into England, to evangelize the pagan Saxons and teach some of them to read, were faced with an obvious problem. How do we use these Roman letters to signify sounds and s … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: And

Grammar Lesson of the Day: And “Never begin a sentence with and,” my college freshmen have been told. This is another one of those rules that somebody must have dreamed up in a rage of vengeance: a schoolmaster named Ichabod, disappointed in love, glowering down on his young charges, and thinking, “Yes, I shall make their lives miserable!”I am opening my Bible to the New Testament, at random. I read: “And he said unto his disciples, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall ea … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: whore

The Word of the Day: whore. It may please some of my readers to learn that the word whore and the name Cher are etymologically related.  But how? The first thing we need to clear out of the way is that w at the beginning of whore.  It doesn’t belong there. It’s orthographic kudzu. It’s linguistic wisteria.  It’s a parasite. People in the late Middle Ages no longer pronounced the w in words like who and whose, so they ended up putting it in print where it had never been before, to be … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Abused

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Abused The Passive Voice is abused when the agent of the verb is not general and is indeed of consequence, but the writer wishes to obfuscate. Bureaucrats and politicians abuse the passive all the time, to hide responsibility. That is not surprising, since bureaucrats and politicians abuse the Constitution, abuse their immunity from civil suits, abuse the media, abuse communication with their constituents, and abuse the sausage-grinding … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Badly

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Badly The Passive Voice is used badly when the writer tucks the real item of interest into a prepositional phrase, obscuring the agent of the verb and deflecting the emphasis. Consider these sentences: The slider was hammered by Colavito into the left field bleachers. Colavito hammered the slider into the left field bleachers. The second places the emphasis on Colavito, the subject of the sentence and the … [Read more...]

Word of the Day: seethe

Word of the Day: seethe. It’s a good old Anglo Saxon word, but it did not mean to grow angry, scowling, waiting the chance to strike. It meant, simply, to boil. Why didn’t the Anglo Saxons say boil if they meant boil? Or berl, if they were from Brooklyn-on-the-Thames? Or bo’ll, if they were from Southwark? They hadn’t been invaded by the French, that’s why. I suppose that English stewards cooking (a French word) soup (a French word) for their dukes (a French word) would boil it – see … [Read more...]

Grammar Lesson of the Day: The Passive Voice, Used Well

 Grammar Lesson of the Day: Passive Voice, Used Well The passive voice is like any tool. You can use it well, you can use it badly, and you can abuse it right out. If I use a garden hose with a nozzle to spray water on my flowers, that’s nice. If I turn the nozzle on jet-stream and churn up the dirt underneath them, that’s bad. And if I take the hose and run over it with my car back and forth, in a fit of pique – angered by the local Gardening Society – that would be abuse. … [Read more...]