Carol Szymanski of Cranbury, N.J., recently wrote to ask whether the word "that" was needed in these two sentences:
"If you can't remember that daylight saving time ends soon, you may forget to turn your clocks back."
"Mary needs to go back to the store because she forgot that she needed to buy cat food."
My answer: yes and no.
"That" IS ...Read more
The long winter afternoons and evenings of January invite contemplation, self-reflection, and the occasional glass of wine. So, after raising my wine glass to the New Year, here are my 10 linguistic resolutions for 2017.
--I will choose the specific word over the general word. The verb in this column's first sentence, for instance, was ...Read more
Last spring, Steven Rattner wrote in the New York Times, "With real wages declining for many Americans, the enactment of relatively minor initiatives is small beer."
Was he suggesting that Joe Six-pack is becoming Joe Five-pack?
"Small beer" first entered English during the 1500s to describe an unfiltered, porridge-like brew ...Read more
The year gone by, oh, what a mess.
It left our language in distress.
The venom of election fuss
With "nasty" insults tortured us.
From Donald Trump came crooked Hils,
While she denounced "deplorables."
He scolded "morons," "hombres" bad,
As "lightweights," "losers," just "so sad."
"Obamacare, repeal, replace"
Became his mantra, fueled ...Read more
Every now and then I like to unleash my readers' pet, "Peeve." While Peeve is a gentle dog in polite company, whenever he spots an error in grammar or usage, he attacks it like a chew toy. Grrrrr ...
Elmer Sullivan of Ewing, N.J., says his Peeve barks whenever he hears politicians and pundits say "unchartered" when they mean "uncharted," as ...Read more
"He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's not eating nice."
Bill Hoelzel sent me this charming rendering of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by his 3-year-old grandson. It's one of many delightful responses I received to my recent request for mondegreens, phrases based on misunderstandings of spoken English. (The term "...Read more
"A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point."
If you find yourself standing under the mistletoe this holiday season, keep that punctuational maxim in mind. It comes from the French actress and singer Mistinguett and appears in Mardy Grothe's delightful compendium "Metaphors Be With You" (Harper Collins, $19.99). It's just...Read more
Could'a, would'a, should'a.
We know it's OK to use contractions in speech, but when should they be used in writing?
Until the early 20th century, most teachers treated contractions like cockroaches scuttling and hissing through students' sentences. These fuming pedagogues fumigated, ordering students never to use contractions. Of course, ...Read more
The Mystery of Jessica BensonC.K. Laurence
Jessica Benson is hot, beautiful, bisexual and dead. Her life and death intersects the drama of a professional football team and the detectives who are on the case. The author has been a student of crime activity and weaves an exciting story of mystery and intrigue, ...
Mistakes of the ear can bring us cheer!
A few days after a music teacher told her students that her favorite singer was Ella Fitzgerald, she gave her class a quiz with this extra-credit question: "Who is Ms. Smith's favorite singer?" One student wrote, "Elephants Gerald."
When a man visiting Acadia National Park asked park ranger Deb Hardick...Read more
Today I confront five of my linguistic bugaboos -- usage choices that perplex me every time I encounter them.
--Hurtle or hurdle? Perhaps because my good friend in high school hurdled (jumped) over hurdles as he hurtled (sped) down the track, I've always confused these verbs.
Use "hurtle" when you mean "to speed" (The spacecraft was hurtling...Read more
"The world needs to shore up assistance for impoverished countries." "The University of California has moved to shore up the security for its computer network." "Europe's central bank is trying to shore up the economy.
As these sentences from recent newspaper stories suggest, there's a whole lot of "shoring up" going on these days. But how ...Read more
Today, we present "the dirty dozen" -- 12 errors that readers have spotted in newspapers and magazines:
1. "Designed to immolate a craftsman-style farmhouse, The National Tavern is warm and welcoming." I'll bet it's warm! (submitted by Larry Gavrich, Avon, Conn.)
2. "Our friends run the gauntlet from creating Facebook and Twitter profiles ...Read more
I recently challenged you with a quiz on frequently-confused words, based on a list compiled by Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn. That quiz comprised words from the first half of the alphabet, and many of you have asked for more. So here's a second quiz covering letters I through Z on Bob's list. Good luck!
1. Some readers made (invidious, ...Read more