Archive for the ‘grammar’ category

I’m a little wary to post this. Or is it leery? Or weary?

January 16, 2011

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re “weary” when referring to being reluctant or suspicious about doing something.  That’s not uncommon, but then I heard is on NPR (gasp!) via a reporter.  Hard to believe.

But not really.  Because, you see, over time language changes.  Words come in from other languages, words fade out of use or change meaning, pronunciation changes.  People confuse one word for another, it hits the mainstream, and before you know it the language has altered in a tiny way. Let’s take the following sentence:

James is feeling a little (XXXX) about letting Bill borrow his shovel.

For now, the dictionary still reads thusly (all definitions from

Weary: 1 : exhausted in strength, endurance, vigor, or freshness 2: expressing or characteristic of weariness <a weary sign> 3: having one’s patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted —used with of <soon grew weary of waiting>

So, James isn’t feeling tired about letting Bill take his shovel, he’s having reservations. Let’s try another word:

Leery: : suspicious, wary —often used with of <leery of strangers> for example: They were leery of their neighbors.

and this: Wary:  marked by keen caution, cunning, and watchfulness especially in detecting and escaping danger for example: The store owner kept a wary eye on him.

Weary is obviously not the correct word in this context. But I hear it often.  I suspect maybe folks are combining “wary” and “leery” to make “weary.”  And eventually the dictionary may reflect this.

For now, though, it’s not a good idea to send a business email expressing your “weariness” about hiring John Doe or about making an upcoming presentation.


cliché: a trite phrase or expression; also: the idea expressed by it (

December 5, 2010

Cliches are the scourge of the word world.  After end-of-sentence prepositions, of course.  A cliche is an expression that has been so overused that not only is it rendered meaningless, but it infects the very ideas expressed in the sentences it lives within.

Maybe it’s all that cubicle-dwelling that business types do, but corporate America is particularly flooded with cliches.  It’s an epidemic of epic proportions.  Wait.  Scratch that.  It’s a the Swine Flu of business English.  “Epic” is a word so overused that it just doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So, please, find another word to abuse.

Epic: noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer’s Iliad is an epic poem. (

Some other examples include: think outside the box; grow your business; skill set; bring to the table.  Here’s a sentence that, if uttered in my proximity, may cause my brain to explode:

You should hire me to grow your business; I’m a detail-oriented go-getter who brings to the table a unique skill set and can think outside the box.

Yikes.  That’s not good business English.  It’s so generic that it fails to communicate any sense whatsoever of who is saying it.  Similarly, using tired out words like “epic” actually detracts from the true wonder of whatever it is we’re calling epic in the first place.  I can tell you about a prank I pulled last night that was epic, but you probably wouldn’t think much of it because all of your Facebook friends had epic adventures this weekend.

Food for thought.

Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie. Or lay. Wait….I need to lie down (lay down?)

November 5, 2010

I have insomnia, so I’m returning to this draft.

Lay is a transitive verb.  It means to put something down, or, if you are a chicken, to bring forth an egg.  You lay your body down (it’s “now I lay me down to sleep” not “now I lie me down to sleep”).

But when we just simply go to bed–we don’t actually put ourselves to sleep, we lie down.  We lay our babies down in their cribs at night (picture me…mommy…putting baby into bed).

Transitive verbs are incomplete without an object (now I lay the baby down to sleep).  If you don’t have “the baby” in this sentence it’s just “I lay.”  Totally different meaning.

You can’t lie a baby down.  You just can’t. It’s an intransitive verb.

OK, if the grammar talk it getting to you, just remember. If you are putting something down, you lay it. If you are just taking up an action, you lie.

PG-13 remark:

It’s called “get laid” for a reason, people.

Principal’s Bad Grammar Angers Parents (link)

October 30, 2010

Principal’s Bad Grammar Angers Parents (link)

Oh, my.

This article is a great demonstration of Aristotle’s concept of ethos; here we have a middle school principal who sends out an email with numerous typos, punctuation errors, grammar errors, and mixed or inappropriate metaphors.  While many of us would just read through an email like this from a friend and think nothing of it, someone who is in a position of authority over children’s education really needs to be a grammatically correct, if not inspired, writer.

This is the same reason so many people made fun of George W. Bush; there’s a longstanding tradition of presidents being solid, if not great, communicators.  Sure, these days they all have their speeches written by lackeys–I mean speechwriters–but Bush just could not string a grammatically or intellectually coherent thought together when speaking extemporaneously. Does that make him a bad president? No. A pad person? Of course not.  But when an audience has particular expectations of a person, and that person fails those expectations, his or her credibility is shot.  This is ethos: a person’s character or reputation.

If I had a nickel for every time a person said “oh! I better watch my grammar!” when they found out what I do, well, I’d have a lot of nickels.  They assume that I am a certain kind of person–an English professor turned writer has a certain reputation, right? I always reply with, “I don’t grade unless I’m paid,” but the fact is, in casual interactions I don’t care how you speak or write or communicate, as long as I can understand you.  In fact, my English is sadly lacking in conversation because it’s informal.  That’s how it should be. But if you’re being paid (and in NY, where this principal is located, the pay is astonishingly high) to supervise other teachers and educate students, you bet your bippy I’m going to judge your grammar.


October 21, 2010

Can anyone out there explain to me what exactly Rev. Myron Yandle is trying to tell me?

I drive by this church sign daily, and occasionally there’s something really witty and thought-provoking on there.  I love church marquees and their sometimes pithy, often preachy, usually punny remarks.  Last week this particular church sign said: “I am just a sign.  The Bible is where its at.”  Points to Rev. Yandle for the witty remark.  Demerits for failing to insert an apostrophe (what, were those extra at Church Marquees R Us?) and for ending a sentence not with a preposition (that’s pretty accepted these days) but with a wholly unnecessary one.

But before I get all riled up about that idiotic “at” people seem intent on plopping at the end of sentences (I propose an “at tax” of 50 cents per use), I just want someone to explain the meaning of the sentence on the marquee this week.

What is “refined” stupidity?  I double checked my interpretation of the word “refined.”  Here’s what I found:

From free from impurities

From having or showing well-bred feeling, taste, etc.: refined people.

From Cambridge Online: A refined substance has been made pure by removing other substances from it.

OK, so wisdom is purified stupidity? Well-bred stupidity?  all-natural stupidity?  I’m confused.

Maybe he’s being clever and letting us know his sign is really, really stupid.  But in a refined, purified, kinda way.

Do you  have any ideas?  Let me know!

2 pair or 2 pairs? Musing on usage

October 4, 2010

We all have our pet peeves when it comes to grammar and, especially, usage.  For example, in college I got into a debate with a roommate over whether the correct plural of pair was “pair” or “pairs.”  We were talking about shoes, if that matters.  She would say “I have three new pair of shoes,” which I found quite awkward because I’d always said “pairs of shoes.”  So we looked it up.  Turns out, both are acceptable according to the dictionary.  But “pairs” was listed as “preferred.”  Ha! I was right! Well, sort of.

This extends to all sorts of other pronunciation practices in English as well.  Take neither/either.  Some would insist that they are pronounced with a long e (NEEther), and others would say a long i would be appropriate (NYEther).  Both are acceptable, though the long e sound is more common in American speech.  the ei and ie constructions in English are pretty tricky anyway, since English is an amalgam of so many languages. In German, the 2nd vowel calls the shots—unlike much of English where, as my daughter taught me, “when two vowels go a walkin’, the first one does the talkin.’”  Of course there are exceptions, as in “freight” (long a)  and “height” (long i). This would explain why so many people have problems with my husband’s last name (Giesler), which is German and by German rules would quite clearly be “GEESE-ler.”  Not so in English, where the first vowel should be doing the talking–which is probably why everyone calls us “GUYS-ler!”

Don’t Leave Me Hanging!

October 4, 2010

This is a “sign” posted on a house in a nearby town.  Rumor has it the homeowner is suing the city over some flooding/draining issues related to the widening of the road he lives on.  Another rumor holds that he painted a professional sign painter to do this.  Notice the comma after the word “Cary.”  Not exactly the punctuation I’d choose.  I’m thinking an exclamation point might’ve worked better.  Forget the obvious grammatical issue–if this was really painted by a pro, where’s the skill?  Wouldn’t a pro know a thing or two about punctuation?  And painting in a straight line in letters of uniform size?

It might please some folks to know that the homeowner has been cited by the town for not following the sign ordinances (the town code is  a very very strict one).  Now, I’m all for free speech and for his right to express himself–but could we at least refrain from bad punctuation?  Think of the children!