Bloody Well Write

February 25, 2009

To semicolon or not to semicolon

Filed under: grammar,punctuation,Uncategorized — bloodywellwrite @ 5:27 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Aye, there’s the rub. In this age of instant gratification, Twitter messages of fewer than 140 characters and abbrv. glr. (abbreviations galore), the semicolon is, indeed, a lonely piece of punctuation. Some days, I even fear that its extinction is imminent.

I’d hate to see that happen; it would be such a shame.

Let’s keep that sucker alive, shall we? Yes, indeed. But how? Well, here are a few pointers on how to correctly use a semicolon:

• The semicolon lies between the period and the comma in force (a stronger separation than a comma, but not as definitive as a period). Its use is limited but, at times, poignant as a transition.

• Place a semicolon between two closely connected independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet): My latest eBay purchase should have arrived last week; it arrived today.

• Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when individual segments contain material that must be set apart by commas: Included in the experiment were Janeane Garofalo, a writer, comedian, actor and political activist; Björn Borg, a former World No. 1 tennis player; Stephen Hawking, a scientist and mathematician; and Kermit, a hand puppet.

• The semicolon goes outside the quotation marks when separating two connected thoughts: He said, “I really want to lose weight and tone up”; what he really wanted was a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a can of whipped cream.

• The semicolon goes inside the quotation marks only when it applies to the quoted matter. Otherwise, it goes outside the quotation marks (when it applies to the entire sentence): She said, “I think I’ll have a cup o’ joe; it will solve all of my problems and I will be happy forever and ever.”

Easy as pie.

Don’t be afraid of the semicolon; it is your friend. Just remember that it is a friend you can handle for about an hour before it drives you up a freakin’ wall. Too much of a good thing is, after all, too much. Visit this friend, but limit each visit to a short span of time. Everyone’s sanity — including yours — is at stake.

Happy trails!

SAK

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February 20, 2009

If I were a boy/rich man/carpenter

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 9:10 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s funny how the teensiest everyday occurrence can have an influence over at least some minutia of your life. The butterfly effect seems to be more reality than theory. Here’s the latest example from my arsenal, pertaining to was vs. were.

Someone just sent me a link to a cartoon about Jesus being on Twitter. Here’s the exact quote: “I’d consider following Christ if he was on Twitter.” Being the grammar nerd that I am, I posted my comment: “If he WERE on Twitter. Sorry to be a grammar downer.”

So when exactly do you use was instead of were, and vice versa?

Was
Use was when something probably could happen or is probably true:
• If my dog was to sleep all day
• If your fresh-baked cookie was to disappear
• If the toothpaste lid was to get all gunked up

Were
Use were if whatever you’re talking about is theoretical, probably couldn’t happen or probably not true:
• If I were a boy (not taking into consideration a sex change, this ain’t gonna happen)
• If I were a rich man (I’d like to think that the only thing stopping me on this one is the “man” part, but it’s hard to predict the future of my bank account)
• If I were a carpenter (I played with power tools in college but am not going to switch careers this late in the game)

I’m sure there are some out there who believe that Christ may very well be on Twitter and is just about to post a new 132-character status. And those folks can believe as they wish. I’m just thinking that it’s a long shot he’s actually signed up and posted a profile pic. So were is the most logical choice for the cartoon.

The number of folks you’re talking about doesn’t matter, either. You can correctly say, “If I were a rich man,” “If she were a rich man” and “If those gals were rich men.” They all get were, regardless of how many are in the party.

Hope this cleared up the was vs. were issue. Just remember: Beyoncé knows the difference. So does Tevye, Robert Plant and, back in the day, Bobby Darin. Or at least their songwriters did. And if they can sing it from the rooftops, so can you.

Happy trails!

SAK

February 16, 2009

Long-distance: Can you hear me now?

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 10:13 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This is going to be an übershort blog entry, but it proves an important point.

The point — for me anyway — is that you can learn something new every day. Here’s what I just learned about those calls you place to friends and family who are far, far away.

Long-distance, when it refers to telephone calls, always gets a hyphen — every time. So it should really be long-distance, whether you’re using it as an adjective (I need to place a long-distance call) or an adverb (He called her long-distance). Wild, huh?

When you’re using long distance to refer to something other than a phone call, the use determines the hyphen’s necessity: She ran a long distance. They maintained a long-distance romance.

That sneaky hyphen. I had no idea.

Feel free to write in and comment on something that you learned today, grammar-related or no.

Happy trails!

SAK

February 13, 2009

Onomatopoeia: ZOINKS!

Facebook may be a pariah of the Internet to some folks, but I find it a great connector and writing tool. Take, for example, my previous blog entry. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page, and a gal I knew in high school (back in the day, don’t ya know) commented on it and, in doing so, mentioned her great love for onomatopoeia. PRESTO! I had a new blog topic.

Now, onomatopoeia is one of those words that you either cringe at when you see it in print because it means you’ll have to whip out the ol’ dictionary to figure out what the heck it means or you giggle with glee because there’s no way to forget what this enormous word means once you’ve learned it. Or, as is my experience, you giggle because you know you’ve looked it up before and you think you know what it means but you go ahead and look it up again, cringing, just in case your memory has failed you.

Luckily for my ego, my memory was functioning just fine, this time.

So. What exactly is this crazy-looking word?

Read the entire article at Bloody Well Write’s new home.

February 10, 2009

Confounding homophones

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 4:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ah, homophones: They are the average speller’s Achilles’ heel. A homophone is a word that is pronounced like one or more other words but has a different meaning, derivation or spelling. A most frequent example: To, too and two all sound alike, but they have different meanings. Here is a short list of frequently misused homophones, with simplified definitions that are — most obviously — in my vernacular (and yes, this is a short list, believe it or not):

Stationery = something you write obligatory notes on
Stationary = when something doesn’t move

Complementary = when something makes something else look good
Complimentary = when something is included, free of charge, or when someone offers a compliment (How you doin’?)

Hay = stuff that is supposed to be fun to jump in but scratches like the dickens
Hey = a casual greeting that I use way too much

Prays = what John Q. Public does when he’s choosing lotto numbers
Preys = something that a hungry tiger does on the antelope trail
Praise = what B.F. Skinner called positive reinforcement

Sleigh = Santa’s version of an SUV
Slay = the act of killing something or someone, with lethal weapon or with wit

Patients = those folks in hospitals and doctor’s offices
Patience = what Axel Rose needed back in the day

Maid = someone who makes your bed, disinfects your toilet and dusts your stuff — but doesn’t do windows
Made = something you created or put together

Aid = helping someone or something
Aide = the fantastic person helping you

Wade = trying to walk through something that hinders movement, such as a pool of water or tub of pudding
Weighed = what you did this morning — buck-naked, butt-naked or just plain naked, after emptying your bladder and exhaling but before drinking a cup o’ joe

Brake = the thing on your car that lets you stop (more than one if you’re lucky)
Break = gimme a ________, or when you drop a plate of your mom’s good china

Stake = the thing in the ground if you’re lucky, in your heart if you’re not
Steak = something vegetarians gladly do without

Vein = the bluish lines in your forearm
Vain = Carly Simon sang about it, famously, though it wasn’t about you
Vane = a thing that helps show direction

Bass = a low, low singing voice, or an instrument that gives your fingers serious calluses
Base = the bottom or first part of something, or placement on the baseball field, or which one you’re on depends how lucky you are

Naval = something to do with the sea
Navel = something to do with your tummy, or a kind of orange

Wave = in an ocean or a pool, or hi-ya, or shoo-fly
Waive = when you give up your rights

Hair = on your head and/or your legs
Hare = rabbit

Peak = the tippy-top of something, such as Pike’s Peak in Colorado
Peek = a quick or sheltered look at something you probably shouldn’t be looking at anyway
Pique = irritating someone else, or getting someone’s attention, sometimes annoyingly

Piece = a part of something, or a weapon
Peace = not a weapon

Here = not there
Hear = what?

Flier = an aviator, or something that gets slipped under your windshield wiper when you run into the store for 15 seconds
Flyer = the official name of some transportation and sports teams, as well as a maker of little red wagons

Cord = a long, ropelike item, or a bunch of wood, or an emotional tug
Chord = the usually lovely sound of several notes being played on an instrument at the same time

Your = not mine
You’re = contraction of you + are
Yore = long, long ago

There = not here
Their = not mine or ours
They’re = contraction of they + are

Its = not mine or yours, but ____
It’s = contraction of it + is

Palette = the classic image: what the painter holds as he/she is painting a masterpiece
Pallet = a small, hard bed, or something of that size that you stack a bunch of stuff on

Cannon = goes BOOM
Canon = church dogma, or a group of related works, or a particular type of musical composition

Capitol = a particular federal or state building (uppercase when referring to a specific building, such as the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.)
Capital = the city where a seat of government is located, or money, stuff and/or property used in a business

Mat = a flat piece of carpet-like fabric that you wipe your feet on
Matte = a sheen that’s not shiny in the least

Council = a group of folks sitting around, drinking coffee, making decisions
Counsel = giving advice, usually asked for

Retch = ooh, not feeling so good
Wretch = a sorry sucker, down on his/her luck

Desert = can be hot, dry, barren
Dessert = can be cold, wet, loaded with goodies

Accept = to take something as your own, whether it’s a lost puppy or an idea
Except = to exclude, whether it’s a lost puppy or an idea

Chile = a country, or something originating from that country
Chili = a type of pepper, great in guacamole, or a steaming bowl of seasoned beans and/or ground beef
Chilly = boo-coldies

Gorilla = big, hairy ape (not your boyfriend)
Guerrilla = warriors who don’t play nice

Immanent = something inherent (beauty is immanent, so they say)
Imminent = something at the ready (old age is imminent, so they say)

Principal = the boss at school, or the most important thing
Principle = a fundamental idea, or the origin of something

Discrete = the distinctness of a thing
Discreet = showing great judgment in the face of adversity, or modesty, or unobtrusive behavior

Bazaar = a groovy place to shop
Bizarre = weird, wild stuff

Altar = a raised structure on which some people offer sacrifice, literally or figuratively
Alter = to change something, such as a hemline or an attitude

Phew — and that’s the short list!

Happy trails!

SAK

February 5, 2009

Who walked 47 miles of barbed wire?

Bo Diddley did. At least that’s what he said he did in his 1956 song “Who Do You Love?” A whole host of singers, songwriters and bands claimed the same: The Doors, The Dead, The Stones, Patti Smith, Golden Earring and, most famously, George Thorogood. And they all belted out that song with heart, with gusto, with love, with improper terminology.

Yes. Grammatically speaking, the song should be “Whom Do You Love?”

“Come ON,” you gasp in horror. “Give it a rest already.”

Yeah, I hear you. I wouldn’t change those lyrics for all the money in your dwindling 401(k). The song rocks, as is, and that’s that.

Except for the purpose of this blog entry.

Hypothetically and only hypothetically, and only briefly for this grammar topic, I would change the title to “Whom Do You Love?” because the first word refers to the object of the expected reply: “Whom do I love, you ask? I love Bo.”

“I (subject) love (verb) Bo (object).” When you can turn the sentence around like that and determine if the who/whom word is the subject of the sentence, you use who. If the word is an object of the sentence, you use whom.

You’d like an explanation of subject and object? Here goes: A subject is the active thing in the sentence, the thing doing the action (the verb). In the above example, I is the subject because I is the one doing the loving (the verb). Bo is the object of the sentence because he is on the receiving end of the action (the verb); Bo is the one being loved.

It boils down to this:
Subject = who
Object = whom

The other thing to take into consideration is that who refers to humans and animals with a name (implying that you know a particular animal’s sex). Rover, who ate my shoe, is in big trouble. (Rover is the subject: Rover ate my shoe and Rover is in big trouble.) If you don’t know the name or sex of the dog that just wandered into your house and ate your shoe, you might say, “The dog that just ate my shoe is in big trouble.” (That replaces who because you don’t know the dog’s name — yet.) But if that’s the only thing you say, I don’t think grammar is your most pressing issue.

It is important to note that who is strictly for humans and named animals — not inanimate objects. Your car is an it, no matter if you name it “Rocket” or “Baby” or “Susie Q.” Please don’t refer to your 2005 yellow Bug or 1973 green Nova as a she. The same goes for countries, ships, airplanes and anything else without a physical pulse. They are things — glorious, heart-pound-inducing things worth celebrating. But not with poor pronoun choices.

They deserve better, don’t they?

Of course, Diddley’s song speaks of the nitty-gritty. It speaks to the bared soul who listens with intent. It gets down and dirty. It lays it all down on the line and doesn’t beg for nuthin’. “Who Do You Love?” is what it is: a song for the ages. And I don’t mess with that kind of heavy.

Happy trails!

SAK

February 3, 2009

A lot of loot

So you’re writing about how much something costs. Let’s say your topic is widgets. But not just any widgets; your widgets are headed to the U.S. government warehouses. So we know that these are extraordinarily special widgets, since they cost somewhere between $3 and $7 million dollars per box of 20.

Wait. What did that say? How much are those widgets, exactly?

Here’s a problem that occurs in all sorts of writing. Can some of those boxes of widgets really be only $3 (three dollars) if some are $7 million ($7,000,000)? I’d bet not — and I’m not a betting woman. The more likely range is $3 million – $7 million. If that’s the case, then you must attach the word million to each monetary figure.

“But hold on, missy,” you say. “Adding that clunky word twice messes up the design of my brilliant headline/subhead/copy.” Sorry, I retort, but them’s the rules and there’s no eliminating it.

There is, however, a way to get that million (or thousand or billion) in there. You can use abbreviations:
• M (million)
• K (thousand)
• G (billion — although most people don’t know what the G stands for, so a rewrite might be in order)

Keep in mind that using K to represent 1,000 or $1,000 is against AP Stylebook rules; K already has other meanings, such as modem transmission speeds (56K) or race distances (5K). Ad folks love to break rules, though, so if it’s purely a design issue and it’s purely cosmetic (i.e., not in technical copy), and since a boatload of dictionaries state that it’s an acceptable substitution, I suppose you can go ahead and break the AP rule. There, I said it. Just don’t spread it around. I have a reputation to uphold.

OK. What else about that first statement stunk? Here it is, in part, again:

… they cost somewhere between $3 and $7 million dollars per box of 20.

You see the dollar signs? Using those means that you don’t have to also use the word dollars. It’s redundant. The word dollars is great if you “need a few dollars” (unspecified amount). Attach a figure and dollars goes out the window. Same goes for million and billion: If it’s a casual use, don’t add numbers: I need a billion dollars.

If you need a specific amount that’s in the millions or billions, use up to two decimal points: I need $4.75 million to fund my dream home. Shy away from using fractions with such large amounts of cash (e.g., don’t use $4¾ million). If you want to be more accurate, use the exact number: I need $4,750,391 to fund my dream home.

If those aren’t enough rules for you for one day, here’s one more: Do not use a hyphen to join the figures and the words million or billion. It should be: This $295 million house budget just isn’t cutting the mustard. And if that’s the case, I’d like you to hire me as your interior decorator.

Now that that’s off my chest, I feel a thousand times better.

Happy trails!

SAK

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