A Little Speedbump

speedbumpHello. I had a little bit of an Internet connectivity problem, but thanks to @sophielynette, things seem to be okay now. I’ll return tomorrow with the Weekend Photo and answer readers’ comments and questions on Sunday, and then it will be back to the linguistic madness again on Monday. Thanks for hanging in with me!

This is Turning into an Hassle


I don’t know where this came from or why it seems to be proliferating, but please take a look at this Google News search for “an historic.” As I write this, this search returns 3,144 results for this exact phrase.

Meanwhile, people are also writing an heroic, an hearing, and even an humiliating.

I know this isn’t any of you, but if you know someone who’s doing this, beg him or her to stop!

The rule you learned whenever you learned it still applies. Use an in front of most words beginning with a vowel sound, such as honor, apple, and irritating. Use a in front of everything else. Here in the United States, we pronounce the /h/ sound in front of words like historic, humiliating, and heroic, so those words take a.

Now please do what you can to reverse the tide of this, an ‘orrible practice if e’er I ‘eard one!

Usage Tuesday: That Pad of Paper is Just Sitting There, Motionless

stationeryWhich one of these sentences is incorrect?

  1. She likes to ride her stationary bike for exercise every morning.
  2. I have a locked drawer in my desk where I like to keep my fancy stationary.

If you are talking about the condition of being immobile, you are talking about being stationary, the adjective. If you are talking about paper, note cards, and writing implements, you are talking about stationery, the noun. This means that sentence #2 is incorrect. Notice the difference in spelling, please. That difference is actually your key to remembering which is which.

A long time ago (and not too long ago if you’ve lived in Hilo, Hawaii), you’d get your letter-writing supplies at a STATIONER. Notice how that doesn’t work if you wanted to spell it STATIONAR. See? You’d get STATIONERY at the STATIONER.

Now that you know this, you will never have a problem keeping them straight!

Grammar Rocks

Before we do anything else, please watch this video from Grammar Rock about prepositions.

I know. It’s definitely not one of Schoolhouse Rock’s stronger moments, this one; it lacks the catchy elegance of “Conjunction Junction” or “Lolly Lolly Lolly get your adverbs here,” but I wanted to give you a quick refresher on what prepositions are, even though this isn’t really about prepositions, what I am about to say.

Now take a quick look at the titles of this, this, and this Wikipedia article.

We’re just looking at the titles here, not the articles themselves. Do you notice something about the prepositions? In standard English style, prepositions (except at the beginning) in titles are usually not capitalized, especially when they are short words. You’ll notice, too, that the, a, and an, except when they appear at the beginning of a title, are also not capitalized.

Wikipedia is not the arbiter of style (I am working on a DailyWritingTip about terminal S and apostrophes, and I am coming after Wikipedia loaded for BEAR!), but in general the community does manage to get most things right. In this way, we have articles about The Cat in the Hat, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and “Over the River and through the Woods.” Many people feel the need to capitalize EVERY word in a title, but that’s not you or me, because we know better, right?

You will please thank me for resisting my usual temptation to get punny by asking if I may preposition you.

Friday Quiz: Diana Ross

I have to say that I have never cared much for the music of Diana Ross. I do love Motown, but something about Diana’s voice just rubs me the wrong way. However, the death of Michael Jackson had me thinking about her, and that reminded me of this song, a song I especially have never cared for because of its heinous crimes against the English language. Give it a listen. Then click continue reading to see if your answer matches mine, ‘though I’m pretty sure your anguish could never match mine!

Continue reading Friday Quiz: Diana Ross

The King is Dead! Long Live the Vacancy!

mj2This will be the last thing I have to say in response to Michael Jackson’s death: I promise. Unless people keep misusing the language as they continue to discuss it, of course.

I honestly don’t remember which of Honolulu’s news anchors said this, but in concluding his report on the self-proclaimed King of Pop’s death, he said, “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

This familiar phrase, translated from the French La roi est morte! Vive la roi! can be confusing. How can you wish long life to the king if the king is in fact dead? It makes sense when you see it in movies, because when one king dies, the soldiers proclaim it about the new king. The (old) king is dead! Long live the (new) king!

Unless the local newscaster meant to crown a new King of Pop (and he didn’t seem ready to name anyone), the phrase is entirely inappropriate. “The king is dead,” he should have said, and left it there.

Not that you or I could do it anyway, but whom would you nominate for the new King of Pop?