The Value of Words

Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.

Meaningless Words

Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.

Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.

Sometimes the feelings involved are deep and genuine—I’m not suggesting we’re all phonies on social media (but I think a lot of us are a lot more unreal there than we care to admit). Continue reading “The Value of Words”

How to Know If You Might Be From England

Common telltale signs of British origins.

You might be from England (or the UK) if …

. . . you usually tag an –s  onto the word toward. The preferred British spelling is towards. The preferred American spelling is simply toward (no –s). When I copyedit a document written for American readers, almost the first thing I do is to execute a global search-and-replace to eliminate all those pesky s’s (if there are any) in one automated swoop. A copyediting instructor years ago taught me that trick. (Shhh! . . . let’s keep it our little secret.)

. . . you often use single quotation marks for quoted words and sentences instead of double quotation marks. ‘You guessed it, good fellow. I’m from Liverpool’, (British) instead of, “You guessed it, good fellow. I’m from Denver,” (American). In American English, we use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes, such as, “Here’s the answer he gave,” said the investigator. “He said, ‘I’m from Denver.’” Otherwise, we use double quotation marks for quoted words—even one word—and sentences. To make it ridiculously complicated, in British English that punctuation scheme is reversed. What were they thinking? Next thing you know they’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road.

. . . you tend to place your commas and periods outside of quotation marks* instead of insideBritish flag and phone booths them. Here’s an example: The film critic from the Times wrote that the latest sequel was “pabulum not befitting an infant”, but the critic from the Daily News countered that it was “a feast fit for a king”. Note the placement of the comma and period there. In the US we would keep that comma and period tucked safely inside (to the left of) the quotation marks. And that’s true even if just one word is enclosed in quotation marks. Try it, you’ll like it!

So there you go: a simple, non-exhaustive test for determining if in fact you might have grown up in England, or some other land where British English is used, and somehow forgotten it.**  Δ


*Our British friends call periods full stops and single quotation marks inverted commas.

**With apologies to my friends across the pond for this tongue-in-cheek piece. It wasn’t my intent to be cheeky. If this essay seems like tosh, I may be a nit, but hopefully not an oik.

© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

Of Cranks, Bugs, and Fans

Are you one?

When the United States began to recover from the terrible trauma of the Civil War in the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s, the game of baseball provided a healing tonic for many Americans. Baseball (or base ball, as it was typically written) had been around in one form or another for several decades prior to the Civil War, but that national tragedy provided fertile soil for the sport to grow exponentially in popularity. Soldiers from both Northern and Southern armies played baseball, and they took it home with them when their military service ended. A mere four years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the first professional baseball team had formed in Cincinnati, and two years later, in 1871, the first professional baseball league had been (loosely) organized.

Oldtime base ball game

Cranks

As baseball’s popularity skyrocketed, newspapers featured detailed accounts of games, box scores reduced each contest to a quick-and-easy statistical snapshot, and top ball players—or “ballists”—became the idols of boys everywhere (men, too, if they were honest). Enthusiastic devotees rose up from all walks of life, but guardians of polite society frowned upon them and referred to them as “cranks,” a decidedly pejorative term. Continue reading “Of Cranks, Bugs, and Fans”

From the Wacky-News Desk

RE: Robert Lee, Confederates, and Related Nonsense

Robert Lee

ESPN announced yesterday (or the day before—it doesn’t matter) that one of their broadcasters, an Asian American by the name of Robert Lee, who was scheduled to cover a football game in Virginia this weekend, was pulled from the assignment because (are you ready for it?) someone might be offended by the similarity of the man’s name to that of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who, as we all know, is offending plenty of folks lately with his frightening statues. What in the world is going on with these pantywaist ESPN execs?

So my question is, where will the insanity end? What’s next in Zanyville, USA? Continue reading “From the Wacky-News Desk”

“Everyday” vs. “Every Day”

Here’s an everyday grammar boo-boo we find every day on social media and wall plaques.

It’s easy to forget that “everyday” (one word) is a compound adjective that means “ordinary,” “typical,” “usual,” or “garden variety,” as in “Let me slip on my everyday shoes.”

“Every day,” (two words) on the other hand, means, well, “every day,” as in, “Her husband visits her at the lake every day,” or, “We walk the dog every day.”

The vast majority of the time, we mean “every day,” but every day I see it written incorrectly; it has become an everyday thing on social media and wall plaques. Δ

© Copyright 2017 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

 

How to Write Academic Degree Titles

Do you know how to correctly write college degree titles?

The landing gear is down on another academic year as students and faculty make their final approach toward the graduation runway. Many soon-to-be newly minted grads are now wading into the sometimes turbulent, often murky, and always anxiety-producing waters of job hunting.

So let’s think about how to correctly write academic degree titles on résumés, cover letters, celebration invitations, and LinkedIn profiles. This can be confusing, and in my nearly twenty years in higher education—as a counselor, instructor, administrator, and hiring manager—I’ve seen many resumes and applications where the writer apparently didn’t know how to correctly indicate his or her own degree. Stumbling over something so basic may not go over well with prospective employers. It never hurts to get this right. Continue reading “How to Write Academic Degree Titles”

Common Clipped Words and Their Origins

How many of these do you know?

busI wrote an article last summer for this blog about “clipped” words—longer words that are commonly shortened—and how to spell them. It’s easy to see how many multi-syllable words came to be abbreviated, because that’s the nature of informal communications. It’s is how we talk, and the spellings of most clipped forms are straightforward. For example, we obviously get phone from telephone, photo from photograph, and bio from biography—all easy to understand and simple to spell. Continue reading “Common Clipped Words and Their Origins”