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”

Me, Myself, and I

Are you using the correct pronouns?

“Would you like some ice cream?” asked Mother.

“Yippee! All three of us would!” cried six-year-old Dean.

“Three? I only see you.”

Dean - Me
Me

“Oh, no, there are three: me, myself, and I. That means three bowls of ice cream!”

“Oh,” she said, coughing once and rolling her eyes.

Thus began Dean’s disastrous, short-lived career as a stand-up comedian.

But seriously, folks—when do we use the pronouns me, myself, and I? Specifically, how do we properly use reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, ourselves, etc.)? Are they just another way of saying I/me, you, her, and us? Continue reading “Me, Myself, and I”

“With That Being Said”

Category: Annoying Expressions

Here’s how an email sent to all employees recently began:

Wow! July is right around the corner. With that being said, attached is the July newsletter for you to read and share. 

“With that being said”? Huh?

It may be too kind to label “with that being said” as a cliché, but it is that at least. It should be labeled a hackneyed term,[1] or better yet, a nuisance. But because I want to be polite, I’ll call it a cliché, and it’s been around for a long time—many years. But lately it seems to be cropping up all over the place. Writers and speakers use it as a ready-made, no-bake transitional statement, along with its shorter cousins “having said that” and “that said.” It’s intended use is to smoothly shift gears from one sentence or one topic to the next, to shoehorn the reader (or listener) into what’s to follow. It’s a throw-away expression, a space-filler, and it generally adds nothing of substance to one’s communications.

I’m picking on this cliché because it seems it’s used typically in formal situations—where the communicator has prepared an oral presentation, a paper, or a correspondence like the above email, in which careful thought was allegedly required. So what can we use to transition from one thought to the next without using this trite expression? Here are a ten examples of common transitional expressions. Which one (or more) of these might work better than “with that being said”?

equally important

in the same way

as a result

consequently

for this reason

therefore

hence

in any event

meanwhile

however

And perhaps the best transitional statement of all sometimes is . . . no transitional statement at all! Take that phrase out of the above email and see if it wouldn’t be just peachy without it. Often, less is more—translated: fewer words often means better writing.

So, with that being said {cough} . . . let me quit this piece while I’m behind.  Δ


[1] hackneyed (adj.): lacking in freshness or originality.

© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Only 1 in 96 people keep all of these straight.

Two weeks ago I wrote about five pairs of commonly confused words. It’s a topic that always stimulates a lively and full-bodied discussion among readers. While waiting for that discussion to begin, I’ll present you with five more pairs of commonly confused words.

Advise vs. Advice (ad-VĪZ vs. ad-VĪS) 

To advise (an action) is a verb and advice (a thing) is a noun that refers to the information given or received in the act of advising. But confusing these two words is understandable because of another pair of words, vise and vice, which are homonyms: they are pronounced exactly the same (vīs). A vise is a tool attached to a workbench that is used to hold something securely in place. A vice, as people generally use it, is a “habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming.” Advise and advice are not homonyms. They are pronounced differently and mean different things. Many people have given me sound advice about a lot of things in my lifetime, some of which I have heeded. Let me advise you to heed wise, godly advice when you receive it.

 Momento vs. Memento

When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common mistake; the correct word is memento. Momento is not a word. Continue reading “Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs”

Who Doesn’t Love These?

We All Use Acronyms and Initialisms

Today I hope to enlighten the world like Lady Liberty on the difference between acronyms and initialisms. My colleagues in education often joke that our realm is all about acronyms. I used to laugh at that until I sat down one day and tried to list all the acronyms for departments and programs used on our campus. Writer’s cramp forced me to stop before I’d gotten halfway through. But the joke was on me when I discovered that there are acronyms and there are initialisms and, although similar, they are technically not the same. We all must love acronyms and initialisms as we use them all the time.

Acronyms

Acronyms are abbreviations of multi-word nouns, consisting of the initial letters of each word and are pronounceable words. That last phrase is key. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is universally known by its acronym NASA, and “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” is the mouthful better known by the acronym laser. Continue reading “Who Doesn’t Love These?”

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.

Five Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Only 1 in 97 people keep all of these straight.

Some pairs of similar words are commonly confused in speech and in writing. There is no “speech-checker” to catch our oral miscues, unless we hang out with grammar snobs who don’t care if they keep on friendly terms with us. And with technologically as advanced as Microsoft Word’s spelling-and-grammar checker is, it doesn’t catch everything. How well do you know the differences below?

Gist vs. Just

As a kid, my teachers persistently corrected students who sloppily said things like, “I jist tapped that boy a little on his cheek—not enough to knock out that bloody tooth there on the floor.” So when we grew up, some of us were so paranoid about not saying “jist” when we should have said “just” that we now reflexively say “just” when we should say “gist” (pronounced jist). Confused yet? No? Well, I’m not done yet. Gist means “the main point or part.” When we’re talking about the main point or part of this article with all our friends (yes, all of them), it’s okay to call it the gist of the article—jist don’t call it the just.

Moot vs. Mute

Then there is the infamous moot–mute mix-up. Continue reading “Five Commonly Confused Word Pairs”