Fun with Punctuation

Do you make any of these common punctuation errors?

question-markThe purpose of punctuation isn’t to trouble us with pointless, hard-to-remember rules but to increase the clarity of our writing.

With this in mind I invite you to test your grasp of punctuation basics by taking a short, ten-item quiz. Keep in mind, there is one thing wrong with each numbered item. Find it and make a mental correction (paper and pencil are not required). This will be simple for some and more challenging for others. In all cases, reviewing the explanations below ought to reinforce your punctuation skills. Have fun. (And feel free to like, share, or make a comment.) Continue reading “Fun with Punctuation”

Christmas-Themed Books and Stories to Enjoy

Is your favorite on this list?

merry-christmas-graphic_2Despite the crazy commercialism and frenetic busyness of the yuletide season, Christmas remains my favorite holiday. Throw into the mix a love of reading and it’s inevitable that I would eventually acquire a list of favorite Christmas-themed books and stories. Some are great stories to read with your family, others are more educational. Here are my top 10. If you have a favorite or two on this list—or not on this list—I want to hear it. Please do share.

10. The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans (Fiction, 1993)

A man and his wife and young daughter move into a Victorian mansion with an elderly lady named Mary. With the help of an angel who comes to him at night, the man discovers a mysterious box containing old letters written to a young girl who had died many years before. Through them he discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

book-cover-how-the-grinch-stole-christmas9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess (Fiction, 1957)

At Christmas the Whos in Whoville would “SING, SING, SING.” The unhappy Grinch decided he must “stop this whole thing” by stealing all the presents while the village slept. How could Christmas be Christmas without any presents? The Grinch finds out, and his small heart grows three sizes. Continue reading “Christmas-Themed Books and Stories to Enjoy”

Five Thanksgiving Words

Origins of common words.

As millions of Americans will be counting their blessings and gathering with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I thought it would be fun to investigate the origins of several words commonly associated with the holiday. Enjoy!

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1. Thank

Thank comes from the Old English word thanc, which is derived from the prehistoric Germanic thangk, with a root idea of thoughtfulness. The English word think comes from the samehappy-thanksgiving root. It’s easy to see how our word for expressing gratitude originated from the concept of thinking or giving thoughtful consideration. A twelfth-century translation of Matthew 15:19 reads, “From the heart come evil thanks.” By the early sixteenth century the same verse was rendered, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (KJV). To give thanks is to think about and express one’s gratitude for something. And what better way to say “thank you” than by enjoying a big feast. Continue reading “Five Thanksgiving Words”

How to Sign Your Holiday Cards, Gifts, and Invitations

Do we use an apostrophe or not?

[First published in November 2013 on my Why a Duck? blog, the following post was one of the more popular ones. With thirty-seven short days until Christmas, it seemed a good time to pull it out of my barrel and share it with you .]

’Tis the season to send greeting cards and party invitations and to exchange gifts. How do you sign a card or gift tag when you want to say it’s from you, your spouse, the kids, and the dog (okay, even from the cat)? That is, the entire [insert appropriate name] family. Specifically, where do you put the stinking apostrophe? Or is there an apostrophe? Continue reading “How to Sign Your Holiday Cards, Gifts, and Invitations”

Veterans Day

A short history and punctuation primer.

us-flagToday we honor and thank those who have served our country in the U.S. armed forces in wartime. Originally called Armistice Day—to commemorate the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918—the name of the legal holiday was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all Americans who have served during times of armed conflict. The proclamation, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, read in part: “Whereas, in order that . . . a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress, by an act approved June 1, 1954 . . . changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.”

Why is the holiday written Veterans Day without an apostrophe in there somewhere? Why not Veterans’ Day or even Veteran’s Day?[1] After all, don’t we always use an apostrophe with possessives? Continue reading “Veterans Day”

It Was a Great Series Irregardless

Should we ever use “irregardless”?

cubs-logoCongratulations to the Chicago Cubs for breaking their 108-year World Series championship drought. I’m an LA Dodgers fan, but I appreciate the Cubs’ achievement and give them kudos for it. It was a great Series, in which the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in seven games.

Early in the deciding seventh game two nights ago, announcer Joe Buck used the word irregardless. I heard him and made mental note of it because irregardless is not accepted English usage, something well known to language mavens. I didn’t think any more of it—after all, this was a live, unscripted television broadcast, and even the most scrupulous grammar police can slip up on occasion. But evidently it sorely bothered a lot of folk, who took to social media to complain. Merriam-Webster Online even joined the fray with a supercilious attempt to put word nerds in their place by asserting that irregardless is in fact a word and is in the dictionary. Here’s a line from their article: “Irregardless last night reared its monstrous head, and, bellowing its unspeakable name, caused a nation of terror-stricken waifs to whimper and mewl.”[1] Continue reading “It Was a Great Series Irregardless”

Portmanteau Words

For your edutainment.

alice-in-wonderland-mad-hatterLewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, coined a term for words created by combining the sounds and meanings of two (or more) different words: he called it a portmanteau [port-MAN-toe] word.[1] The next time something tickles your funny bone and makes you chuckle and snort, you can thank Mr. Carroll for the descriptive word chortle. He also gave us galumph (gallop + triumph, or a triumphant gallop). I challenge you to work those words into a meaningful conversation tomorrow with a loved one, teacher, or client. They will be impressed.

A portmanteau word is created when smoke is blended with fog (=smog), when gigantic is combined with enormous (=ginormous), when information is combined with commercial (=infomercial), when education is combined with entertainment (=edutainment), and when Oxford is combined with Cambridge (=Oxbridge).[2]

Now that we’ve been enlightened by this life-changing term, portmanteau word, here’s a list of ten more, used somewhere in the world every day:

  • aerobicize (aerobic + exercise)
  • blog (web + log)
  • brunch (breakfast + lunch)
  • docudrama (documentary + drama)
  • emoticon (emotion + icon)
  • fantabulous (fantastic + fabulous)
  • motel (motor + hotel)
  • simulcast (simultaneous + broadcast)
  • televangelist (television + evangelist) 
  • Vitameatavegamin (a portmanteau word on steroids: vitamins + meat + vegetables + minerals. From I Love Lucy, season 1, episode 30.)

Your turn. Please share a portmanteau word you’ve used or have heard used. If it’s your own made-up word, that’s great—as long as it’s one you have actually used with real people. Kindly observe proper netiquette (Internet + etiquette) at all times.  Δ


[1] Linguists use the term blend.

[2] The source for most of the information in this post is Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 644.

©  2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

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