Are Jokes Really Funny?

I recall on many an occasion sitting in an audience, or in front of a boob TV, and listening to a slew of jokes that weren’t the least bit funny.  I didn’t laugh, but virtually everyone else did.  I just figured I had a different sense of humor or too much intelligence–take your pick. Now comes scientific proof that laughing at [tag]jokes[/tag] is a means of gaining social acceptance, in fact a survival instinct mastered by four months of age. Say what? Continue reading “Are Jokes Really Funny?”

Craic Me Up, Will You?

In honor of this weekend’s [tag]St. Patrick’s Day[/tag] festivities, we should look at the derivation of the word the Irish use to describe the event: craic.  Craic is actually a Scottish or Ulster-Scottish word, but it applies.  It means “good time” or “celebration,” or sometimes just to talk a lot.

From craic, we get the modern English usages, “crack me up,” and “crack a joke.”

Some Irish sayings include:

It was great craic.
She’s great craic when she gets going.
He’s great craic when he has a few pints on him.
What’s the craic?
How’s the craic?
The craic was mighty.

Charles Lamb on Retirement

The Wall Street Journal has this weekend feature called “Masterpiece,” in which various English and other authors and their works are discussed.

This past weekend came up for discussion the essays and letters of Charles Lamb (1775-1834), whose primary sustenance came from being an accountant for the ur-global giant, The East India Company.  In his somewhat troubled and meager private life, he churned out memorable essays and letters.

Ah, the art of writing letters–where has that gone? Continue reading “Charles Lamb on Retirement”

Comma-phobia or Comma-rhea?

There are two types of people in life (English speakers anyway)–those who are comma-phobic and use too few commas when they write, and those who have comma-rhea and use commas everywhere.  Both are obviously wrong, and the [tag]proper use of commas[/tag] lies somewhere in between these extremes.

One of the problems here begins with the way English is taught in our K-12 schools.  I think the cast-in-stone comma standard taught in public schools goes something like this: "Whenever you want a pause, you use a comma."

Now, while a comma can indicate a pause, that’s certainly not its main function, and conversely, a pause is not always best served by a comma.  Dashes and parentheses also create nice pauses, to say nothing of periods and ends of paragraphs.

Stay tuned, and I’ll come up with an English Resources piece on commas in the near future.

How the Brain Processes Language Intent

People can say things that, given the circumstances, inflection, emphasis and body language, can be meant as straight or sarcastic.  If you’ve ever tried a [tag]sarcastic joke[/tag] in front of a group of people, however, you’ll notice that not everyone “gets it.”

Why is that?  Did we do something wrong?

Continue reading “How the Brain Processes Language Intent”

Body Language Redux

I tuned in to "[tag]The O’Reilly Factor[/tag]" on Fox last night (Tuesday, March 6) and noticed that, in one of his segments, host [tag]Bill O’Reilly[/tag] employed a body language expert to analyze his discussions with a guest.  I’ve never seen this done before, and everything this expert noted seemed accurate to me.  I’m not sure how often O’Reilly does this type of thing, but if you get a chance, it’s worth experiencing.

Now if it’s something to bloviate over, you’ll have to ask Mr. O’Reilly.

Confusing Words and Clauses

Over at my technical blog called Web Tune-Up Pros, I’m running an article and hot link from the [tag]Copyblogger[/tag] about how to avoid looking dumb in print and online by confusing these sets of words: it’s and its, there and they’re, affect and effect, and your and you’re.  Of course, these same confusions can ruin your writing and communication reputation at work or school as well.  Check out that article and link if you like, but also please take a gander at my new feature in [tag]English Resources[/tag] called Confusin’ Clauses, in which I clarify the usages of that and which.

That and Which–the Difference?

Even [tag]Thomas Jefferson[/tag] and the Founding Parents (can’t say Fathers anymore due to the PC Police–oops, here they come!) couldn’t get the distinction right between using which and that.

Now, the distinction is simple: that is restrictive and which isn’t; that is essential and which isn’t.  It’s all relative. 

Okay, I’m joking but not joking, and to help clarify the distinction between which and that, I’ll be writing an article soon and posting it here.

Meanwhile, consider these sentences: “A cat that has no claws cannot defend itself.” “A neighbor’s cat, which has no paws, comes by to visit us all the time.”

I’ll be back with further explanations. (And yes, I’m against the declawing of cats.)

Web World Words

Here comes the “hyper-local Internet”!

And what does that mean?

First let’s backtrack and look at some words that originated in Webspeak.  How about viral?  To go “viral” means that your Web site/product/idea catches on and spreads like a virus.  Can anyone engineer a “viral marketing campaign”?  There are a whole slew of sites out there willing to tell you how to do so–if you pay them a high enough fee.

Give me a break.

Continue reading “Web World Words”

Unmistakable in Meaning

India is going through some electoral turmoil as the two-thirds of the populace who do the farming constantly switch political allegiances in hopes that someone will come to their aid.  [tag]Indian farmers[/tag] are overworked and constantly in debt, unable to sell what they farm for what it costs them to produce and market.

One voter, in unmistakable English and logic, observed:

“If I were given a choice, I would like to be born as a European cow, but certainly not as an Indian farmer, in my next birth.”

Cows in Europe earn U.S. $2 a day in government subsidies.

I wish people in America could express themselves so clearly. ” Awesome” just doesn’t convey the same meaning as this plainly spoken English.