Building Blocks of English VIII: Nouns

Nouns seem like a basic concept in English, but like everything else in English grammar, they seem to confuse the heck out of most people.

I broach this topic after watching a segment of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? (sadly, few adults are), which featured a question asking the contestant to name the three proper nouns in a sample sentence.

Ms. Contestant, a college graduate with a 3.5 GPA,  stumbled all over the place before finally agreeing with a fifth grader and getting it right.  (She was ready to pronounce two of the proper nouns to be pronouns; the fifth grader knew better and was smarter.)

Okay, what is a noun?

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Bedouins: New Slang for the Telebusinessperson

I read recently that three-quarters of U.S. small businesses don’t have any employees or offices because they are one-person operations run from a desktop computer, or more recently, from a laptop on the go.

A term has been coiled for these laptop businesspeople: Bedouins.

Now, traditionally a Bedouin is a nomad in the desert, so does that image fit?

As sort of a business Bedouin myself, I must say that the analogy is apt.  I often feel as if I’m lost in a desert. 

Sometimes having a bad boss to yell at you is more reassuring of your existence than sitting in front of your laptop and doing what you want to do.

Nah, not really.

Wikipedia: Leave Home Without It

I forget whose credit card ad advises “don’t leave home without it,” but when it comes to Wikipedia, my advice is to leave everywhere without it.  It’s just highly unreliable as a source of information. 

Since Wikipedia can be edited by anyone who registers with the site, its pages are constantly being “updated” by those with a stake in the information, whether a person or a business, and many of these edits are far from objective or even truthful.

Case in point:  A company called FAST recently suffered a huge share drop, but when Wikipedia reported this, someone (guess who?) kept deleting the information.

Now an editor at Wikipedia has posted a notice on the page for the party responsible to cease deleting the information.

Read the whole page.  It’s fascinating, and it will show you why I say, “Never trust Wikipedia.”

Evil Wikipedia: How to Thwart Your Ruination

I’m neither famous or successful, and thus Wikipedia–the open-source encyclopedia for the Web 2.0 generation–would never feature me in its pages.  So unless fame or fortune descend upon me, I’m safe from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that can be an article in the pages of Wikipedia.

The problem with [tag]Wikipeda[/tag], and the root of its success as well, is that it is a wiki at heart, an open source that anyone can edit by simply registering.

Is that such a bad thing, you ask?

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Building Blocks of English VII: Relative Clauses

We’ve looked at dependent and independent clauses in a previous Building Blocks.  Now let’s look at [tag]relative clauses[/tag].

Specifically, let’s look at restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, also known as essential and nonessential clauses.  To define, a restrictive (essential) clause adds important information to a sentence and cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.  A nonrestrictive (nonessential) clause, however, adds parenthetical information that can easily be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Let’s look at some examples:

The man who is wearing the red hat just murdered the bank teller.

Here, the clause "who is wearing the red hat" specifically limits the murderer to that one man with the chapeau.  You cannot remove this clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.

The man, who is wearing a red hat, asked for a glass of water with his meal.

Here you have the same clause, but it’s nonrestrictive.  The meaning of the sentence is solely contained in the act of asking for a glass of water.  The red hat has no bearing on the meaning; it’s extra, parenthetical information.  (I admit, however, that this is not the greatest example since you can remove the commas and make this a restrictive clause.)

Notice that the commas signify that the clause in question is nonessential or nonrestrictive.  You never use commas with a restrictive clause, and the presence of the commas signals the reader that the information is not essential.

The person who reads and masters this will better understand relative clauses.

Heard on the Radio

As I was driving around on business yesterday, I had my radio turned to [tag]ESPN[/tag], all sports, all talk.

When the news segment came on at the half-hour and top-of-the-hour points, the announcer read this news bit not once, but at least twice (I am paraphrasing but this is damn close, and the clincher is pretty much word for word):

Former NBA referee [tag]Tim Donaghy[/tag] pleaded guilty today to two federal conspiracy charges….  If found guilty, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

If found guilty?  He just confessed and pled guilty.  There will be no trial.

Whoever wrote that copy should be convicted of butchering logic and facts.

O.J.’s Book Available Soon

If I Did It, O.J. Simpson’s theoretical account of how he might (har de har har) have carried out the double murder of his ex-wife and her friend, soon will be available from Amazon.com after months of making the underground, black market rounds.

In a strange twist, the family of murdered Nicole Brown Simpson companion Ron Goldman, which a decade ago won a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment against [tag]O.J. Simpson[/tag], has been awarded rights to the book by a judge.  Alledgely, the Goldman family has even added its own commentary to the tome.

I don’t think I’d be caught dead reading this book, but an excerpt of how O.J. "might" have carried out the gackings would be quite illuminating.

English Eloquence from the Mouths of Baseballers

With the death today of 89-year-old baseball and broadcasting legend [tag]Phil Rizzuto[/tag], the tributes poured in and the radio interviews abounded.

I liked the comment by Yankee owner [tag]George Steinbrenner[/tag] that "Heaven must’ve needed a shortstop," but I was taken aback by the eloquence of former Detroit Tigers broadcaster [tag]Ernie Harwell[/tag].

It wasn’t so much what Mr. Harwell said as the eloquence with which he did so that surprised and delighted me.  At one point he noted in an ESPN radio interview how baseball announcers often become part of "the warp and weave of their community," which got me scrambling to look up warp and weave but also left me speechless that baseball people could wax so poetically whereas TV newscasters, movie stars and other cultural icons simply spew forth nonsense and guttural detritus.

[tag]Vin Scully[/tag] is another baseball announcer who commands the English language as few others do.

Ah, the dulcet tones of summer inspired by the crack of the bat!