Month: August 2007

Are You Wonky?

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Leave it to the British to develop slang that cuts to the quick.

Case in point:  Los Angeles Galaxy soccer superstar [tag]David Beckham[/tag] has been mostly unable to play since arriving in the states because his ankle is injured and troublesome.  Here, the expression in describing the injury is to call it “day to day.”  In other words, it’s hard to predict when the ankle will return to normal.

In contrast, the British say, “He has a wonky ankle” or “His ankle is wonky.”

I looked wonky up, and it fits nicely:  “shaky, groggy or unsteady.”

I guess wonky would also apply to anyone who drank too much as well, though the dictionary said the slang usage of this British slang means “stupid, boring, unattractive.”

I’ve never thought about slang usages of slang before, but there you go with an example from the home of English.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Building Blocks of English V: Modifiers

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I struggled to map in my mind which topic to cover after phrases, which seemed like a logical follow-up to clauses.  Eventually, I decided on modifiers.

Now, without getting into the many different forms of modifiers, I want to start out basic building blocks on this topic by giving you two ironclad rules concerning modifiers.

Actually, they are conjoined rules, so you could say they comrpise just one dictate, to wit:  Modifiers must appear immediately before or immediately after that which they modify.  Otherwise, they become errors known as [tag]dangling modifiers[/tag] and [tag]misplaced modifiers[/tag].

Here are two examples of correctly placed modifiers:

"Hungy, John stopped at McDonald’s to order some food."

"John, hungry, stopped at McDonald’s to order some food."

Notice that both of these sentences adhere to the only-before and only-after rule.  John is being modified, and the modifier is hungry.

Now look at this:

"John stopped at McDonald’s for food, hungry."

This is a classical misplaced modifier error, which we are all prone to do in speech.  In writing, however, we should be able to catch these flubs.

Next time:  More on dangling and misplaced modifiers.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Put-Down Words Used Affectionately

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I’m not sure how other languages handle this (probably similarly since humans are the same the world over), but we Americans tend to use some pretty weird words to show our affection.

For instance, when my dog is bugging me for attention, I’ll say, "You little creep."

My wife, who is Chinese and for whom English is a second language, keeps asking, "What does creep mean?"

When I tell her, she says, "Oh, so you’re talking about yourself."

Anyway, the point is that I’m using a put-down word–creep–as a term of endearment.


Categories: Grammar Sucks

Infant Videos Not the Brain Steroids Some Hoped

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Actually, I had never before heard of these infant videos since my only offspring is a grown woman already, but a study has shown that the vids “Brainy Baby” and “Baby Einstein,” designed to teach English language skills to the very young, actually retard the kids’ learning process.

Each hour of watching these videos (in the study) reduced the number of words the 8- to 16-month-old children learned by six to eight over their non-video-trained peers.

Could it be possible if a kid watched enough of these videos that s/he would achieve “word deficit”–be unable to speak because they’ve unlearned every word and gone into a hole?

Just kidding on that, but I’m always suspicious of studies.  I remember in the 1970s studies confirmed the onset of the second ice age, and guess what?  Now studies confirm we’re facing global warming (even though temperatures still aren’t as high as they were in the Middle Ages).

It’s been my experience that studies usually reach the conclusion that will lead to the study group’s earning more cash to keep studying.  You know–why put yourself out of business?

Read “Baby Einstein” for the details.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

L.A. Times Commits Grammar Suicide Again

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The joint should try hiring back some copy editors who actually know English grammar, but Mr. Spell Checker–in all his ignorance–rules the roost at the Los Angeles Times.

Seen as a headline in the paper’s Sports section on Friday, August 3, 2007:  Dodgers put on a clinic, for who?

I’m sure there’s boatload of people out there who will argue, with all the semantic nonsense they can conjure up, that this is perfectly good English, but sorry, folks, it ain’t.

A preposition, i.e., for,  requires the objective usage, i.e., whom.

So it should be, Dodgers put on a clinic, [but] for whom?

It’s also a run-on, requiring either the but I added or a semi-colon.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Building Blocks of English IV: Phrases


The main distinguishing feature of phrases is that they lack a subject-verb combination.  They can certainly contain nouns and/or verb forms, but they are not joined as they are in a clause.

Phrases can be used as nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

A prepositional phrase contains a preposition.  In the morning is a prepositional phrase.

A gerund phrase uses a verb as a noun (which is called a gerund).  Walking alone is a gerund phrase.

An infinitive phrase uses the infinitive form of a verb.  To go downtown is an infinitive phrase.

Depending upon how you use these different phrases, they can become nouns, adjectives or adverbs.

He exercises everyday in the morning–an adverb usage.

In the morning is the best time to exercise–noun usage (although leaving the in off this is better English–this is just an example!).

Coffee in the morning is a real waker-upper–adjective usage.

Categories: Grammar Sucks