How Many People You Know Who Are Guilty of ‘Mumpsimus’?

The word mumpsimus refers to the tendency to misuse words even if one is corrected as to their meaning, spelling, pronunciation, or whatever else embodies the mistaken use.

Allegedly, the word comes from the story about an illiterate priest who continued to mispronounce the liturgy even after corrected. When the priest was corrected for reading quod in ore mumpsimus, he replied, "I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus" (from the Eucharist, "which we have taken into the mouth," sumpsimus="we have taken").

Mumpsimus is also now used to denigrate people whom the observer believes are adhering to ideas or beliefs that are erroneous, i.e., a pejorative term.

Grammar Wars: Coming Soon to Your Office*

The Wall Street Journal today (June 21, 2012, first day of summer) ran a piece about the generational divide on grammar usage, which after reading I've dubbed "Grammar Wars."

In the piece, "This Embarrasses You and I," Sue Shellenbarger contrasts traditionalist firms, where the King's English is still honored, with places such as RescueTime in Seattle, where "140 characters and sound bytes" are considered the non plus ultra of English communications. The latter firm is staffed mostly by 30somethings (or younger), it seems.

"Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed," says Jason Grimes, 38, vice president of product marketing. (My question: Does succeed merely mean making $$$?)

Now consider the view of Don Silver (age undisclosed), who runs a marketing and crisis-consulting firm in Ft. Lauderdale. He fines new hires 25 cents for every English error he finds in their written work, but he admits, "I am losing the battle."

Do Twitter and the social media spell the end of traditional (read: correct) English usage? Probably, but I won't be around when people can't spell "you" anymore or when "8" is used instead of any "ate" or "eight" sound (e.g., w8 for weight, h8 for hate, etc.).

I believe that great literature, if it's still being written in the cyber future, will always use the King's English, but everything else has a good chance of being a bunch of sounds, symbols, hashtags, grunts, groans and outright misspellings.

Oh, h8ful day.

* If they're not there already.

PS If you cringe at the title to Ms. Shellenbarger's article and can identify the reason, then you're probably on my side.

What to Do With That Final ‘E’?

I had to open my big mouth during a brainstorming session recently at work (I know, I know, no nega-comments during these sessions) when I corrected the moderator's white-board spelling of judgment, in which he had included the e after the g. as the Brits and Aussies do.

Later, the word knowledgeable made its way to the board, so the moderator–fearful of my puritanical addiction to classic American English usage–took the e out.

At least this time, my spelling observation led to a group discussion of what to do with the e in words when you add things at the end. We resolved nothing then, but we agreed that loveable without the e just wouldn't pronounce correctly.

The brainstorming moved on from there, but later I decided to look up the rule for dropping and keeping the e. Here's what I found, as least concerning the addition of suffixes:

1) Drop the e if the suffix begins with a vowel: use+able=usable

2) Retain the e if the suffix begins with a consonant: use+full=useful (where did the second l go?)

Which brings us back to judgment. Ment starts with a consonant, so where's the e?

Maybe British English has it right after all (but of course, ment isn't necessarily a suffix).

Anyway, those two rules should hold sway most of the time. The rest of the time, just pick a different word if you're unsure of the spelling. Single syllable words always work well without a bunch of confusing rules (but you run the risk of sounding and reading like a mental midget is you just use single-syllable words).

How Reliable Are Grammar-Checking Tools?

There are many programs that you can use to check your grammar. Doing this can assist you in learning what mistakes you are making. This is needed in order to improve your skills and get a better grasp on the English language. Knowing what programs to use is the first thing you need to find out in order to improve your skills.

The most common type of program you can use to check your grammar is Web-based. You copy and paste your text into a form and submit it. The website then looks over your writing and reports what needs corrected. This type of program can be used on any computer with internet access, which makes them convenient, especially for those who are restricted to using school or public library computers to write their reports and assignments.

The second type of program used to check your grammar is built into programs like Microsoft Word. These analyze your grammar as you write your report, essay or assignment and underline portions of sentences that contain errors. These programs often include statistical information, such as grammar grade level as well as word count. Microsoft Word and similar programs will offer suggestions for corrections. However, when you use a program like this, you should keep in mind that the better you are at English, the more misleading grammar check programs can be. These programs do not allow for purposeful bending or breaking of grammar rules, which is often used for emphasis when writing at higher grammar levels.

The third type of program you can use to check your grammar is a stand-alone program. These are designed specifically with grammar and spelling in mind. You simply insert your text into the program, and the program will generate suggestions and corrections for spelling errors. 

One of the flaws with programs designed to check your grammar is that they will not necessarily correct words that are used incorrectly. For example, a program may not pick up that “We went to they're house” as incorrect. They're is a correctly spelled word, even though it is being used incorrectly. These programs do not have any method of distinguishing the exact definition of a word, only its type. In the example, you would need to correct the word to 'their' by yourself.

If you are careful, and keep in mind that there are cases where the programs you use to check your grammar may be incorrect, you can help improve your English writing skills (and grades if you're in school). As these programs take very little time to use, you should be able to do so efficiently. 

Is ‘The Dog Jumps’ a Complete English Sentence? Sometimes….

English is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, as it is built around a series of rules that have exceptions to almost every rule. This can make learning the basic principles behind English difficult and confusing.

However, for those in need of grammar help, for instance, those learning English as a second language, there are a few things that you can do to help improve your skills with the English language. First, you need to learn to focus on one aspect of the English language at a time. At the basic level, you need to remember only two things. These are basic sentence structure and word choice.

Every sentence needs a subject as well as a purpose. For example, “A dog jumps.” is often viewed as an incomplete sentence (depending on context). While we know that there is a dog, and the dog is jumping, we do not know what the dog is jumping over. Thus, “A dog jumps over a fence.” is a correct example of a basic sentence. It has the three needed components of a sentence. The subject, what the subject is doing, and how it is being done. Most sentences in the English language are built on this principle.

As you advance through the English language, you will be more likely to require grammar help. This is due to the fact that basic sentences are short and simple. They require little vocabulary to use, and little in the way of complex structure. When you progress beyond the basics, you will need an extensive vocabulary as well as a good feel for how rules relate to one another. 

Grammar help can be found in many forms. You can join websites that provide information on the English language, make use of grammar tests and quizzes, as well as download programs that can help you identify what you are doing wrong. By studying and researching outside of class time, you can quickly improve your language skills.

You can also get English grammar help by holding conversations with people in English. Practice is a fundamental part of learning English. If you hold a conversation with someone who speaks English, as well as your native tongue, they can correct you in both English as well as your native language. This can go a far way in quickly improving your skills.

When Submitting Articles, Perfection Is Just About Expected

When reading an important manuscript, every discerning editor should always take note of the usual errors and problems that may be spread throughout the entire composition. Some editors instantly return the copies for revising after discovering screaming grammar errors and content distortions in the initial pages. Most writers get too occupied that they overlook poor grammar and usage, misspellings, typographical errors, improper punctuation, and other problems. These are what stick out to editors.

Most copies and manuscripts are not approved for publishing after submission. Editors require revisions to make sure the compositions are impeccable. Many writers strive to lessen possible problems for revisions. The best approach is to eliminate all potential problems.

Poor grammar is the top problem writers and editors face. Every sentence should be grammatically correct so that the message would be conveyed most effectively. Most editors are strict when it comes to grammar because they assume that all writers are already adept and careful when it comes to such. No editor would ever let poor grammar go without correction. There is an exception to this. If the improper grammar is within a character dialogue or within exact words of genuine quotations, then it should be written as it is.

Here are some others of the most usual problems editors note that prompt them to seek revisions or worse, totally reject a copy:

Redundancy mirrors coherence and consciousness of the writer. No reader would be appreciative of a copy that is full of redundant ideas. The space should be used wisely and efficiently. Repeating of ideas should be avoided, unless there is a strong emphasis. Redundancy could also be observed in improper use of words. Examples are repeat again, period of time, refer back, past experience, free gift, and the like.

Improper paragraphing occurs when paragraphs are either too long or are improperly separated. As rule of thumb, make sure there is only one idea tackled in a single paragraph. Good paragraphs are also almost always about three to five sentences long. Ten sentences in a paragraph may be uneasy to the eyes and detrimental to the idea.

Erroneous facts are considered mortal sins in writing. Proper and adequate care should be accorded when including important information and facts in the composition. Accuracy always matters. Any writer should make sure data are well researched so that readers will not be confused or misled. It is the responsibility of editors to make sure such errors do not happen, but it is also the responsibility for any writer to make sure erroneous facts are avoided in the first place.

Punctuation errors are as grievous as grammar mistakes. This is because punctuations play a critical role in readers’ comprehension and smooth reading. There should be no jerky stops and starts. Writers are expected to have already mastered the use of periods, questions marks, commas, exclamation points, and apostrophes. There are many other punctuation marks that are involved. But experts advise writers to stay away, as much as possible, from parentheses, colons, and dashes, if they aim to significantly avoid possible mistakes.

Five Common Word and Usage Confusions in English

Blogging, like good copywriting, should always be in a conversational style. There is a need to be personal and to communicate as if the blogger is addressing a close friend. This does not mean grammar errors would be excused and neglected. Many blogs fail to attain and secure the credibility they aim due to the writers’ inability to avoid and correct common grammatical pitfalls. The following common errors, observed often in blogs, also seem to be part and parcel of the modern post-Internet English grammar mindset.

It is obvious that many writers routinely end many sentences with prepositions, improperly use punctuation marks, or dangle modifiers inappropriately. Such grammar and usage mistakes often detract credibility. If you want more people to take your writing seriously, prevent these five common and dumb mistakes in writing. 

First, be mindful of the use of your and you’re. Remember that your is strictly a possessive pronoun, whereas you’re is a contraction of you are. You should not say "Your a beautiful person," or "I want to see you’re pet." Many writers overlook this. The result, many readers are offended as they they're being taken as dumb people. Many writers also fail to command respect and credibility because of the constant appearance of this problem. I can't tell you how many e-mail responses to my "Thank you" come back "Your welcome." Ugh!

Second, avoid being troubled by the use of it’s and its. To avoid  this common mistake, think through the message you intend to say. It’s is a strict contraction of it is or it has, so use it as such. On the other hand, its is a mere possessive pronoun (third person). To help you prevent this mistake, read aloud your sentence and use it is to replace it’s or its. Doing so could help you identify the presence of any problem in your copy. 

Third, do not use there instead of their. Both are pronouns, but they are of different uses, though they may sound the same. There should be used as a reference (as in "Put the book there.") and as a pronoun (as in "There is the object of your desire.") Their is the plural form of possessive pronoun (third person). You say "Their class was suspended," instead of "There class was suspended." This could be very simple, but amazingly, many writers frequently commit the same mistake. 

Fourth, observe the proper use of affect and effect. This could be a little confusing, so it is not surprising that many writers are caught in this web of trouble. Take a moment to reconsider your sentence to make sure you are using the words appropriately and correctly. Affect is used as a verb, while effect is its noun form, generally. To illustrate: "The power interruption would affect the flow of the meeting." "The possible effect of the power interruption is not known to many."

Lastly, observe the dangling principle if you want to make sure your blog is free from any grammar problem. This could also be confusing because use of dangling modifiers surely could be troublesome, to begin with. This mistake damages correct flow of writing and affects overall comprehensibility. To illustrate, take this sentence as example: "After rotting in the attic for days, my sister threw some of the mangoes." The sentence when taken literally could mean the sister rotted for days, instead of the mangoes. To correct this, you should say, "My sister threw some of the mangoes that have already rotten in the attic."

Subject-Verb Agreement Using ‘Each’

By Mary W. Ng

Subject-verb agreement errors are common in writing, and they reflect poorly on the writer.  If you do not want to make any such error, you must not only understand the mechanics of subject-verb agreement but also be aware of some special cases of subject-verb agreement.

Today I'd like to talk about two cases of subject-verb agreement, both involving the pronoun each.

Look at these two sentences:
    •    Each of you are a part of history.
    •    Each of you is a part of history.

Google shows 85 million results for the search term 'each of you are' and 13 million results for 'each of you is'.  So, who is correct, the majority or the minority?

Well, the subject is the pronoun phrase each of you; the simple subject is the pronoun each (meaning each one), which takes a singular verb.  In case you forgot or didn't know, the simple subject is the noun or pronoun that remains when the subject is stripped of other words.  The majority is not always right.

Now look at these two sentences:
    •    They each have something special.
    •    They each has something special.

Google reports 34 million results for the search term 'they each have' and 11 million results for 'they each has'.  So, who is correct this time, the majority or the minority?
Well, this time the majority is correct, but there is a reason for it.  The subject they is plural and takes a plural verb.  The pronoun each has no effect on the number of the subject; each functions as an appositive, giving additional information about the subject.

When you proofread your writing to check for subject-verb agreement errors, remember that the verb must agree with the subject or the simple subject.  In most cases, interrupting words, that is, words between the subject and the verb, are mere distractions.

Mary W. Ng is the author of two grammar e-books, Focus on Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement and Focus on Grammar: Parallel Constructions.  Sample reads are available at www.aimpublishing.com.  The website also provides information on spelling rules of verbs, word usage and grammatical errors.

Whatever Happened to the Pronoun ‘Me’?

Either there's a collective ignorance spreading or people are afraid to use the pronoun me to refer to themselves.

I hear a lot of people say dumb, ungrammatical things like "between him and I" and "Sally and myself went downtown."

The first-person accusative form of the singular pronoun I is and always has been me.

One cannot substitute a reflexive pronoun such as myself for a regular pronoun such as I or me. It has to be coupled with one of those to reflect upon it.

For instance, "Sally prefers spaghetti, but I myself would rather eat lasagna." You can leave out myself in this sentence if you like, but you cannot substitute it for I.

The Nice Thing About Old Age…

The best thing about old age, I've recently discovered, is that you don't have to worry about your lifelong fears anymore. They all come true, so you can leave your paranoia and nightmares behind you. But…a big but…you have to deal with the reality of your fears-come-true. Ah, life.