The Oft-Forgot Second Comma

Find the error in this sentence:

"On July 4, 1776 a printed copy of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Continental Congress."

Answer: The rules of English grammar dictate that you use a comma after both the day and the year, and the second comma is not optional.

Now this sentence:

"He grew up in Phoeniz, Arizona and still lives there."

Answer: The rules of English grammar dictate that you use a comma after both the city name and state name, and again the second comma is not optional.

These rules are so often abused that when I see someone who correctly uses the second comma, I figure that person probably knows English grammar pretty well.  Either that, or s/he is just comma happy.

Cubs Goof on ‘Let’s Play Two’

Either the Curse of the Billy Goat is at it again, or my eyes were deceiving me.  I just watched a clip of the Chicago Cubs’ unveiling (on opening day) a statue to the great Ernie Banks.

Banks was famous for saying, "Let’s play two."  Fittingly, the Cubs decided to put that saying on the pedestal holding Banks’s statue.  However, and here’s where I’m not sure if I saw things wrong or if Mr. Goat has prevailed again, they spelled it (in all caps), "LETS PLAY TWO," with no apostrophe.

Thats no good.

The O’Reilly Factor: Disputatiousness at Work?

In my destitute/semi-retired state, I have a lot of time for channel surfing, and at the 4 p.m. hour, the most engaging TV show is generally The O’Reilly Factor.

Today, one of the e-mails O’Reilly read (why isn’t the past tense red?) accused him of being disputatious.

Now, there’s a great word, though it generally applies to lawsuit-happy lawyers rather than to conservative talk-show hosts who dispute cant and lies on the political left.

Still, I appreciate people who know how to use the English language and its rich reservoir of words, and this e-mail writer definitely used a great word.

Abbreviations Gone Wild

Joe Francis, Girls Gone Wild entrepreneur (now temporarily out of jail), is gloating that he has both nude and same-gender sex videos* of infamous escort  and Eliot Spitzer-slayer Ashley Alexandra Dupre.

Meanwhile, the Orange County, Calif., Board of Supervisors is itself going wild by renaming everything public OC this and OC that, such as John Wayne OC Airport (which infuriated Mr. Wayne’s children).

Now, the group has conjured up some more interesting OC namings for government agencies, such as OC Infrastructure.  What?

Okay, OC Infrastructure used to be The Resources and Development Management Department.

Wait, it gets more confusing.  OC Infrastructure is broken down into two agencies, OC Public Works and OC Community.

It gets better.  OC Infrastructure is composed of OC Planning, OC Road & Flood and OC Facilities.  OC Community consists of OC Public Libraries, OC Parks, OC Community Services and OC Animal Care.

You see?

*  Anyway, Ms. Dupre’s lawyer just this morning said the Girls Gone Wild segments featuring his client were filmed when she was 17.  The videos have been withdrawn from circulation.  Sorry, Joe.

Sportscaster Ralph Lawler Knows His English

It’s rare to be watching TV and hear someone correct another for his or her English usage, and it’s even rarer that I would turn on an L.A. Clippers telecast–except in sheer boredom–but that’s exactly what I did this past night.

Now, Ralph Lawler is the Clippers’ main play-by-play caller, and he has a sidekick whose name I can’t remember, but this sidekick said something to the effect that "the pass between he and so-and-so" was errant, or some such.  Lawler, in his inimitable style, shot back: "Or between him and so-and-so."  Sidekick was forced to respond, "That too." 

Duly corrected.

Anyway, it’s nice to see a sports jock-caster know his English and correct someone on air.

Bottom line, the rule is this:  When using a preposition, it must be followed by something in the objective case, which would be him and not he in this case since sidekick was using a pronoun instead of a noun.  A noun, that is, someone’s name, wouldn’t change between accusative and nominative, but a pronoun would.

Back to the grammar books, sidekick, and hats off to you, Ralph Lawler!

Readability Scales and Writing

Thanks to The Numbers Guy, Carl Bialik, whose column appears every other Friday in the Wall Street Journal, I’ve been reminded of those infamous readability scales that judge the grade-level of your writing.

Since the Flesch-Kindcaid readability formula has been built into Microsoft Word’s Tools function, one can easily check one’s "readability level" while using this ubiquitous word processor.  The formula, much like all the others, counts the number of words in a sentence and then the number of syllables in each word.  Shorter sentences and shorter words, syllable-wise, are easier to read.

However, as Bialik points out, short words such as adz, auk and lea are virtually unknown to most English readers, but they would score high on readability.

In other words, these formulas contain fundamental flaws that some researchers are working to fix.

One last example.  Here is a nonsense passage that scores high in readability (the infamous concept that everything should be readable and understandable by a fifth grader):

"Acuity of eagles whistle truck kidney.  Head for the treacle sump catch and but.  What figgle faddle scratch dog and whistle?"

Get the idea?  If not, read more here.

‘Through Thick and Thin’: Language in Flux

I think we all have a good idea of what the phrase "through thick and thin" means for us today, but almost none of us has any idea of its derivation.

I subscribe to a service called "A Phrase A Week" that examines these matters, and this week that phrase came up.

However, what I found most interesting was this earliest recorded use of the phrase by Geoffrey Chaucer in Olde English, to wit:

And whan the hors was laus, he gynneth gon
Toward the fen, ther wilde mares renne,
And forth with "wehee," thurgh thikke and thurgh thenne.  

Okay, if you haven’t deciphered it, please turn the page for the translation into modern English.

Read more

Conflicting Meanings of ‘Cock Strong’

Listening to the Dan Patrick Show this morning on radio, I heard one of his guests quote the phrase cock strong to mean a person with strength of purpose.  The guess deliberately disabused the notion that the cock being referred to was part of the human anatomy.  Instead, as Patrick chimed it, it referred to the rooster, and it was "farm talk."

However, I couldn’t find the phrase in the dictionary, but Urban Dictionary had this to say:

A guy with a wandering/lazy eye. His eye is weighed down due to the size of his johnson.

Man: "That dude has got a messed-up eye."

Girl: "No, he’s just cock strong, trust me!"

I could see the phrase’s being defined either way. If anyone has any information on its usage or derivation, please leave a comment.