Anniversary of a Landmark Speech

Today (May 12) marks the anniversary of the anti-slave-trade speech given in 1789 by [tag]William Wilberforce[/tag] before the British Parliament.  It would take until 1807 to actually outlaw the slave trade and another 26 years after that before the law would take effect, but Wilberforce started it all and never gave up.

His speech lasted four hours, but back then making a speech was an art form, not a sound bite as it is today.  Here is one passage:

“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the house–a subject in which Ithe interests not just of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world and of posterity are involved…it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task…the end of which is the total abolition of the slave trade.”

That’s not something that would be quoted today for “News at 10”–it’s not overwrought enough.  But it led to something historic and significant that affected millions of people for the better.

Wilberforce lived long enough to realize his dream with the end of the slave trade in 1833.  He died three days after hearing the great news.

In Honor of Mother’s Day: The Misused Possessive

I can’t recall how many arguments I’ve gotten into over the use of the possessive.  I remember belonging to an organization that insisted on calling its gender-specific confabs “mens meetings” and “womens meetings.” 

Now, whatever happened to the possessive apostrophe in these wordings, i.e., men’s meetings and women’s meetings?  I was told (by a K-12 English teacher no less) that, since these meetings didn’t belong to the men or women but were being held for them, there was no possessive required.  In other words, it wasn’t a men’s meeting but a meeting for men, so the rules of possessive didn’t apply.

Folks, I’m here to tell you it always applies.  That’s why this Sunday is called “Mother’s Day.”  My only beef would be that, since more than one mother celebrates the day, it could just as easily be “Mothers’ Day.”  Now in this case since the intent is to devote a day to each mother, I’ll drop my pluralizing objection.  But it could never, ever be “Mothers Day”!

In Baseball, Grammar Strikes Out

At least it does when it’s grammar by BoSox pitcher [tag]Curt Schilling[/tag]. Look at this comma splice-ridden monstrosity:

"Everyone has days and events in life they’d love to push the rewind button on, yesterday was one of those days."

Adding a simple and after the comma would’ve at least made the sentence grammatical, eliminating the common splice with a coordinating conjunction.  However, I think he meant erase, not rewind, button.  A rewind would mean a repeat, wouldn’t it?

 

Anyway, if you haven’t been following the real-life controversy, I thought I’d point out the grammatical aspects at least.

Finding Those Tricky Subjects in English

Even native English speakers will have trouble identifying subjects (and verbs) in sentences that deviate from the most basic, such as “the dog barks.”  Here there are only an article (the), a subject/noun (dog) and a verb (barks).  Easy enough.

However, look at this sentence and its optional verb forms and tell me the answer:

“A variety of options concerning repair of the train cars is/are on the table.”

Which verb is it, singular or plural?

Read more

It’s Like So Yesterday

I wanted to assign so to the NotWord category, but a quick flip through dictionary.com turned up a preliminary okay for its usage.

I got going on this when I heard [tag]Rachael Ray[/tag], on one of her $40-a-day trips (yeah, what about the hundreds she spends on the hotel room, transportation, shopping sprees and so on?), say, “I was so hungry.”

Generally, to complete a so statement like this, one would have to say “so hungry that I could eat a horse,” or some such.  However, dictionary.com gave its blessing to Raechel’s utterance, so long as it was oral and not written.  Oral usage has more lattitude.  If you use so in this way in writing, you still must include the completing that clause, the online dictionary warns.

Now, I know a lot of you are thinking, “That’s like so yesterday.”  Sorry, I am so particular when it comes to grammar that….

The Sounds of Silence

The Republicans held a presidential debate last night (May 4, 2007) at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi, Calif., and most noticeable was the absence of any mention of the current president, [tag]George W. Bush[/tag].

What was mentioned?

Read more

No Excuse for Illness

Sorry, folks, but I’ve been extremely under the weather (where did that saying come from?), so I haven’t posted anything in days.  I hope to be back on my feet soon to titillate you with the latest in English faux pas.

Interjections: Share Your Emotions

Dictionary.com gives us the following definition for interjection: “a word or words, or some noise, used to express surprise, dismay, pain or other feelings and emotions.”

“Oh dear, so that’s what an interjection is.  I never realized.”

The “Oh dear” (or “Oh, dear”) part of the above sentence represents the [tag]interjection[/tag].

Interjections are probably safest when used in spoken English, and unless you wanted to be sarcastic or sardonic, you probably wouldn’t use one in formal writing.  I could be wrong, and there may be legitimate reasons to use interjections in formal writing.  To wit:

“Stop!  Read no further until you have completed the last step.”

Maybe that works.  If you’re writing a manual about how to defuse a bomb.

This English Is a Hard Language

Or is it just old age setting in?

I’m a native speaker and generally a good speller, having gotten my K-12 education before the liberal reforms of the 1960s ruined everything in public education.

But just today I’ve already had to look up two words to make sure my memory was correct.  The first was pastime.  I couldn’t convince myself that it wasn’t pasttimePast-time I knew would have to be some kind of adjective, so I threw that out.  The second was acquiescence.  I just couldn’t remember if there were a c after the s, which I confirmed there is by going to dictionary.com.

The point here is that I can, as i age, see more clearly why people have a hard time with this language of ours.  Fortunately, we now have resources at our (keyboard) fingertips to help us out.  Maybe some memory-enhancing pills would help as well.