Is It Ever Okay to Use ‘They’ as a Singular Pronoun?

No heads turn when someone says, “Everyone is bringing their own lunch.”

Except … it should be, grammatically speaking, “Everyone is bringing his own lunch.”

This brings up the whole question of our ubiquitous use of they and their as singular pronouns and possessives. As I noted, no heads turn when people use the plural to modify a singular antecedent.

I mention this after reading an interesting article in the New York Times, “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” which describes French teachers’ rebellion over defaulting to masculine forms even when the subject includes both male and female.

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The Word I Lost a Bet On

This was way back in the Pleistocene when I was in high school, but I remember to this day arguing with an English teacher over the pronunciation of the word clique. I said click; he said cleek.

There was no Internet back then. In fact, electricity itself was pretty new, so we grabbed our classroom dictionary (probably Webster’s, but who knows?), and sure enough, cleek was the only choice for pronunciation. I had lost our gentlemen’s bet.

My, how the times have changed. I just checked dictionary dot com and the pronunciations (now two) were given in this order: kleek, then klick.


The Case of ‘As Long As’
v. ‘So Long As’

Okay, so my “fake news” post bombed. Let’s move on to real grammatical issues.

Almost everyone I hear or read uses the phrase “as long as” in the conditional sense, as in, “as long as you don’t care, neither do I.” Wrong!

The phase “as long as” is a comparison of lengths. “That building is as long as three football fields” is one example of correct usage.

“So long as” is a conditional phrase, as in “so long as you don’t care, neither do I.”

You Can Have Your Covfefe and Eat It Too

Or can you?

A mysterious tweet by Donald Trump — “Despite the negative press covfefe” — went viral for about five-and-a-half hours earlier today, leading to all kinds of humor and speculation on the social media.

I sometimes end up making mysterious words and sentences when I put my cell phone in my pocket while it’s still on. Bodily movements and hand-in-pocket gyrations make for weird words and sentences, but this tweet seemed to start out straight and end with a new word.


Coming soon to a market near you, a new candy bar called Covfefe.

How Weird, or Wyrd, Your Fate

As I watched one of my favorite TV shows the other night — “Imposters” — one of the characters mentioned that the word weird originally meant destiny.

I thought that was a bit weird and worth researching, and guess what? That was the exact meaning of the Old English word wyrd — fate or destiny.

It seems that Shakespeare started, or accelerated, the modern interpretation (with the help of the Scotch earlier), when he described the witches in Macbeth as weird.

Original usage of wyrd, however, was as a note, as notes:

Weird is found in Beowulf (spelled wyrd) as a noun meaning fate or destiny:

Gæð a wyrd swa hio scel.
(Fate goes ever as fate must.)


Hie wyrd forsweop on Grendles gryre.
(Fate sweeps them away into Grendel’s clutches.)

‘Penultimate’ versus ‘Ultimate’

Here’s where people can show some real stupidity, but let me give some background first.

I was just watching the World Baseball Classic on TV when an announcer, discussing the anniversary of outfielder Roberto Clemente’s elevation to the Hall of Fame in 1973, referred to him as “the penultimate Puerto Rican baseball player.”

I’m sure he thought penultimate meant beyond ultimate.

Egads, folks, penultimate means “next to last,” while ultimate means “beyond, tops.”

In origin, penultimate comes from the Latin paene, meaning “almost,’ plus ultimas “last.” So penultimate means literally “almost last.”

Unfortunately, in modern vernacular to many non-discriminating speakers and writers, penultimate has taken on the meaning of “beyond ultimate.”

Is It Possible to Be ‘Combobulated’?

A mitigated disaster doesn’t exist evidently, though unmitigated ones do, according to talk show hosts and other nonsense deliverers. So if you can be discombobulated, can you be also be combobulated?

I bring this up because today, as I was driving to buy dog food, I felt discombobulated due to a terrifying, mystical incident I experienced on Friday night.

Without going into details, let me affirm that, as the saying goes, life can indeed “flash before your eyes,” but you don’t even have to be dead or dying. I experienced it on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, and it left me transformed, and yes, discombobulated.

The answer to my initial question about being combobulated is no. The word discombobulated is slang, with no derivation from combobulate or combobulation.

There you go. And let me warn you: when your life flashes before you, you will never be the same.

‘Network’ Revisited: Angst Trumps the Season

What with one daughter in Israel and the other in China, acquainting themselves with their (respective) mothers’ roots, “’twas the season” for me to rewatch 1976’s “Network,” with its Oscar-winning performance by Peter Finch, who didn’t live long enough to accept the statue but who was able to singlehandedly make America “mad as hell” and elect Ronald Reagan four years later to relieve the social angst.

Sound familiar? But for 2016 (40 years later!), there was no Howard Beale to make us “mad” enough to elect Donald Trump. There was, however, Twitter and the social media, which made Howard Beales out of all of us.

In watching “Network” for the first time in decades, I was struck by several realizations.

First, Beale (Finch) urged everyone to open their (okay, his/her) window and shout, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Cut to people shouting out their windows and the first “as” has been eliminated: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Second, the vocabulary: When was the last time you heard the word “adamantine” used in a movie? Probably never, and that’s just one example of the million-dollar words screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky threw in.

(How about a reference between husband and wife during an argument to Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky? Would anybody understand that today?)

Third, the movie exposes the communism in capitalism and the capitalism in communism, labeling everything as “one system.” How true, and isn’t this what Bernie and Trump were railing about throughout their campaigns?

Finally, but not exhaustively, the acting: Wow, was this thing overacted. If actors are too subtle today, in 1976 they must’ve thought they were on the stage and had to gyrate and shout to an audience to be seen and heard.

That being said, in Finch’s case, he had to overact. There was no excuse for Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and William Holden, however.

Shouting is now better left to the politicians. My, how the world turns.