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.

Two Artists Leave the Scene

Two of the great artists of the 20th century–filmmaker [tag]Ingmar Bergman[/tag] and football innovator [tag]Bill Walsh[/tag]–both passed away on the same day, Monday, July 30, 2007.

Football is still being played the Bill Walsh way, and films these days never have the emotional depth or meaning that Berman was able to instill in his repertoire.  Moreover, both were gentlemen of class and style.  It’s hard to find–and lose–giants like these.

Another celebrity passed away the same day, TV newscaster and interviewer [tag]Tom Snyder[/tag].  Snyder exhibited a certain joie de vivre (more likely joie de bonne chance), but I hardly put him in the category of the other two. 

However, it is unusual that three such individuals would leave our world on the same day, with only one–Bergman–living to what I would consider a ripe old age.

It’s our collective loss.

New Word: Manaicizing

This falls into the category of "out of the mouths of old farts (me)."

Whenever I take my dog for a car ride, he goes absolutely bonkers, eliciting this shrill howl at the sight of every animal, be it bird, cat, dog, squirrel or hunched-over human.  The shrill sound is actually ear-piercing, and while he shreiks it, he claws maniacally at the window.

Today, I had enough and I yelled at him, "Quit manaicizing!" This is pronounced, of course, "muh-nai-ih-cizing" (I’m no good at these pronunciation devices, and actually I’m not sure how even to spell the word correctly–it might need two i’s before the c).

Anyway, I recommend we start a movement for this word.  E-mail five of your friends with this new word before sunset, or you will find yourself going mysteriously maniacal.

What Happens Here, Stays Here

We’ve all seen those cheesy Las Vegas ads that tout the benefits of having sex in Sin City (as if you can’t have it anywhere else and as if your spouse/significant other doesn’t care that you go to L.V. by youself or with a circle of horny friends).

The ad saying is:  "What happens here, stays here."

Now, the truth of this saying aside (and there is none), let’s look at the grammar.  I’ve read numerous grammar explanations that mandate a comma after the first verbal phrase.  But why?

Doesn’t "What happens here stays here" make the same sense without the interrupting comma? To me, this is another example of a misued and overused comma, the grammar books (and Oxford English Dictionary if they’ve weighed in on this) be damned.

Now, if you start with a dependent clause, finishing it with a comma is appropriate:  "When you sin here, it stays here."

But that doesn’t sell.  I guess clean grammar doesn’t sell overall.  LOL

What’s Wrong With This Headline?

From the Los Angeles Times Sports section, Tuesday, July 24, 2007:  Vick told to not go to camp.

Bad grammar, because in truth he was told not to go, which is correct English.  Putting the not before go split the infinitive, to go.  And worse, it’s not even the correct meaning, though to most ears it makes perfect sense.

I supposed the copper-outters at the Oxford English Dictionary, who basically end up approving of anything that people do everyday, no matter how much it’s based in ignorance and laziness, would approve of this usage, but it jars my ears.

Sorry, folks, but you’re told not to do something, not to not do something.

No Such Thing as Unbiased Writing

One of my students in an online writing class enquired whether she should use only "unbiased sources" for her references.  I replied in the negative, saying that "there’s no such thing as unbiased writing."

Now, the terms objective writing and objective reporting came about when newspaper owners and editors realized what partisan rags their products had become in the 19th century.  Thus was born a movement toward objectivity in the national interest. 

Of course, anybody who reads newspapers frequently knows that the editor’s or publisher’s agendas dictate how events are covered. For instance, what’s the ratio of road-kill stories to helping-save-people stories coming out of Iraq from the liberal media and why the preponderance of body-count articles?  The answer is obvious, and it’s not just that tragedy sells (though that’s true too).

Similarly, even a scientist has an agenda, and I believe it was a man named [tag]Werner Heisenberg[/tag] who developed the principle that a scientist would invariably find what he’s looking for because his bias would influence the results; nature would oblige, so to speak. (I extrapolate a bit here.)

Anyway, if you can find a work with no bias in it besides the bills you get in the mail, please let me know.

NotWords: Now Days

I just graded a pile of papers for a writing class, and I can’t tell you how many students wrote now days when they meant nowadays.

Is this because of faulty hearing, faulty pronunication, or just faulty learning of English words?  I mean, nowadays could sound like now days depending upon how the person pronounces it.

Which came first–the now or the days?  LOL

(TIP:  Don’t use the stupid word anyway.  Today works just fine.)

NewsSpeak: ‘Sucky’ Supplants Normal Terms

Waiting at home for an electrician, I turned on [tag]Fox News[/tag] because Food Channel was featuring [tag]Paula Deen[/tag] (not one of my favorites).  The news was good:  Dow Jones Average up 283 points, but the accompanying commentary wasn’t nearly so good.  The anchorman said, in effect, "So the economy isn’t so sucky after all."

I don’t know if this represents a new low in televised news or whether I just haven’t been paying enough attention.  I suppose we all have a definition of sucky that makes his commentary understandable, but whatever happened to the words bad and lousy?  Has sucky supplanted them?

Enquiring minds don’t really want to know.

Using Relative Pronouns for People

I’m a traditionalist or purist when it comes to this argument, but you’ll hear people argue both ways.

I feel that when you use a relative pronoun with people, it should be who or whom.  Others feel that the universal that is perfectly okay.  In fact, most people use that when speaking and writing.  I use it in speech, but try to replace that with who or whom when writing.

Here’s what I’m referring to:

It was John who got the job.

It was John that got the job.

The second usage sounds ugly to me.  Of course, in this sentence we could solve the problem by simply saying, “John got the job.”  However, I still maintain that people deserve/demand who while animals and everything else call for that.