Direction of writing Wednesday, Mar 17 2010 

This week, I talked to some people about the direction of writing and how text messaging and instant messaging has affected the way they and those around them write.

Apostrophe Abuse Wednesday, Mar 10 2010 

In her book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, grammar-enthusiast Lynne Truss explains the eight acceptable uses for apostrophes, one of which is the use of apostrophes to signal omitted words (47-48).  Eight uses total.  That is, unless you frequent the St. Miguel Townhouses common room where you’ll find a ninth use for an apostrophe, though I’m still not sure what that use is.  On a sign posted above a circle of chairs and sofas is written, “tha’ nook.”

Huh?  I understand the sentiment that this is a relaxed atmosphere, so the sign is supposed to be informal.  The person who posted the sign probably wanted the apostrophe to make the sign show that relaxation.  As if the people who hang out here are too busy being awesome to fully say words.  Okay, I get it.  But what are you shortening?  “The” is a 3 letter word.  Adding an apostrophe to the phonetically spelled word makes it longer.  And a little confusing.   Are we shortening “that”?  I doubt it.  There’s one nook in the room; it hardly seems like someone would get it confused with another. 

I fully believe that language can be stretched, bended, and molded to fit a particular audience or convey a particular message.  In the dialogues of Huck Finn, Mark Twain used vernacular English that chopped words to pieces, frequently used slang words, and paid little attention to grammar.  Twain’s purpose was to authentically portray his uneducated characters and enrich the experience for the reader.  Though even with the liberties that he took, Twain still followed the proscribed ways of shortening a word, for example, using apostrophes to indicate missing letters.  Twain stretched, bended, and molded standard English into his dialogue because it helped his reader better understand his characters and their circumstances. 

The sign in the St. Miguel Townhouses doesn’t do that.  I admire the intentions, but if the purpose of language is to communicate, then don’t get so mixed up in trying to sound cool that you lose what you’re trying to say.

What a lucky kid! Friday, Feb 5 2010 

While vacationing in Wildwood, New Jersey last summer, my family and I couldn’t help hamming it up at a tourist photo stand.  Seemed harmless enough.  Little did I know I would be participating in the spread of mispunctuation.  Posing behind a wooden cut-out of a lifeguard, I stood beside a sign that read:
” Water temp: Perfect
Air temp: Just right to let the kid’s swim”
An icy shiver runs up my back as I force myself to type this egregious mistake.
Who is this lucky kid who gets to swim all by himself or herself?  And what are we letting his or her swim do?
To think that hundreds— nay, possibly thousands!— had their pictures taken with this cut-out, blissfully unaware of the monstrosity a mere foot or so from their heads.  It’s enough to make a grammar-nut sick.  So I beg you, Wildwood, please proofread your signs so that no future generations of tourists may accidentally fall victim to improper punctuation.  Do it for the children who need to learn proper punctuation to one day lead successful lives.  (Exagerrated? Ok, maybe.)  Do it for the New Jersey public school system that teaches students to avoid such mistakes. (At least I’m hoping.  I went to Catholic school in Philadelphia, so I really have no idea.)  Or at the very least, do it for us language obessessed who will sleep a little sounder knowing there is one less source of bad punctuation in the world.
Thank you.

What a lucky kid!

The Entertaining Side of Grammar Tuesday, Feb 2 2010 

Try as a may, I can’t escape my obsession with grammar, punctuation, word usage, spelling… the list goes on.  I even wrote my personal statement for law schools about diagramming sentences.  At least now I can take my unusual obsession and make it productive for class.  I thought linguistics would be a really weird topic for a blog until I found LanguageLog, a blog run by University of Pennsylvania phonetician Mark Liberman.   This blog has witty observations about mistakes in grammar, punctuation, word use— everything I’m obsessed with.  Murphy’s Law at its finest, every link to the site is magically broken and Google can no longer find the page.  I’ll try again later.

I think my topic will work because grammar-related mistakes often make for funny results.   Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, a guidebook to punctuation, centers on the funny things that happen when people mispunctuate.  The title comes from a mistake made by someone describing the eating habits of pandas.  Instead of the panda peacefully eating his bamboo shoots and leaves, the extra commas suggest a scene out of a gangster movie with the panda shooting up a restaurant before leaving.

I may use “funny” too liberally, but these are the examples that I think are funny.  I’ll try my best to keep my posts on this more humorous slant instead of ranting about poor spelling, grammar, and the like.