Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Though and although

Temperance asks:

In graduate school, a particular professor excoriated (a friend) for
starting sentences with “Though.” Though, if “although” and “though” are
synonymous – as several web sources seem to suggest – why is it okay to start a
sentence with one and not the other? Or was Professor Particular simply acting
as a Grammar Snob?

My answer:

There's nothing grammatically wrong with starting a sentence with "though" or "although." But this practice can set up a very bad sentence. Long introductory clauses and phrases can suck the life out of a sentence like nobody's business. I suspect that's what the professor was talking about.

There are two ways such introductory matter can hurt a sentence: 1. by demoting the main clause/point of the sentence to a much lower position or, worse, 2. by cramming important information in as mere introductory matter.

"Though he had killed everyone in the house with a rusty ladle and served their organ meat to the dogs, he wasn't tired."

What's the main clause in this sentence? It's "he wasn't" (tired). All the interesting stuff is crammed in before a comma in a portion that reads like it's squeezed into one deep breath. (Read the sentence aloud or hear it in your mind and notice implied exhalation at the comma. Notice the hurried tone before you get to the comma. )

This is why "though" and "although" can be a bad way to start a sentence. They can also be a great way to start a sentence if the writer knows what she's doing. My guess is that your friend's professor was responding to a problem common in his recent experience and his caveat was either overstated or taken as gospel when it wasn't meant as such.

Does that help?

I should add:

"Though" and "although" are subordinating conjunctions. They subordinate information. That's a good thing, until someone uses them to subordinate info that should be getting top billing in its sentence.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional, cleverly named series on words I'm looking up)


I've been complaining about this word for a long time -- ever since I was an editor at Business Wire where it seemed that every single press release I read said that something "underscores our commitment." Despite its usefulness the first jillion times it's used, this expression became as tired and meaningless as "Have a nice day" or "Employees must wash hands before returning to work."

Then, on Saturday night, I was at a performance by the Groundlings -- a local improv and sketch troupe. Director Karen Maruyama was setting up an improv scene in which two actors had to perform a very mundane task -- scrapbooking -- in high-intensity Mission Impossible style. Karen turned to the pit musicians, asking them to "underscore" the scene with action-scene-type music.

In all my years of criticizing the overuse of this word, I never once noticed its musical implications. If you can score a film, it seems pretty natural that you might underscore a scene. Suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of underscore.

Unfortunately, most dictionaries don't share my appreciation. Webster's New World College lists just one definition underscore: "a line drawn under a word, passage, etc., as for emphasis."

A search shows that American Heritage Dictionary says it means just to "underline," "emphasize" or "stress."'s own database is the only one that specifically mentions the word's musical implications: definition No. 4: "music for a film soundtrack; background for a film or stage production."

Of course, this does little to underscore my reasons for ceasing to hate underscore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fun with Google Searches

’Tis the season: 1.36 million hits
’Tis the season to be jolly: 126,000 hits

Apparently, ’tis always the season to chop up this song lyric for one’s own purposes in everything from magazine articles to blog entries. Maybe ’tis time to give it a rest.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fun with Google Searches

sneak peek: 1,670,000 hits

sneak peak: 1,170,000 hits

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Words That Should Get a Divorce (One in an occasional series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

in and actuality

In fact, here's hoping that the "in" in this relationship soon becomes a widow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Words That Should Get a Divorce (One in an occasional series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

echoed and sentiments

As in:
"We believe in creating jobs," said Senator B. Lowhard. His colleague,
Senator Hautair, echoed his sentiments. "Yes! Jobs!"


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Words That Should Get a Divorce (One in an occasional series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

peals and laughter

Once upon a time, back when it was still kosher to make fun of Siegfried and Roy, I visited their Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (Some of you are already seeing a potential connection with peals of laughter. But the comedy gets better.)

I visited the exhibit after having seen their show. (See, I told you the comedy gets better.) As the show began, the lights dimmed and the dramatic music began. Then, about four seconds after the curtain went up, I looked over at my fiance Ted, and noticed he was choking with laughter. The show was, well, a little flamboyant by his standards.

It was almost worth the $100-a-ticket and two-drink minimum just for this precious memory alone. Almost.

The Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, however, I loved unabashedly. (Well, it got a little abashed when listening to the recorded audio tour, in which Roy himself spoke of a deep, almost mystical connection he experienced one time when looking into the eyes of one of his white tigers. The story went something like this: Roy and the tiger were wrestling, and then at one point the tiger just looked into Roy's eyes and Roy could see that the tiger had been taken over by the savage animal inside. He was going to kill Roy. And then he didn't -- a testament to Roy's magical connection with the beasts. Quite a story, huh?)

But the animals were cool. All the literature and audio assure visitors that the animals only sit a few hours a week in the zoo and spend most of their time happily roaming on wide expanses of land.

The Dolphin Habitat was especially entertaining, and afforded me a chance to ask a question I'd always wanted to know: If dolphins must keep moving at all times, how do they sleep?

The guide/dolphin expert answered: They're not sure, but they think that they sleep one half of their brains at a time.

And with that, we arrive back at my original point, because, by my math, that's half a brain more than is needed to write the brain-dead, overused, spewed-without-thinking cliche that is peals of laughter. Further, I'd bet that anyone who uses the term would do no better than your typical dolphin at answering the question: What's a peal?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Words That Should Get a Divorce

Nominated by Linnee and seconded by me:

safe and haven


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