Monday, March 24, 2008

Dispatch From the Dark

I've been dark for a few days, and I will be for a few more (I'll 'splain when I'm back up and running), but had to log on once to say: IT'S HERE!

My new book, Mortal Syntax, is out tomorrow.

It's a list of the 101 most-clobbered usage choices -- stuff grammar snobs pick on (think I feel badly, I could care less, so fun, like used for such as, etc.. For each item, I check my reference sources and determine whether the usage is really bad language choice or just a myth.

Thanks for indulging this shameless self-promotion and I'll be back from the dark to resume regular posts soon.

- J

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stuff I'm Looking Up

1. Re "there is a variety of options" versus "there are a variety of options":



Usage note ... As a collective noun, variety, when preceded by a, is often treated as a plural: A variety of inexpensive goods are sold here. When preceded by the, it is usually treated as a singular: The variety of products is small.

In the American Heritage Dictionary at

n. a large shallow dish; a platter.

(I suspect a lot of Better Homes and Gardens types knew that definition of "charger." But as someone who grew up enjoying many a dinner straight out of the Doritos bag, this was a new one on me when I came across it in a story I was editing and just couldn't figure out how a platter of mashed potatoes could power a cellphone.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Down With 'Down With'

In an old Simpsons episode, a group of feminist protesters marches in front of an ad agency, presumably protesting some chauvinistic ad campaign. The women are carrying signs and chanting, "Down with sexism! Down with sexism!" In what turns out to be a spoof beer commercial, some construction workers spray them with beer and they turn into giggling bikini party girls. (So like life, those Simpsons.)

This well-known usage of "down with" appears in Webster's New World College Dictionary, curiously flush with exclamation points:

down with! overthrow! do away with!

Yet the online version of the American Heritage Dictionary also lists that other, hipper version of "down with":

Slang. Having knowledge of; aware; "He was not, I detected, 'down with the revolution'" (Clarence Page).

And reports the next phase of this term's evolution:
down wit dat: to be in agreement

And here we have yet another example of why native English speakers should go easy on anyone trying to learn this language: The protesters who were originally "down with!" sexism changed their minds and instead became "down with" sexism.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Words I'm Looking Up

camomile: n. (see chamomile) any plant of two genera (Anthemis and Matricarcia) of the composite family, with strong-smelling foliage; esp., a plant (A. nobilis) whose dried daislylike flower head are used as a medicine and in making tea. -- Webster's New World College Dictionary

chamomile: alt spelling of camomile.
-- Webster's New World College Dictionary

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Posthumous Grammar Snobbery

Brendan Greeley, who worked two summers taking care of William F. Buckley's 36-foot sloop, told his employer: "... how much I enjoyed the job of mate on his boat."

Buckley replied: "First mate. I have a mate. Her name is Pat." Source: Los Angeles Times Opinion, March 2, 2008

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

mate: 5. A deck officer on a merchant ship ranking next below the master.


Bookmark and Share