"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Language-ing by the Pool

I've been speaking English my entire life (minus the first 18 months or so), and reading and writing it nearly as long -- and somehow only recently have I become aware of the "Oxford comma". I mean, I knew what it was, but I just didn't realize it was a part of punctuation that had this particular name attached to it, like "capital letters" and "missed my period". [And before we go any further here -- was the period in that last sentence supposed to be placed within or outside of the quotation marks? Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the "missed" period.]

Now it seems not a week goes by that some twit... er, I mean some tweet references the "Oxford comma", or a blog post or some other forum for lexicographic commentary. I'd heard of Oxford collars, and Oxford shoes, and the Oxford Press (where, I presume, one would have a shirt with an Oxford collar ironed). I do recall learning not to place a comma before the last item in a series. Said comma, when placed, is known as the Oxford comma. Are there names for other kinds of commas? The only other one I know by name is a "medically-induced comma", which is what language-obsessives are placed into after their participation in frenzied debates regarding the disregard of proper grammatical practices causes them to stroke out.

I won't rehash the two sides to the Oxford comma issue here since there are many other, more-learned, references one could Google if one were so inclined. Or more than one of you, if you can persuade your friend to join you in Googling. However, this kerfuffle has caused me to investigate what other rules of grammar, spelling and writing (or should that be "grammar, spelling, and writing"? or "grammar, spelling, and writing?")... what was I saying? Oh yes -- here are some other grammatical rules with which I've recently become reacquainted with:
  • "i" before "e", except after 3:00 PM.
  • Don't leave a participle dangling; make a clean break from the relationship and then walk away.
  • The plural of any singular noun ending in "y" is more than you'll ever need.
  • "Who" and "Whom" are frequently confused for one another, but not as often now that "Whom" got her hair cut.
  • "Lay" is an intransitive verb; "lie" is what I just told you.
  • Proper use of "its" vs. "it's" can be easily resolved by reading your sentence out loud and substituting "it is" for whichever word you used. If the sentence sounds silly, try reading it again in your normal voice.
  • Should it be "between you and I" or " between you and me"? Sorry, honey -- I broke it off with you months ago; get over it. And take your participle with you.
  • Context is often helpful when trying to determine which word is correct. For example, telling your sister-in-law "You've put on a complement of 20 pounds since I last saw you" would not be taken as a compliment.
  • If you can count it, use "fewer". If you can't count it, then a spreadsheet is required.
  • Some common phrases just confound all logic. As an example, you'll ask for "a pair of scissors", when you only want one scissor. The plural of "moose" is also "moose", which is why they so rarely come when called -- they're not sure which one of them you're talking to.
  • A semi-colon is what many people are forced to use after a bowel resection.
  • Did you know you should place a predicate pronoun after an infinitive? Me neither.
  • "Hopefully" is a dangling modifier. Fortunately, the attendant will point it out before you leave the men's room.
Those of we whom are interested in the dynamics of the English language are familiar with "The Elements of Style", which is often referred to as "Strunk and White" after it is two co-authors, some guy named Strunk and the editor E. B. White. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with the late Mr. White (in this context, late means "deceased" as opposed to "not on time". However, I am fairly certain I spoke with him before he ceased being.). I'll never forget what he said to me: "How did you get my phone number? Stop bothering me, for crisssakes. Your giving me a heart attack." I didn't have the strunk to tell him he'd mis-spoken; surely he meant to say, "Your giving I a heart attack."

Hopefully, upon all of you a similar impression I has made.