Archive for September 2006
I haven’t heard this myself, but my friend Celeste has and it’s so hilarious it deserves a blog entry.
Apparently Celeste has heard people say, “It’s a mute point.”
That’s “mute” pronounced “mee-yoot” as in remaining silent.
The correct term is “moot point” and the correct first word, its spelling, and pronunciation is “moot.” Like adding T to the end of what a cow would say.
And what is meant by “moot point”? A moot point is one that need not be decided, due to a change of circumstances. Very interesting, because the word “moot” by itself means “debatable, or subject to discussion,” the opposite of its use in the legal context. The shift in usage is slowly happening, starting here in the United States.
But what’s this about a “mute point”? As Celeste reports to me, some people say this thinking it means, “Let’s put the mute button on and cease any discussion on this.”
Wouldn’t it be funny if the term evolves this way to become correct? After all, with the ubiquity of remote controls and mute buttons, a “mute point” may make more sense than a “moot point” to someone who’s not a lawyer.
For today, however, it’s wrong. Say “moot point” and try not to stick a “y” sound in there.
Here’s a nifty online quiz you can take to see how you stack up in the areas of grammar and word choice. It covers all the sorts of things that this blog talks about, and it makes crystal clear, yet again, the fact that English is a nightmare sort of language.
If you want to know how I did the quiz, you’ll have to go to the next page so I don’t give away any answers.
Your ex has just posted a way snarky comment about you on MySpace. “Hah!” you type madly on your profile, “I could care less!”
You could? If you could care less, then that means you do care, because you are capable of caring less than you do now. After reading your response, your ex is undoubtedly smiling in that self-satisfied way that you despise.
If, however, you fire off a comment proclaiming “Listen, loser, I couldn’t care less,” then you’ve expressed your true feelings. You are incapable of caring less. The matter means nothing to you; you don’t care about it at all. Let’s just see if the one-who-must-not-be-named cares about that.
I came across a few great pieces on grammar this weekend. The first (thanks Director Spence) is an item from Wikipedia here on a very strange sentence, indeed: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” Amazing.
The second is an entire site, really, devoted to correcting grammar one topic at a time and
comprised of consisting of a both a weblog and a podcast. It’s done by the talented Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, currently a science writer and formerly a mad scientist. Check it.
The third is an article by Bill Poser over at Lanuage Log on prescriptivism in grammar, the concept of telling people what grammar is right and what is wrong, a sort of anti-laissez-faire affair, which this weblog wholly and unfortunately propagates at times.
Why is [prescriptivism] bad? In part, it is bad because it falsely assumes the existence of a uniform and unchanging standard and thereby fails to recognize the naturalness of linguistic variation and change. Another reason it is bad is because it is frequently, though not always, based on bad descriptive linguistics. That is, the standard to which it appeals is frequently unreal. The putative standard may be an incorrect description of some previous stage of the language or even a mere figment of the imagination of the pundit, who has evidently not given much thought to the matter. Frequently, but again not always, prescriptive claims are based on unfounded claims for the superiority of the standard usage, e.g. that only the standard usage is “logical”.
Word. Bill continues:
Perhaps the worst thing about prescriptivism is that it is frequently a device for demonstrating the superiority of the pundit and his or her favorite class of people over everyone else. It feeds discrimination, particularly classism. The standards to which pundits appeal are invariably those of a socioeconomic elite. The standard tends to combine their natural speech with details that one can only acquire by means of extensive education.
Again, word. But, I’d like to take this opportunity to stress again, like we’ve done over in our About page, that we’re (mostly) no expert on grammar, and we certainly aren’t doing this to promote ourselves or our knowledge. Instead, we hope that this can be a helpful resource for those who are simply interested in or confused about common grammar rules and how to use them.
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I received a glossy full-color advertisement in the mail a couple of days ago proclaiming something to the effect that “our researchers have poured over millions of pages to bring you this incredible find.”
Really? What did they pour over the pages? Maple syrup, maybe, or transmission fluid, or shampoo?
The researchers didn’t pour: They pored. But wait, you say. A pore is a little bitty hole in something, like the pores in your skin that pour out sweat when you play tennis. Surely the researchers weren’t poking holes in their books, so that can’t be right.
Yes, it is. The verb form of pore means “to scrutinize,” or “to read or study intently.” It’s always used with the word over. So:
“Pinky poured fuel oil and fertilizer into the giant bomb while the Brain pored over the final adjustments to the timing mechanism.”
“As Scarlett poured herself into her red dress and Rhett poured champagne, they silently pored over their very different visions of the future.”
Here’s a tricky one: In the possessive form, when do you put the apostrophe before the “s,” when do you put it after the “s,” and when do you not put it anywhere? (Okay, the third one is a trick question. You always need an apostrophe to show the possessive form.)
The apostrophe comes before the “s” if the possessor to which you are referring is singular. Thus, “my girlfriend’s parents’ dogs” refers to the two or more dogs belonging to the two or more parents of my one girlfriend. Had I said “my girlfriends’ parent’s dogs,” I would of course be referring to the two or more dogs belonging to the singular parent of my multiple girlfriends, who must in this case be sisters (sweet(!), but likely very tricky to pull off) and the daughters of a single parent.
The precise numerical status of the possession of which the possessor is in possession does not matter in the least. Put
as if I were writing like a normal person speaking English more simply, the fact that the “dogs” in this case are more than one doesn’t matter. If I were referring only to one dog, “girlfriend’s” and “parents'” and their associated apostrophe positioning would stay exactly the same. To give a few more examples,
Holly’s computer refers to the one computer of Holly
Holly’s computers refers to the two or more computers of Holly
The apostrophe here stays exactly the same because Holly is still just one person.
my cat’s toy refers to the one toy belonging to my one cat
my cat’s toys refers to the two or more toys belonging to my one cat
my cats’ toy refers to the one toy that my two or more cats share
my cats’ toys refers to the two or more toys that my two or more cats share
Notice here that number of toys belonging to my cat(s) doesn’t affect where the apostrophe is placed; only the number of cats I have, whether it’s one or more than one, affects the position of the apostrophe.
If I see one more ad for “Pats Pizza” or “Shoe’s On Sale!” or “Come See Our Price’s!” I think I’m gonna hurl.
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I’m going to keep this short and sweet. “Alot” is simply not a word. In fact, it is two words errantly joined together by a space that is missing and sorely needed.
A lot. Say it with me. “A lot.” There is absolutely no situation in which the “word” “alot” should be used, regardless of the context. It is never, ever correct, and it is always, always
wrong a typo. “A lot” can mean many, many things, but in every single instance, it should be written as two separate words.
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