Friday, June 30, 2006

MLJ from Cleveland Asks:

QUESTION: "Hots"? What is that, a British thing?
ANSWER: Yes, and it's a crazy British thing at that. A little-known fact of etymological history is that the British, while basically inventors of the English language, are also insane. The American Revolution was based only partly on "no taxation without representation" and all that. What our Founding Fathers were really worried about was having to speak like these nutjobs for the next few centuries.

Actual quote from Tom Paine: "When I piss, I use a chamber pot, dammit, not a loo."

Further, the Shot Heard 'Round the World came from the American side, and it was predicated on a Brit saying, "You can knock me down with a kipper if I'm tellin' yer porkies Missus!" The Yankee, having no clue what the cockney imperialist said but taking it for an insult, shot him dead. Which started the war, which eventually led to America celebrating its bounty of freedoms every Fourth of July.

So when you sing the National Anthem as the fireworks explode and bald eagles fly above you this Fourth, give thanks also for your freedom to speak beautiful, pure American English.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Ode to a Black Man" and the Personal Pronoun

"Ultraglide in Black," by Detroit's very own Dirtbombs, is always close at hand in the Craig Car (2000 Ford Focus -- Michigan pride! Buy American! My next car will be a Toyota!). I was bopping along to the band's version of Philip Lynott's "Ode to a Black Man" the other day when a few lines from the song reminded me of a common error: using the pronoun "that" when referring to a person. Dig these lyrics:

There are people in this town
That try to put me down
They say I don't give a damn
But the people in this town
That try to put me down
Are the people in the town
That could never understand a black man

Those three instances of "that" should actually be "who" because they're referring to people -- people who try to put him down, people who could never understand a black man. The pronoun "that" is used in reference to objects, not people: "There are ice cream trucks in this town/That try to put me down."

Granted, I'm not about to seek out Mick Collins and tell the man how to cover his songs. But I thought it seemed like a fun grammar lesson for the day.


Coming up: MLJ from Cleveland has a hot question about British usage!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Errr vs. Uh...

We humans, being imperfect creatures -- despite our remarkable ability to communicate via verbal and, even more remarkably, written language (the Japanese didn't have it till China tipped them off) -- sometimes find ourselves sliding into what I like to call the approximation ditch.

This is the place where verbal sounds are approximated into written words, but all too often their spelling is wildly off from what they were intended to denote. (See my thesis on kokekokko, Japanese for cock-a-doodle-doo.)

Case in point: the pause in speech that's often written as "uh" but is even more often written as "errr." As in, "Errr... I think so."

Maybe it's my ridiculously high appreciation for the California accent as the new standard for King James English, but please. Errr...? I think not. It's as wrong as "To uh is human," if you know what I mean.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Introductory Comma Seems to Be Gaining Traction

Let me draw your attention to your MySpace home page. And don't try any crap about your not having one. We all have one. Get over it.

How does your page greet you? It says, "Hello, [Name]!" Notice that cute little comma there? It's serving an important purpose: It's telling you that MySpace is addressing you rather than telling you to do something. If the comma were (subjunctive! Bangles!) not there, MySpace would be telling you to perform an action called "Hello [Name]."

I don't know how to "Hello [Name]." But, then again, I haven't even lived in L.A. for a whole year yet.


For further reading on the introductory comma, see this seminal piece of punctuation prose.

The Bangles, Prince and the Use of the Subjunctive

(Don't call it a comeback, we been here for years ... wait, that's LL, but still stands as a nice segue from our prolonged absence. Onward.)

I was going about my customary Sunday shopping at Albertson's yesterday when a line from the Bangles' "Manic Monday" caught my ear: "I wish it were Sunday."

Fantastic! I thought. These chicks (turns out it was Prince) know the difference between the subjunctive and the indicative! Susanna Hoffs realizes it isn't actually Sunday, she just wishes it were Sunday! They get it. Pop culture acknowledges the English language.

Why is it, then, that every lyrics site I find has the line as "I wish it was Sunday"? Did I hear the line incorrectly? Am I such a word nerd that I internally edit what I hear so that improper usage won't cause me continual mental meltdown? Or did these lyrics folks just transcribe the song in error?

Is there a 1980s music aficionado in the house? Help me.