Three unrelated thoughts

Much of my spare time this week has been spent proof-reading (or “copy-editing,” as they say in The Biz) my book about the parables Jesus told. I am hoping for a March 1 publication deadline. Because I have updated to Word 2016 since my last big project, I am receiving more editing suggestions from Word. Some of them meet with my approval; in other cases I disagree with Word.

Word does not like the phrase “whether or not.” After further review, I agree with Word that “whether” is sufficient in most cases.

Word suggests a comma after introductory words or phrases such as “therefore,” “of course,” and “so.” Those pauses seem unnatural to me, so I am largely ignoring those suggestions. I find it helpful, though, that Word is underlining them for me; it helps me to see where I have used such phrases too frequently and should remove them or rephrase sentences to make them unnecessary.

As in previous editions, Word 2016 dislikes the passive voice and suggests shifting to an active voice. While this shift might be appropriate in most literature, it can be very inappropriate in theology. A redeemed sinner is entirely passive when it comes to salvation; a sinner’s actions contribute nothing to salvation before being saved, or while being saved, or after being saved. God does all the work to rescue sinners. Until Word produces an edition that is free from heretical tendencies, I plan to continue ignoring its suggestions about eliminating the passive voice.

I only recently became aware of the grammatical suggestion that strings of prepositional phrases be avoided. (The amusing wording of this rule is to ignore them except when one is being led “through the valley of the shadow of death.”) Word 2016 underlines cases where it thinks prepositions are too close together. Unfortunately, this tendency singles out entirely appropriate phrases including “in spite of.”

 

I used some Christmas gift money to buy a DVD of the movie 500 Days of Summer. I did so for two reasons: I enjoy Zooey Deschanel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and thought I would like to see her star in a romantic comedy; and IMDB recommended 500 Days of Summer to people who liked Ruby Sparks. The movie is enjoyable as it covers a relationship between a young man and a young woman in a nonlinear fashion, more the way he might remember the episodes from a distance rather than experiencing them in order. As a narrator intones at the very beginning of the movie, it is “not a love story.” In fact, it is far more realistic than most love stories. Unfortunately, both 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks seem incapable of depicting a romance without suggesting physical intimacy beginning very early in the relationship. I’d like to see a romantic comedy in which the main characters do not go beyond holding hands and an occasional brief kiss. Maybe Hollywood writers believe that such romances no longer happen in the twenty-first century. (If so, they’re wrong.) Maybe Hollywood writers are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to undermine marriage and family. (It seems that way sometimes, but I suspect their motivations are more financial than centered on social engineering.) I hesitate to recommend any movie that I would be reluctant to show to my parents or my children, but I confess to enjoying 500 Days of Summer and expect to watch it again soon, to catch the details I missed at the first viewing.

 

This morning while I was driving to work, I saw a delivery truck (painted with the 7-UP logo) in the left lane of the street, signaling an attempt to merge into the right lane. Traffic was tight and other drivers were ignoring the truck driver’s signal, but I held back and made a space for the truck to change lanes. As a result, I missed out on a green light and had to wait through the entire cycle of lights at a busy intersection. Later, I left room for a car to enter the street from a side street. It seems as though such courtesies toward other drivers ought to be rewarded with an extra green light or two, but I guess things like that happen only in the karmic pages.

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Grammar Dalek: fifteen rules for better writing

My name is Salvageable, and I am a Grammar Dalek.

Most of the blogs I read are very literate, interesting as well as well-written. Even the best writers, though, sometimes make mistakes. When writers confuse its with it’s or their with there, I am ready to shoot first and ask questions later. Rather than punishing writers as they deserve, I am prepared to offer a second chance. Socrates and Confucius both believed that people break the rules because they don’t know the rules. Because people naturally want to be happy, they will do the right thing if they know what is right to do. As a public service, therefore, I am pleased to offer fifteen rules for better writing. I do not claim that this list is a new idea—many of these have been floating around for decades. I offer this list, though, in the hopes that these rules will be followed and I will not have to exterminate you.

  • Don’t use no double negatives.
  • Be careful to use apostrophe’s correctly.
  • Avoid repetitive redundancy.
  • Also avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read and make you sound foolish
  • Make sure that each verb and each pronoun agree with their subjects or antecedents.
  • Don’t use commas, which aren’t necessary.
  • Don’t abbrev.
  • A writer should try to maintain a consistent style, especially when composing a list.
  • Eschew obfuscation.
  • About sentence fragments. Don’t.
  • Join clauses good like a conjunctive should.
  • Check to see if you any words out.
  • After checking your grammar, check your math.
  • Last but not least, avoid dog-tired clichés like the plague.

I sincerely hope that all these rules will be obeyed, and the universe will become a more harmonious and coherent place. (By the way, these are examples of “fumblerules,” many more of which can be found when searching the internet.) J.

The grammar Dalek could care less

People approach me with the oddest requests, knowing that I am a grammar Dalek. “Grammar Dalek,” they say, “could you please use your influence to set straight the English-speaking world? For example, could you please tell people to stop saying they could care less when they really mean that they could not care less?”

At questions like this I chortle—and if you have never heard a Dalek chortle, you should be thankful; it is not a pleasant sound—and when I can stop chortling I tell them, “People, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the original expression is indeed, ‘I could care less.’ Moreover, the right and wrong of this expression were debated long before you were born, and the official decision says that you are wrong.”

The Second Intergalactic Dalek War was fought over this very expression. Daleks divided into two groups, each intensely convinced that they were right, and each determined to exterminate the Daleks who disagreed with them. The larger group of Daleks, known to Dalektic historians as the Literalists, fired the first shot. “If you could care less,” they said, “then obviously you care a little. Stop saying that you could care less if you mean that you do not care at all.”

The smaller group, called the Ironists, replied, “Actually, the expression ‘I could care less’ is shorthand for a longer expression. It really means, ‘I could care less, but the difference between how much I care now and caring not at all is so small that you could not possibly notice it, let alone measure it.’ That’s too many words to say in the midst of a conversation or an argument, so the idea is shortened to the much simpler form.”

The Literalists shot back, “But your shortened expression makes no sense. It says the opposite of what it means!”

To which the Ironists answered, “Obviously you have never encountered sarcasm before.”

The battle was fought for many centuries, and many Daleks gave their lives for their respective causes. In the end, the Ironists prevailed, and now the iron-clad expression is, as you can see, “I could care less.” From now on, when you scornfully want to tell someone how you feel about their opinion, you know exactly what to say. Say it right, or say it wrong; it doesn’t matter, and really, I could care less.

J.

Grammar Dalek: Apostrophe’s

My name is Salvageable, and I am a grammar Dalek.

I would like to describe a small piece of punctuation that is called an apostrophe. If you are not familiar with that particular piece of punctuation, please look at the title of this post. That little mark near the end is an apostrophe, and it does not belong there. I put it there to be ironic.

The apostrophe has two uses. It signals that letters have been left out of an abbreviation. “I am” becomes “I’m”; “have not” becomes “haven’t”. An apostrophe also signals that someone owns or possesses something, although it is used that way with nouns and proper nouns, but not with pronouns.

People are always getting confused about pronouns and apostrophes. It’s always means it is; if you want to show that it owns something, the word you want is its. You’re always means you are; if you want to show that you—not you, the other you—owns something, the word you want is your.

When a noun or proper noun ends with an s, the apostrophe of ownership is put after the s, and then another s should not be used. The correct form is Jesus’, not Jesus’s. When speaking, the word Jesus’ should sound like Jesus, not like Jesuses. Some style books are now allowing the additional s. This makes sense only if a word ends with a silent s. To speak of something that belongs to Illinois as Illinois’s makes perfect sense, but when Texas owns something, that still should be Texas’.

Sometimes people will use an apostrophe with a plural noun, especially when that noun is not commonly used in the plural. Someone might write, “There are too many n’s in that sentence,” but they would be wrong. There are not too many ns in that sentence, and the plural of n is ns, not n’s.

The misuse of apostrophes is an epidemic that should be exterminated. When I see that a writer has used an apostrophe in the wrong place, my opinion of that writer plummets. Not that anyone really cares what I think about their writing, though. I’m just a grammar Dalek.

J.

The grammar Dalek

My name is Salvageable, and I am a grammar Dalek.

I resist the term grammar Nazi, because Nazis really existed in Earth history and really did some terrible things that led to death and suffering and destruction. In history classes, people need to be reminded of the Nazis. In talking about infinitives and prepositions, I prefer to think of Daleks, those monsters invented for the television show Doctor Who. They are pretty terrible as well, but at least the suffering and death and destruction they cause is only in a world of fiction, not in this real world.

As a grammar Dalek, I want to exterminate all sentences which end with prepositions. I realize that today’s English teachers say that prepositions are allowed to end sentences, but I disagree. Given a little time and imagination, any sentence ending with a preposition can be altered into a better sentence. Sorry, Obi-wan, but “These are not the droids you seek” is a better sentence.

As a grammar Dalek, I want to exterminate split infinitives. In most languages the infinitive form of the verb is one word, and no one would dream of sticking another word in the middle of that word. In English, some people feel that adverbs make a sentence stronger when placed in the middle of an infinitive. I know we’ve heard it hundreds of times and it’s hard to imagine the phrase being improved, but “to boldly go where no man has gone before” is just wrong.

As a grammar Dalek, I want people to use the words “less” and “fewer” correctly. If you can count the objects you are describing, a smaller number of objects are fewer. Only if you cannot count them is a smaller number less. You can drink less beer, but you should drink fewer glasses of beer.

As a grammar Dalek, I want people to stop using “literally” for emphasis. If you literally died of embarrassment, you would not be here to talk about it today.

As a grammar Dalek, I want people to learn the difference between “nauseous” and “nauseated.” That which causes nausea is nauseous, but the one feeling the nausea is nauseated. Granted, if you give in to the symptoms of nausea, you may nauseate me, meaning that you are both nauseated and nauseous. If, however, you are talking about your feelings and not my feelings, please stick with nauseated.

As a grammar Dalek, I want English-speaking people everywhere to know their pronouns. If you wouldn’t say, “Me went to the store,” why do you say, “Joe and me went to the store”? If you wouldn’t say, “A tree fell on I,” why do you say, “A tree fell on Joe and I”?

As a grammar Dalek, I strongly support the use of Oxford commas. In the sentence, “A tree fell on Billy, Joe, and me,” the comma between “Joe” and “and” is as important as any other comma in the sentence.

Clear communication begins with good grammar. If you want people to hear what you say, say it the right way. And let’s be careful out there.

J.