Tuesday, March 31, 2009

With a wink to the scribe: amanuensis

amanuensis -- from the Latin (servus) a manu, a slave with secretarial duties: meaning one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript.

This word often shows up as a euphemism of sorts for a ghost writer -- My Turn at Bat by Ted Williams, as told to John Underwood; Iacocca by Lee Iacocca with Ralph Novak; or Learning to Sing by Clay Aiken and Allison Glock.

The word appears in texts about the Bible in the Middle Ages. For example, God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible refers to the men who in 1605 refined, corrected and improved previous translations of the Bible as "Amanuenses of the words of God." (Note the plural.)

By using this word, a skilled writer is usually implying with a wink that there was a lot more than just dictation and pure secretarial work being done ---as there usually is, even in pure secretarial work!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sanguine -- bloody good spirited, eh?

from wordsmith.org

sanguine (SANG-gwin)

1. Cheerfully optimistic or confident.
2. Having a healthy reddish color.
3. Blood-red.

ETYMOLOGY: From Old French sanguin, from Latin sanguineus (bloody), from sanguis (blood).

USAGE: "Still, let us not be over-sanguine of a speedy final triumph. Let us be quite sober."Abraham Lincoln; Letter to James C. Conkling; Aug 26, 1863.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mnemonic devices (for spelling)

A mnemonic device is one that assists the memory, from the Greek mnemon--mindful. (Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and the mother of the Muses by Zeus.)

We all know "I before e, except after c, or when sounded as "a", as in neighbor or weigh." Fewer people know the mnemonic sentence that can help us remember the major exceptions: "Neither leisure foreigner seized the weird heights."

FedEx executive Shane O'Connor writes, "I remember one class in which [Ferdinand E.] Ruge was teaching us a way to remember how to correctly spell “exhilarate,” since it is often misspelled “exhilerate.” He stood in front of the class in his gray pinstriped three-piece suit and swung his pocket watch fob around as he sang, "La la la la la la la. Exhi-LA-rate exhi-LA-rate."

Try these---

There is a rat in separate. 0A

I have an independent dentist. (We also have an independent superintendent, who comes from Boston.)

The principal is my pal. "Principal" can also refer to a matter or thing of primary importance, or the capital sum placed at interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund, as in the principal of a loan.

A principle is a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine or assumption. As in, you are always true to your principles.

For the dance, your attendance is requested, just as it will be for you descendants.

A vast area was devastated.

Finally, something definite.

Like the letters you'll write on it, stationery has an "e" in it. (As opposed to stationary, or unmoving, objects.)

We're all all grateful for congratulations.

The U.S. Capitol building has a dome on it -- as do the "o"s in both words. Confusingly, Washington., D.C., is the capital of the United States.
Why? The former word comes from the Capitoleum , the temple of Jupiter at Rome that sat atop the Capitoline hill. The latter comes from the Latin capitalis, meaning chief, or principal, (derived from the Latin word caput, meaning "head"). All you have to remember is the building has a domed "o." All other meanings are with an "a."

How can you learn for sure to spell tough words, like occurrence, or accommodate? Or parallel? One good start is to pay a visit to Harbrace Chapter 18: Spelling and Hyphenation. The first seven pages are invaluable for anyone.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How should we pronounce "long-lived"?

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

long-lived, adj.

The traditional American English preference, both in this phrase and in "short-lived," has been to pronounce the second syllable /lIvd/, not /livd/. (The sense is "having a long life," and the past-participial form has been made from "life" [/lIf/], not the ordinary verb "live" [/liv/].)

But the predominant practice today -- and the British English preference -- is /livd/. The American tendency to make it a short "-i-" is perhaps explainable on the analogy of the ordinary word "lived"; the British tendency may be influenced additionally by the phrase "long live the Queen."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pied -- the piper wore multicolored attire

from www.wordsmith.org

pied (rhymes with pride)

adjective: Having patches of two or more colors; multicolored.

ETYMOLOGY: From pie (magpie), referring to a magpie's black and white plumage, from Latin pica (jay or magpie). The Pied Piper of legend owes his moniker to his multicolored attire.

USAGE: "The pair of women came first, one strangely dressed, in pied clothes of three or four eras."Michael Chabon; The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; William Morrow; 1988.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Make Sure Those Pesky Introductory Phrases and Clauses Agree With the Subjects They Modify

From today's NFL: In Brief wire reports -- "Seven months after forgiving teammate Steve Smith for his nose-breaking sucker punch, the Carolina Panthers released starting cornerback Ken Lucas to clear about $2.3 million in salary-cap room." [Hyphen added by me.]
We imagine the wire service means that seven months after forgiving Steve Smith, Ken Lucas was released by the Panthers.

Wrong: While riding a bus, the tornado ripped through our town.

The Rule: make sure introductory phrases or clauses agree with the subjects of the sentences they modify.

There are two ways to fix the sentence above:
1) While I was riding a bus, the tornado ripped through our town.
2) While riding a bus, I saw the tornado rip through our town.

This is covered in Harbrace 25b: Revise Dangling Modifiers

Although any misplaced word, phrase, or clause can be said to dangle, the term dangling modifier applies primarily to incoherent verbal phrases and elliptical clauses (that is, clauses with implied subjects and verbs) that do not refer clearly and logically to other words in the sentence. To correct a dangling modifier, rearrange the words in the sentence to make the modifier clearly refer to the right word, or add words to make the meaning clear and logical.

When verbal phrases or elliptical clauses come at the beginning of a sentence, the normal English word order requires that they immediately precede and clearly refer to the subject of the sentence.

Turn to Section 25 of Harbrace for excellent illustrations of the many kinds of dangling modifiers.

Below is an example of a related problem, a subject with an imprecise or unclear antecedent.

SAT Question of the Day™

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

Although less important to the early development of jazz than New Orleans and Chicago, New York City's contributions were important toward transforming jazz out of a quaint, little-known folk music into an international genre of great significance.

a) New York City's contributions were important toward transforming jazz out of
b) New York City's contributions were important as they transformed jazz from
c) the contributions made by New York City were important in transforming jazz out of
d) New York City made important contributions toward transforming jazz from
e) New York City made important contributions, they transformed jazz out of

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Which paper are they talking about?

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Observing the newspaper’s tradition of ------- attention to accuracy, the reporter ------- every statement made by her informant.

A. scrupulous . . . verified
B. lax . . . challenged
C. sporadic . . . corroborated
D. systematic . . . bungled
E. inordinate . . . exaggerated

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

obstreperous -- noisy or unruly

from www.wordsmith.org



MEANING: adjective: Noisy or unruly.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin obstreperus (clamorous), from ob- (against) + strepere (to make a noise).

USAGE: "One email informs me of a friend's trepidation at having to undergo a stress test as recommended by her physician. And she is not referring to the stress associated with the presence of recalcitrant children and an obstreperous spouse." Vanaja Rao; That Sick Feeling; Gulf News (United Arab Emirates); Feb 5, 2009.

Pesky IIism and word choice in one!

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

For both his shorter and longer works of fiction, Gabriel García Márquez achieves the rare feat of being accessible to the common reader while satisfying the most demanding of sophisticated critics.

A. For both his shorter and longer
B. For both his shorter, and in his longer,
C. In both his shorter and his longer
D. Both in his shorter and20his longer
E. Both his shorter and longer

Select the specific word instead of the vague one

Since it was first published in 1941, the Harbrace College Handbook has gone into 16 editions, plus a CD version.

Throughout the Depression, University of Tennessee Professor John C. Hodges kept files of writing errors made in his rigorous freshman English classes, eventually leading him to assemble his logically numbered set of rules. Though Hodges died in 1967, Harbrace has lived on.

With input from English professors all over the nation, it has grown and improved with each edition, (and its royalties helped build the UT library, opened in 1969, that bears Hodges' name).
Still, in some cases, from one edition to the next, tiny gems of Hodges' teachings have been lost as they've been superseded by slightly different discussions.

One example is from the 4th edition (1956), Rule 20a(2) Concreteness. Select the specific word instead of the vague word. The equivalent section in later editions, now numbered 20a(3), is very good, and I've included it below.

But first, sounding the way I imagine Professor Hodges might have sounded in a classroom, is the section that was replaced:

Concreteness. Select the specific word instead of the vague word.
Avoid vague generalities. Be as specific as you can.
Instead of writing went, consider the possibility of rode, walked, trudged, slouched, hobbled, sprinted. When you are tempted to say a fine young man, ask yourself whether brave, daring, plucky, vigorous, energetic, spirited, or loyal would be more appropriate. Do not be satisfied with the colorless ask when you can choose among beg, pray, entreat, beseech, implore. The word try is ineffective in most situations when struggle, fight, battle, strive are available.

The test for the specific word is contained in six words--who, what, when, where, how, why.

Notice how the following sentences are improved by asking the questions Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? about one or more elements in the sentence.

VAGUE The Dean spoke about student life and that sort of thing. [Who spoke about what?]
IMPROVED Dean Jones spoke about the social advantages of the student union.

VAGUE Mr brother is going away to have a good time. [Where is he going? How will he have a good time?]
IMPROVED My brother is going to Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, where he plans to fish and hunt for a few weeks.

VAGUE All the columnists are commenting on the high cost of living. [Who are commenting? Where did comment appear?]
IMPROVED In the July 12 issue of the New York Herald Tribune, Walter Lippman, George Sokolsky, and Robert Roark discussed the recent advance in food prices.

VAGUE The Army team finally advanced the ball. [How did they do it?]
IMPROVED Adams, the Army quarterback, received the ball from center Jim Hawkins, retreated to his ten-yard line, and threw a pass to left-end Smith, who was tackled on the Army thirty-five yard line.

VAGUE I think the speech was biased. [Why?]
IMPROVED Mr. Jones began his speech without any attempt to support his statement that the policies of the Republican administration were a "total denial of the American way of life."

Harbrace Chapter 20: Exactness begins with the heading, "Choose words that are exact, idiomatic and fresh."

Rule 20a (3) reads:
Choose a specific and concrete word rather than a general and abstract one.

General . . . Specific . . . More Specific . . . Even More Specific
food . . . . . . fast food . . . pizza . . . . . . . . . . Papa John's
prose . . . . . . fiction . . . . short stories . . . . .The O Henry Reader
place . . . . . . city . . . . . Knoxville . . . . . . . on Bearden Hill

The two pages under Rule 20a(3) are well worth reviewing, and they will serve any writer well as he or she strives to liven up and hone a story, article or paper.

In a daily newspaper, many stories are written on such tight deadlines that reporters may not have time to fill in many specific facts. Nevertheless, if you are reporting a story, make it a habit to ask for specifics, even when they seem unimportant.

Often your editor will ask these same questions, and it's best to know the answers. An athlete was injured. What injury? Which knee, left or right? A person was driving a car-- what model? year? what color? Someone played in a band. What was the name of the band? Who else was in it? What songs/type of music did they play?

If you're writing a feature or profile, these specifics often lead to revealing or illuminating information or anecdotes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Canard -- quackery, of sorts

from www.wordsmith.org



MEANING: noun:1. A deliberately misleading story; hoax.2. An airplane with small forward wings mounted in front of the main wings; also such a wing.

ETYMOLOGY: From French, literally a duck. The term is said to have come from the French expression vendre un canard à moitié (to half-sell a duck, or to take in or swindle).

USAGE: "Lyndon Johnson's half-truths about the Gulf of Tonkin, supported by subservient media, embroiled the United States in a nasty war that took the lives of millions of souls. Ultimately, the Vietnam War's distortions and canards prevented him from running for a second term."Mansour El-Kikhia; Realists Conquer Politics With Lies; San Antonio Express-News; Nov 28, 2003.

"Like that old canard that George Harrison's songwriting didn't take off until Something." --Stephen Gibson 2/27/09

Right verb for millions

Grammar Gremlins
By Don K. Ferguson
All the news about the economy has money on the minds of readers.
Here's a recent question posed to "Grammar Gremlins":
"Which is correct, $4.5 million has or have been raised?"
The Associated Press Stylebook says for specified amounts, a singular verb is called for. Therefore, "has" would be correct in the reader's example.
When the money being referred to represents a number of individual units, a plural verb is necessary. Example: Millions of dollars have been spent already.

to the manner born

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

to the manner born
This Shakespearean phrase -- meaning "accustomed from birth to a certain habit or custom" -- first occurred in Hamlet (1603), when the melancholy protagonist bemoans the king's drunken revelry:
"Though I am a native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honored in the breach than the observance."
The phrase is sometimes misunderstood as "to the manor born." But confusion in the popular mind was aggravated by a clever pun in the title to the BBC television series, To the Manor Born (1979-1981), which ran frequently on American PBS stations.
The actress Penelope Keith played an heiress who, having lived her entire life on an English manor that has been in the family for generations, is forced, through financial straits, to sell the manor to a supermarket magnate. After she moves into a smaller house on the manor, the heiress and the businessman gradually fall in love and eventually marry.
Yet, as one linguist has observed in reference to similar phrases, "what one generation says in game the next generation takes in earnest." John Algeo, "Editor's Note," 54 Am. Speech 240 (1979).
What begins as a pun can spread into genuine linguistic confusion -- e.g.: "If you were not to the manor [read manner] born, consider staying at a hotel where a guest can feel like a country squire." Barrett J. Brunsman, "Virginia's Vintages," Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 Mar. 2001.

Like, whatever

A good SAT Question of the Day:
Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

Like machinery was integral to the development of industrial capitalism, so the rapid transfer of information is the force driving modern business.

A. Like
B. Given that
C. Since
D. Just as
E. Although