Thursday, June 30, 2011

Affect and effect -- the peskiest homonyms

From: Ruge Rules:

Homonyms are words similar or identical in sound but different in spelling and meaning.

Affect and effect are the two most frequently confused homonyms. Each can be used in several different senses, but if you learn only the meanings below, you will obviate (prevent by anticipatory action) 95 percent of the trouble most people have with these two words.

affect v.

  • To cause a change to take place in, to influence (to produce an effect upon):
    Smoking affects the health. The mayor's reform will affect the life of every citizen.

  • To touch or move emotionally: The play so affected me that I cried.

  • To pretend, to imitate: I affect an aire of supercilious disdain. ("Affected" in "He is an affected ass" is the past participle of the verb affect as used in sense 3.)

Note: The word "affect" is never a noun, except in one sense, used by psychologists, who refer to "affective states" and "affect" -- with regard to a person's face and the feeling or range of feelings expressed therein. As in: "The patient had an unusual affect that probably traced back to an unhappy childhood."

The word "effect" is a noun or a verb

effect v.

  • To bring into being, to bring about, to cause to happen, to accomplish: I effected an honorable solution to a tough problem.

effect n.

  • A result or consequence (anything produced by an agent or cause): What effect will the mayor's reforms have upon the citizens?

    The effect of the win was improved morale

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More mnemonic spelling aids

John T. Bird of Birmingham, Ala., is an old friend best known for writing Twin Killing: The Bill Mazeroski Story and successfully campaigning to get the longtime Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Last year Bird put his energy behind mnemonic devices for spelling, as he published Fuchsia Shock: 151 Common But Difficult Words You Will Never Misspell Again!
With illustrations by Stefanie Slaughter, Fuchsia Shock coaches us to associate exhilarating with hilarious. "Example: laughing in the theater at the hilarious movie was an exhilarating experience."
In the attached entry, Bird advises us to associate potato with NATO. Similarly, he advises us to think of currency to remember that second "r" in occurrence.
To order a copy, click here to email John Bird.

Try these mnemonic devices --

  • There is a rat in separate.

  • 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."

  • 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."

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.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Neither leisure foreigner seized the weird heights

Today's Knoxville News Sentinel reports that a Knox County Commission auditor sent emails to a county commissioner that included the sentence, "And your family are weirdos that go to a wierd (sic) church!" (Click here to read the whole story.)

The auditor, apparently unsure of the spelling of "weird," went ahead and spelled it both ways, figuring to be correct on one of them.

He would have done well to recall the mnemonic device that helps us remember the major exceptions to the "I before e" rule--i.e., the unforgettable sentence "Neither leisure foreigner seized the weird heights."

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

Of course the "I before e" rule is, "I before e, except after c, or when sounded as 'a,' as in neighbor or weigh." ]

More mnemonic devices for spelling tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lay versus lie

Today's Garner's Usage Tip of the Day takes up a longstanding quandary: the distinction between lay and lie.

Very simply, "lie" (= to recline, be situated) is intransitive -- it can't take a direct object {he lies on his bed}.

But "lay" (= to put down, arrange) is always transitive -- it needs a direct object {please lay the book on my desk}.

The verbs are inflected "lay-laid-laid-laying" and "lie-lay-lain-lying."

Because "lie" is intransitive, it has only an active voice {lie down for a while}. And because "lay" is transitive, it may be either active {he laid the blanket over her} or passive {the blanket was laid over her}.

To use "lay" without a direct object, in the sense of "lie," is nonstandard {I want to lay down} {he was laying in the sun}. But this error is very common in speech -- from the illiterate to the highly educated [to Bob Dylan -- "Lay, lady lay. Lay across my big brass bed."].

In fact, some commentators believe that people make this mistake more often than any other in the English language. Others claim that it's no longer a mistake -- or even that it never was. But make no mistake: using these verbs correctly is a mark of refinement.

The most unusual of these inflected forms, of course, is "lain," but most writers have little difficulty getting it right -- e.g.: "Katrina Kuratli said she and her husband, Dan, had just lain down in their bedroom when the bomb went off around 10:45 p.m." Mack Reed, "Pipe Bomb Rips Car, Jolts Simi Neighborhood," L.A. Times, 30 Apr. 1994, at B9.

Click here to email Bryan Garner.

To subscibe to garner's Usage Tip of the Day, click here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How the 'Harbrace Handbook of English' Changed the Way Americans Learn About Writing

Click here to read the MetroPulse story by Brooks Clark and Cari Wade Gervin paying homage to Dr. John C. Hodges (right) of the University of Tennessee.

It was 70 years ago that Hodges wrote the Harbrace College Handbook, which today reigns as the best-selling textbook of all time.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bryan Garner takes on four cases of grammatical illogic; hilarity ensues

Today Bryan Garner's Usage Tip of the Day takes on four common cases of grammatical illogic, providing amusing examples.

Illogic (3).

Part A: Danglers and Misplaced Modifiers. Every dangler or misplaced modifier perverts logic to some degree, sometimes humorously -- e.g.: "I saw the Statue of Liberty flying into Newark." To avoid these disruptions of thought, remember that a participle should relate to a noun that's capable of performing the participle's action.

Part B: The Disjointed Appositive. Phrases intended to be in apposition shouldn't be separated -- e.g.: "A respected English legal authority on the common law, the view of William Blackstone permeated much of the early thinking on freedom of expression." John Murray, The Media Law Dictionary 11 (1978). (Blackstone himself, not Blackstone's view, is the respected authority.)

Part C: Mistaken Subject of a Prepositional Phrase. This problem crops up usually when a word or phrase intervenes between the noun and the prepositional phrase referring to that noun. Often, as here, the noun ("school bus") functions as an adjective: "Wallin was the school bus driver in which [read 'Wallin was driving the school bus in which'] Hillman and Ellington and Kleven were passengers."

Part D. Poor Exposition of Sequence. Don't ask your readers to assume what is not logically possible by your very assumptions -- e.g.: "The twin-engine turbo prop Merlin Fairchild 300 carrying driver Alan Kulwicki and three other men suddenly dropped off the radar screen and crashed shortly before landing." Karen Allen & Erik Brady, "Motor Sports," USA Today, 5 Apr. 1993, at C9. (Because the plane "landed" when it crashed, the logic of the temporal sequence is flawed.)

To subscribe to Garner's Usage Tip of the Day, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Semicolon with 25-cent connecting words

Harbrace rule 14a: Use a semicolon to connect independent clauses not linked by a coordinating conjuction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).

Another fairly handy semicolon construction is the following:

Use a semi-colon before such 25-cent connecting words as "hence," "however," "moreover," "nevertheless," and "therefore" if they connect two complete thoughts and if they are the first word in the second.

Right: Duke is a good dog; however, he has a serious problem with his Milk Bone habit.

A comma follows these words if they cause a pause in the reading. You have to play it by ear. "Therefore," for example, often doesn't need a comma after it.
As in --
I think; therefore I am. (Cogito; ergo sum.)

Note: make sure to use commas around these words when they are used "parenthetically" in the middle of a sentence.

As in -- My fear for Duke, however, is that his Milk Bone addiction will affect his ability to love and work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

End of an era -- no more hyphen in "email"

The Associated Press Stylebook, which rules like a god over its journalistic subjects, announced in March that the abbreviated term for “electronic mail” is losing its hyphen. So we are now supposed to write "email" instead of "e-mail."
This is a bigger deal than the change last year from "Web site" to "website."
This signals the end of an era, as one blogger put it, as we put aside a relic of a simpler time when Internet technology needed to be explained very carefully.
Snail mail is still to be written as two words. Is it time for a change there, too?

Friday, June 3, 2011

That pesky subjunctive

A subhed in this week's Metro Pulse: "After five years locked up, Scott West has a lot to say -- about prison, downtown Knoxville, and people who wish he was [sic.] a little more repentant."

What the heck do we do with the subjunctive mood?

In the 1946 edition of Harbrace, University of Tennessee Professor John C. Hodges wrote, "Only a few distinctive forms of the subjunctive remain," noting the top two --

  • Required Subjunctive -- chiefly in 'that' clauses of motions, resolutions, recommendations, order or demands." [e.g., "I demand that he see a physician."]

  • Preferred or Optional Subjunctive -- especially in contrary-to-fact conditions and in expressions of doubts, wishes, or regrets. [e.g., "If the apple were ripe, it would be delicious."]

Hodges also made the distinction between formal and colloquial expression, giving four examples of colloquialisms we hear all the time, such as the one in the example above, "I wish that he was here."

More recent Harbraces state Rule 7d(2) as follows: The mood of a verb expresses the writer's attitude toward the factuality of what he or she is saying. The indicative mood makes statements--a definite attitude; the imperative mood issues commands or requests--an insistent attitude; and the subjunctive mood expresses situations that are hypothetical or conditional--a tentative attitude.

Indicative Dannice calls me every day.

Imperative Call me every day, Dannice

Subjunctive It is important that Dannice call me every day.

Examples of mis-subjunctification:

Atop our Sunday's "Week in Review" section of The New York Times stood the jarring headline: "If Bill Clinton Was President." It was corrected in later editions and on the Times website to read, "If Bill Clinton Were President."

Here's a similar case from the Knoxville News Sentinel a couple of years ago: "A photo from Tuesday's game showed [Pat Summitt] with her hand on [Shannon] Bobbitt's shoulder, delivering instructions as if she was whispering a secret in Bobbitt's left ear.