Thursday, June 04, 2015

See my beard? Ain't It weird?

Don't be skeered*... it's just a beard.

Just in the course of texted conversation, I once again noticed the amazing versatility of the English language spelling rules (some might use a more pejorative word than "versatility").


All rhyme.
All with different spelling.

How cool is that?

* "Skeered" is a joking way of pronouncing "scared" so that it rhymes with beard...  but it's also a pronunciation that shows up in certain Englilsh dialects.  From

Word Origin and History for scare 
v. 1590s, alteration of Middle English skerren (c.1200), from Old Norse skirra "to frighten; to shrink from, shun; to prevent, avert," related to skjarr "timid, shy, afraid of," of unknown origin. In Scottish also skair, skar, and in dialectal English skeer, skear, which seems to preserve the older pronunciation. 

Monday, June 09, 2014

Twixt the eyes/ears and the brain

Funny how quickly one's mind can fill in words and phrases that just aren't there.

 My mother and I were traveling together last week, and she caught a glimpse of one of those highway warning signs that advertised the store Lands End. She did a double-take and realized that it really said Lane Ends.

 I'm working on a software media-relate project in which the main (core) pieces of software are stored in a folder named mediacore. No matter how many times I see it, my brain always translates it at first look to "mediocre". Which I swear the product isn't.

 Then there was the news brief on the radio a few years back, which started out, "The situation is getting worse in the Middle East, and [someone] blames it on a rock." After a moment of wondering what rock and waiting for the explanation, I realized that [someone] actually blamed it on Iraq (pronounced roughly "uh rock").

 If you're a programmer, you might understand this one: Many many years ago, I attended a software technical lecture in which the technology and terminology were way beyond me and I struggled to understand. At one point, the lecturer began talking about "K statements." I had no idea what they were, which fit in with me having no idea what most of what he talked about was. But I became more baffled as everyone around me started discussing the use of K statements as if they were everyday things. Seriously, my degree was in computer science and I worked as a developer and I'd never heard of them. My puzzlement resolved itself when I caught a glimpse of a colleague's notes, mentioning "case statements," which of course I'd heard of and used fairly regularly.

 Have you encountered any such visible or audible confusions?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Irish Noir

This movie review appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Saint Patrick's day. However, methinks that someone had been editing too many Saint Patrick's Day stories before they got to this, thereby miswielding their hyphenator to entirely change the meaning of the word-- let there be no Irish in this color palette!

 It's a movie with a little noir flavor that has nothing to do with banning Irish.

(I posted additional discussion on hyphenation in End-of-line hyphenation.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Idiomatic English Expressions--Learning Through Comic Strips

Great idea: This person is teaching English conversation in Brazil, and he has set up this blog (Natively Speaking Comic Strips) to clarify idiomatic expressions that appear in comic strips. He says: "Every day you will be able to learn a phrasal verb and an idiomatic expression in context through a comic strip on my blog... and if you have a Facebook account you will be able to write a practice sentence in a post on my wall... and then I will correct it in a comment to you."

He also has a facebook fan page for the blog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Dangers of Slang: Hork, Horking Up

I've always used the phrase "horking up" as in these examples:

  • The cat horked up a hairball into the spaghetti *again*?
  • Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to a dog horking up undigested rawhide all over the carpet.
  • That wild driving trip in the mountains made me hork up my Wheaties.
To my surprise, in a FaceBook post, someone I know who lives on the opposite coast (2800 miles [4500 km] from here, FYI) used it like this:

  • Just horked up some cashew chicken, which I haven't had in ages, as a gift to myself. I wonder if this is why I can't seem to lose weight?

I was a little stunned; horking up--as in vomiting-- doesn't strike me as something that most people would do as a gift to themselves. Her second sentence, though, clued me in: She must have meant that she *ate* the chicken. Curiouser and curiouserNote1.

Hork does not appear in my Webster's, nor in my OED.

I went to my favorite online word-lookup site,, which searches through many online dictionaries. It provided me with a link to this page, which shows the following meanings:
  1. (slang) To foul up; to be broken.
  2. (slang, regional) To steal.
  3. (slang) To throw.
  4. (slang, offensive) To snort from the sinuses. (Similar to hocking.)
  5. (slang) To vomit.
  6. (slang) To gobble.
  7. (slang, transitive) To move; specifically in an egregious fashion
So, the same slang word has opposite meanings (#5 and #6)--as well as a host of others meanings to truly confuse the befuddled listener.

And that's the danger of slang: There is no "real" or "official" definition, and so it means whatever the user intends it to mean, which might change from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, or region to region.

So, I'm curious--do YOU use "hork," "horking," or "horking up"? What do YOU mean when you say it?

Note1 If you're not familiar with "curiouser and curiouser", see it in context here. But that's the beginning of chapter 2; start here to read the whole thing. Cultural literacy, you know, that's important, too.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

He and I, Him and I, He and Me, or Him and Me?

Question 1:
When you and JoeBob are telling mom where you'll be on this fine afternoon, do you say:

A. Him and me are going to the movies.
B. Him and I are going to the movies.
C. He and me are going to the movies.
D. He and I are going to the movies.

Question 2:
OK, now if you're asking mom for money for popcorn, do you say:

A. Please give him and me $20.
B. Please give him and I $20.
C. Please give he and me $20.
D. Please give he and I $20.

Write down your answers now. You'll get a chance to answer a second time and then compare and contrast your answers.

I've never quite grasped why these are so hard for so many people--even many very well educated, literate people sometimes pick the wrong ones. My puzzlement peaked when a friend posted this week on Facebook: "I already dropped off Joe Bob and I's absentee ballots." "I's"?! Wow. The friend blamed it on doing Facebook before ingesting the morning coffee dose, but still--

I think the inappropriate use of "I" goes back to so many childhood episodes where you say, "Joe Bob and me are going down to the creek to look for frogs," and Mom would say for the thirty-seven-hundredth time, "Joe Bob and *I*." And so children grow up thinking that any grouping involving another person and oneself ALWAYS requires "I," which just isn't true. (Although, in the example given here, Mom was, of course, correct.)

The reason I don't find it complicated is because--well--it isn't. When in doubt, simply figure out which word you'd use if it were SINGULAR--that is, there's only one person involved.

Question 3:
I'll bet everyone will choose the right answer from among these two:
A. I am going to the movies.
B. Me am going to the movies.

and from these two:

C. He is going to the movies.
D. Him is going to the movies.

If you answered A and C, you are, of course, correct, and voila, now you know, when saying who's going to the movies, that it is "I" and "He," even if you're both going. So go back to Question 1 and see how you answer now.

Question 4:
So now, do the same thing here: pick the word that you'd use if the sentence were singular--involving only one person. Bet you get this right, too:

A. Please give me some money.
B. Please give I some money.

and this:

C. Please give him some money.
D. Please give he some money.

The answers are, of course, A and C. So now you know how to answer Question 2.

So that there's no confusion, the correct answers are:
1. He and I are going to the movies.
2. Please give him and me $20.

Remember: Pause and think which word you'd use if only one person were involved, and you'll then have the correct word to use even when there's someone else involved.

P.S. The same strategy works for other pronoun forms. For example, it would be, "I already dropped off my absentee ballot" and "I already dropped off Joe Bob's absentee ballot," hence, "I already dropped off Joe Bob's and my absentee ballots."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lying Down Off the Job

Vocabulary: What's the difference between prone, supine, recumbent, prostrate, lying down, and lying around?

This morning, lolling in bed, it occurred to me suddenly, as I'm sure it would occur to many of you on an ordinary morning, "Huh, I'm prone in my bed." Then I rolled over so that I could say to myself, "I'm now supine in my bed." At that point in my smug self-congratulatory mood, the dogs insisted that, if I were going to play vocabulary games, I was awake enough to get up and get to playing some REAL games, and that put an end to that. So I didn't have a chance to ponder whether I was also prostrate or, furthermore, recumbent.

First: Quick, without thinking too hard: when I was prone and then supine (pronounced suh-PINE or SOO-pine), which is face down and which is face up? I'll bet most people get this without realizing that they knew it. I'll answer in a moment, but next:

All four words mean lying down. (And there's another interesting phrase--would you ever be caught lying up? But I digress.) Ah, yes, the beauty of the English language--so many subtle variations on certain words to get exactly the nuance you're searching for. Is it scary that we have so many synonyms for just lying around?

Recumbent implies sleeping or resting; think of the recumbent bicycle, where one is in a relaxed, nearly horizontal position, although hopefully not sleeping, at least not while operating near heavy traffic.

Prostrate is not to be confused with one's prostate gland, although i wonder whether some people have a prostrate gland that makes them more inclined to spend time recumbent, say, when they should be washing the family pony? This word implies lying down full-length in defeat or submission.

Meanwhile, prone is, yes, you probably guessed it, face down. If you pay a little attention to the Latin sources of words, you might guess that "pro", meaning forward, plays a part in this word's formation. It's from the Latin pronus, meaning to lean forward. So imagine falling forward onto the ground; now you're prone.

And supine is the opposite; you're facing up. If you want a mnemonic for that, think sUPine. Also most likely from the Latin supinus, related to the prefix sup meaning, among other things, up (by means of being under)--think supplant which is equivalent to uproot.

Now, the next time you're snuggled up to someone special in bed, you can whisper fondly but knowledgeably into his or her ear, "I wonder whether there's a special word for 'lying on one's side'?" In my case, the dogs will most likely growl and go back to sleep.