Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Techno Overload

This technical conglomeration was perpetrated by my husband, but sometimes I think it's a metaphor for technology in my life. I have managed to make a friend of technology for the most part, but every now and then it it gets the better of me. I was defeated by this setup the other day because I couldn't figure out which keyboard or mouse to use.

Fortunately, I do not often have to approach this techno-Frankenstein. My Mac laptop is showing its age a bit, but then so am I. We get along well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rendering Unto Grammar

Last night I heard an expert on one of the many true-crime TV shows I watch (a subject for another day!) say a crime was "heart-rendering." Ooo, that sounds icky. We often pull out words that are close to the ones we really want, but not quite there.

Fat is rendered (melted and clarified), but not hearts. The expert meant "heart-rending" (tearing or splitting) or possibly "heart-wrenching" (violently twisting).

What are other examples of close-but-no-cigar expressions?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Read-Over Words

You know those words you encounter when reading that you don't really know what they mean? From the context you may have an idea or just a feeling about what the writer is getting at, or it's not crucial to understanding the text, so you just keep going.

Those are read-over words. I have decided to capture those words, pin them down and try to tame them.

First up is one of those foreign terms that pop up from time to time. When I read for the third time recently the adjective "soi-dissant," I decided to track it down and find out what it really means. I don't speak French, so this one didn't speak to me, although I could tell from the context that it is not meant as a compliment. It turns out to be laughably simple.

Soi-dissant means "self-styled," like "so-called" with the extra twist of the implication that the soi-dissant person may be the only one who would call him such.

So, I am a soi-dissant word crank. Now if I can use the term a couple more times today I can consider it mine.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Last of the Daylilies

When I was a child, I grieved my mother, a Master Gardener and member of the Hemerocallis Society, with my sassy opinions of her favorite flower.
"They're all orange," I said, to her horror.

"No, look at all these colors," she replied, brandishing a daylily catalog.

"They're shades of orange," I huffed. While I still think daylilies remain planted at the orange side of the color wheel, I have come to appreciate them and actually have a few in my yard. No danger yet of turning into my mother, but now I'm old enough to know that's my loss.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The I's Have It

If there is one word that is more misused than any other these days, it may be the simple and serviceable “I.” When we talk about ourselves, we have a choice—we can say “I,” “me,” “myself.” That’s it. Choose A, B or C. There has always been a certain amount of confusion, but now so many of us get tangled up in that simple choice. We’re okay as long as the spotlight is on us alone. The problem crops up, ironically, when we try to expand our viewpoint to include others.

When I was a child, I always said, “Me and Janie went swimming.” Ungrammatical, but, also, unpretentious. Teachers and parents impressed on me that others must come first, at least in sentence structure. So I changed to “Janie and me went swimming.” Of course, I would never have said “Me went swimming,” and moving the pronoun closer to the verb made it clear that “me” wasn’t the right choice. So, eventually I became more civilized and arrived at the grammatical “Janie and I went to the mall.” (I had quit hanging out at the pool by that time.)

Unfortunately that sophisticated “I” has migrated to the rougher neighborhood once the turf of the earthier “me.” It seems that so many of us who used to misuse “me” have decided that it is a forbidden word that must never soil our lips. This speech disorder has reached epidemic proportions. “They went to the theater with John and I” may sound more elegant to the grammatically confused, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong. To go all English teacher (which I’m not; I just play one on the Web) about it, “me” is the right word for the objective case; “I” is the right word for the nominative case.

Rule of thumb: changing “John and I” to “we” or “us” will tell you which case you want. If “we” is the answer, then say “John and I.” If “us” sounds right, choose “me.” That is, until we (us?) screw that up, as well.