Chew with your mouth open. Burp the alphabet. Sing off key. Just don’t bastardize the already-perfect letter i. Don’t say “I’s.”
I saw it recently in a Facebook post: “Jack and I’s night out.” Say huh? You’d never say something was I’s idea. So why does adding “Jack” suddenly make it okay?
I kind of get it. The writer was thinking, “It was Jack’s and my night out” sounds awkward. And it does. Except it happens to be right.
A simple rule solves this and other conundrums. If you’re not sure which one to use, eliminate the other word in the pairing and you’ll find your answer.
Start with your best guess: It was Jack and I’s idea.
Take out the first person: It was I’s idea.
Add what sounds better: It was my idea.
Take out the second person: It was Jack idea.
Add what sounds better: It was Jack’s idea.
Bring them together: It was Jack’s and my idea.
I hope this helps. And we can put “I’s” out of its misery.
It happened four times in one day, so I knew I had to write about it. Can you see the problem in these sentences people emailed me?
-It’s a sign, not a ad.
-It’s a odd thing.
-This is a NGO.
-Please mark it as a FPO image.
The rule — in theory — is simple enough. If a word starts with a consonant, it takes an “a”.
-A dirty dog
-A stupid song
If it starts with a vowel, it takes an “an”.
-An apple a day
-An even stupider song
So for the first two sentences in those emails, maybe the writer just slipped?
-It should be “an ad.” Not “a ad.”
-And “an odd thing.” Not “a odd thing.”
But the second two sentences fall prey to a tricker rule. Some letters, even though they’re consonants, when pronounced as a word, start with a vowel. Confusing to explain. Easier to demonstrate:
-N is a consonant. But when spoken as a word, it’s “en.” Since “en” starts with a vowel, it take an “an”:
So it’s “an NGO.” Not “a NGO.”
-F is a consonant. But as a word, it’s pronounced “ef” — starting with a vowel sound. So it takes an “an.”
It’s “an FPO.” Not “a FPO.”
Make sense? It’s an effing confusing thing.
Sure, it was weird to learn the plural of Attorney General isn’t Attorney Generals. It’s habit to just slap an “s” at the end of any phrase when you’re talking about more than one of something. It just happens to be one of those weird set of words that puts the adjective (General) after the noun (Attorney.) It should be General Attorney, right? Like General Hospital. General Patton. General Studies. So yes, you add the “s” to Attorney because it’s the thing you’re making plural. (There’s not more than one “general” in this case.)
WRONG: Attorney generals
RIGHT: Attorneys general
Sounds weird. But it’s right. Same thing with phrases that put the description after the noun. But these make more sense because “of” separates them:
WRONG: Head of states
RIGHT: Heads of state
WRONG: Beast of burdens
RIGHT: Beasts of burden
WRONG: King of Leons
RIGHT: Kings of Leon
But here’s where the logic goes loco: Passerby. Yes, I get that the noun is “passer.” But the “by” has been Superglued to the word “passer.” They’re permanently joined as one word. So by that measure, you should add “s” at the end of the word. But no:
So what British prig decided to make it plural in the middle of the word? Hey, he thought, let’s really mess with people and slice the word open, shove an “s” in the middle, make it one word again and call it plural?
The same guy who came up with hangers-on. That’s who.
So does “biweekly” mean twice a week or every two weeks? The answer is both. How ridiculous is that? On one hand, biweekly can mean twice in the same week. But it can also mean every other week. Who exactly was the head of word development when they came up with that chestnut?
But wait, it gets worse.
Bimonthly means twice a month. Or every other month.
Biannual means two times a year. Or every two years.
Biennial means every two years. Or two entire years.
The best part is what the dictionary says: Avoid the ambiguity by using alternative expressions. Better to say “it occurs every two months” or “it happens twice a year.”
So here’s what the dictionary is really saying. We’ve got these words. But they’re so confusing we don’t even recommend using them. Basically, they’re toxic. Best tossed onto the hazardous waste heap. Left out to die of their own stupidity.
Sounds about right to me.
We are a nation of “essers.” We have a twitchy finger that wants to add an “s” where it doesn’t belong, and drop it off words that need it. A few niggling examples:
Please take a look at this photo. Note the absence of an “s” at the end. Note the right way to refer to the store, as in, “I just went mad crazy at the shoe sale at Nordstrom.” Not Nordstrom’s.
This one is a local Detroit thing. Factory workers around here often say, “Oh, yeah, I work at Ford’s.” As if they knew Henry personally. As in, “Ya know, I’ve been working the graveyard shift over at Henry Ford’s place.” When I moved to Detroit it struck me as odd. Twenty-five years later, it still is.
You’ll also notice there is no “s” after Child in Julia Child. I’m not really sure why people want to add an “s” to her name. “Childs” isn’t even the right way to make “child” plural. Go figure.
I totally get why people often say John Hopkins University. (Leaving off the “s” in Johns.) You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone names John. Turns out this esteemed institution was created by a philanthropist named Johns Hopkins. Further proof that we just cannot figure out where to put an “s” and when to leave it out. Even when we set out to name our own children.
What’s with “relook” anyway? It’s not a word, and yet I’ve been hearing it a lot lately. It turns out you can’t slap “re” on any old word and have it mean “again.” So what should we be saying?
My vote is “review” or “reexamine.” But it made me wonder — when is it okay to “re” something?
If a sweater doesn’t fit, you return it.
But if you get another one, you don’t rebuy it.
If you flub something, you redo it.
But it you break something, you don’t refix it.
If you take on something for another year, you “reup” it.
If you take something down a second time, you don’t “redown” it.
If you start dating someone after a breakup, you rebound.
If he turns out to be your soul mate, you don’t refall in love.
Which brings me no closer to understanding the ins and outs of “re.”
Guess I’ll reponder, er, rethink it tomorrow.
So you’re talking to someone about that area in the San Francisco Bay where gigabytes dance on the head of a pin. You know, Silicone Valley. Yeeouch. You’ve just described a whole different place in California. (With very different valleys.) Time to get your silicons and silicones straight.
Silicon is a common element (found in things like sand) that people way smarter than us use to make microchips. They were kicking out these wafer-thin chips like pancakes in the Bay Area back in the ’90s. Thus the name Silicon Valley.
Silicone (which you’ll notice has an “e” at the end) is a synthetic, rubbery compound found in lots of everyday products. You won’t find it in semiconductors or other infinitely complex components. It’s best known for being used to make breast implants.
So when you say Silicone Valley, my thoughts run to an area quite a bit south in California where you can’t throw a Frisbee without hitting a plastic surgeon — Los Angeles. Where they, ahem, use silicone to make very different kinds of valleys.
Actually, I wasn’t sure. Buck naked sounds right. It conjures up images of crazy young bucks running around during a night of wild rumpus. And as for “butt” naked, if you’re not wearing any clothes, you’re exposing a lot more than your wild rumpus. So I did some checking.
Turns out they’re both right. But no one seems to agree on which came first or which is more correct. According to one source, the reference is to buckskin, which is flesh-colored and makes the person wearing it appear naked. “Buck” also referred to people with darker skin, including tribal natives who were sometimes naked. And then there’s a story that it started as “butt” naked, but in polite company it switched to “buck.”
All I know is the word “naked” is quite clear on its own and doesn’t need any adjective before it. If you want to add a little oomph to the description, you can always grab the simile, “Naked as a jay bird.” Which is equally odd. Aren’t all birds naked?
Ahhhhh. A brand spanking new year. Full of words just waiting to be misplaced and mangled. And let’s face it, I wouldn’t have a blog without them. But first, a few gems from late 2011.
“Let’s weight for Nancy to review”
A writer actually said this in an email, so maybe he was cleverly combining waiting with weighing in? (I doubt it, just trying to help a writer out.)
“I’m just the low man on the tadpole”
You have to be low indeed to be on a tadpole. And the tadpole would be in an even worse position.
“We’ll make a stake in the sand”
Either this coworker got his “stake in the ground” mixed up with his “line in the sand,” or he was trying to say we’re on pretty shaky ground.
“Don’t take us for granite”
Don’t worry, I will never take you for granite. Or marble. Or limestone, for that matter.
“We’ll differ to your creative recommendation”
So are you saying you’re going to take our advice, or beg to differ?
That’s the thing about the written word. It’s hard to say.
Today, I take a break from my usual finger wagging and delight in a fresh source of word butchering. A friend (thanks, Emily) posted this lovely image while browsing in a now defunct Borders Bookstore:
And it certainly begs the question, Did the price tag just happen to block the last three letters of House? Or did some bored stoner back in the warehouse want to give us a nudge and a wink?
If it was intentional, did he stop there? Or did he take off in search of other titles itching to be recast?
If so, I’d keep him away from the likes of Moby Dick and The Assassins.