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I have the (admittedly annoying) tendency to judge people based on their grammar and spelling habits, even over informal channels such as gchat and texting.  Some have complained that this practice is unfair; but until recently, I thought it was a fair testament to a person’s overall worth.

I admit, I was wrong (at least in one instance).

I’d like to introduce you all to Max (a real NYC friend!).  Not the most grammatically correct gchat or texter (or best Scrabble-er), but good at fixing things and entertaining over a beer.  Fed up with my correcting him and assuming he’s incapable of writing, Max recently decided to prove me wrong, with the following that he wrote on his lunch break from solving white collar crimes.  Please welcome Max and I’d love to hear your thoughts:

From the desk of Max

It is the dead of winter and I am behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied Russia, 60 kilometers from Leningrad. Bundled up in my Red Army issue parka I have taken up position in a stand of trees, perched high above a clearing on the edge of the enemies’ base.

I can faintly hear what I imagine are the punch lines to jokes about killing Jews,
Something like, “eichenschleimenheimer” or “heishdenjewdemkillier.”

Looking through the scope of my Kalashnikov sniper rifle, I’ve identified six Nazi soldiers standing in a circle, huddled together for warmth. I’ve zeroed in on the Swastika emblazoned on the hat of the soldier whose voice I heard right before the group burst in laughter.

I glance at my watch – only eight minutes left before they report back to their posts among the trees. If I don’t move quickly enough I will surely be discovered and killed. I prepare to fire, switching off the safety while carefully positioning myself to kill all six of them in one burst.

Five minutes.

My heart is pounding. My hand trembles. My vision goes in and out of focus. I am exhausted from the long nights in the trees, but there is no room for error.

Three minutes.

Adrenaline takes over, and I go to work.

THWAP. THWAP…THWAP. THWAP. THWAP…

“Shit” I whisper. The sole survivor of my barrage dove to the ground after seeing his companions fall dead in front of him. He scrambled into the wooded area and has sought cover behind a large oak. Precious time ticks away, but he hasn’t discovered my position. 30 seconds left. He peaks his head out from behind the tree. THWAP.

I breathe a sigh of relief and lay my #2 pencil down as I return to the reality of my fluorescently lit LSAT testing center in New York City.

“Please stop writing and lay your pencils down.” booms the proctor. “You will now have a fifteen minute break after which you will begin the final two sections of your exam.”

This is only a practice exam, but that was too close for comfort. You see, since reading David Benioff’s sophomore effort “City of Thieves“, I have developed a proprietary test taking strategy for the LSAT, for which I am currently studying despite my lack of desire to go to law school (long story for another post).

At the onset of my campaign towards LSAT domination, during breaks in my studies, I would read Benioff’s novel to break the monotony of the “Logic Games” section. The novel takes place during WWII, and follows the adventures of a trio of unlikely heroes, one of whom is a Russian sniper. I enjoyed these breaks, which made the LSAT study sessions somewhat bearable, but quickly finished the book, and was left with the emptiness that only multiple choice questions can provide. So rather than thinking of each question as a series of logical premises that lead to “the best possible answer”, I started imagining myself as Vika, the sniper, my pencil as my rifle, and the questions as Nazis. Haven’t missed a question since. December 5th, test day, will be a bloodbath.

As an aside. I would recommend the book highly. Like cotton candy, it’s light, fun, and will give you a little rush, like a sugar high. I haven’t read his first book, The 25th Hour, but Benioff’s screen play adaptation was turned into one of my all time favorite movies, it’s a Spike Lee joint starring Edward Norton. If you haven’t seen it, do so. Shhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiit. (You’ll understand once you’ve seen the movie.)

“You will now have 35 minutes to complete this section. If you finish before time is called, you may check over your previous work from this section only. Do not work on any other section, and please do not disturb the other test takers. You may begin.”

I can see my breath again.

I prefer to call myself a “grammar enthusiast” vs. a “grammar Nazi” – though not Jewish myself, I always think of a Nazi warily.  I am quite aware of the rules of grammar and speech, and it drives me absolutely bonkers when people speak and spell incorrectly, confusing me with their meaning: No, you did not “go to the bar to”.  What did you go to the bar to do?  You went to the bar ALSO, as in too.  Got that?

Tirade over (but know I judge you), I was thrilled to figuratively stumble over The 32 Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases listed on the Help! Educational blog, touting “Learning is a Lifestyle”.  I know I’m not perfect (though I must say my Mom is typically the only one who can ever correct me!) and you’re likely not perfect either so the list below is a good thing to review, as you never know the next time you’ll be asked to know the difference between less & few, further & farther. In light of full disclosure I will admit to having used discreet/discrete incorrectly in the past, ew. Enjoy!

1.Accept/Except- Although these two words sound alike (they’re homophones), they have two completely different meanings. “Accept” means to willingly receive something (accept a present.) “Except” means to exclude something (I’ll take all of the books except the one with the red cover.)

2. Affect/Effect- The way you “affect” someone can have an “effect” on them. “Affect” is usually a verb and “Effect” is a noun.

3. Alright- If you use “alright,” go to the chalkboard and write “Alright is not a word” 100 times.

4. Capital/Capitol- “Capitol” generally refers to an official building. “Capital” can mean the city which serves as a seat of government or money or property owned by a company. “Capital” can also mean “punishable by death.”

5. Complement/Compliment- I often must compliment my wife on how her love for cooking perfectly complements my love for grocery shopping.

6. Comprise/Compose- The article I’m composing comprises 32 parts.

7. Could Of- Of the 32 mistakes on this list, this is the one that bothers me most. It’s “could have” not “could of.” When you hear people talking, they’re saying “could’ve.” Got it?

8. Desert/Dessert- A desert is a hot, dry patch of sand. Dessert, on the other hand, is the sweet, fatty substance you eat at the end of your meal.

9. Discreet/Discrete- We can break people into two discrete (separate) groups, the discreet (secretive) and indiscreet.

10. Emigrate/Immigrate- If I leave this country to move to Europe, the leaving is emigrating and the arriving is immigrating.

11. Elicit/Illicit- Some people post illicit things on message boards to elicit outrageous reactions from others.

12. Farther/Further- Farther is used for physical distance, whereas further means to a greater degree.

13. Fewer/Less- Use fewer when referring to something that can be counted one-by-one. Use less when it’s something that doesn’t lend itself to a simple numeric amount.

14. Flair/Flare- A flair is a talent, while a flare is a burst (of anger, fire, etc.)

15. i.e/e.g- I.e. is used to say “in other words.” E.g. is used in place of “for example.”

16. Inflammable- Don’t let the prefix confuse you, if something is inflammable it can catch on fire.

17. It’s/Its- It’s= it is. Its=a possessive pronoun meaning of it or belonging to. Whatever you do, please don’t use its’.

18. Imply/Infer- A reader infers what an author implies. In other words, when you imply something, you hint at it. When you infer something, you draw a conclusion based on clues.

19. Literally- If you say “His head literally exploded because he was so mad!” then we should see brains splattered on the ceiling.

20. Lose/Loose- If your pants are too loose you may lose them. That would be almost as embarrassing as misusing these two words.

21. Moral/Morale- Morals are something you want to teach your kids. If your team’s morale is low, you need to do something to boost their confidence.

22. Percent/Percentage- The word “percent” should only be used when a specific number is given. “Percentage” is more of a general term.

23. Stationary/Stationery- You are stationary when you aren’t moving. Stationery is something you write on.

24. Then/Than- “Then” is another word for “after.” Incidentally, the word “then” makes for boring writing. “Than” is a comparative word (e.g. I am smarter than you).

25. There/Their/They’re- There are few things as frustrating as when I look at my students’ writing and they’re misusing these words in their writing.

26. Unique- Something can’t be “kind of unique” or even “very unique.” It’s either one-of-a-kind or it isn’t. There is no in between when it comes to unique.

27. Your/You’re- If I had a nickel for every time I saw this one… yeah, you know the rest. “Your” shows ownership and you’re is a contraction meaning “you are.” Get it right.

28. To/Too/Two- Two is a number. “To” is used in instances such as, “I am going to the store.” If you are supposed to use the word “too,” try inserting the word “extra” or “also.” If one of those fits, you need to also add the extra “o” to make “too.”

29. Lie/Lay- After you lay the books on the table, go lie down on the couch.

30. Sit/Set- Set your drink on the table and sit in your chair. Got it?

31. Whose/Who’s- Whose is the possessive form of who. Who’s is a contraction meaning “who is.”

32. Allude/Elude- When someone alludes to something in conversation (indirectly references), if you aren’t paying attention the meaning may elude you (escape you).

Which misused words drive you crazy? Share them in the replies.

I love the Bean in Millennium Park!

I love the Bean in Millennium Park!

It has officially been 172 years since the city of Chicago has been incorporated! Still gorgeous, though having undergone a few bouts with plastic surgery (especially after that big fire in 1871), Chicago is still a mecca of culture, skyscrapers, nightlife and history.

Also of note, today is NATIONAL GRAMMAR DAY! Total nerd comment, but my English teacher roommate informed me and I think it should be celebrated by all.  Maybe brush up on some who vs. whom and the basic good vs. well.

"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

I don’t knit (though I wish I could), but I do belong to a semi-monthly book club, a concept that also sounds rather old lady-ish.  “Summer of George” (named after a random Seinfeld episode, no one seems to be able to remember why we call ourselves that) has been together since last November, and in the four months since have managed to find time to in our busy lives to get together and have intellectual discussions.

In reality, I think the eight of us (missing two from the picture above) gather together to eat freshly baked goods, drink wine, catch up on each others live, gossip (the media really needs to leave Jessica Simpson alone on her weight issue), and then manage to find time to discuss our latest book, aka intellectual discussion.

The January-February novel we tackled was a pretty heavy choice – “Blindness” by Jose Saramago, the 1998 winner of the Nobel prize, the highest award in literature.  Before reading the book, I was remembering how when I was younger my friends and I used to play “blind” – where we would take turns putting on a blindfold and leading each other around a store, house, etc. to see what it would be like.  That innocent attempt at living without sight seems so trivial when faced with a book that brings up an unspeakable epidemic.

I am struggling with how to review this book – it is an epic novel and an extraordinary view on humanity, both from the aspect of just how low people can stoop, as well as the ability to survive against all odds.  Saramago takes us to a place full of horror and the degradation of society.  While even in the midst of the loss of all dignity and material things, generosity and finding beauty in the spirit of others still manages to exist.

Taking place in an unnamed city, country, that could feasibly be anywhere, one man is suddenly struck by a “white blindness. ” Opposite the idea of darkness typically associated with the blind, this affliction leaves leaves people with whiteness, as if they “were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.”  The government tries to contain this epidemic by putting the first few hundred people struck blind into an ancient mental asylum facility to fend for themselves, with no leadership, health care or seeing eyes – except one.  The reader is aware that the “doctor’s wife” still has her sight (beyond all reason), though she claimed blindness to be quarantined with her husband.  This knowledge is privy to few, and eventually to a sort of rag-tag family unit that she leads out of quarantine, into a city in which every other person is blind, searching for food in the midst of human excretement and utter filth.

There are bonds forged in this novel, between characters who are never named or given much in the way of physical descriptions.  Through the shared humiliation of rape by a gang of blind renegade men, to the sharing of what little food is had, to the loss of life that was known before, the characters survive in an example of camaraderie and survival not to be rivaled by many other stories. The people are turned into animals by circumstance.

This was not an easy book to read.  It gets very dense in the middle, discussing survival and the more tactile problems like overflowing bathrooms (this book mentions bodily functions more than necessary, I believe) and simply all the menial aspects that become so important when unable to see.  I also tend to be a stickler for traditional grammar, and Saramago throws the MLA book out the window.  Run-on sentences with few dialogue indicators make this a book you have to stay actively involved with and can’t just ingest without putting forth intense focus and concentration.

I almost wonder if I am not a deep enough person to truly understand and appreciate this book.  While not a page turner that I was compelled to finish in one night, I have found myself reflecting on this novel in the days since I read it.   I would suggest this be a book you read with a discussion outlet available, I appreciated it more with the feedback from the other book club girls.

Alright my mini book report here needs to come to an end.  I will come back and edit this post as soon as I get around to watching the movie-tie in that just came out on DVD – Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore are in it, so pretty big names means it must be a decent movie?  I am curious as to how all the filth and violence will be portrayed, not to mention the struggles the actors must have faces pretending to be blind.blindness

  • Title: Blindness
  • Author: Jose Saramago
  • Publisher: Harcourt
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Reading Enjoyment: C
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Memorability & Impact: A

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