Monthly Archives: November 2011

The King and I


Or should I say "the king and me"?


Language fluency and influence…one dimension of personal judgement, appraisal, and trust.


There's considerable evidence that someone's ability to speak fluently can influence an individual's success. This has certainly been the case with President Obama, given his oratorical skills at the Democratic national convention several years ago.


So I'm fascinated with the notion that the ability of a FOREIGN leader to speak fluent English — president, king, prime minister, ambassador — can influence our attitudes toward that person and his/her country. I think it can, and it does.


My best example is King Abdullah of Jordan. He speaks impeccable English, and enhances what he's saying with body language we can understand. Perhaps because a major share of his education was in the U.S. and Great Britain:  Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Pembroke College at Oxford University, and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.


Here's a portion of the video of his BBC interview this week about the crisis in Syria:


I find myself believing and trusting him more than many other foreign leaders I see and hear. I think other people do, too.  And my confidence comes largely from his mastery of our English language.

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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


Black Holes


Found in Weekend Football


Bad grammar is prominent every day of the week; but it reaches Black Hole status on weekends, listening to the network football talking heads.


Retired Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka is front & center in a promotional spot for ESPN "Sunday NFL Countdown" when he says, "He should have went…."


Maybe Ditka never learned good English; but where are the advertising production people, the creative team, and the marketing director responsible for that commercial? They should have made a correction before the commercial aired. Are they tone-deaf, too? Or are they afraid of Ditka?

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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


“night” and “day”


Are they different from "nighttime" and "daytime"?


Do night and nighttime require darkness? Do day and daytime require light? Do our clocks help clarify the definition, or is lightness/darkness the definer? Or does the monthly calendar have something to do with it? What about people who live in the extreme northern or southern hemisphere…what is day, and what is night?


The universally used "Daylight Saving Time" is only a matter of changing the clocks, shifting human activity by one hour…earlier or later.


Then the question of "morning" and "evening" complicates things. When does morning begin; and when does nighttime begin? Are morning and evening little more than buffer zones?


Maybe morning begins when we wake up for breakfast, regardless of the time on our clocks. And maybe night begins when we turn off the television, finish our computer emails, and go to bed.


What about the "cocktail hour"?  Is that late afternoon, evening, or early nighttime?


It's all too complicated for me!

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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


A matter of size or quality.


Why do we talk in double adjectives?


Why do we describe the size or goodness of things this way?:


tiny little

small little

good good

huge huge

yummy yummy


How about saying "really little" or "very little"…or "extremely good" or "surprisingly good"…or "gigantic" or "enormous" or "monstrous"…or "super delicious"?

Or is it because of some quirky rhythm?

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Uncategorized




What's most important?


Our weekly sports commentators seem to think that talking and sounding like their buddies is more important than using our precious English language, the de facto language for business and cross-border communication around the world.


The offenses go way beyond dropping the "g" in their verbs…runnin'…droppin'…thinkin'…throwin'…soundin'  stupid.


Millions of people listen to their crappy language every week. Most serious…young people who idolize prominent athletes along with the broadcast analysts.


Most of them have had some semblance of a college education. So why do they insist on protecting their imagined personal macho at the expense of our  English language?



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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


Note to Martha Stewart




Your pets are adorable, and your concern for their welfare is admirable.


But I must remind you that their "doctors" are called "veterinarians," not "vet-i-narian," as you pronounce it. The profession is a six-syllable word, not five.


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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized




The media and beyond.


How did we lose our sense of proper modifiers…most notably referring to the media as "it"?  You hear this every day by well-educated commentators on television news programs. 


"Media" is a plural, reflecting newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and some  Internet websites collectively. Now everybody is calling media "it".  Media (the word) is not an "it"; it's a "they".


Other examples of crappy modifier usage are most prominent in sports reporting when someone calls a member of the New York Yankees a "Yankee." There is no such thing as a "Yankee" on that team; because Yankees is a BRAND NAME, not a collection of individual players. I explain this in detail on my blog called titled "The 's' curse."


What's the logic when a commentator refers to someone on the Boston Red Sox team as a "Sock"?  The players are not all a group of SOCKS; because "Sox" is part of their brand name.


Even though the word "team" signifies something singular (a unit, a collection of people), it's made up of individuals. So why do we sometimes refer to the team scoring, winning, or losing as "they" rather than "it."?  It seems that the principal difference occurs between commentators in European sports vs. USA sports. You'll notice this, especially, during soccer tournaments. Example…saying that Manchester United "are"…rather than Manchester United "is"….  These references make the "s curse" even more murky in the face of brand names vs. plurals.


Sometimes modifiers get confused with contractions…most commonly the difference between "it's" and "its". They're totally different. "It's" is a contraction for "it is". "Its" is a possessive…never to be 'apostrophied'.


So many Americans think that "it's" is possessive; probably because the apostrophe is used in all other situations…"Dick's," "Tom's," etc.  But not and never in the case of "its" or "hers" or "his". It would be like writing: "her's" or "hi's".


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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tony in Nicaragua


A writer should know better!


Anthony Bourdain, former chef and now a Travel Channel writer, has the challenge of "uncovering the best in culinary cuisine across the world," according to his Travel Channel PR people.


He's doing that with lots of personal interest. But on a recent trip to Nicaragua, he described the interest in some foods by claiming they were popular among "large amounts of people."


Tony…people don't come in AMOUNTS. People are individuals; they're NUMBERS. Water, air, and beer come in amounts. Not people.

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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Uncategorized




What a strange name in the 21st century!


The very first Thanksgiving was apparently a "giving of thanks/gratitude" for an abundant harvest and ample food for the winter. But where do we see much thanks these days? Thanksgiving is little more than a popular holiday from work, and a chance to eat too much and fall asleep watching football.


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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


Where are the names?


Their absence is rampant among TV sports commentators.


I can understand how our marginally-educated TV sports commentators can bungle the legal brand names of the teams they report, referring to players like Derek Jeter as a "Yankee" or Joe Mauer as a "Twin". They aren't, of course; because "Yankees" and "Twins" are BRAND NAMES, not plurals for individual players.


But I'm stumped about why they talk about teams in the singular when describing on-field action. Why do they say, "The Packer defense…" or "the Charger offense…"?  Correctly…it's "the Packers defense" and "the Chargers offense".  So why don't they call quarterback Phil Rivers "River"?


Have they lost their grip? They're talking about professional teams (businesses) with brand names…Packers and Chargers!


Maybe I expect too much from people who are paid too much.

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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Uncategorized