Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Week: Reviving "When Is a Rose Not a Rose?" on the Podcast + parallel/symbol

parallel/symbol
Beginning literature students often write sentences like this: “He uses the rose as a parallel for her beauty” when they mean “a symbol of her beauty.” If you are taking a literature class, it’s good to master the distinctions between several terms relating to symbolism. An eagle clutching a bundle of arrows and an olive branch is a symbol of the US government in war and peace.

Students often misuse the word “analogy” in the same way. An analogy has to be specifically spelled out by the writer, not simply referred to: “My mother’s attempts to find her keys in the morning were like early expeditions to the South Pole: prolonged and mostly futile.”

A metaphor is a kind of symbolism common in literature. When Shakespeare writes “That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold” he is comparing his aging self to a tree in late autumn, perhaps even specifically suggesting that he is going bald by referring to the tree shedding its leaves. This autumnal tree is a metaphor for the human aging process.

A simile resembles a metaphor except that “like” or “as” or something similar is used to make the comparison explicitly. Byron admires a dark-haired woman by saying of her, “She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” Her darkness is said to be like that of the night.

An allegory is a symbolic narrative in which characters may stand for abstract ideas, and the story conveys a philosophy. Allegories are no longer popular, but the most commonly read one in school is Dante’s Divine Comedy in which the poet Virgil is a symbol for human wisdom, Dante’s beloved Beatrice is a symbol of divine grace, and the whole poem tries to teach the reader how to avoid damnation. Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tales is an allegorical figure meant to symbolize Christ: dying to save others and rising again (aslan is Turkish for “lion”).


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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Week: Reviving "Steam" on the Podcast + ancestor/descendant

ancestor/descendant
When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets author J. K. Rowling corrected that to “last remaining descendant.” People surprisingly often confuse these two terms with each other. Your great-grandmother is your ancestor; you are her descendant.


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week: Troubleshooting Photography on the Podcast + shined/shone

shined/shone
The transitive form of the verb “shine” is “shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” You can remember this because another sense of the word meaning “polished” obviously requires “shined”: “I shined your shoes for you.”

When the shining is less active, many people would use “shone”: “The sun shone on the tomato plants all afternoon.” But some authorities prefer “shined” even in this sort of context: “The sun shined on the tomato plants all afternoon.”

If the verb is intransitive (lacks an object) and the context merely speaks of the act of shining, the past tense is definitely “shone”: “The sun shone all afternoon” (note that nothing is said here about the sun shining on anything).


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we discuss troubleshooting photography.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + downfall/drawback

downfall/drawback
A downfall is something that causes a person’s destruction, either literal or figurative: “expensive cars were Fred’s downfall: he spent his entire inheritance on them and went bankrupt.” A drawback is not nearly so drastic, just a flaw or problem of some kind, and is normally applied to plans and activities, not to people: “Gloria’s plan to camp on Mosquito Island had just one drawback: she had forgotten to bring her insect repellent.” Also, “downfall” should not be used when the more moderate “decline” is meant; reserve it for ruin, not to designate simple deterioration.



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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + Old English

Old English
Many people refer to any older form of English as “Old English,” but this is properly a technical term for Anglo-Saxon, the original language in which Beowulf was written. Norman French combined with Old English to create Middle English, one form of which was used by Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. By Shakespeare’s time the language is modern English, though it may seem antique to modern readers who aren’t used to it.

There are many “Old English” typefaces which have nothing to do with the Old English language.


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + disease names

disease names
The medical profession has urged since the 1970s the dropping of the possessive S at the end of disease names which were originally named after their discoverers (“eponymous disease names”). The possessive is thought to confuse people by implying that the persons named actually had the disease. Thus “Ménière’s syndrome” became “Ménière syndrome,” Bright’s disease” became “Bright disease” and “Asperger’s syndrome” became “Asperger syndrome.”

But the public has not always followed this rule. “Alzheimer disease” is still widely called “Alzheimer’s disease” or just “Alzheimer’s.” Only among professionals is this really considered a mistake.

“Down syndrome,” named after John Langdon Down—originally written “Down’s syndrome”—has been so often mistakenly written without its apostrophe as “Downs syndrome” that many people conclude that the syndrome’s discoverer must have been named “Downs.”
Although some professionals write “Huntington disease”—originally “Huntington’s chorea”—many still write “Huntington’s.” But another popular name for this illness is “Woody Guthrie’s disease” because the folksinger actually had it, though one also occasionally sees “Woody Guthrie disease.”

Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after its most famous sufferer, always bears an apostrophe-S because professionals prefer the rather more cumbersome but nonpossessive “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (ALS).

The best practice is to follow the pattern prevalent in your social context. If you are a medical professional, you’ll probably want to avoid the possessive forms.

“Legionnaires’ disease” has its apostrophe at the end of the first word because it was first recognized among a group of American Legion members celebrating the American Bicentennial. Specialists consider it a severe form of Legionellosis, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Lyme disease should never be written “Lyme’s disease” because it is not named after a person at all, but after the village of Lyme, Connecticut.


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

This Week: Disease Names on the Podcast + frankly

frankly
Sentences beginning with this word are properly admissions of something shocking or unflattering to the speaker; but when a public spokesperson for a business or government is speaking, it almost always precedes a self-serving statement. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is correct; but “Frankly, I think the American people can make their own decisions about health care” is an abuse of language. The same contortion of meaning is common in related phrases. When you hear a public figure say, “to be completely honest with you,” expect a lie.

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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we talk about antiquated disease names.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + scan/skim

scan/skim
Those who insist that “scan” can never be a synonym of “skim” have lost the battle. It is true that the word originally meant “to scrutinize,” but it has now evolved into one of those unfortunate words with two opposite meanings: to examine closely (now rare) and to glance at quickly (much more common). It would be difficult to say which of these two meanings is more prominent in the computer-related usage, to “scan a document.”

That said, it’s more appropriate to use “scan” to label a search for specific information in a text, and “skim” to label a hasty reading aimed at getting the general gist of a text. 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary

on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary
People who like to show off their French sometimes use the expression au contraire when they mean “on the contrary” or “to the contrary.” People who don’t know any better mix up French and English by saying “on the contraire.”

“On the contrary” is the earliest form. It means “it’s the opposite”: “I thought you liked sweet pickles.” “On the contrary, I prefer dills.”

“To the contrary” means “to the opposite effect,” “in opposition”: “No matter what my neighbor says to the contrary, I think it’s his dog that’s been pooping on my petunias.”




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + fit the bill/fill the bill

fit the bill/fill the bill
Originally a “bill” was any piece of writing, especially a legal document (we still speak of bills being introduced into Congress in this sense). More narrowly, it also came to mean a list such as a restaurant “bill of fare” (menu) or an advertisement listing attractions in a theatrical variety show such as might be posted on a “billboard.” In 19th-century America, when producers found short acts to supplement the main attractions, nicely filling out an evening’s entertainment, they were said in a rhyming phrase to “fill the bill.” People who associate bills principally with shipping invoices frequently transform this expression, meaning “to meet requirements or desires,” into “fit the bill.” They are thinking of bills as if they were orders, lists of requirements. It is both more logical and more traditional to say “fill the bill.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This Week: Contranyms on the Podcast + mute point/moot point

mute point/moot point
“Moot” is a very old word related to “meeting,” specifically a meeting where serious matters are discussed. Oddly enough, a moot point can be a point worth discussing at a meeting (or in court)—an unresolved question—or it can be the opposite: a point already settled and not worth discussing further. At any rate, “mute point” is simply wrong, as is the less common “mood point.”


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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

This Week: More Photography on the Podcast + stricken/struck

stricken/struck  
Most of the time the past participle of “strike” is “struck.” The exceptions are that you can be stricken with guilt, a misfortune, a wound, or a disease; and a passage in a document can be stricken out. The rest of the time, stick with “struck.”

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

This Week: Photography on the Podcast + A.D.

A.D.  “A.D.” does not mean “after death,” as many people suppose. “B.C.” stands for the English phrase “before Christ,” but “A.D.” stands confusingly for a Latin phrase: anno domini (“in the year of the Lord”—the year Jesus was born). If the calendar actually changed with Jesus’ death, then what would we do with the years during which he lived? Since Jesus was probably actually born around 6 B.C. or so, the connection of the calendar with him can be misleading.

Many Biblical scholars, historians, and archaeologists prefer the less sectarian designations “before the Common Era” (B.C.E.) and “the Common Era” (C.E.).

Traditionally “A.D.” was placed before the year number and “B.C.” after, but many people now prefer to put both abbreviations after the numbers.

All of these abbreviations can also be spelled without their periods.


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we discuss one of Paul Brians’ favorite topics: photography.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Week: Religion on the Podcast + Bible

Bible
Whether you are referring to the Jewish Bible (the Torah plus the Prophets and the Writings) or the Protestant Bible (the Jewish Bible plus the New Testament), or the Catholic Bible (which contains everything in the Jewish and Protestant Bibles plus several other books and passages mostly written in Greek in its Old Testament), the word “Bible” must be capitalized. Remember that it is the title of a book, and book titles are normally capitalized. An oddity in English usage is, however, that “Bible” and the names of the various parts of the Bible are not italicized or placed between quotation marks.

Even when used metaphorically of other sacred books, as in “The Qur’an is the Bible of the Muslims,” the word is usually capitalized; although in secular contexts it is not: “Physicians’ Desk Reference is the pharmacists’ bible.” “Biblical” may be capitalized or not, as you choose (or as your editor chooses).

Those who wish to be sensitive to the Jewish authorship of the Jewish Bible may wish to use “Hebrew Bible” and “Christian Scriptures” instead of the traditionally Christian nomenclature: “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” Modern Jewish scholars sometimes use the Hebrew acronym “Tanakh” to refer to their Bible, but this term is not generally understood by others.

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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we talk about some commonly confused religious terms.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This Week: Sex & Music on the Podcast + liquor

liquor
Although it may be pronounced “likker,” you shouldn’t spell it that way, and it’s important to remember to include the U when writing the word.


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we talk about some commonly confused sex and music terms.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

This Week: Lies on the podcast (part 2) + mislead/misled

mislead/misled
“Mislead” is the present tense form of this verb, but the past tense and past participle forms are “misled.” When you mislead someone you have misled them. The spelling error most often occurs in the phrase “don’t be mislead,” especially in advertising. Although this phrase refers to the future, the helping verb “be” requires the participle “misled”: “don’t be misled.”



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, political lying is still in the news, and we discuss what it means.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

This Week: Lies on the podcast (part 1) + abstruse/obtuse

abstruse/obtuse
Most people first encounter “obtuse” in geometry class, where it labels an angle of more than 90 degrees and less than 180. Imagine what sort of blunt arrowhead that kind of angle would make and you will understand why it also has a figurative meaning of “dull, stupid.” But people often mix the word up with “abstruse,” which means “difficult to understand.”

When you mean to criticize something for being needlessly complex or baffling, the word you need is not “obtuse,” but “abstruse.”


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, political lying is in the news, and we discuss what it means.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This Week: Romancing the podcast (part 5) + like/as if

like/as if
Since the 1950s, when it was especially associated with hipsters, “like” as a sort of meaningless verbal hiccup has been common in speech. The earliest uses had a sort of sense to them in which “like” introduced feelings or perceptions which were then specified: “When I learned my poem had been rejected I was, like, devastated.” However, “like” quickly migrated elsewhere in sentences: “I was like, just going down the road, when, like, I saw this cop, like, hiding behind the billboard.” This habit has spread throughout American society, affecting people of all ages. Those who have the irritating “like” habit are usually unaware of it, even if they use it once or twice in every sentence: but if your job involves much speaking with others, it’s a habit worth breaking.

Recently young people have extended its uses by using “like” to introduce thoughts and speeches: “When he tells me his car broke down on the way to my party I’m like, ‘I know you were with Cheryl because she told me so.’” To be reacted to as a grown-up, avoid this pattern. (See also “goes.”)

Some stodgy conservatives still object to the use of “like” to mean “as,” “as though,” or “as if.” Examples: “Treat other people like you want them to treat you” (they prefer “as you would want them to treat you”). “She treats her dog like a baby” (they prefer “she treats her dog as if it were a baby”). In expressions where the verb is implied rather than expressed, “like” is standard rather than “as”: “she took to gymnastics like a duck to water.”

In informal contexts, “like” often sounds more natural than “as if,” especially with verbs involving perception, like “look,” “feel,” “sound,” “seem,” or “taste”: “It looks like it’s getting ready to rain” or “It feels like spring.”

So nervous do some people get about “like” that they try to avoid it even in its core meaning of “such as”: “ice cream flavors like vanilla and strawberry always sell well” (they prefer “such as vanilla . . .”). The most fanatical even avoid “like” where it is definitely standard, in such phrases as “behaved like a slob” (“behaved as a slob” is their odd preference).



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we conclude our discussion of romanticism.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This Week: Romancing the podcast (part 4) + ringer/wringer

ringer/wringer
Old-fashioned washing machines lacked a spin cycle. Instead, you fed each piece of wet clothing between two rotating cylinders which would wring the excess water out of the cloth. This led to the metaphorical saying according to which someone put through an ordeal is said to have been put “through the wringer.”

Few people remember those old wringer washers, and many of them now mistakenly suppose the spelling of the expression should be “through the ringer.” This error has been reinforced by the title of a popular album by the band Catch 22: Washed Up and Through the Ringer.


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we continue our discussion of romanticism. 

Paul Brians’ latest blog posts, including his most recent offering, “Alien Apostrophes Invade American Department Store!” are here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

This Week: Romancing the podcast (part 3) + wonderkind/wunderkind

wonderkind/wunderkind
We borrowed the term “wunderkind,” meaning “child prodigy,” from the Germans. We don’t capitalize it the way they do, but we use the same spelling. When writing in English, don’t half-translate it as “wonderkind.”


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we continue our discussion of romanticism.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

This Week: Romancing the podcast (part 2) + “lite” spelling


“lite” spelling  
Attempts to “reform” English spelling to render it more phonetic have mostly been doomed to failure—luckily for us. These proposed changes, if widely adopted, would make old books difficult to read and obscure etymological roots, which are often a useful guide to meaning. A few—like “lite” for “light,” “nite” for “night,” and “thru” for “through”—have attained a degree of popular acceptance, but none of these should be used in formal writing. “Catalog” has become an accepted substitute for “catalogue,” but I don’t like it and refuse to use it. “Analog” has triumphed in technical contexts, but humanists are still more likely to write “analogue.”


 

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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we continue our discussion on the word romantic.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This Week: Romancing the podcast + impeach

impeach
To impeach a public official is to bring formal charges against him or her. It is not, as many people suppose, to remove the charged official from office. Impeachment must be followed by a formal trial and conviction to achieve that result.

A source you would never think of accusing of any wrongdoing is “unimpeachable.”



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we begin a series of discussions on the word romantic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

This Week: More pronunciation on the podcast (French this time!) + rondezvous/rendezvous


rondezvous/rendezvous  
The first syllable of “rendezvous” rhymes with “pond” but is not spelled like it. It comes from a word related to English “render” and is hyphenated in French: rendez-vous. In English the two elements are smooshed together into one: “rendezvous.”



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we make a few more pronouncements about pronunciation (this time it's French).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This Week: Pronunciation on the podcast + "lite" spelling

“lite” spelling
Attempts to “reform” English spelling to render it more phonetic have mostly been doomed to failure—luckily for us. These proposed changes, if widely adopted, would make old books difficult to read and obscure etymological roots, which are often a useful guide to meaning. A few—like “lite” for “light,” “nite” for “night,” and “thru” for “through”—have attained a degree of popular acceptance, but none of these should be used in formal writing. “Catalog” has become an accepted substitute for “catalogue,” but I don’t like it and refuse to use it. “Analog” has triumphed in technical contexts, but humanists are still more likely to write “analogue.”



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we make a few pronouncements about pronunciation.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Corrected Link: This Week's Podcast

The link provided for the podcast this week was incorrect in the previous post. Please follow this link to listen to the conclusion of our 2016 wrap-up.
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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

This Week: More on 2016 in review + steak/stake

steak/stake
“Stake” has many meanings, but the only time to use “steak” is when you are talking about a hunk of meat.



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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we continue our discussion wrapping up 2016 by discussing usage-related stories, including the Plain English Foundations worst-of-the-year list.