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The Economist and the Oxford Comma

I greatly enjoyed all of the clever grammar oriented memes and messages over social media yesterday, but this really tickled my fancy.  Enjoy!  The Oxford Comma: Is a Comma Grammar

Texting is Here to Stay... Whether You Like It or Not!

As I scold my two teenagers for texting at the dinner table, I am secretly harboring anxious, worrisome thoughts about my own cell phone. It sits on the counter, initially vibrating thrice before the alert phases into a persistent, flashing red light. It is teasing me mercilessly with information that I cannot know unless I jump over my chicken Caesar salad and pounce. What is it about the message light that gets me so riled up? There must be something animalistic - primordial even - in me because I seriously detest the concept of texting. Or so I tell myself.

Try as I might to resist the urge to fore go any truncated conversation using only my thumbs, I cannot. Too many people are texting other people who are texting other people hundreds of times every day. It is almost impossible to slow let alone stop this moving train unless the special effects director says so. So, alas, I feel I must give in or rather chalk it up to progress and enjoy the ride!

So, I ask myself what is it about texting that bugs me so? I think first it is because texts are like secrets shared in front of others. I find myself asking my kids, "who are you talking to?" I am sure I know, but I feel the need to ask nonetheless. Their answers?

"Brett [daughter's boyfriend]" or "Mitch [son's best friend]."

Ah. Now that I know, what do I do with that information? Nothing! What CAN I do with it? They are communicating with each other with no sense of including me in their teenage musings (not that they would regardless of mode of communication). Are not they essentially whispering in each others ear, telling secrets? In a sense, they are. But if I desperately feel the need to know, I ask. They are invariably discussing the upcoming statistics test or the science fair. Whew! That was close!

Texting also takes away the beauty of the written word and bastardizes all things grammatically good. It is an affront to the spelling bee where you either spell stromuhr correctly or go home empty handed. It is an insult to professional writers where strict rules must be adhered to in order for works to be published. LOL. IKR. :)

Not surprisingly, texting greatly affects our social skills. Much of our communication is through sights, sounds, facial expressions, tones, etc. Texting nullifies all of that. Will this permanently affect texters' abilities to communicate effectively in other situations? My guess is that it already has.

However, texting is here to stay. I am sure that eventually, the next step in human evolution will incorporate elongated, more aerodynamic thumbs and weakened vocal cords. As long as there are texting contests from the Kansas State Fair prize of $1,000 to the LG Mobile Phone national texting grand prize of $100,000, people will text. After all, we are human and the quick fix (though it never really is just that) is our specialty... that and the fact that we crave instant gratification which texting wholly provides.

I suspect that, in the future, individuals in power will not have succumbed to the texting phenomenon, will have retained short stubby thumbs and developed booming operatic voices. They may even have professional "texters" who text for them should the need arise. Who am I to say, though, that this may already be a reality for some individuals. Not this individual, I am happy to say. I will text on my own, thank you very much.

What is it about texting that draws us nigh and holds us to its bosom? Something exciting and instant about the whole thing, I suspect. We all know not to text and drive. I could list out a whole host of etiquette pointers from any of a number of blogs about when not to text. That is not my purpose here. I am just musing, I guess, at what will happen with the texting revolution. Will anyone just send me a handwritten card in the mail other than on my birthday? Wait, I only get birthday wishes on Facebook now. Geez. Yet another reason the US Post Office is downsizing... but that's another blog.

Consider the Lobster: U style guides

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In case you missed it, yesterday's spirited debate about the U's style guide (or, rather, the recent suspension and current lack thereof) was about the best thing I've seen come through the esteemed Forum listserv. For others, it was probably boring and totally irrelevant.

We heard such gems and various arguments as

"Why maintain a separate manual if publishers produce industry-standard ones like Chicago or AP?" And,

"I would think that if we all use the same PMS for our maroons and golds, we should certainly be united in whether or not we serial comma and at what point we switch to numbers instead of text." Or,

"To abandon a standard is, to me, tantamount to saying we can spell words any way we want."
It's a debate that's been had by the finest minds of the millennium, and really, since the beginning of language.

No one captures that debate in totality better than David Foster Wallace, in his 2001 essay for Harper's Magazine, "Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage." This later appeared in his book of essays, Consider the lobster--hence the title of this post. It's 50+ pages of mind-blowing philosophy on language, and it's totally interesting and readable. The genius who wrote Infinite Jest could probably tell tales of melting butter in a way that would leave your mouth watering and mind numb, but this essay is apropos to the listserv tug-o-war.

Wallace begins, "Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale? For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption" and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries?"

Wallace goes on to divide the groups, as is our American way, into two competitive factions: the Prescriptivists vs. the Descriptivists. He defines Descriptivists using the colloquial term, SNOOT (and not derogatorily, for in the end he is more a SNOOT than not), defined by Wallace as "somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn't mind letting you know it."

Officially, the definitions are thus:
1. Descriptive grammar: the systematic study and description of a language. Descriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as it is actually used by speakers and writers.
2. Prescriptive grammar: a set of rules and examples dealing with the syntax and word structures of a language, usually intended as an aid to the learning of that language. Prescriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.

From Both kinds of grammar are concerned with rules--but in different ways. Specialists in descriptive grammar (linguists) study the rules or patterns that underlie our use of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. On the other hand, prescriptive grammarians (such as most editors and teachers) lay out rules about what they believe to be the "correct" or "incorrect" use of language.

Officially, there is no longer any particular writing style that is required use for University communications. These are the only requirements specific to the U. Colleges and units are free to choose a style (AP/Chicago) that is appropriate for their project.

So, where do you fall on the battleground, amidst the blood of words and the screams of lobsters?

Happy National Grammar Day

Today is National Grammar Day. To celebrate, follow the #grammarday hashtag on Twitter (and @GrammarGirl, if you aren't already).

Are you doing anything especially grammatical today?

Celebrities and Grammar

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We editors try to conceal it but we are always noticing your grammar flaws! We stop short of correcting your emails using the "track changes" function and then sending them back, but we do it in our heads nevertheless - we can't help ourselves. However, as in the rest of life, celebrities are fair game for open scrutiny, especially when particularly well paid, secretive, or powerful.

The king of the celebrity gaffe was of course George Bush. How we miss him! See a top-20 list.

President Obama's speaking abilities are of course very good but his sentences are not always perfect. Here's one diagrammed for us in the Huffington Post:

Even those of us who following closely the recent trouble in Tiger Woods' family may not have caught this praise for his (or his publicist's) excellent command of grammar under pressure.

Do you have any examples of humorously bad or startlingly good grammar? Dish -- please!


Grammar refresher: compose, comprise; continual, continuous

Compose, comprise. From the University's Style Manual: "The whole comprises the parts; the whole is composed of its parts. The parts compose the whole and are comprised in it."

Continual, continuous. Also from the Style Manual: "Use continual when you mean action that is intermittent or repeated at intervals (the continual reminder of gunfire in the distance). Use continuous when you mean uninterrupted action in time or unbroken extent in space (a continuous stream of marchers)."

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