Monthly Archives: July 2009

When Good Grammar Goes Bad

Dialogue in the recent made-for-TV movie, Meteor:

“This could end a couple of ways, none of them good.”

Ouch. Since there are only two ways this could end, the writer should have gone with neither of them good.

Meteor

The character was right, though, even if not grammatically so; nothing about this movie was good.

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Alls I Know

I don’t actually know any Alls; I don’t believe I’ve ever even met one. I could start a sentence with Hendersons I know or Lyons I know, but not Alls. Many people do begin sentences with Alls I know though, so I did a quick Internet search of a few Canadian and U.S. sites to see how many Alls I would find. It turns out that there are less than 1100 Alls in the United States. Granted, 1100 is a rough estimate based on a U.S. census from years ago, but even if you multiply that amount by ten or twenty, it’s still not many Alls in a country with a population of over 300,000,000. I found less than ten Alls with listed telephone numbers in Canada! It’s very surprising to me that so many people know so few Alls, so I did a search to see if any of them are famous. I thought that maybe when people say Alls I know they’re really referring to the Alls they know by reputation, just as you might say Obamas I know. I’m sure there are many talented and successful Alls, but I didn’t find any who are famous.

Most people say Alls I know is and that is incorrect. If you are talking about one All, let’s say Uncle George, you should begin the sentence with the and remove the s from All, e.g., “The All I know [Uncle George] is fond of riding a unicycle.” When you are talking about more than one All (George and Aunt Mary), you need to use the plural Alls I know are, e.g., “Alls I know are fond of dyeing their hair blue.”

The meaning of the surname All is unknown; it is, perhaps, a variant of another name. The dictionary definition for the word all includes the descriptions every, entire, sum, total, and each and every. Since there can’t be anything more than every, pluralizing the word all would be redundant. Therefore, the word alls does not exist in the English language in any form other than as the proper name Alls, or as the plural of the proper name All.

All I know is, if I ever have the privilege of meeting members of the All clan, I’ll be able to join the masses who say Alls I know.

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Suffix Ly Unemployment Rate Soars

July 16, 2009

The suffix ly is the latest victim of the current recession. Traditionally employed by the thousands as adverbs, many lys are finding themselves suddenly out of a job.

Hollywood has been hit hard by the downturn in suffix employment. Before a recent taping of the hugely popular So You Think You Can Dance, all lys were let go from the TV studio. In true the show must go on style, the program proceeded with its usual superb dancing and creative choreography, but the absence of lys from the building became painfully evident during the course of the show. Popular and charming Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe, effusive judge Mary Murphy, and various guest choreographers put on brave faces but, left with no suffixes to help describe how well the dancers performed, subjected audience members to the following assaults on their hearing (note: the bracketed ly indicates where the missing suffix should have appeared): “It’s not going to happen that quick(ly)”; “you did so phenomenal(ly)”; “you two danced marvellous(ly)”; and “everything is going to go smooth(ly)”. Mr. Lythgoe had no comment regarding the lys’ departure from the show.

Lys perform various roles within their profession. They can, for example, work as adjectives as well as adverbs. Some are employed describing regularly scheduled events: a daily shower; a weekly meeting; a yearly check-up.

It is the lys working as adverbs, however, that have borne the brunt of mass layoffs. If the job description for lys employed in this area is reduced to the simplest of terms, it can be said that generally, if a word answers the question how, it is an adverb. If it is a word that can have ly added to it, it should be placed there.

Examples:

She sings beautiful/beautifully.
She sings how? Beautifully.

We danced bad/badly.
We danced how? Badly.

A spokesperson for The Promotion of Ly in the English Language (PLEL) noted that WordNavigator.com lists 8742 words ending with ly and warned that the continued removal of ly from our vocabulary will have serious long-term negative effects on the English language.

Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy

Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy

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I Could Care Less

The Top Five Reasons Why People Say I Could Care Less

No. 5 – They don’t know that they’re wrong

That’s hard to believe, because the difference between could and couldn’t is obvious, but apparently it is possible.  Couldn’t is a shortened version (contraction) of could not, so I couldn’t care less means that you do not care.  Not at all.  Not even a little bit.  It would be impossible for you to care any less than you already do.  You are at the absolute pinnacle of not caring.   If you are attempting to express a total lack of interest in a subject, I couldn’t care less is the phrase for you.

I could care less means that you do care, since you have to care at least a little before it’s possible to care less.

The two sentences have opposite meanings.  They are not interchangeable.  Ever.

No. 4 – They really mean it

They do care somewhat, so they could actually care less.  To me, it’s an awkward way of saying you care.  Why bother mentioning that you could care less than you currently do?  And how much less could you care?  A significant amount?   A miniscule amount?  A smidgeon, iota, whit?  A tad, mite, wee bit?  A lot?  Whole bunches?  Or is it measured in percentages?  I could care 25% less … what would that mean???

No. 3 – Laziness

After years of knowing we’re overeating and under-exercising, it has come to this:  a population too lazy to spit out 2 letters and an apostrophe to complete a sentence.

No. 2 – They’re just following the crowd

But mom, the other adults are saying it!  It’s true that lots of people who should know better – newscasters, politicians, teachers and writers – are getting it wrong, but you know mom’s response.  “If everyone else jumped off a building, would you do it too?”  So poor grammar doesn’t compare to a face-plant into pavement; it’s still silly to mindlessly copy other people.  Writers should be too ashamed to put I could care less into a script, actors should refuse to let their characters say it unless they’re supposed to be totally uneducated, and teachers … really?

And the No. 1 reason why people say I could care less:

No. 1 – They couldn’t care less that they’re wrong

A nasty combination of nos. 2, 3 and 5 above has people parroting others, too lazy and/or uneducated to notice or care that what they’re saying isn’t what they actually mean.

Sadly, they couldn’t care less.

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Literally Raining Cats and Dogs

My favourite example of someone misusing the word literally occurred several years ago when a new television movie about the remarkable Terry Fox was being hyped by the press.  An entertainment writer, in a well-meaning attempt to heap praise on the actor playing the lead role, said “he literally became Terry Fox”.   Wow.  That would have been startling to the other people on the set, to say the least.

He did not, of course, actually become Terry Fox.   If he had, he would have almost certainly won an Emmy award for Best Actor (although you can never tell with awards; the voters make some strange choices).

Dictionary definitions of literally use descriptions such as:  “actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy” and “really”, and that’s the only definition that most of us accept.  A quick search online indicates, though, that for over a century there has been some acceptance of the idea that you can use the word literally in informal speech “to add emphasis to figurative expressions”. I guess that leaves the speaker to decide if his usage sounds formal, informal, or just plain stupid.

Why should any use other than that originally intended gain acceptance?  Let’s all use literally the way it was meant to be used, or not at all, because when some of us – hopefully lots of us – hear people saying things such as  “I literally died laughing” or “It literally broke my heart”, we roll our eyes and/or laugh.  Some of us tend to make snide remarks like “that must have been painful” or even think of whole scenarios based on the literal meaning of the sentence (hence the use of Tales in the blog title above).

For example:

Your assignment today, class, is to use this sentence as the subject of a movie script:  It was literally raining cats and dogs.

The horror version:

Muffee stood looking uneasily out at the black storm clouds rolling in as she listened to the weather announcer on the television.  “It’s literally raining cats and dogs here!” he shouted over the din, “Everyone, get inside! Get insahhhhhh!”  Silence.  She rushed over to look at the television screen, but it had gone blank.

Just then she heard a bang on the front porch.  As the sound of crashing and growling outside grew, Muffee, who had never been the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, started inching toward the front door.  Despite the rising volume of the ominous music and the movie audience shouting “don’t do it!”, she reached for the doorknob.  Just as she yanked  the door open her boyfriend, who had left Muffee to fend for herself and gone exploring alone in the dark elsewhere at the first hint of danger, came bounding down the stairs from the second floor yelling “Muffee, don’t open the ..” but it was too late.  Muffee had opened the door and was staring in horror.

Jake the mailman who, ironically, had a deep-rooted fear of dogs, had been sideswiped on the front lawn by a snapping Chihuahua, knocked to the ground by a Persian cat digging its long claws deep into Jake’s flesh in an attempt to soften its fall, and finished off by a particularly large St. Bernard landing squarely on his chest.

It was not a pretty sight.

The family version:

A tousle-haired, freckle-faced, impossibly cute youngster (Jim-Bob) has been lonely on the big farm since his mom died and wishes he had a puppy for company.  His distracted but well meaning dad doesn’t have time to take him to get a pet, what with all the chores to be done now that his wife’s gone.  Then one day it begins literally raining cats and dogs.

A just-landed Border collie herds the sheep into the barn and a golden retriever puppy lands gently in Jim-Bob’s arms and, by way of a thorough face licking, swears his eternal devotion to the boy before leaping from his arms to fetch the newspaper and deliver it to Dad.

“You know what I think Dad?  I think Mom is smiling down on us right now and sent these animals to help us and cheer us up.”

Both father and son had tears trickling down their cheeks.  Dad nodded as he hugged his boy and the golden retriever close.

“Everything’s going to be all right from now on son.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The misuse of the word literally: great ideas for anyone with writer’s block, an annoyance at any other time.

Raining Cats and Dogs

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