Monthly Archives: September 2009

C is for Crazy Cat Lady

C should be for Could Care Less because it’s the only grammar gaffe starting with c that makes my ears bleed. I don’t understand why people say “I could care less” when they mean they couldn’t, and I don’t think they should be allowed to pass grade 3, drive a car, or raise children until they can get it right.

However, I’ve already written about Could Care Less and I don’t want to harp on it, so I’m going with crazy cat lady. I don’t actually have a problem with that phrase. In fact, I couldn’t care less if people want to use it, whether they’re referring to a woman who is crazy about cats or Catwoman of DC Comics fame high on catnip. Hopefully the subjects couldn’t care less about being called crazy cat ladies, especially Catwoman because I suspect you don’t want to be on her bad side. (Personally, if I looked even half as good as she does in spandex, I wouldn’t care what anyone called me.)

Cats tend to be independent and generally couldn’t care less what you do as long as you’re not bothering them and you set their food out on schedule, but they are also playful and affectionate and it’s lovely to have one purring on your lap. Crazy cat ladies know that the benefits of cat ownership outweigh the inconveniences, so they couldn’t care less about annoyances such as cat hair and dander.

Truthfully, I like cats but I couldn’t care less about the phrase crazy cat lady. I used it because it, obviously, starts with c, but mostly because  barefootheart told me that it is the search engine term that has directed the most traffic to her blog. Writing about could care less crazy cat ladies here is just a shameless attempt to attract more wise and interesting readers to my blog who might not otherwise have discovered Grammar by the Letter.

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure

P.S. Although I like cats, I am not owned by any. Our house is ruled by a slightly demented bird.


Filed under Grammar by the Letter

National Punctuation Day

Happy National Punctuation Day to everyone in the United States! Punctuation’s special day is “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” You can visit the official Web site to view funny photos of grammar gaffes and then, having worked up an appetite from all that laughing, prepare the Official Meat Loaf of National Punctuation Day. You have to love a holiday that not only encourages the proper use of punctuation, but also solves your dinner dilemma.


I also like that, according to the Web site, National Punctuation Day is celebrated “throughout the world”.


Filed under Grammar, Signs

B is for Bring

Or, How A Grammar Lesson Saved Red’s Day

Red was on her way through the woods to Grandma’s house with her large picnic hamper when a handsome grey wolf stepped onto the path beside her.
“Hello,” he said pleasantly. “Bringing some goodies to Grandma?”
“Taking,” said Red.
The wolf ignored her admonition. “I know your charming Grandma,” he lied. “Perhaps I could join you and bring her some flowers.”
“Take,” sighed Red.
“Yes, well, I’ve never been clear on the usage of bring and take.”
“It’s really quite simple,” said Red. “You know, I could use a rest and a bite to eat. Come and sit with me and I’ll give you some pointers while we have a snack. Would you like some pâté?”
The wolf sat beside her and helped himself to the spread.
“Whether you use bring or take depends on your point of reference for the action,” Red said. “In order to use bring, the speaker must already be at the destination to which the person or object is being conveyed. For example, someone in the living room might say ‘Please bring me some pâté from the kitchen’.”
“Great pâté,” the wolf enthused.
“Have some more,” responded Red. “When you are viewing something from the point of departure, then you say take. For example, I will take this hamper full of chilled wine coolers to Grandma.”
“I love wine coolers,” said the wolf.
“Please help yourself,” invited Red. “So, you ask people to bring things to the place where you are, and you take things to the place you are going. From Grandma’s point of view, the bumbleberry tarts are coming to where she is, so she would say ‘Red is bringing me some tarts’. From my point of view, I’m moving the food from here to the location I’m going to – Grandma’s house – so I’m taking the tarts to Grandma.”
“There are bumbleberry tarts?” asked the Wolf.
“Have as many as you like,” encouraged Red. “Anyway, that is really all you have to remember: you bring things here and you take things there.”
“Thank you, our picnic was both delicious and informative,” said the wolf as he washed down his third tart with the remainder of his second cooler. He patted his full stomach and yawned lazily. “I did have plans for lunch,” he mused, “but, on second thought, I think I’ll just head home and have a nap instead.”
He bid farewell and disappeared into the forest, while Red continued down the path with a self-satisfied grin.


Filed under Grammar by the Letter

Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

“He’s the character mentioned in the first line of Atlas Shrugged,” read Alex Trebek. It’s the final Jeopardy question and I know the answer! “Who is John Galt?” I immediately respond. The Jeopardy answer also happens to be the complete opening line of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel.

I read Atlas Shrugged many years ago. Honestly, I don’t know exactly who John Galt is because I don’t remember the details of what happened in the 1000+ paperback pages that follow the memorable opening line. It really was a long time ago that I read the story. I do remember those words, though, and the fact that the question is repeated often throughout the book; it is the reader’s quest to discover the answer.

Based on the question “what if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”, Rand began writing the epic tale, which includes elements of mystery, science fiction, and romance, under the working title The Strike. The final title “symbolizes the book’s plot: the rebellion of the unrecognized and often persecuted creative heroes who bear the rest of the world on their shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged received generally negative reviews when it was released, but since then it has achieved enduring popularity, selling over six million copies. In January of this year, the novel was No. 33 among’s top-selling books. With those statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t the only home viewer who won final Jeopardy by knowing this book’s opening line. I also surmise that I’m not alone in thinking this is a great beginning:

“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still –as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness with him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.



Filed under Books, Great Beginnings

A is for Apostrophe

Apostrophes are like birds. More specifically, they are like our pet cockatiel, Ruffles. Ruffles is a much loved and important member of the family who flutters to our shoulders when he feels like watching television, playing peek-a-bird, talking to our socks (he has a sock fetish) or just perching on a soft body to snooze. Ruffles’ antics can be very amusing and we usually enjoy his company, but sometimes his presence is just not appropriate, e.g., when he flies to someone’s shoulder just as they are heading out to shovel snow.

Apostrophes are important members of the written English family but, like our bird, their company is sometimes welcome and sometimes inappropriate. They flutter above letters looking for a suitable landing position and choosing the wrong spot can make an apostrophe’s presence very amusing. There are Websites devoted exclusively to the misadventures of this punctuation mark.

Occasionally Ruffles sets off from his cage to fly manically through the house without, apparently, a predetermined flight plan in mind. Conversation pauses as his audience views this frenzied flight with amusement and waits for the outcome. He’s going to land in the dining room … no, no, he’s in the kitchen … wait, it’s okay, he’s going back to his cage… no he’s not ….he‘s in the living room …. oh, ohhhhhh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, he’s hanging precariously from the drapes.

Pluralizing most singular nouns really couldn’t be any easier: you add an s. Orange becomes oranges, sock – socks, and sales assistant – sales assistants. If you add an apostrophe before an s, you are making a noun possessive: the socks belong to the bird = the bird’s socks. Unfortunately, apostrophes take flight and land without reason in handwritten signs outside of stores so often that plural nouns with misplaced punctuation (e.g., fresh apple’s and orange’s, sock’s and shoe’s, sales assistant’s needed) have been dubbed greengrocers’ apostrophes.

It’s easy to find Internet sites and books that thoroughly explain all the rules for using apostrophes. I don’t know why anybody who is unsure of the correct usage of this punctuation mark doesn’t just review the rules once or twice or thirty times to ensure successful landings for the apostrophe every time it sets forth.

Perhaps anyone about to write a sign should imagine an audience eagerly anticipating the result. Oh no, there’s an apostrophe taking off … it’s circling the words … it’s heading for a landing… wait, it’s okay, I think it’s turning back… no, no, it’s going to settle … oh, ohhhhhh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, it landed in the sock’s.

Ruffles on one of his socks.

Ruffles on one of his socks.

Ruffles taking his socks for a walk.

Ruffles taking his socks for a walk.


Filed under Grammar by the Letter

The Library

I’ve been visiting the local libraries since I was a young child. I took my daughter to her first Moms and Babies class there before she could even crawl. Surely there is something for everyone at the library. For those who don’t share our love of reading, the institution has done a great job of keeping up with modern technology and offering the latest in technological benefits (research databases, homework helpers, etc.) along with its collections of books and movies. Libraries are wonderful.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the world’s biggest library, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which is home to almost 142 million items preserved on approximately 650 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 32 million books and other print materials, 3 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, 5.3 million maps, 5.6 million pieces of sheet music and 62 million manuscripts. The Library is comprised of three buildings and is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The first building completed, in 1897, was the Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibits there include a three-volume Gutenberg Bible, one of only three perfect vellum copies in existence; the American Treasures Gallery, which includes Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence among its treasures; and President Jefferson’s private library, which formed the core from which the present collections of the Library of Congress developed.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is a gorgeous place. Its elaborate interior is embellished by works of art from nearly fifty American painters and sculptors. I could go on with paragraphs of details about the artwork, but instead I’ll just show you some of my vacation photos. This is a lovely building to visit if you’re ever in Washington. Meanwhile, if you’d like to see and read more about the Library, click on the link below the photos.










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Filed under Books

Vacation Notes

Many years ago when driving through a very small town in northern Ontario while on vacation with friends, we passed a gift shop called Charlotte’s Web. I have no idea what goods the little store offered and only a vague recollection of its location, but I’ve always remembered the name because as a child I loved the book Charlotte’s Web and reread it regularly. For over twenty years I’ve assumed that the shop owner’s name was Charlotte and imagined a charming store interior overflowing with unique and lovely giftware, an image based solely on my affection for the book the store was named after.

During my recent vacation, I attempted to take note of any interesting names or company mottos that struck me as clever or funny or memorable. My observation is that there wasn’t a lot to observe. My jottings didn’t fill the small piece of notepaper I kept folded in my camera case, partly because the establishments at Trump’s Taj Mahal hotel in Atlantic City have names that couldn’t be any simpler. The floral boutique is called Stem and the accessories store Accents. There are restaurants called Plate and Burger, and the candy store is called … wait for it … Candy. Located down the boardwalk is IT’SUGAR. Candy stores don’t have to worry about using fancy names to attract customers. After extensive research (keeping a bowl of candy on my desk at the office) I can confidently report that people have a sixth sense about sugar. If there are sweets within a mile of them, they’ll sniff them out. I guess that kudos should go to the owner of Nuts About You for adding a few superfluous words to the store’s name.

IT'SUGAR - The elephant in the photo is made of thousands of jelly beans.

IT'SUGAR - The elephant in the photo is made of hundreds of thousands of jelly beans.

The most interesting restaurant names I saw in our travels were Salad Too Grill, One Fish, Two Fish and a fondue restaurant called The Melting Pot – dip into something different. The bar/bistro on The Avenue of the Arts across the street from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia is named Standing O.

I also like the drycleaners called My-T-Fine Cleaners.

Manicurists are highly susceptible to state the obviousitis. Under the name of the shop on one window it said “We like to do your nails.” That’s reassuring. Do you suppose they’re making a dig at someone? Sure, you can go to the competition and have your nails done, but they won’t like doing them!

On the shop window in another town it said “specializing in long and short nails”. I would think that covers it, but I’ve never been to a manicurist – is there such a thing as medium nails?

As we sped by one building we just caught the words “we buy the old”. Hopefully they’re referring to people’s old books and household trinkets and not their grandparents.

For the sake of my research, I would have been willing to stay on vacation and carry on with my observations but, sadly, holiday time is over.



Filed under What's in a Name?