Archive for the ‘i am an anal linguist’ Category

A peeve

November 1, 2013

Please forgive me a little whining.

There is a thing that bothers me. It shouldn’t. I am self-aware enough to know that in the grand scheme of things, it has no consequence.

It’s people’s saying “PIN number.”

I have lost my ATM card, and my son said tonight, “When you get your new one, can you get the same PIN number? I’ve memorized the other one.”

Oh, son.

“I think they give me a new personal identification number number with the new card,” I cheeked. “You’ll have to learn it before you use the automated teller machine machine.”

I’m embarrassed this gets under my skin. If I were a better person, this post would be about human trafficking or potable water waste.


The comma argument

October 13, 2013

My family spent my mother’s birthday dinner in a heated argument about a comma.

I’m aghast that anyone would take a stand against me on this issue.

I am a linguist and an editor.

I may be so confused by science I believe there are little people inside my TV box, but it would be impossible to know more about punctuation than I.

The mark in question is the one often erroneously placed before the conjuction in a simple list: He picked his guitar, friends, and nose.

Today after school one of our closest family friends was attacked by my children. “What’s your opinion on the comma?”

“I don’t care.” Poor kid. He was wondering why he is our friend.

“You must.” I don’t know why they valued his support so strongly. This is a child who pronounces the ‘L’ in ‘talk.’

My daughter, by the way, is for the comma, as is my mother. My son and I are on the side of reason.

The children began to present their positions — simultaneously. My son called me in to define the rule. I used my voice of authority.

“You put a comma before the conjunction in a list only if the last item has a conjunction in it: Myles listens to Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and Donny and Marie. This rule is for clarity. It’s a favor to the reader.”

Myles gave me an ugly look.

My daughter insisted, contrarywise, that it’s using the comma indiscriminately that adds clarity. She began to expound, “If I ate macaroni and cheese first, then potatoes,” (big pause) “and steak….”

“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “No vegetables? You won’t have to worry about commas. You’ll end up with a semi-colon.”

The children sent me back out of the room.

And I say,

August 28, 2013

When I was 5 I had a plastic phonograph in my room. I would carry in my mom’s stack of albums, push the stubby black spindle through the Apple sticker on Magical Mystery Tour and sit back, eyes closed, to enjoy Baby, You’re a Rich Man and Fool on a Hill.

My mother, who attended a Beatles’ concert in the 1960s, also has a thick piano book called ‘The Compleat Beatles.’ Thanksgivings of my childhood meant Uncle Rob and Chauncey standing behind her with their guitars while her fingers scooted around the keyboard.

Uncles Monty and Hot Shot and all the wives would be gathered around singing. We would shout requests until 3 in the morning. Nobody made me to go to bed and miss all the fun.

I know Uncle Hot Shot’s favorite is Run for Your Life, Monty’s is Martha My Dear, and  Mom hates to play Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

I know all the words in that thick book.

Someone always wants to sing Here Comes the Sun.

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.

This is a beautiful song.

But I can’t stand it.

I would never say the sun was coming up. I don’t say the sun rose or set or went behind the mountains.

The sun is holding still.

I always say we’re turning away from or toward the sun.

I try to sing along, but I sound silly singing “Our part of the Earth is turning toward the sun, little darling.”

It’s not all right.

Mermaids bother me

July 19, 2013

I can’t figure out why mermaids have breasts.

Their reproductive half is not mammalian.

This means they lay eggs and swim away. The babies never know them. There is no nursing.

So what are the knockers for?

The Star Trek story

June 4, 2013

I just ran into a friend at the ice cream parlor. We got to talking about Star Trek, which my family just dragged me to. Loved it.

Him too. He said he asked the dude in the ticket kiosk if he spoke Vulcan. I imagine they get a lot of that.

Let me tell you how I am three degrees from the languages of Star Trek.

My Linguistics 101 professor and his roommate were both working on their doctorates in the subject in the ’80s.

One night Dr. Rood was supposed to go on a blind date, but didn’t want to. He sent the roommate in his stead.

The date didn’t show, so the guy sat at the bar all night chatting with some nerd on the next stool.

The nerd was interested in the linguist. He asked if it would be possible to compose a real language from scratch.

Are you kidding? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Inventing languages is what linguists do when they’re bored.

That night, Gene Roddenberry asked my professor’s roommate to create Klingon.

My professor was totally QeH.


May 27, 2013

In the English class I taught today, I made a list of big words and gave meaningless bonus points to students who could define them. It’s amazing how badly children want imaginary points.

I pulled from former ‘word-of-the-week’ terms at my house. I used to put a vocabulary word on the fridge every Sunday — ignominious, wan, penultimate. If my kids used the word 10 times that week, they got to choose something out of the prize drawer.

This was right up my daughter’s alley.

My daughter was loquacious right out of the womb.

Her first word was a sentence: Read-a-book.

By 18 months she was conversing clearly. People who heard her for the first time always whipped their heads toward me in surprise.

I confess I cheated. During her infancy I was finishing my linguistics degree, with a focus on language acquisition. She had better have spoken early.

When she went to the doctor for her 2-year check up, the nurse tested basic mental and motor skills. She asked her to point to the balloons on the wall. She asked her to hold up three fingers.

Then she gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil. “Can you draw circles?”

My daughter nodded, “Side by side or concentric?”

“Nevermind,” the nurse said. “I got what I needed.”

So did my daughter. I have it in her baby book, under first bonus points.

The shortest distance between my nerves

May 18, 2013

Whoever coined ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ did not take basic geometry.

I never use this expression.

For one thing, a line is straight by definition.

And worse, a line goes on forever. How can that be the shortest distance?

I say the shortest distance between points is a segment.


January 10, 2013

The saying, ‘righty tighty; lefty loosey’ always confused me.

Regardless of which way you turn something, either the top or the bottom is going left, and the other is going right.

So I raised my children with this handy saying: Clockwise tighty; counterclockwise loosey.

English is a bitch

November 10, 2012

I had a semantics professor in college who had immigrated from Yugoslavia.

He told a sad story about getting in trouble with his own teacher when he was a college student. He was still learning English at the time.

The professor said some confusing things, and my prof-to-be raised his hand. “I understand.”

“Good.” He went on.

My prof raised his hand again. “I understand.”

“Sir, it is not appropriate for you to take class time after every point to tell me you understand. Many people understand. Keep it to yourself.”

My teacher failed the class.

He later learned that the prefix “un-” did not always negate the root. What he thought he had been saying was “I don’t understand.”

If he had only once told his professor he derstood, there may have been a revelation.

Chicken breasts

September 29, 2012

I was sitting here trying to choose a story for today’s post when my e-mail dinged with a recipe from a friend of mine.

This is an act of generosity I can’t relate to. I’m terrible stingy with my recipes. I know they’re why I have friends. If everyone could make my Caribbean Jerk Chicken, no one would ever come over.

Miss Julia’s recipe gift uses chicken breasts, which gives me another opportunity to betray how linguistically anal retentive I am.

I don’t understand why we call them breasts. Chickens are birds. Only mammals have breasts…, and mermaids, but that rant has been made already.

Could we not call them chicken pecs?

My poor family has been hearing me whine about this for years. One day at my mom’s from the across the house I get this, “Mom! Mom! You gotta see this commercial. MOOOMMMMM!” They were all a-dither.

The TV liars said, “Chickens have thighs. Chickens have breasts.” Oh they did not just say that. “Chickens do not have nuggets.” Now they’re dissing nuggets? There is so much to hate about this commercial.

I just tried to hunt down this ad to link it to my post. The top six search results were arguments over whether chickens have nipples. People wrote: Of course they do, they have breasts don’t they? Duh!

Duh indeed.

Miss Julia, please know that when I print out your recipe, I’m crossing off the word ‘breasts’ and writing ‘pecs.’ But the term artichoke hearts can stay as is.

I will send you my Caribbean Jerk Chicken recipe.

Adverb humor

August 9, 2012

Today is My Junior High Best Friend’s birthday.

It’s also my High School Boyfriend’s birthday, the boyfriend from The Trumpet Story‘s birthday and the copy editor from The Palm Tree Story’s birthday.

But I’m giving the post to my Junior High Best Friend.

We used to fancy ourselves grammar police, which everyone knows makes you popular at parties.

My focus was verb tense, and Kelly’s was adverbs.

When somone said, for instance, ‘I’ll just do it real quick,’ she would mutter ‘-ly.’ She was always muttering ‘-ly.’

My running joke was that when she was born her mother named her ‘Kel,’ and Kel popped her mouth off the breast to mutter, ‘-ly.’

Naming a kid Paul

July 29, 2012

It has always bothered me that someone would name a baby Paul.

I can’t get away from the idea that during birth, the mother is a Paul bearer.

A linguistic distinction

May 7, 2012

Same-sex marriage was legalized in both New Hampshire and Maine yesterday.

I’ve been convinced, by acquaintance and scientific reports, that people who are gay are born that way.

In light of this, I don’t think ‘sexual orientation’ is the right term.

Gay, straight or bisexual, I refer to it as one’s ‘sexual affliction.’

And to maintain a sense of reality, when we play The Game of Life, I make all the players draw their spouse pegs blind.

Might be pink; might be blue. You get what you get.

Apparently this is the way it’s meant to be done. Imagine my surprise when I went to the official site to link a photo of the spouse pegs .