Author Archives: catherinespicer

Grammar Hammer: A Flair for Flare?

the Grammar Hammer

via HudsonHorizons.com

via HudsonHorizons.com

Flair/Flare  is one of my favorite homophones. Even though these words sound the same, their meanings are very different and these words are not interchangeable.

Flair – a natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style

Example: She had a real flair for soufflé.

Example: He wore that hat with a lot of flair.

Flare – a fire or a blazing light (noun); to burn with an unsteady flame, or a sudden or brief burst of light, or to start up or burst out in a sudden, fierce activity (verb)

Example: My father always concluded his lectures by flaring his nostrils.

Example: The forest fire flared up with the increased winds.

Quick tip:

Flair – with an i – describes something that an individual is good at. Individual = i; flair = i.

Flare – with an e – describes a flame (either literal or figurative). Flame = e; flare = e.

If you have a flair for flares, you can plan the next July 4th fireworks celebration. If you have a flare for flairs? Well, I picture a flame-wielding actor. Not sure I’d want to see that.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire, and (hopefully) has a flair for words.

Grammar Hammer: Champing at the Bit

the Grammar Hammer
chompingIf your friend is being impatient, is he “chomping at the bit” or “champing at the bit?” The phrase originates in reference to a horse and the bit that goes in his mouth that’s attached to the reins.

I will admit to being guilty of saying someone is “chomping at the bit.” Now, in my defense, there are some good reasons why I’ve been mistakenly saying “chomping” instead of “champing.”

First, chomping and champing have very similar meanings.

Chomp – to chew (food) noisily

Champ – to bite upon or grind, especially impatiently; to make vigorous chewing or biting movements with the jaws and teeth

Second, “chomping at the bit” is the Americanization of the English idiom “champing at the bit” and there are references to this change as early as 1920 in the United States.

I certainly don’t want to offend my friends who raise, care for, and train horses, nor do I wish to offend the grammatical purists who carry on the battle of preserving these idioms and phrases. It’s been an interesting history lesson on the etymology of these phrases and I’m champing at the bit to learn more.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: For All Intents and Purposes

the Grammar HammerKing Henry VIIIEvery once in a while even I, the Grammar Hammer, must admit when I am wrong. Suffice it to say, I am confident in my use of “in spite of” and I can properly “beg a question.” So, for all intensive purposes…

This one hit me squarely in the face last week and I was shocked that no one had ever corrected me. Now that I know, I am forced to come clean and profess that I’ve been using the phrase “for all intents and purposes” incorrectly for years. Mea culpa.

In my defense, there’s a good reason that this phrase gets garbled so easily.

The idiom, which actually originates as “to all intents and purposes,” dates back to the 1500s when it was first recorded in an Act of Parliament under King Henry VIII. As a quick history lesson, King Henry VIII was given the power to legislate by proclamation in 1539. Basically, if you didn’t agree with what King Henry proclaimed as law, you probably found yourself at the short end of a noose, or with a date with the executioner.

From the 16th century to the 21st century, the phrase has evolved from “to all intents and purposes” to the more common “for all intents and purposes.” When phrases like this get muddled, it’s usually traced back to some internet reference. However, this one goes as far back to about 1870 when it was published in an article in The Fort Wayne Daily Gazette:

“He has never had a representative in Congress nor in the State Legislature nor in any municipal office, and to all intensive purposes, politically speaking, he might have well have been dead.”

Linguistically, “for all intensive purposes” is called an “eggcorn.” That’s when a phrase has a meaning that is different from the original intended phrase, but plausible in the same context (think “old-timer’s disease” instead of “Alzheimer’s disease”). The difference between an eggcorn and a pun is that a pun is intended by the writer (or speaker) to have a comic effect, whereas with an eggcorn, the writer or speaker is unaware of the mistake. The more you know…

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire, and for all intents and purposes, reasonably good with grammar.

Grammar Hammer: Irregardless, I still wouldn’t use this word

the Grammar Hammer

nonstandard wordsIrrespective. Irrational. Irregular. Is irregardless a word?

Even though I, the Grammar Hammer, would never use the word “irregardless,” it is in fact listed in the dictionary and used over and over in conversations, on blogs, social networks, and other websites.

“Irregardless” is used when people are describing something “without regard” to something else.

For example: “Irregardless, I’m taking that trip to Vegas this weekend,” said Bob.

What that sentence is trying to communicate is that despite having neither time nor money, Bob is still going to Vegas.

Adding the prefix –ir to regardless creates a double negative (essentially saying something is without without regard).

So, why is this word in the dictionary? The American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, and Oxford English Dictionary all list irregardless as a word with the notation that it is considered a “non-standard” word.

Non-standard words include dialect, colloquialisms, and jargon. Yes, these are words too, but their usage is considered common language (examples – “gonna,” “ain’t,” etc.) compared to the “standard” words (those words defined as the language spoken by educated native speakers).

My advice is, as always, to consider your audience for whom you are writing or speaking. If I’m scheduled to give a presentation to my work colleagues I’m not going to say, “Irregardless, I ain’t gonna go into too much detail.” If I’m writing something more casual (it is, after all, National Poetry Month), I still wouldn’t use irregardless, but I might use “gonna.” (I like that one.)

What are your favorite non-standard words that are in the dictionary but not words you would actually speak or write?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

the Grammar Hammershould-of-could-have

I grew up in a southern West Virginia and heard phrases like “would of went” and “should of went” all the time. Thanks to my late grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, those phrases never made it into my vernacular. I heard “would of went” as recent as a few weeks ago listening to a group of adults discuss a recent happy hour. I winced and kept walking. There are two major grammatical problems with that phrase.

“Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” are actually slang for the contractions “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” I think the confusion starts with how things sound when you’re speaking.

“I shoulda called my sister last night.”

The “uh” sound gets misinterpreted for “of” instead of the contraction for “have.” I have yet to find any grammatical construction that supports “should of,” “would of,” or “could of” (and let’s go ahead and add “must of” to that list).

If we dig a little deeper, “should ___” requires a verb in the blank. “Have” is an auxiliary verb and should be used with should, would, could, might, must, and may. “Of” is a preposition.

What we’re trying to communicate here with our modal verbs (shoulda, woulda, coulda) is the correct from of the verb “go,” which is an irregular verb. Let’s conjugate, because it’s all about the participles.

Indicative

  • Present: I go.
  • Past: I went.
  • Future: I will go.
  • Perfect: I have gone.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.
  • Future perfect: I will have gone.

Subjunctive

  • Present: I go. / I have gone.
  • Imperfect: I went.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.

Conditional

  • Present: I would go.
  • Perfect: I would have gone.

Instead of saying, “I would of went,” or even “I would have went,” we now know that the correct phrase is “I would have gone.”

When you decide which modal verb you’re going to use, remember that the modal verb will give you more information about the function of the main verb it governs. “I should have called my sister last night.” “I would have gone to happy hour if you had called me before I fell asleep.”

And, finally, “I could have gone on and on about this topic, but I figure you have the gist of it by now.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Comma Drama

via Grammar Girl

via Grammar Girl

In the thousands of news releases that cross the desks of the PR Newswire Customer Content Services team on a weekly basis, placing commas outside of quotation marks ranks as one of the most commonly made errors. Though misplaced commas are not a major grammatical offense in comparison to some others we’ve seen, its frequency makes this a topic worth exploring.

What’s fascinating about this topic is really how the U.S. grammar rules vary from the British. In the U.S., the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quote marks, regardless of logic. I refer you to English Grammar for Dummies, 2nd Edition, which gives a great recap of the scenarios in which this rule applies. On the other hand, British grammar rules focus on the context and want the punctuation placed “logically” versus “conventionally”. (See what I did there?)

For historical context, good old-fashioned typography is the primary reason Americans place punctuation inside their quote marks. According to the Guide to Grammar and Writing, when printing used raised bits of metal, periods and commas were the most delicate keys and writers risked breaking off or denting the face of the piece of type if they had a quotation mark on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using periods and commas inside the quote regardless of logic. In today’s digital age, it seems that we could eliminate this rule as easily as the rule of two spaces following a period.

My advice is to pick a style and stick with it. In 99% of my writing, I’ll follow the American rule of tucking my punctuation marks neatly inside the quotation marks, except for that teeny tiny 1% where context or logic necessitates it being outside (and please know that inconsistency makes an editor’s brain hurt).

In other grammar news, the Associated Press announced they were relaxing their stance even further on “more than” vs. “over.” A part of me has died; I just talked about this topic in February. How do you feel about AP’s new position on this rule?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Are You Taking Preventative or Preventive Measures?

preventive_maintenanceThis week’s grammar conundrum stems from someone correcting me (ME! The Grammar Hammer) when I made mention of “preventative” measures I needed to take to curtail further water damage from the gutters that are falling off of my house at the moment. Needless to say, I felt somewhat disgruntled by this remark.

I courteously smiled, acknowledged the correction and bolted home to start my research. Preventive has always been one of those words that just sound wrong to me, so I’ve always used preventative instead. Have I been wrong this entire time?

Merriam-Webster says that preventive is used more frequently than preventative and we are free to use either one, but if you use “preventative,” you are more likely to have someone try to correct you.

I tried to persuade myself out of using “preventative” with the same argument I make when I hear the cringe-worthy word “orientated.” You orient things, you don’t orientate things. That means I should stick with “preventive” because I’m trying to prevent something bad from happening. If I say “preventative,” it would be like saying I’m trying to preventate something, right?

Grammar Girl tackled this subject recently and affirms my position on this word. She acknowledges “preventative” as a “troublesome” word – some reference books say preventative is incorrect while others say it’s fine to use.

If I’m being honest, I think I’ve taken sufficient preventive measures to stop using the word preventative. I know that both words are correct and mean the same thing. I also know that “preventive” is more common than “preventative,” but if someone chooses the longer word, they’ll get no corrections from me.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: March Forth on March 4th to Speak Well, Write Well, and Help Others Do the Same!

National Grammar Day

For my fellow grammarians and word nerds, March 4th marks what should be a national holiday for us. National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG). I started writing posts for Grammar Hammer in late-2012, and March 4th has a permanent place on my calendar as a day to celebrate my obsession with grammar rules.

Why is it so fun to celebrate National Grammar Day? I don’t remember ever having this much fun diagramming sentences in grade school. Now that I’m older, I can take advantage of this day to make myself a Grammartini, read some Grammar Noir, or make up a grammar haiku or two. Last year, Arika Okrent won the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest with this brilliant entry:

I am an error

And I will reveal myself

After you press send

Truer words have never been written. The American Copy Editors Society is

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

sponsoring the 2014 contest and will announce the winner on March 4th. Okrent is one of the judges for this year’s contest.

In celebration of National Grammar Day, I will be listening to the Grammar Hall of Shame Legacy Playlist and finding all the grammatical mistakes I can in each song. I’m always on the lookout for typos in public places.

I encourage all of you to march forth and celebrate National Grammar Day.

 

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore?  Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: When Do You Imply or Infer?

Imply_Infer-e1331580516953I always consider the words “imply” and “infer” as the ability to “get the hint.”

I was having dinner with some friends one night. At the end of our meal, the host excused himself from the table and left for a few minutes. When he returned, he had changed into his pajamas and was walking through the house, flossing his teeth. I inferred it was time to say goodnight to my host and head home for the evening. I got the hint. Granted, that wasn’t a very subtle hint, but nevertheless, I got it. If I was trying to wrap up an evening (i.e., I’m tired and ready for everyone to leave), I would have opted for a more subtle approach. I would have started yawning, implying that I was beyond tired and hoping everyone got the hint that it was time to say goodnight. I’d wait until everyone left before changing into my jammies.

Are infer and imply interchangeable if the intended meaning is whether or not you “get the hint?” Once again, we look at the common vernacular, and it is increasingly accepted either way. But, that’s not the point of this post, is it? This is why we fight.

To imply is to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated (using my example above, I’m tired, so I start yawning a lot to subtly state that I’m ready for you to leave so I can to go to sleep).

To infer is to derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence (my host left the dinner table and changed into his PJ’s – time to go).

Here are a couple of quick tips to help you keep these two straight:

  1. Writers or speakers imply. Listeners or readers infer.
  2. A circle of communication has three parts – sender, message, and receiver. The sender can imply, but only the receiver can infer.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Whether You Like it or Not

Today’s burning grammar question – are “if” and “whether” interchangeable? If (2)Let’s consider the possibilities:

The easy part

Use “if” in a conditional sentence and “whether” when you are offering options.

RIGHT: We’ll be able to make it to the football game if it stops raining by noon.

RIGHT: We’ll go to the football game whether it rains or not.

Now, the tricky part

Which word would you choose for these examples?

Example #1: She didn’t know if/whether her test scores were high enough in order to secure a scholarship.

Example #2:  I couldn’t remember if/whether I paid the lawn service bill.

In both of these cases, either word is correct. “If” or “whether” can be applied interchangeably for indirect questions (example #1) or yes/no questions (example #2).

Finally, the grammar geek part

Use “whether”:

  • After prepositions
  • Before infinitives
  • When the sentence contains a two-part option
  • If the alternatives lead the sentence

EXAMPLE: Whether or not I’ve saved enough money, I’m going to Paris next spring.

If this helps, remember that using “if” introduces one condition and “whether” introduces alternative possibilities.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.