Saturday, July 10, 2010

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My name is Laura, and I'm a big nerd.  Now, you all say, "Hi Laura" and we'll all share, have some cookies, and hug on the way out.  Sigh.  If it only it were possible to be a nerd anonymously.  I'm a happy nerd, though.  These are some common mistakes that make me giggle.  I should say, before you read them, that I think there is a time and place for rules and a time and place for suspending them.  The key is knowing what the rules are, so the choice is yours to make.  It's like setting a proper table.  If you choose not to, that's your business, but if you don't know how you'll always be self-conscious in front of company.  Blogs, Facebook statuses, casual conversation, and the like are fine places, in my opinion, to relax the rules of grammar and pronunciation.  For example, in this blog I end sentences in prepositions all the time because that is the way we speak.  I want my writing to be informal/funny so I disregard the general rule against it.  You'll also frequently see sentence fragments.  For emphasis.  See what I did there? That being said, the following list is all in good fun:

1.  There is no such thing as chester drawers.  No, there really isn't.  It's a chest of drawers.
2.  It's height and width, not heighTH and width.
3. You didn't "literally" die when such and such happened.  You also didn't "literally" throw up all over the place.  Literally means, well, literally.
4.  The words libel and liable mean very, very different things.  You can be liable for libel, but not the other way around.
5. Especially, not expecially.  That makes my skin crawl, literally.
6.  Here's one:  It's not a huge deal to say, "A whole nother" in a conversation, as long as you know that nother is not a word.
7.  Similarly, orientate isn't a word.  It's orient.  That's just making more work than necessary.
8.  Technically, spitting image is incorrect.  It doesn't matter much.  Most people never write that phrase.  For the record, though, it's spit and image.
9.  Crayon has two, distinct syllables and doesn't rhyme with crown. 
10.  This one is from Craig and was news to me.  Nauseous means provoking nausea, as in, "The smell of cabbage is nauseous."  The feeling that we get of an upset stomach is properly stated as, "I am nauseated."  So, they aren't synonyms.  Next time that you say you feel nauseous, think about what you're saying. 
11.  Periods are important.  It's better to have short, choppy sentences that make sense than flowing prose if you don't where to end it.  I'll demonstrate.  The following sentence is entirely fictitious (trust me), but is  inspired by sentences that I've seen.  Imagine this is the caption to a photo posted online:  "This is my baby Doodad she love me an shes' so cute we love her can't believe she is so big."  This is so very sweet.  It's just that I have to read it like a robot to make sense of it.  Try it this way.  "This is my baby, Doodad.  She loves me and she's so cute.  We love her, and can't believe she is so big."  The periods and commas tell me how I should process the words that are written.
12.  These are two syllable words that are often pronounced with three: realtor, ticklish, athlete. 
13.  Here's a tip I used when I was teaching phonics.  'There' has the word 'here' in it, which tells you it refers to location.  The dog is over there.  'They're' is a contraction of the words 'they' and 'are.'  If you can say, "They are going to the store," then you can also write, "They're going to the store."  Lastly, as a helpful hint for the grammatically challenged (we all have our weaknesses), 'their' has an 'I' in it, which can be a hint that it refers to a person.  Check it: "Their dog is over there." "They're going to walk him."
14.  This is one of my personal favorites.  Intensive purposes is a mispronunciation of the phrase, intents and purposes, e.g. For all intents and purposes, this blog is nonsense.  
15. Once, at a Rhodes writing camp (of all places), I saw a girl write "eye ronic" in her paper.  That just goes to show that bad habits plague all of us.  She scored like an eleventy trabillion on her SATs and actually knew the proper use of the word ironic, which is rare, and still couldn't spell it. 

Whew! That was fun.  I can only get who/whom correct in writing and I definitely get comma-happy, so I'm not the grammar police.  I know I've sent emails with errors and have not thoroughly proofed everything I've ever written.  I definitely get carried away when I type too fast and slaughter the correct usage of 'its' and 'it's' as a result.  Again, though, I think you can only break the rules when you know them.  Otherwise, it's just wrong.   Thank god there is never any reason to solve a math problem in an email, or my own weak spots would be horrifyingly obvious.  I was the last kid in my class to learn my multiplication tables and usually have to make the portion size called for in a recipe if I need to make less than half.  My geography knowledge is weak and I passed chemistry in high school by making the periodic elements into nonsense words in the order they appear on the table.  H He Libe BC  Nofne namg alsipsclar.  That is no lie.

Photo from here:

**I was corrected (maybe) by an anonymous commenter who let me know that my claim about spit and image is incorrect.  Not one to ignore correction, I did a little further research.  Apparently, there are differing opinions as to the correct phrasing.  That being said, I suppose neither is incorrect.  However, I was thoroughly creeped out by the idea of an anonymous commenter and so have now changed the settings so that comments can't be made without a name attached.  Sorry Anonymous, if that is your real name.


  1. Meredith HausauerJuly 10, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    Seriously? Spit and image? That makes me feel like my minor in English was a complete waste of money.

  2. "Spitting image" not "spit and image"

  3. We'll agree to disagree, anonymous.

  4. Of course, my corrections are in a spirit of high-toned superiority--but when I am wrong (as frequently happens) I prefer any admonitions against me to be in a spirit of humor ;)

  5. Also, because I, too, am poor at geography and math I don't believe that those things are important. At all.