The Power of Language.

Since the third grade I have prided myself on my ability to spell, and spell well. I won a third grade spelling competition, and the victory went straight to my head. I thought I was impossible to defeat in the spelling arena; I was the spelling master. All through school I was called upon again and again by my peers to edit their work. They relied upon my spelling skills in the time before the thin red line of word processing; I was the original spell check. I would find myself gladly reviewing their work: uncovering mistakes both simple and complex, circling words, scratching them out. I edited with pure glee. I was on top of the spelling world! I felt I could spell anything. There was no word too large, too complex, or too wrought with syllables that could stump me.

And then came university.

University brought my reign as spell-master to a bitter end. The words used by my professors had me reeling. I had never heard these words, I didn’t understand them… I would never be able to spell them. My first week of school I was overwhelmed. I found myself constantly playing the role of “courtroom stenographer.” My notes were a mess. My English notebook was riddled with phonetics and question marks, and my angst was emphasized further by the smudged spots where my tears had fallen. I felt naive.

The words were overwhelming, and I would never be able to keep up. My writing would seem so elementary to these brainy PhDs. I was disappointed in myself. I felt like I had been duped into thinking I was smart enough for university; I experienced wave after wave of emotion. I was raging at myself for being foolish. I was upset at the university for letting me believe my weak attempts at writing would suffice. I was raging again at my professors, how could they be so intelligent? How could I ever even hope to be that intelligent? I would never be able to compete on such an intellectual landscape. This was becoming less and less about my ability to spell and write well, and more about my insecurities. I drove home from school everyday thinking that I was going to fail, and wondering if I should just quit while I was ahead.

Then, came this:

“…Your prose is quite elegant, which makes chastising you for verbosity more painful, though no less necessary.”

Maybe I will survive university after all.

Until next time, sarah.


The Musings of GWB.

This morning in my English class, we continued our “Grammar Rodeo” and discussed the musings of former President George W. Bush. I had always assumed that there was someone who wrote the speeches for politicians, but I guess it is still up to the actual politico to deliver it. We spent the class parsing different, and increasingly ridiculous, sections of the former Presidents various speeches given while he was in office.

Here are some of his better, or as GWB would say, “more better”, Bushisms:

“You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” -Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001 (Here the former president decided to use the wrong feminine pronoun, using the objective when the subjective “she” would have been more appropriate. Obviously. The irony is what really puts this one over the top.)

“I hear there’s rumors on the Internets that we’re going to have a draft.” –presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004 (Ahh, more wise words. I see what he was attempting to do here, and although intentions are sometimes difficult and maybe impossible to interpret, I am sure he only had the best ones in mind. Regardless of intent, Internet is not a word that needs an “s” to indicate its plurality.)

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” –LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000 (I believe the proper cliché is “dreams take wing.” But props for effort. There is a name for the grammatical error here, but it alludes me. The important thing is that it exists, and — for any native English speaker — it should be painfully obvious. Not to mention, “Families is.” Really?)

“I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe — I believe what I believe is right.” –Rome, Italy, July 22, 2001 (Here he has engaged in redundancy and some doublespeak… A popular technique for politicians. They can still fill the air with words but don’t really end up saying anything. As evidenced here.)

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” –Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000 (Rarer still: Is former President Bush literate?)

“Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” –Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004 (This is an instance of a misplaced modifier. The sentence in its current state implies that OB-GYNs want to practice their love with women, when I am assuming GWB wished to imply that OB-GYNs are unable to practice their love for their craft on women.)

To conclude this brief list of unmistakable grammatically incorrect bushisms, I will leave you with this lengthy, and not entirely grammatically faulty but still amusing, quote from the former President:

“I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it…I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet…I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” –after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2004 (What is shocking to me is that he was re-elected after this. For real America?)

Until next time. sarah.

(It has occurred to me that some people may find these offensive… It then occurred to me that anyone who finds this offensive should remember that this man had access to thermonuclear weapons. They should spend more energy worrying about his former access to weapons of mass destruction and less energy worrying about his feelings.)

“The 50 Dumbest Bush Quotes of All Time”, politicalhumor.about.comWebOctober 25 2012.


Irregardless is a word that doesn’t truly exist in the English language, yet gets used with such frequency. The correct term is regardless, but there are countless situations where native English speakers feel the need to substitute irregardless in its place. Why? Why has this term snuck into English and how did it manage to solidly sew itself into the fabric of our language?

According to my handy New Oxford English Dictionary, irregardless is an adjective & an adverb, is used informally within the English language, and its origin is most likely the early 20th century, where it was born from a combination of the words “irrespective” and “regardless.” How shocking. My New Oxford was also hip enough to provide a definition for irregardless, simply: regardless. Having exhausted the information in my dictionary, I turned to the vast expanse of the Web for more information, determined to get to the bottom of this literary mystery.

Apparently, although irregardless has been eliciting controversy since the early 20th century, sources state that irregardless has appeared in print as early as 1795… It is even worse than I thought. Also, unlike my New Oxford which is non-judgmental, most dictionaries list irregardless as simply “nonstandard” or “incorrect.” How rude. The word has been mostly attributed to North America, where it seems that we are the only people uneducated enough to use it. The officially unofficial birthplace of irregardless is Indiana, although the word was used in South Carolina prior to Indiana becoming a state. Doesn’t really make it any better, does it?

Irregardless was first acknowledged as an informal word in the Wentworth American Dialect Dictionary in 1912, according to Wikipedia, who took its information from the Oxford English Dictionary. It then appeared in an unabridged version of Webster’s New International Dictionary, in 1934, where irregardless was described as “an erroneous or humorous form of ‘regardless'”, and once again attributed to the States. Lately, its appearance in dictionaries and reference books merely list irregardless as a word synonymous with regardless, along with mentioning that it is informal or nonstandard English. My favourite is Merriam-Webster’s definition: “use regardless instead.” Succinct, ain’t it?

Even though the actual meaning of irregardless is in fact “regardless”, the appearance of the word would state it is not so. In English, the prefix ir- means “not”, & the suffix -less indicates “without”, therefore the ACTUAL meaning of irregardless would be “in regards too.” Irregardless is kind of like a one word double negative. Meaning that irregardless is not synonymous with regardless but should actually carry the opposite meaning. English… I tell ya.

Apparently, the widespread use of the term “irregardless” has been born from its widespread use. The term is known to be incorrect, and has been recorded as such, but as long as people continue to use it, its use will continue to prevail. Basically, regardless of how often you hear the term “irregardless,” keep in mind it is an inappropriate use of the English language, and to use it makes you sound just as uneducated as those who don’t use it would like us to be.

Until next time… sarah.

“New Oxford American Dictionary”  Oxford University Press. 2010. Web. October 20 2012

“Irregardless”, www.wikipedia.orgWebOctober 20 2012.

Beautiful Words.

cellar door.

The words “cellar door” supposedly serve to make up the most beautiful phrase in the English language, based not on meaning but rather on something called phonaesthetics.

For those unfamiliar with the term “cellar door”, I’ll first lend a little insight into the actual semantics of the phrase. Basically, it is exactly what you might guess it to be, a door for a cellar. Simple. In America, this structure is usually located outside of the house, and for anyone that has seen a movie depicting any sort of natural disaster, you should be familiar with this architectural beauty. For us Canadians, and those residing in any of the other British colonies, our cellar doors are nicely nestled inside our homes, safe from the elements. And, now that that is out of the way, WHY are the words “cellar door” so beautiful to the human ear?

As mentioned earlier, the beauty of the phrase has to do with phonaesthetics. According to the New Oxford English Dictionary, phonaesthetics is: the study of the aesthetic properties of speech sound, in particular the study of sound sequences, as in phonaesthesia. Yeah, that’s great… But what does it have to do with the phrase, “cellar door”?

Oddly enough, the more I say it the more beautiful it sounds.

The phrase has a particular cadence, a rhythm within its syllables that make it sound almost foreign to the ear. But, its exotic resonance lend an elegance to the phrase that no one seems to know the root of. Believe me, I have googled it. All we know is that although a cellar door is not pretty — the really nice photograph I found is beside the point — the way the words sound is magic to our ears. The supposed beauty of the phrase has been examined since it popped up in the novel Gee-Boy, which was published in 1903. From there such famous authors as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have commented on its beauty… But beyond the stiff scientific definition, there is no specific, dumbed down reason as to WHY these words elicit such a pleasant response.

Maybe “cellar door” is just a linguistic mistake? A statement born of necessity that just so happened to be phonaesthetically pleasing. Maybe we have all been watching too much Donnie Darko, and have been unfairly duped. Who knows? For now, I am content to just relish in the accidental beauty of the English language.

Until next time, sarah.


“New Oxford American Dictionary”  Oxford University Press. 2010. Web. October 09 2012

“Cellar door”, www.wikipedia.orgWebOctober 09 2012.

Don’t be a Hater, Be a Conjugator!

I realize that this is an unfair comparison BUT I cannot help but love verbs more than nouns. I realize nouns are important — they give everything a name — and for that I am thankful. However… Verbs. Sigh. Love at first sight, I swear. They are so easy to understand, not like nouns. Nouns have a way of making everything SO difficult. With a verb what you see is what you get. Yes, some can be a bit irregular, & I will get into that. However, first I want to define what a verb is, and what it’s function is in the English language so that everyone else can love them just as much as I do!

A verb, as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary, is: a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence. Basically, a verb in a sentence is what the noun does. There are telltale signs that a word is a verb, typically words ending in the suffixes -ize, -ate, -ify, or -esce are verbs. But, as mentioned earlier, many verbs are irregular. Irregular verbs are any verbs that do NOT fall into the following patterns, for whatever reason. The English language is unfortunately littered with a fair amount of them, and as much as I would love to create some sort of blanket solution for knowing them…. I cannot. With these bad boys memorization is required. BUT, if you already have a pretty good handle on English, they should come fairly easily to mind when you start conjugating.

Verbs come in different forms. Usually when discussing verbs we refer to them in their Infinitive Form. This is very simple, basically to + the verb. So in the case of the verb “talk” the infinitive form would be “to talk.” Just the verb hanging out by itself is referred to as the Bare Infinite. There is also the Present Participle, which is the verb + -ing, as in “talking.” The Past Participle is another form that the verb presents itself in, and that consists of the verb + -ed (as in “talked”) or the verb + -en (as in “written”), the past participle is also usually preceded by “have” or “had.” (Keep that in mind for LATER.) The forms of verbs mentioned above are all grouped together as Nonfinite Verbs, which means that on their own they do not give any indication of time.

There are also Finite Verbs: a form of a verb that is marked for tense. Meaning, these guys let you know what time (past, present, or future) the action (or state!) is occurring in. Finite verb forms are referred to, rather simply, as the Past Tense and the Present Tense. These are the five FORMS of verbs, and once equipped with knowledge of them you are ready to   start conjugating! Or are you?

Before conjugation education is complete, you need to become aware of the different Aspects. There is Progressive, which describes ongoing actions in progress that happen in the background or concurrent with another action. UH, basically what you have to know is that progressive tense = to be + verb + -ing (to be + the present participle). In the case of our earlier example of “to talk”, the progressive tense would be “is talking,” “is” in this instance is one of many forms of the verb “to be.” There is also the Perfect aspect, this aspect associates and action with a later action. In other words, perfect aspect = to have + verb + -ed/-en (to have + the past participle). So to continue with our “to talk” example, the present-perfect form would be “has talked” (“has” being the present tense of the verb “to have.”) The last aspect is Perfect-Progressive, and this aspect combines the first two. Perfect-progressive = to be (always “been” in perfect-progressive) + to have + -ing (present participle). In the case of “to talk”, continuing with our example of present tense, the present perfect-progressive would be “has been talking.” There is also the Simple aspect, as an aside, and this is the verb in its bare infinite form, occurring in its past, present, or future tense. So, present: talk. Past: talked. Future: will talk. All in all, with the three different tenses and four different aspects, a single verb can occur in 12 different forms, depending on the criteria provided.

With that last information you are ALMOST ready to conjugate.

Conjugating a verb consists of making a list according to tense & person. So, we have the tense part of that locked down, now let’s take a look at what exactly that “& person.” bit means. Basically, in the English language, there is the First PersonSecond Person, and Third Person. And when conjugating verbs you have to not only put that verb into the appropriate tense, but also conjugate it in forms depending on what point of view it is being stated from, and using the appropriate pronoun for that POV. Plus, the singular and plural form of that point of view. It sounds like a lot, but it is really not so bad.

For First Person, the singular form is, well “I”. And the plural form is “We.” For the Second Person, the singular form is “You” and the plural form is “You.” That is the one I have the most trouble with, oddly enough… For the Third Person, the singular form is either “He”, “She” or “It”. The plural is “They.”

And now feel free to get conjugating! That is basically all you need to know to fall in love with verbs. And really, when you look at how hard they work and all the things they do, how could you NOT fall in love?

That’s all I have for now! Until next time, sarah.

Barry, Anita K. “Human Grammar: Language as Human Behavior”, New Jersey: Pearson, 2002. Print.

“New Oxford American Dictionary”  Oxford University Press. 2010. Web. September 30 2012

Does Grammar Matter?

Does grammar really matter?

According to my somewhat eccentric and incredibly intelligent English prof, you bet grammar matters. & to hold any opinion otherwise makes you not only stupid but also puts you on the fast track to being unsuccessful. As he put it so eloquently yesterday morning, regardless of what you want to do in life, be it writing; driving a garbage truck; or committing  a crime, if you cannot communicate effectively all your hard work will be for nought. Why, some of you may be asking. Why must grammar be at the root of our success?

Earlier, I explained — in general terms — what grammar is. To reiterate: it is the system used in a language that has been agreed upon by it’s citizens. If you do not have a working knowledge of this system, you cannot be expected to effectively communicate. If punctuation puzzles you, and prose leaves you perplexed, the power of  communication will forever elude you.

There are many people who come up with great ideas, but if you pay attention you will notice that only the most effective communicators gain recognition. Someone who is totally illiterate will never have their ideas taken seriously, because how can they have a valid point if they have no semblance of properly communicating it? Regardless of how great your idea is, if you can’t take that idea and structure it effectively to be communicated and received in the proper way, you will never be taken seriously. Grammar was created to cut out the confusion created when a society was not on the same linguistic page. If you do not have a solid grasp of grammar’s somewhat complicated rules, you will be unable to communicate as effectively as someone who does.

In no way am I suggesting that every human that walks this earth needs to be 100 percent accomplished in the study of grammar. Even after my brief stint of studying it I realize how intricate the English language is, and knowing it inside out would take years of intense study. What I AM suggesting is that if your success depends on communicating effectively — which I can guarantee you it does — work on your grammar skills. Gain a sense of grammar, and use it appropriately in your day to day life. That way, when push comes to shove and you need to be heard, I can guarantee that someone will listen.

Until next time, sarah.