Tuesday, April 30, 2013

GrammatiCats: Zeugma


Zeugma.  (Pronounced ZOOGma - the 'eu' is like it is in 'leukemia', and like everybody thinks it is in 'Dr. Seuss'.)

Yeah, I didn't know this one either - but it's totally a thing!  Are you ready for this?  I mean, fair warning:

Pinkie Rating: 5

For real, you guys.  This one isn't long, but it goes deep.

So what's zeugma?  It's like this:

Monday, April 29, 2013

GrammatiCats: Y'all

Well, look.  I was sitting around trying to think of a good grammar topic to do for "Y" today. 

And I said to my cat, I said: "Kitty, what if we did 'your' and 'you're'?"

And she was like,

And I had to admit that it didn't sound like a terribly substantial topic. 

But then I thought, "Wait a minute - we DO know a Y-word that the world needs to understand!  Quickly, kitten - to the Hickmobile!"

Thus, we have arrived at "y'all."  Come!  Let me teach you the pronoun of my people.

Beer Score: 2

Saturday, April 27, 2013

GrammatiCats: XXIV (and Other Roman Numerals)

Yeah, it's a little sneaky, but look: how many grammar words do YOU know that start with "X"?  No jury will convict me!

Actually, though, I'm super jazzed about this post.  I'm a huge Latin / Roman history dweeb, and it came as a surprise to me when I first met someone who couldn't read Roman numerals.

"But didn't you just, you know, want to snort them up your nose and wear them on your face when you were taught them in school?" I asked, perplexed.

Well, apparently not.

But!  Since we do still need them for keeping track of popes, Superbowls and Land Before Time sequels, here for your edification is a no-fear guide to Roman numerals.

Friday, April 26, 2013

GrammatiCats: Was and Were

"Pff, what?  WAS and WERE?  Who doesn't know how to use those?  I 'was' going to read this post, and you 'were' going to write something worth my time.  Handled!"

I know, right?

But then where the dickens do we get "If I were you", and how come Beyoncé's singing about "If I Were A Boy"?  Did Loudon Wainwright screw up in writing "I Wish I Was a Lesbian"?  Should it be "I Wish I WERE a Lesbian," or does it even matter?

These are the burning questions on which our tiny grammatical planetoid turns.  Join us now for a very special episode of "Days of Our Conditional Verb Tenses."

Pinkie Rating: 4

Thursday, April 25, 2013

GrammatiCats: Voice

Hello again from Internet land!

Sorry these last few posts (and comments, visits, et al) have been on the late side - my life's inbox has been full to overflowing with you-know-what.

Anyway, voice!

Not the "finding your unique writing style" kind of voice - that's well outside my purview.  (For that, you need to come to DFWcon and hear Jenny Martin's class: she will take you to the wall!)

But you know how people are always ragging on the "passive voice" and talking about why you shouldn't use it?

Well, I'm here to tell you that - just like alcohol, television, and saturated fats - the passive voice can be part of a healthy literary lifestyle.  And the only way you can make good decisions about when and how much to use it is by having the facts and knowing the alternatives.

... that sounds more like a medical pamphlet than I'd intended, but you get the idea.  Onward, to voice!

Pinkie Rating: 3

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

GrammatiCats: Umlauts



Otherwise known as "those little dots that Mötley Crüe put in its name for extra metal cred" and "The official  diacritical mark of the Weimar Republic."

"That's great for them," you might say, "but what does that have to do with me?"

Well, have you ever wondered about how or why your word processor autocorrects your writing to say "Noël" or "naïve", or why the New Yorker keeps talking about "preëminence" and "coöperation"?

If so, get your pinkies out, people - we are going to put the ü in über.

Pinkie Rating: 5

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

GrammatiCats: Tmesis

I know, right: you had to click over here just to figure out whether I really did misspell "thesis" that egregiously.

But no!  Check it out, you guys: tmesis is totally a real thing.  Here's one right here:

Did you see it? 

Monday, April 22, 2013

GrammatiCats: Subject and Object Pronouns

All right, you punks - pull up your pants, get off my lawn, and listen up good.  Let me tell you a story.

See, back in the good old days - you know, back when children respected their parents - the linguistic light of the Western world was Latin.  And the cool thing about Latin was that you could arrange the words in your sentence almost any way you wanted, because the ending of each word told you its function

For example --

Puer puellam amat.
Puellam amat puer.
Puer amat puellam.

--all mean "The boy loves the girl."  No matter how you arrange the words, the "-am" ending in "puellam" says that the girl is the one who is loved, while "puer" (with no ending) says that the boy is the one who loves.  (If the girl loved the boy, it'd be "Puella puerum amat.")

The same is true for verbs:

Clamo, clamatis, omnes clamamus pro glace lactis.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

Notice how the Latin verb, clamare, changes its ending each time so that you know who's doing the screaming.  You could dump this whole sentence out on the floor, and no matter how you put the words back together, you will ALWAYS know who is doing what to whom.

Two thousand years later, what does the new "international language" called English have to say for itself?

Yeah.  Exactly.  Our words have to hold hands like kindergartners crossing the street, because Lord knows what would happen if we mixed them up.

Before I get you a drink, hit me.
I drink before you get me a hit.
You hit me before I get a drink.

See what I mean?  One jostling of the word order and it's anarchy.

But look just there: we have I and me.  They both mean the same thing, so why are we hardwired to never, ever say Get I a drink or Me hit you?

Could we still retain a glimmer of our noble Latin roots?

Is there anything about this that you don't already know?

Well, I'm throwing down a four-pinkie challenge - let's see how good you are!

Pinkie Rating: 4

Saturday, April 20, 2013

GrammatiCats: Reign and Rein

Just a short one today (tonight?  I'm so hideously far behind!)

I'm not the type to get all bent out of shape when someone comments on a news article and their post has a spelling error.  (For one thing, news article comments are the motel pools of the Internet: swim at your own risk, and whatever you do, don't get any in your mouth.)

However, a depressing number of actual news articles keep messing this up, so I figured it was worth sending the cats out to tackle it.

Because I say things like that now.

Because in my own mind, I'm like Professor X, and my X-Men have names like Adverberus and Modifire and the Predicator.  And I send them out to fight crime, and we all live together in a big secret mansion lair, and I'm never, ever lonely.

What were we talking about?

Right.  Reign and rein.

Pinkie Rating: 3

Friday, April 19, 2013

GrammatiCats: Quotation Marks

I wasn't actually going to do a post about quotation marks.  Because who doesn't know how to use quotes, right?

As it turns out, me.  I was writing the Linking Adverbs post when I realized that I didn't know whether to use single or double quotes when I was referencing a word (such as "however"), and although I sincerely didn't want to have a comma inside the quotes, I wasn't sure whether that was a universal grammatical dictate, or simply an MLA-mandated habit from my school years.

So now we have this post.  By all means, help me to remediate myself!

N.B.:  All of the following advice concerns American usage.  Quotation practices are considerably different in other English-speaking parts of the world.

Pinkie Rating: 3

First of all, I'm going into this with the assumption that you guys are already pretty good with the ol' double quotes.

1.  Dialogue and Other Direct Quotations

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pictures from a Small Town

I'll make you a deal: I'll quit going off-script when awful things quit happening.

I don't live in West, and I don't have any family there.  Still, it's strange.  Our waitress at IHOP told us about the explosion late last night, and my first thought was, "wait, that can't be right - West is a real place."  (It's funny how you can intellectually understand that everything on the news is actually happening somewhere in the world, and yet all those faraway places still look a little bit like set pieces from a Jerry Bruckheimer film.)

Anyway, everyone knows the drill by now: there's going to be pictures of fireballs and flattened houses and crying people for days to come.  So since you're going to be saturated with the disaster-movie version regardless, I thought it might be nice to put up some pictures of the way the real West looks to most of us here in Texas.

See, West is basically the road-trip capital of east Texas.  Our cities are a neighborly minimum of three hours apart, and the view between most of them doesn't change much.

For the most part, the road could be any road,

but there are a few things that you could only see in Texas.

When you get to West, your essential destination is the Czech Stop.  (West is a tiny town, but they are huge on their Czech heritage - I keep meaning to go to Westfest and see the dancers one of these days.)

It's essentially a giant combination convenience store, gas station, and bakery, and the parking lot is always hoaching.

Anyway, the inside is piled up high with gas station snacks and souvenirs.  (It's actually two buildings in one - the one on the right is the Little Czech Bakery.)  Everybody loads up on kolaches here. 

The Czech Stop is right off the highway, so most people get right back on the road without seeing much else of the town.  I tell you what, though: there is a whole beautiful little world tucked away back there.

That's the place that really matters, and one that pass-through drivers like me can't tell you much about. 

I'll tell you one thing, though.  When I look back through these pictures, they could mostly come from anywhere in the US.  But there's a detail in almost every one that anchors them to this single place and time: the "Bar B" plaza, the Texas plates, the Dairy Queen sign, the UT and A&M flags, the little mailbox on the side of the street.

For all the mythology we've built up around it, I don't believe there's any such thing as Anytown, USA.  No matter where you go, there's something that can't be found anywhere else.

I think that's the part that makes movie-towns and news-towns feel flat sometimes: the people behind the camera control what we see, and fix our attention on the characters, the action, the wreckage, the special effects, the Big Ideas.  It's only when you take your own self out to a place like this that you have the freedom to take your time and turn your head, and to see the things that make it more than just a place for something to happen.

Anyway, thanks for looking through these with me.  (And for the rest of you Texians out there: think about giving blood in a week or two. Carter BloodCare is tweeting that they are good to go for the time being, but you can do a lot of good by helping to replenish their supply after the immediate crisis is over.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

GrammatiCats: Or and Nor

Y'know, I seriously considered slapping a couple of extra I's in the title so this could be a post about dwarves.

But no!  The GrammatiCats remain ever committed to their purpose, and will not yield to temptation.

Okay, they might occasionally yield to temptation.

Likewise, you might occasionally think to yourself, "man, I have a judo-grip on this grammar thing.  I am a super-literate sentence-making demigod, and nothing you say about or and nor could possibly be news to me."

Well, batten your hatches and buckle your swash, because today marks GrammatiCats' first-ever...

Pinkie Rating: 5


Dare you enter this cave of conjunctive wonders?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not Today

You know, I don't tend to get worked up about tragedy on the news.  When I do, I usually feel bad about feeling bad.  (Because I can't feel equally bad about everybody, see.  What right do I have to wail and gnash for all those innocent strangers in Boston today when I didn't hardly bat an eye for all those innocent strangers in Mogadishu yesterday?  It's a sick kind of "hope you brought enough for everyone" hold-over from grade school, I'm sure.)

Regardless, humor's not happening and grammar seems deeply pointless just now.  Please take the five minutes you were planning to spend on this blog and put it towards something you will truly enjoy.  Cat silliness will resume tomorrow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

GrammatiCats: Mondegreens and Eggcorns

Yeah, you thought this was going to be Misplaced Modifiers, didn't you?

Okay, well, maybe you didn't.  I did.  I was like, "but maybe I should do mass nouns and count nouns!"  "But misplaced modifiers are more important!"  "But that's what every other grammar-blog's gonna do!"  "But - "

And that's how we got here. 

So what's a mondegreen?
Pinkie Rating: 2

Saturday, April 13, 2013

GrammatiCats: Linking Adverbs


I'm loving these posts, y'all, but I'm hating these post titles.  Linking adverbs.  That sounds about as fun and zesty as corrugated brochure holders or lukewarm soy paste.  If linking adverbs were a cereal, the first three ingredients would be oat bran, unbleached unbromated wheat flour, and boredom.

I'm convinced that this is why we don't pick this stuff up in school, either.  The teacher's all

and the students are all

and not a single damn is given.


I have something to tell you (about the word "however," in fact) which I believe will be relevant and useful to your writing. I will endeavor to make it succinct, interesting, and thoroughly kittylicious.

Venture forth with me, then, as we journey deep into the darkest heart of Conjunctive Adverbia.

Pinkie Rating: 4

Friday, April 12, 2013

GrammatiCats: Kicking the Bucket (and Other Idioms)

Do you know what?  It's freakin' FRIDAY, y'all.  And that last post was a humdinger.

So!  Let's kick back and play a game.  How many of these expressions do you know?

1.  To scare off the mule

2.  To stretch out the legs

3.  To look at a radish from underneath

4.  To become a Buddha

5.  To eat dandelions by the root

Click for answers:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

GrammatiCats: Joining Sentences

You know, I'm not a huge expert when it comes to the finer points of social interaction. 

It's not that I don't enjoy meeting new folks.  It's just that when you spend most of your time nose-bagging Cheetos, molesting your word processor, and scratching yourself, it's sometimes hard to know how to take the people who wander into your life.  Do you want to be friends with me?  Are you just being nice because you have to?  Do you actually really want to do coffee sometime, or does this number you just gave me belong to a laundromat out in Cleburne?

I think ideas can be just as tricky to connect as people.  It's not that we don't know how to use a semicolon or trade business cards, but sometimes it's hard to intuit when to do what in order to make the right kind of connection. 

So that's what I'd like to look at today: a few ways to join up sentences, with an emphasis on where they each tend to be most effective.  Think of it as Match.com for your ideas!

Pinkie Rating: 3

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GrammatiCats: Intensifiers

Hey guys - sorry for the late post today.  Let me tell you, those hyphens will take it right out of you.

So let's kick it back into an easier gear today, with - funnily enough - intensifiers.

Wait, what?

Pinkie Rating: 4

Take a look at Judgmental-Cat here.  What word could we safely delete from this sentence?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

GrammatiCats: Hyphens

Hello again, literary enthusiasts!

A few days ago, we looked at em dashes (—) and en dashes (–).  Today, I'd like to touch on the tiniest and most ubiquitous member of the dash family: the humble hyphen (-). 

Actually, this will be less touching and more full-fledged grammatical groping, but don't hypherventilate - it'll be a good time.

Pinkie Rating: 3

Monday, April 8, 2013

GrammatiCats: Gender

First and of foremost importance: a modest correction.  I'd previously said that ellipses at the end of dialogue don't need a comma before the dialogue tag.  The Chicago Manual of Style begs to differ.  Rebeccah, I owe you ten thousand apologies for every moment you spent hanging your head in shame.  Mea culpa, madame.

Now then!

Do you know what's handy about English?  Do you know what's really, exquisitely super-convenient about this language?

For all its ten thousand maddening idiosyncrasies, English does not make you mess with grammatical gender.  You can get pulled over without having to remember that it's el problema but la policía.  You can dress up for the 7-11 without having to know that socks are feminine, shoes are masculine, and shirt is neuter.  In English, men are he, women are she, and everything else is it.

Or is it?

Pinkie Rating: 3

Well, first of all: we do actually have a tiny, vestigial, appendix-like finger of grammatical gender still hanging on to the lower intestine of our language.  Can you guess what it is?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Blogging A to Z - Water-Break

In the words of the Great Takei: oh MY.

I know it's Sunday and there's no alphabet post for today, but while we're all toweling off sweat and guzzling G2, I just have to say something. 

When you're up at 3 AM for the fifth night in a row, pasting together cat memes and frantically Googling to find out whether you can, in fact, have an ellipsis before a comma, you start questioning your life choices.  And I've really not done as well as I should in visiting and reciprocating, largely for the same reason.

But I've had SUCH a great time this week, met so many terrific new folks already, and am going to try to get better organized today so that I can be more on top of things going forward.  You guys are just so much fun in a can.

Question, though: how are y'all keeping track of where-all you've visited and posted?  I have an RSS feed for blog posts themselves, but I'm not sure how to keep track of my comments.

(And for the long-time regulars: thanks for your patience through this onslaught of kitty literacy.  Regular posting will resume in May.)

--You guys give the world the greatest gift of all.
--No, the other one.
--Ice cream?
--No, the other one.
--Yes!  The third-greatest gift!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

GrammatiCats: Fragments

There it is: that dirtiest of F-words, fragment.  You may recall hearing these vilified in 8th-grade English, or seeing "FRAG" scrawled on your paper in red ink, as shameful and permanently as Hester Prynne's damning scarlet letter.

Well, so what is a fragment, and why are they such a big fraggin' deal?  Must we always shun them, or is our society tolerant enough to accept the syntactical liberties of consenting adults?

Let's explore.

Pinkie Rating: 1

Essentially, a fragment is an incomplete sentence.

Well, so what constitutes a complete sentence?

Friday, April 5, 2013

GrammatiCats: Ellipses

You know, the ellipsis is like the Go-Gurt of English punctuation.  You tear off the top, put the three little dots in wherever there's a pause or some missing words, and squeeze factory-delicious pink bacteri-goo into your face.  It sounds absolutely foolproof.

Until you're writing out some momentous treatise one day, and you realize that you can't recollect whether there's spaces between the dots or on either side or whether you still need a separate, actual period at the end of the sentence, and suddenly it's like the tear-off tab isn't working, and you're trying to rip that sucker open with your teeth, and before you know it, the stupid little food-tube has Strawberry-Banana-Burst all over your self-esteem.

So let's grab a moisti-nap and clear things up.

Pinkie Rating: 3

First of all, we should get straight on the word itself.
  • ellipsis: a set of three dots, usually used to indicate pauses in speech or omitted parts of a quotation
  • ellipses: more than one ellipsis
  • ellipsis point or ellipsis mark: an individual dot in an ellipsis
(Don't let that ellipsis/ellipses thing weird you out, by the way.  We actually have a pant-load of hand-me-down words from Greek whose singular -is endings turn into -es to make the plural: thesis, crisis, axis, neurosis, analysis, metamorphosis, etc.  This one behaves in exactly the same way.)

Anyway, on with the show!  An ellipsis serves two major functions:

1.  Indicating pauses (pregnant, awkward, refreshing, or otherwise) in speech.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

GrammatiCats: Dashes

Have you ever typed a dash ( – ) into your word-processing program, only to have it spontaneously Pokévolve into a super-dash ( — ) as soon as you hit the space bar to move on?

Why would it do that?  Did the original dash feel inadequate?  Is it compensating for something?  Are there deeper-seated self-esteem issues at work here?

Maybe it's time to dish on the dash.

Pinkie Rating: 4

First of all, dashes actually do come in multiple flavors.  Let's round up some dash-shaped kitties and take a look at two of the more common types.  

En Dash 

The shorter of the two, it's called an "en dash" because it's traditionally the same length as the letter "n".  We use it all the time!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

GrammatiCats: Conjunctions

Hello again, catty grammarians!

Today, the word is conjunction.  For those of us who still have the occasional Schoolhouse Rock acid flashback, this may trigger disconcerting memories of junctions vis-à-vis functions.

You've probably already got the basic jist of conjunctions: words like and, or, with, because, and so on, which we use to connect words and phrases.  A burger and fries.  A hot dog with mustard.  No hair in the cheese fries, or it's free.  If you can get through a drive-through window, you already know a thing or two about conjunctions.

So for most of us, the $64 question is, when do you have to use a comma with these little suckers?

Let's talk about that.

Pinkie Rating: 3

Of course, we use conjunctions without commas all the time - for example, when joining two items in a list.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GrammatiCats: Bated Breath

"...Jason... Jason, stop..."

"What's wrong, babe?  I thought you liked it."

"I do!  It's just - I don't know how to say it, but - it's your breath, Jason.  It's... well... bated."

Yeah, but in seriousness: what's the deal with 'bated' breath?  Or is it 'baited'? 

Let's find out.

Pinkie Rating: 4

First of all, spoiler alert: it is in fact bated.  But what does it mean to bate?  Do people spend lonely Saturday nights bating? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

GrammatiCats: Apostrophes

Ah, the apostrophe.  The mistletoe of sentences.  It dangles from the invisible ceiling of our words, spurring our letters to casual, spontaneous intimacy.  What would we do without it?

Well, we'd probably spend a lot less time wondering whether it goes before the dang S or after.  So let's take a quick minute to clear things up.

Pinkie Rating: 2

What can you do with an apostrophe?

A whole mess of things!  Let's get the easier ones out of the way first.

1.  Omit letters.  This could be in the form of a contraction, as when "can not" becomes "can't",

I can't help but notice you're on my stairs.

What Are GrammatiCats?

What are GrammatiCats?

You know, sites like LOLcats and I Can Has Cheezburger are hilarious.

But let's be honest: do you really want your cat to grow up with these sites as their literary models?  Can we afford to have a nation of cats who are ignorant of the mechanics of proper English?

Of course not.  Every responsible cat owner cares about his or her pet's grasp of language.  The problem is that we ourselves aren't always sure how to explain the difference between 'who' and 'whom', or when to use 'that' instead of 'which'.  We usually operate on what "sounds right" - and that's no way to open your cat's mind to the true beauty of the English language.

Enter the GrammatiCats.  These helpful feline friends are here to present common grammar issues and their correct resolutions in a familiar format that you and your pet can enjoy together.   Read, learn, and share with your friends!

What's the deal with the pinkie ratings?

Rightly or wrongly, drinking tea with the little finger extended has become a synonym for grace and etiquette.  Each GrammatiCat lesson is rated accordingly.

1:  Mastery of this concept is essential for anything more formal than a YouTube comment.

2:  Mastery of this concept is widely expected.  You may be smugly corrected by random Internetizens if you mess this up - especially if you're arguing with them.

3:  This concept is essential for any formal occasion: if what you're writing is designed to get you hired, admitted, paid, laid, or published, make sure you have this correct.

4:  Apart from English majors and other literary pros, relatively few people know about this concept.

5:  Only the most bitter of arch-grammarian crows will even notice, much less care, whether you get this right.

Do you take suggestions for post topics?

Absolutely!  Please feel free to leave a comment or send it in by email.  Be sure to include your favorite URL (blog, Twitter, etc.) if you'd like me to link to you!

Can my cat participate?

Absolutely!  If your cat would like to join the ranks of featured GrammatiCats, please e-mail tex at thetexfiles.com with your photos.  Just make sure that:

--each photo is at least 100k (the bigger, the better!)
--you include your cat's name, your name or screen-name, and a link to your blog or website (optional but encouraged!)

Please note: by sending me your photos, you're granting me the unconditional right to edit them, and to use the edited version(s) (with proper attribution, but no compensation) for this site and any derivative works, including but not limited to printed material and online distribution. Sending your photos doesn't guarantee that they will be used here.  You retain all rights to the original photos.