Grammar Rocks! – Literally!

Do you know someone who abuses the word “literally”?

Maybe they just want you to know they really, really, really mean it. Maybe they actually mean “figuratively”, but didn’t look it up.

One simple music video can change all that…

Horrible Histories Viking's "Literaly" video

You know who paints the whole town red, literally?

Vikings, that’s who.


Thanks to the BBC’s “Horrible Histories” show for disguising facts as fun.


Weird Al To Release New Album: Mandatory Fun

My fellow wordsmiths, in celebration of Weird Al Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun on July 15th, I present to you the following tidbits:

Spread the news!

Special thanks to ~

 Answers (spoiler alert!)

I Love the English Language, but it is Fundamentally Crazy

The end of the year makes you think, ponder really, “What am I doing with my life?” and “Am I making the world a better place?”.

Before I started doing technical writing, I dreaded the self examination, the sneaking suspicion that I could be doing more, that I was far from the best at what I was doing.

I love being a Technical Writer, because I love reading and learning new things. I’m an English language nerd.

However, if you really think about it, English is practically the opposite of science.

Speaking English only, the way most of America does, is probably the biggest reason why most students here struggle with math and science.

English is the bubblegum of languages. The Germanic Angles and Saxons built it piecemeal, trading with each other. We can thank them for the tiny number of nouns that have an assigned gender without an actual sex (why ships are called “she”). In 1066, the French speaking Normans conquered England and systematically married in to the local aristocracy. English acquired a huge layer of vocabulary with Latin and Greek roots like: liberty, equality, and fraternity. We return to these roots when we need names for our new inventions like: elevator, automobile, telephone, and television.

The French have an entire academy trying to keep foreign words out of their language. They try to turn back the tide by renaming “le walkman” as “le baladeur”, but fail to keep people from using “le weekend” instead of “le fin de semaine”. English speakers are happy to use words from other languages, and hardly remember a word’s foreign origins. Avatar, bandanna, cot, dinghy? I’ll bet you didn’t think you knew any Sanskrit.

The rules of English grammar, spelling, and even phonics are riddled with exceptions. Most people learn English as a first language by absorbing it from parents, friends, and TV. The rules are briefly covered in school and used only when trying to un-learn non-standard English.

A facility with English requires a tolerance for ambiguity and contradiction of fundamental rules that simply does not prepare you for math, science, or even other languages.

English, as Pete Seeger so eloquently put it, is crazy.

Please enjoy his lyrical smackdown and embrace the craziness as I have.

English is the most widely spoken language in the history of the planet.

One out of every seven human beings can speak or read it.

Half the world’s books, 3/4 of the international mail are in English.

It has the largest vocabulary, perhaps two million words,

And a noble body of literature. But face it:

English is cuh-ray-zee!

Just a few examples: There’s no egg in eggplant, no pine or apple in pineapple.

Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square.

A writer writes, but do fingers fing?

Hammers don’t ham, grocers don’t groce. Haberdashers don’t haberdash.

English is cuh-ray-zee!

If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth?

It’s one goose, two geese. Why not one moose, two meese?

If it’s one index, two indices; why not one Kleenex,two Kleenices?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

You can comb through the annals of history, but not just one annal.

You can make amends, but not just one amend.

If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one, is it an odd or an end?

If the teacher taught, why isn’t it true that a preacher praught?

If you wrote a letter, did you also bote your tongue?

And if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?

In what other language do people drive on the parkway and park on the driveway?

Ship by truck but send cargo by ship? Recite at a play but play at a recital?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same

When a wise man and a wise guy are very different?

To overlook something and to oversee something are very different,

But quite a lot and quite a few are the same.

How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

You have to marvel at the lunacy of a language in which your house can burn down

While it is burning up. You fill out a form by filling it in.

In which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?

Well, English was invented by people, not computers

And reflects the creativity of the human race.

So that’s why when the stars are out, they’re visible,

But when the lights are out, they’re invisible.

When I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this rap,

I end it. English is cuh-ray-zee!

Fun With Diagramming Sentences

I was a shy kid. I could disappear in to a book all day and never miss the world outside of those pages. I was never good at sports, and suffered the humiliation of being the last person picked for soccer, for kickball, for baseball, for flag football, for everything…

But Mrs. Tateshi in junior high introduced our class to a game where Brian Gallagher and I were made permanent team captains. We were so good at the game, the class complained, that if we were on the same team we would crush our opponents. I was thrilled at the power of choosing who to pick, rather than waiting, turn after turn, to be left to the end. Popular kids looked to me for advice and winning streaks.

I became a champion of competitive sentence diagramming.

Two teams face off at the chalk board. The teacher reads the sentence to be diagrammed. The first person on each team puts up the first element (the line for subject and predicate), then retires to the back of the lineup.  Each person can add only one element at a time, so the first two spots on your roster can go to weaker players, adding the base line and the division between subject and predicate. The next person usually added the subject, and then the real work began. Like in baseball, you wanted your power hitter up 4th, not to drive in runs, but to put a harder word in place, after the easy pickin’s have all been taken.

I was profoundly disappointed to find out that this game was unknown outside our class, and that I had to retire before high school.

However, I found a fellow fan of the game, Kitty Burns Florey, when she published a beautifully written article in Slate magazine during the 2008 election on the ultimate challenge: diagramming Sarah Palin. For example this gem from her Katie Couric interview:

It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?

Take a stab at it yourself, and then scroll down to check out the master’s work below, and the rest of the article (Thank you Kitty!).









It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?