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In language, you have to know ‘faqs’ from ‘facts’

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Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 10:00 pm

The things you see when you haven't got a gun! Things like layed instead of laid; croquette ( a chicken patty) instead of croquet (a game); what to due with something instead of do; dilemna instead of dilemma; peace of mine instead of peace of mind; anis instead of anise (licorice-flavored herb.)

Worthy targets, all! The prize one is the use of faqs instead of facts! Truly: That's the word used in a subhead for a news story: "Faqs about the new market. . ."

The uses of aid and aide can get confusing. Just remember that the first means "help" and the second means "a person who helps."

Gwin Paden


We have destruction and construction; why not restruction? Maybe someday this word will arrive, make itself happy in the latest dictionary, and become one of the Three-Uctioneers, but this hasn't happened yet. The word now in use is restructuring. Advice to the letter writer who was way ahead of the rest of us; hold on, we'll be there some day, no doubt!

TV news programs have their favorite betes noirs; they like to say "broadcasted" and "bursted." Adding the usual -ed to a verb to form the past tense doesn't work here, just as fish, bear, elk, and deer don't need an -s or -es on the end to form plurals.

The streamers which move across the bottom of the screen on some newscasts can make for hilarious reading. Did you know that there are chaplins holding Sunday services for the troops in Iraq? Someone will tell somebody about this; they'll put the correct chaplains next time (based on previous instances).

Problems with subject/verb agreement continue. While most of the time a singular verb is used when there are plural subjects (more than one, even if just two, subjects take plural verbs), each of, someone, no one and the like are singular subjects. Use singular verb forms with these.

A friend asked for some words about the schwa. No, it is not a new dance, a new animal form, nor the name of a new chain of stores. It is a linguistic being: the unstressed central vowel sound (represented by an upside down e in pronunciation symbols).

How do we say, "A moment ago, he arrived for another lesson"? Usually, it sounds like this: "Uh moment uhgo he arrived for uhnother lesson," and all the uh sounds are hurried over. Rarely do we take time to say, "Ay moment ahgo he arrived for annother lesson." Linguistics acknowledges this mild grunt by giving it a name, realizing that sound and spelling are not always fraternal twins.

For everyone who wants to know the rules of grammatical writing, I heartily recommend the current best-seller, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss, an Englishwoman who definitely knows whereof she speaks, and speaks about it in a sharply humorous way.

The cover of the book shows a panda on a ladder painting out the comma after "Eats," changing the title to a description of a panda's diet instead of a series of activities, such as might be undertaken by a hunting party. As an American, I would put a comma after "shoots" as well. Truss remarks on this and says she follows the British trend of not using what she calls "the Oxford comma."

I mentioned her treatment of apostrophes last month. Her comments on commas are even better. I quote:

" … between the 16th century and the present day, (the comma) became a kind of scary grammatical sheepdog … The comma has so many jobs as a "separator" (punctuation marks are traditionally either "separators" or "terminators") that it tears about on the hillside of language … sorting and dividing; circling and herding; and of course darting off with a peremptory "woof" to round up any wayward subordinate clause that makes a futile bolt for semantic freedom. Commas, if you don't whistle at them to calm down, are unstoppably enthusiastic at this job."

As Truss says, "Good old Comma, the Sheepdog."

More from Truss in future, particularly on hyphens.

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