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Why those ads for Amish heaters drive me nuts!

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Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 12:00 am

Here we are, in the last year of a decade, wrapped in gray and rather wet. Yes, you read it right — the last year of a decade.

Think about it: a decade is ten: 1-10, 11-20, etc. Thus, 2001-2010. I know, the move from a single to a double digit is misleading, but numbers of themselves don't lie. The lies come with how people use them; witness Washington: spend more in order to save.

Thinking of what is going on with our government only adds to the gloom, so let's change the subject. I have seen one forsythia blossom, one Star of Bethlehem bloom, one blooming blue hydrangea, lots of paper whites, and continuing blossoms on the sasanqua camellias — and a few new rosebuds, to boot. Lots of bulbs are beginning to show green. The birds and squirrels are eating us out of house and home, but they are fun to watch and comforting, going about their business in spite of the weather and the world.

For the last two months, I have been trying to keep a promise I made to several longtime readers who want me to write about correct English usage now and then, so herewith.

First, before I forget, this gem: Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

And a look back: In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were laid over ropes secured to the bed frames. They were made firmer by tightening the ropes, hence the saying, "Good night, sleep tight."

And a word origin: The leotard, beloved of ballet dancers, takes its name from 19th century French acrobat Jules Leotard, who wore the tight-fitting costume during his performances. This information comes from the editor of the Uptown Crossword Puzzle Club, to which I subscribe.

I began this column in 1999 as a chat about the correct use of the English language and gave it up five years later because it didn't seem to make a difference, except to some people who really didn't need any help in how they used English.

I began with homophones, those words which are spelled differently but have the same sound. One such is "bows/boughs." A news story mentioned how to prune the bows of trees. Yes, trees do bow in a strong wind, but they consist of a trunk and boughs. And don't get confused with a different pronunciation of the same four letters: ribbon bows which are put around presents.

Every time I see that ad for the Amish "mantles," I have a fit. "Mantles" are capes. Fireplaces have "mantels." Then there's "your" and "you're." One is possessive — your coat; one is a contraction — you are. The apostrophe means a letter (a) has been left out. Another possessive, our, is within your, so use this as a check to see if the right word is being written.

Then there's "hear" (note this word contains the word "ear"), meaning awareness of sounds. Its buddy, "here," denotes a location. This word helps define "there," also a location, when it is confused with "their," meaning people own something, and "they're," they are, again with the (a) left out.

With reference to apostrophes, they are NOT used with simple plurals: cards, toys, words, etc. They do denote possession: the boy's coat, the girl's book. If more than one person owns one thing or several, the apostrophe shows this: the boys' coats, the girls' books.

Moving on from homophones, we come to verb problems. Not all English verbs work the same way in their tenses. If I forbid you to do something today, I may have forbidden you before; I'm sure I forbade you to do it yesterday. And then it's not, "Honey I shrunk the kids"; correctly, I shrank the kids. I may have shrunk them every day this week! Equally, the ship sank in the hurricane yesterday; many ships have sunk in like conditions. Another ship may sink today if the storm continues. Same rule with "drink, drank, drunk" and "sing, sang, sung."

Oh, those English verbs! I sit, I sat, I have sat and I have been seated. The dog bites me today, he bit me yesterday and he has bitten me a lot this week. I can truly say I was bitten — NOT was bit.

And all these problems have come about because English is a polyglot language that has borrowed words from many other languages, willy nilly!

Gwin Paden has been in Lodi since 1957, and, among various careers, has been, obviously, an English teacher.

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