A Quick Guide To Using A Semicolon.

A semicolon provides a pause in a sentence that is longer than a comma but shorter than a full stop.

There are a number of ways in which one can use a semicolon to good effect; they are very versatile little punctuation marks. 

A semicolon can be used to extend a sentence using two closely related ideas without using a conjunction. Therefore, a semicolon works differently than a colon does: they are not interchangeable. Examples:

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  • A semicolon is a much misunderstood piece of punctuation; while many people avoided them, those who use them achieve greater eloquence and refinement in their writing.
  • You may have as many donuts as you like; however, the lemon meringue pie is all gone.

A semicolon can also be used to create a complex list in which each entry is accompanied by additional information before the list continues. Examples:

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  • When editing, I have to remember many things: my punctuation, because that tells people how to read my work; my spelling, because words are often confusing; my paragraphs, because they enable me to organise my ideas; and my word choices, because some words are really similar!
  • The guests came from Melbourne, Australia; Paris, France; Montreal, Canada; and various other places.

How To Use A Semicolon
#grammar #writingtips

Contronyms.

I remember reading, as a kid, a children’s storybook called ‘Amelia Bedelia’, in which Amelia got a job as a housekeeper without having any knowledge of how to keep house. It was memorable because of the humour involved in her being told to dust the living room, but having no idea how. She proceeded to cover every surface in the living room with the dusting powder she found  in the bathroom. Obviously, the result was the exact opposite of what her employer had intended.

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I still remember the experience of understanding for the first time that there are words that have opposite or contradictory meanings despite being exactly the same words. What a revelation! Words had just become automatically more interesting and exciting.

Dust is one of a small and interesting collection of words called contronyms.
A contronym is more than just a homophone or homograph: it must have two meanings that are contrary to one another.

To dust can mean to remove the dust from a surface: Amelia Bedelia learned that to dust the furniture meant to polish or sweep the furniture in order to keep it clean. It can also mean to sprinkle the surface of something with a powdery substance:: a baker might dust a cake with sugar, a weightlifter dusts their hands with chalk to create extra grip, and snow can dust the landscape.

To cleave is to chop or cut through something. One can cleave a piece of wood in two with an axe, or cleave a piece of meat on two with a special knife called a cleaver.It is even possible to cleave through something figuratively: a swimmer might be said to cleave through the water, or a plane through the air. However, cleave can also mean exactly the opposite: to hold together.One can also cleave to one’s partner or spouse by holding them close, or by remaining faithful to them. In the same way, one can cleave to one’s faith or ideology by living faithfully according to its tenets and teachings.

Fast can mean with great speed: one can run fast, or a lab test might have a fast result if it happens quickly. It can also mean to not move at all: a tile might be held fast to the wall by strong glue, or a vine might cling fast to a tree.

Buckle can mean to bend or fold. A wall can buckle under the force of water or wind. Legs can buckle underneath a person who is carrying something too heavy for them, or as the result of a shock or impact. Buckle can also mean to fasten or hold something in place, just as a buckle on a belt or shoe does.

You could even say that someone who cleaves to something holds fast to it, while a buckle can hold a shoe fast to the foot wearing it!

Note that not all words that are contronyms have only those two meanings.

To bear can mean to carry, as in a burden or a grudge.
To bear can also mean to give birth – meaning that the child is no longer being carried.
These meanings make bear a contronym, regardless of its multiple other meanings and nuances.

A koala – which is not actually a bear – bearing her baby, which she previously bore.
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Contronyms: Words that have two opposite meanings.
#grammar #words #English

Ploce: It Is What It Is.

One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.

The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .

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Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.
That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.

Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.

  • It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
  • It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: 
    Examples:
    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
    “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”

    Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
  • It can involve a change in the form of the word.
    Example:
    “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”

    This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.

Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:

Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3
Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3

Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.

Sources:
Silva Rhetorica
ThoughtCo.
Britannica.com

Ploce: It Is What It Is
#words #vocabulary #Shakespeare

Empathy and Sympathy.

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Empathy and sympathy are closely related words and concepts, but each is quite distinct from the other.

Both words draw part of their meaning from the Greek word pathos which means feeling and came from the PIE root *kwent(h) which means to suffer.

Empathy is an early 20th century word with much older roots.

To have empathy (n) is to empathise (v): to share a feeling, or more literally to be in the feeling, that someone else experiences. It suggests an ability to fully understand how another person feels and how their experience affects them both emotionally and practically. A person who empathises readily or easily is described as empathetic (adj) because they respond empathetically (adv).

Empathy is what Atticus Finch was teaching his daughter  in To Kill A Mockingbird:

“First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

In other words, empathy is necessary for understanding other people, and therefore their experiences and behaviour, too.

Sympathy differs in that it relates to sharing a feeling or experience with or alongside someone else. It has a sense of commonality and community, where empathy is more individual. One who sympathises (v) is described as sympathetic (adj) because they respond sympathetically (adv).

Sympathy is a much older word, dating back to the 1500s, when it entered English via French ‘sympathie’ from Latin sympathi‘ and before that, from Greek sympathes which meant to have a common feeling or to be affected by similar feelings. The prefix sym- means together so when added to pathos, the meaning is feeling together – synonymous with compassion, which literally means suffering together.

The differences are subtle, but definite. Consider these example responses to a person grieving a loved one:
Empathy: ‘I understand that you are sad and hurting. I understand life will never be the same again. I’m here for you.”
Sympathy: “I share your sorrow and pain. Life will never be the same, but I am here with you.”

In both cases, the person understands they are not alone, but the ways in which their experience is understood and shared differ.

Crucially, both empathy and sympathy must be genuine in order to actually exist. Token words and empty expressions are meaningless.

If one is unable to connect at any level with the experiences of others, or to offer anything other than a token acknowledgment of someone else’s suffering, they have neither. There are such things as empathy training and empathy coaches, but if the subject does not have the capacity for it, one may as well try to teach a fish to walk.

References:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline: Empathy and Sympathy

Empathy and Sympathy
#emotions #vocabulary #blog

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.

Why do we call the W ‘double U’ instead of ‘double V’?

For the answer to this, we need to go back to Rome, where they made no distinction V and U, nor between the letters I and J, even though one of each pair is a vowel and the other a consonant.

This means that in Roman times, these pairs of letters– U and V , and I and J –were what we call allographs. An allograph is an alternative form of the same letter, like upper and lower case letters, or the same letter in plain or italic, or in different fonts. Replacing one with the other does not change how the words are said.

Thats why you’ll see AVGVSTVS instead of AUGUSTUS or IVLIVS instead of JULIUS on old Roman coins.

Images used under Creative Commons Licences: Image 1 Image 2

The Romans did not have a letter for the /w/ sound because they didn’t really use it. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval England used the sound a lot in their language, so they needed a letter for it when they started writing things down using the Latin alphabet instead of the runic alphabet they had used previously. They originally wrote it as uu– which makes sense as the /w/ sound comes right at the end of the long /u/ sound– but then reverted to using the runic character wynn to represent the sound. When the Normas arrived in England in the 11th century, they brought back the usage of the conjoined uu to represent the /w/ sound, and it literally became the double U.

Even in today’s English, the previous identity of U and V is reflected in the varied spelling of similarly pronounced words such as flower and flour, guard and ward, or lour and lower.

Sources:
Grammarphobia
Lexico.com

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.
#English #language #history

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’

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Confusion over when to use the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ is widespread, and it’s not limited to the less-well-educated: in my own experience, people with university degrees get it wrong equally as often as anyone else.

It’s not that others won’t understand you if you get it wrong — they will.
It’s not even about being judged by others, although there are people out there who will either judge you or correct you.
It’s actually about communicating as clearly and effectively as possible. That’s why the “rules” and conventions of grammar exist.

Using the right pronouns is not actually that hard. Perhaps it just needs clearer explanation than has been experienced in the past.

We instinctively know when to use the pronouns when it’s just ourselves we are talking about. We know to say “I am happy”, not “Me is happy”.  We know to ask “What do you want me to do?” Or “Can I do anything for you?”

We can use that basic knowledge to help get it right when we add someone else into the sentence.

If you are talking about two or more people , simply remove the other subject(s) from the sentence for a moment and think about which pronoun you would use if it were just you.

Then pop them back into the equation, always putting yourself after the others because that’s good manners.

Jules and I are happy.
Do you want Kim and me to do that for you?
If you need help, please see Robin, Beck or me.

If you are adding possession to the mix, such as talking about something that belongs to both of you or a friend in common, the same rule applies.

Kim is a friend of Robin’s.
Kim is a friend of mine.
Kim is a friend of Robin’s and mine.
This is Jules’ and my house.
When can I see Beck’s and your new puppy?

These guidelines will enable you to know which pronouns to use, and so help you speak and write with more confidence, which is a great thing.

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’
#language #grammar #pronouns

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe

Apostrophes are used for two reasons:

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  • contractions: Dave isn’t walking his dog. He can’t today— he’s sick.
    It’s a shame he is so unwell.

    The apostrophe shows that two words have been mashed together, and it is placed in the position where a letter or letters have been taken out.

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  • ownership: Dave’s dog. Penny’s cat.

    If someone’s name ends in s, an apostrophe can simply be added after their name, without adding the extra ‘s’ afterwards: Jules’ car.

    The only time an apostrophe should not be used for ownership is when using the pronoun it:
    The house was missing its chimney.
    Kerry gave the dog its ball.

Apostrophes should never be used to make plurals, or for regular words ending in s.
This means “Dave’s dogs” only needs that one apostrophe after Dave, and “Dave rocks” doesn’t need any.

It can get complicated, though, when one needs to follow multiple conventions at the same time.

It can get complicated when a proper noun needs to be made a plural before the possessive apostrophe is added. For example, the Johnson family live in the Johnsons’ house.

Following the same rule used for Jules’ car, the de Jesus family live in the de Jesus’ house.

If the Weatherby family own a house, it is the Weatherbys’ house.
Here, the family name ends in y, but because it’s a proper noun, the plural is made by simply adding an ‘s’ instead of using the conventional -ies ending for regular nouns that end in y. The apostrophe is then added at the end.

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe
#punctuation #writingtips

Writing Tips: Avoiding Sentence Fragments.

We all know the basic elements of writing a sentence  in English: starting with a capital letter and finishing with some kind of ending punctuation appropriate to the form of the sentence, be it a statement, a question or an exclamation.

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Most people have mastered the fact that each sentence should communicate one key idea, and that they can use punctuation and conjunctions to extend that idea.

However, the use of sentence fragments is a problem I notice frequently, both as a teacher and as an avid reader. They are not the sole domain of people still learning to write: a novel I read over the weekend was littered with them, which frustrated me so much I was sorely tempted not to finish it.

A sentence fragment is a little bit of a sentences that don’t make sense on its own, and really needs either additional information or to be attached to the previous or following sentence in order to make sense.

It’s one thing to speak or send a quick text message using sentence fragments. We do it all the time without thinking twice. When writing for someone else to read our work, though, it’s important to express complete thoughts and to make sense on the first reading.

Example: I have been busy today. Writing this essay. It’s hard going.

This example sentence  fragment can be corrected it in any one of the following ways:

  • I have been busy today, writing this essay. It’s hard going.
  • I have been busy today. Writing this essay is hard going.
  • I have been busy today: writing this essay is hard going.

While it’s true that some writers use sentence fragments for stylistic effect, and may do so very effectively, it’s also true that they need to be proficient in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that they are able to make that technique work for them.  They are useful in writing conversations, communicating a train of thought, tacking on afterthoughts, or reflecting a nervous, excited or angry character.

Most people who write sentence fragments are, alas, painfully unaware that they are even doing it. Their sentence fragments don’t work for them, because they don’t communicate ideas clearly and effectively: in fact, it tends to have the opposite effect.

As writers, we should avoid anything that frustrates or confuses their readers, particularly if they hope to develop a broad and loyal readership.

This highlights the importance of careful proofreading and editing in the writing process.

One of the most effective strategies for finding sentence fragments is to read your work aloud. Your voice and ears will alert you when things don’t sound right, much faster than your eyes will discern it. This is because your brain already knows what you intended to say, and tends to make written errors almost invisible to the eye when reading silently.  

Avoiding Sentence Fragments.
#writingtips #writingadvice

The Imagery of Persian Poetry

This fascinating article appeared on my Twitter feed this morning.

It’s healthy to be reminded that the things we do with language to make it vivid and powerful are not just the domain of the English language: indeed, to imagine so would be both insular and ignorant. Given that English is such a mutt of a language, it should be no surprise that other cultures were doing powerfully creative things with language long before we were.

When reading even just the translated excerpts in this article, the abundance of metaphor, simile, and other types of imagery in these Persian poems is evident. The language is beautiful and the poems expressive.

I’m adding some Persian poetry to my reading list. I’m keen to read more of the poets listed in the article, and to experience the beauty of the language in the work of the poets.

Consider my poetic horizons broadened!

The Imagery of Persian Poetry
#images #Persian #poetry

Word Nerdy Book Recommendations

If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.

Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.

These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.

Word Perfect by Susie Dent

This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.

Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.

The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.

Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.

It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.

It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.

The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.

Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.

Highly recommended.

Word Nerdy #BookRecommendations
#words #language