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Prose Parade
Grammar and writing basics

July 12, 2009


I saw this mixup today, so it’s today’s topic. Usually the topic I choose is because I’ve seen it somewhere, and it yanked my chain.

“Accept” is a verb. It means to receive. For example, “I accept this Oscar for Arnold Swarzenegger who couldn’t be with us tonight.” (That’ll be the day Arnie gets an Oscar.)

“Except,” generally speaking, is a preposition and means to exclude. (Remember a prepositional phrase contains the preposition and a noun and can act as an adjective or an adverb.) For instance, “Everyone’s going except you.”

“Except” is also a conjunction (like “and” or “but”), a word than joins other words, thoughts, etc., but in this case it means only or otherwise. (It still has that deep meaning of exclusion.) For example, “I’d buy that wedding dress except it’s over my budget.” (I confess, I do occasionally watch “Say Yes to the Dress” and thank my lucky stars I didn’t wear a traditional white wedding gown when I married.) In this case “except” means only. Go ahead substitute “only” for “except.” See? If you care, the function of the conjunction in this case is to introduce an adverb clause.

Once in a great while “except” is a verb, and I mean a great while, and means to leave out or exclude. For example, “We excepted your first written warning, but you’ve still messed up enough to be fired.” Since most people don’t know about this usage, we don’t hear, but it still exists, so I’m telling you about it.

July 9, 2009


Shear has to do with cutting, you know, like sheep shearing. Scissors are sometimes called shears (a noun). See, more cutting. Even your hair is sheared, well, at least in a fancy salon. At Supercuts, it’s cut, and you’re out of there. Shear is nearly always a verb.

Sheer, though, has several different meanings. As a verb, it means to swerve from a course.

As an adjective it means thin or transparent. Lace curtains are sheer. We sometimes transform sheer from an adjective to a noun, especially when we call curtains just sheers. For example, “Those sheers let in a lot of light.”

Again, as an adjective it can also mean complete or pure, sheer happiness, for example.

More adjective stuff: It can mean steep or nearly perpendicular. “It’s a sheer drop from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.” Presumably if it’s you at the top of Half Dome, you’ll be hanging on for dear life and don’t really need this bit of info. And don’t look down.

My dictionary says it can also be used as an adverb to mean almost perpendicular or complete, but for the life of me I can’t think of an example sentence. But then, I’ve sheered from my dictionary many times in the past.

July 6, 2009


What means this word “nother”? I’ve heard it used like this, “That’s a whole nother story.” Feh.

How about “another whole story” or a “whole other story”?

My dictionary says using nother is acceptable in informal settings. My dictionary forgives too much.

The word, everyone out there, is another or other. Stop using nother. You make me nuts. And, you sound illiterate.

Feh, again.

July 4, 2009

Happy 4th

A refresher course in powerful, persuasive language. More than 200 years later, the words can still move people.

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

July 2, 2009


This one just seems to kill people. Well, at least it kills me. Truly, I don’t know what is so befuddling about an apostrophe or, for that matter, pronouns, but they clearly are.
How many times have I seen “Who’s coat is this?”

Fasten your seatbelts.

One of the jobs of the apostrophe is to indicate a letter or letters are missing. In this case the missing letter is an “-i” or maybe “-ha.” (although not necessarily with “who.”) So, it can mean “who is” or “who has.” For example, “Who’s on first?” (With a tip of my hat to Abbott and Costello. The answer is, “I don’t know.” A very funny routine. Right up there with their [Oh, look there/their] “Slowly I turned.”)

Whose is a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to whom. (I know I said I’d like to see “whom” go away, but I can’t stop using it.) For instance, “Whose coat is this?”

I think the problem arises because most people don’t know the word “whose” exists.

Let’s go over it again. Pronouns have endings like the Romance languages (although you couldn’t tell it from the way people slaughter I and me).
Yes, those are endings.

I could go on a whole riff about teachers, their teachers and our teacher training system, but I’ll desist. Just one little thing: If you’re going to teach language arts, make sure you know language arts.

I think I need a harrumph here.