9.19.2018

I saw Jay Leno

I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Springfield, Illinois, taking an air-conditioning break from the oppressively hot, humid, sunny weather. Actually, the break wasn't organic because we (my husband and I...and that's the correct form btw, instead of people saying "and I" when they mean "and me") had gone to the Governor's Mansion with backpacks and were told that we had to leave them in the car. Problem was, we took the train to Springfield, so there was no car to go to.

So we walked back in the baking sun through downtown Springfield to the hotel where we were staying to drop off our backpacks, then sat in the lobby before braving the harsh weather (yes, oppressively sunny, muggy weather can feel harsh).

We looked out the window and saw a tall man walking towards the hotel. "That looks like Jay Leno," I said, but it couldn't be. The tall, gray-haired man was wearing worn jeans and a loose denim shirt. He looked like he'd been toiling outside in the heat, and was lumbering towards the hotel entrance. But the chin and eyes...it was him.
"Hello Mr. Leno," my husband said.
"Hello, how are you?" Leno said.
"Welcome to Illinois," I added (because saying "Welcome to Springfield" would've been presumptuous since I don't live there and am not a native).

He nodded in our direction and walked towards the front desk. After that, I didn't know what he did because I didn't follow him, and I didn't even look towards the front desk. I also didn't take a picture of him, because 1) he didn't hang out with us or even bother to pause, and 2) he wasn't in official performance mode. Taking a candid picture would've been disrespectful and creepy.

But what was he doing in Springfield, a small city in central Illinois? We looked it up, and found out that he was doing a stand-up gig that night. Wait a minute...he is super-rich and famous...does he *need* to do that? And why is he playing smaller venues (his next stop was Peoria)?

I'm still thinking about it because usually famous people go to major, big cities and stay in fancy hotels, and record their shows to make even more money. Or they move on from their early work to do movies and the like, and don't do piddly stuff again.

But Jay Leno is working as if he's still trying to break into the big time, playing smaller cities in the heartland of the USA.

This is noteworthy because he doesn't have to do it, yet chooses to. He also doesn't seem stuck-up or pretentious, like we hear other celebrities are. I've heard of actors getting angry when people don't recognize them when being waited on in stores. I've even dealt with people who were upset that I said "Ms." instead of "Dr." because they had a PhD in education or another non-medical field.

I guess he's known for being nice, and in the brief encounter I had with him, he seemed that way. Plus we were in Springfield, Illinois, which is surrounded by lots of trees and probably has 10 people on the street during the day and not much traffic. And he decided to work there, just because. Now I'm wondering how he did in Peoria (and thinking of the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?") because if he didn't succeed there, will he be able to succeed anywhere? Haha...obviously, it doesn't matter because he's already succeeded to the point that if he were to stop now, he'd be able to live well and still get invited to cool parties and events all over.

Actually, his story can be instructive because he's doing what he loves, and he's not worried about status or only hanging out with the big people. He's willing to go anywhere in the USA and work on his craft and entertain audiences of "regular folks," not just those who live on the coasts who arrive to the theater in fancy cars.

On the other hand, there are people like me who'd love to achieve even a sliver of success doing something creative and/or fun and/or fulfilling, or getting a break from someone higher up the ladder. For a lot of us, that is impossible, so we can just look at Jay Leno and say, "If he can pursue his passion, then those of us toiling in obscurity can as well."

9.05.2018

That vs which confusion

I'm pretty clear about when to use "that" vs "which," but I often come across stuff (to be intentionally vague) that often has "which" when it should have "that." So I strike out the word and replace it, though sometimes I don't want to be a killjoy, so I leave it in, especially if the screed is several pages long and I want to vary the style. I'm not a style editor, though someone tried to make me operate in that manner, but I feel that if I keep correcting every misuse, it'll seem sort of crazy and monotone. So yes, I purposely am incorrect sometimes for the sake of keeping the peace and offering some diversity in a sea of hyper-functional sentences and concepts.

Anyway, there are a lot of resources online that explain the difference between "that" and "which." Basically, "which" is used with a clause, a subset that explains the main subject of the sentence. "Which" is a "nonrestrictive modifying clause...that adds extra or nonessential information to a sentence. The meaning of the sentence would not change if the clause were to be omitted." In fact, usually people use "which" with the sentence I just quoted from the University of Illinois; they would say "which adds extra..." instead of the correct "that." So here's an example of correct "which" usage:
The ramshackle house, which is down the block, is scheduled for demolition next week.
Essentially, the "which" section could be taken away and it wouldn't affect the integrity of the sentence. It's like an added comment to further describe the house, which is why the U of I calls it an "adjective clause."

Then there's the kind of sentence that I usually see, even by people who have lots of publishing experience with impressive titles that they display proudly on their business cards:
The house which is down the block is slated for demolition.
It should be:
The house that is down the block is slated for demolition.
In that case, "down the block" is an important piece of information, thus "that" is used, and the segment isn't set up to be separate, which is achieved with commas around a "which" clause. The U of I calls "that" a "restrictive modifying clause" because it's essential.

Actually, those definitions weren't invented by the U of I, but I like their explanation and the fact that their page isn't loaded down with ads that slow down my computer, which is common with popular grammar sites.

So, moving forward, I hope people use "that" and "which" correctly. It's not like the world is going to end, but still.

8.29.2018

Even highly paid people commit comma splices

I have previously written about my disgust with comma splices. My first post, "I am tired of seeing 'however' with a comma," led to another post about comma splices: "Stop using comma splices." Since then, I've encountered numerous comma splices, even from supposedly educated management types where I teach, and instructors who have a master's and even a PhD. I will not post those examples because they're contained in emails, and I don't want to get fired or create enemies over mere punctuation, so I will use a more global example that I saw in the Washington Post. The writer of the article, Abha Bhattarai, is one of journalism's elite, so I assume she knows what a comma splice is and has avoided them in the numerous articles she's written for the world's leading publications. So this is not about her. At least I hope it's not.

It's who is quoted in the article. I had to read the sentence again to make sure that the presumingly highly paid professional actually used a comma splice, but here it is:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available, however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

I'm assuming the company spokeswoman is culpable because that statement was probably sent to the EJ (elite journalist) in an email. However, what if she told the EJ that via phone or video chat? Then it was transcribed as a comma splice, so the EJ is guilty. But I doubt it because the EJ writes in the article that "she said in a statement." Usually when people say things in a statement, it's via email or press release. So I'm going to go with that: the highly paid professional communicator used a comma splice, doing what most people do with "however" by not using a semicolon.

So the sentence should be:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available; however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

or, to be a bit more choppy:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available. However, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

I will investigate via Twitter. I will ask the EJ if the statement was sent to her in that form, or if she wrote it down that way. If she responds (which I doubt, but hey, no harm in trying), I will post the result here.

8.15.2018

It's hard to move beyond 8 Sidor

Hehe...if you're not studying Swedish, don't know about it, or are not aware of the available resources, you probably are wondering what this post is about, because only Swedish-related people know what the 8 Sidor site is. I thought it would be a minor part of my Swedish journey (which is barely progressing, making me worried that I will never grasp it), but I'm having a hard time moving on from it.

I say this because 8 Sidor is for people who need to read simpler Swedish for various reasons, need to read larger letters, or have to listen to it instead of read it. But the main point is that the articles are short and way more simply written than other newspapers. I started reading it because I was studying Swedish and needed more exposure to the language. My goal was to progress to more difficult reading; even just a tabloid such as Expressen is too difficult for me, though I sometimes attempt to read the Editor-in-Chief's blog. I'm interested in media, but it's weird and challenging to read about it not only in another language, but one that I'm horrible at. The most recent blog post I slogged through was about the new Editor-in-Chief of Kvällsposten, which I think is Expressen's southern Swedish relative.

But I'm really stuck on 8 Sidor. It's so simple and straightforward, it makes me feel safe. If I venture into other sources, I get really worried, and even if I look up words, I don't understand the more complex sentence structure. For instance, I was able to read an article about the Italian bridge collapse without stressing or sweating. The sentences are choppy:
Minst 35 människor dog i olyckan. Men det kan vara fler som har dött. [At least 35 people died in the accident. But more may have died.]
It's simple, with no dependent clauses or wordplay, which is fine with me. Who needs New York Times-type of prose, when we can feel good about our accomplishment. I've been to 8 Sidor so often, it's become a literary (or literacy) friend. Thanks 8 Sidor!

8.01.2018

Merely being born on the South Side doesn't make you a Southsider

Greetings from the South Side...more specifically, Hyde Park, which is a neighborhood that people mention instead of saying the "South Side." What I mean by that is this: certain kinds of people will say they're from the South Side, then specifically mention Hyde Park when asked (as I said in my previous post, which this is a continuation of). But then there are other kinds of people (whom I won't define to avoid stereotypes, so you just have to experience it for yourself) who will skip the "South Side" part and just say that they're from Hyde Park. Example:
Me: Where do you live?
Person: Hyde Park.
[Me skipping over any follow-up questions because everyone knows Hyde Park and don't/doesn't think it's that "other" South Side]

Then there's another kind of person who was probably born and raised in the area, before it became more upscale and relatively yuppified compared to other areas of the South Side (there are nice areas, but fewer yuppie-type places than the North Side):
Me: Where do you live?
Person: the South Side.
Me: Are you from there originally?
Person: Oh yeah, I grew up in Hyde Park and still live there.
Me: It's become a lot nicer.
Person: Which is a good thing.

That is the kind of conversation I just had with a true South Sider. Not only was he born on the South Side, but he still lives here and is happy about it. Which is my point: he wasn't just *born* on the South Side, but he stayed, which makes him a South Sider.

This is in contrast with other people who say they're from the South Side but moved out right after they were born, or moved early enough to avoid going to the schools; i.e., their family moved to the suburbs or other areas of the city with access to better schools, better infrastructure, better services, etc., or their parents got a job far away. I know that there are some good schools on the South Side, but for several people it seemed like a no-brainer to move to a more low-maintenance place, where they didn't have to hope their kids would get into a magnet school, charter school, or pay lots of money for a private school. Many people move to the burbs to get decent schools for their taxes and less perceived headaches than urban life.

And I'm not talking about people who got older, past school age, then moved out. Those people have their own lives to lead, and maybe they don't want to stay on the South Side or circumstances changed and they can't live there anymore. I'm talking about people whose lives were barely a blip on the South Side radar before their families yanked them out. It's not like they left the South Side as children or babies, then kept going back. These people left and didn't look back. They were gone. Yet they'll say they're from the South Side. Nope.

A mildly related example is from an interview with WFMT host Carl Grapentine (who is one of the few people on the planet who has lived the dream and has gotten paid for what he loves, has met lots of cool people, used his talents, etc; yes, I'm envious and wishful). At one point the interviewer calls him a "Chicago native." Grapentine is from Evergreen Park, which is not Chicago. But who cares--the interviewer meant the area, so that's okay. But even Grapentine seems to dispute the "native" label because he and his family moved to Michigan when he was six. Thus he barely lived here as a boy. And in the interview, it's obvious he is really into Michigan; he grew up there, went to college there, continued to work there even while he was working in Chicago, and is retiring there. He might have spent a good chunk of his life in Chicago, but he's not a native.

Even though it doesn't totally exemplify my theory, it demonstrates how the "native" label is thrown around. And back to the South Side "native" claim that people make: being born in a neighborhood does not equal citizenship. I have a student from Mexico, but he was born in the U.S. He is an American citizen, even though he grew up in Mexico. It's not the same as merely being born on the South Side; you are not a citizen of the South Side just because you were born in Gresham or wherever.

Interview with Grapentine below, who is one of the luckiest people on earth...I would trade any "native" label for such an awesome life he's had.

7.22.2018

If you're from the burbs, you're not from the South Side

Sometimes I talk to people about where they're from, and some will say "the South Side." So of course I assume they're from the South Side--literally. People don't refer to neighborhoods on the South Side like they do the North Side (a trend that evolved as real estate took off and more yuppies, hipsters, bros, trixies, etc. moved in and marketing certain areas became more important). So this is how a typical conversation will go with a so-called "South Sider":

Me: Are you from Chicago originally?
SSS (supposed south sider): Yeah.
Me: Where?
SSS: The South Side.
Me (thinking about streets in the 50s, 80s, even 110s): Oh, where? I've been teaching down there for a while.
SSS: Oak Lawn/Evergreen Park/Burbank/Palos/Tinley/etc.
Me: Oh, you mean the southern suburbs.
SSS: Well, I guess so.

Um, no, there's no guessing...they really *are* suburbs; they have their own territory, schools, police, fire, parks, etc. The South Side is very different from the suburbs, even if the burbs border it. When you cross the city line, you can already feel the relative stability and the different system. There's usually not as much chaos nor as much lurking below. This is not to knock the South Side, and there are some suburbs that are quite gritty, but they're not urban gritty. There's more space in the suburbs and birds and stars at night. Those are hard to spot in the city.

I grew up in a burb (technically a city) just north of Chicago's northern border, and I *never* said I was from the "North Side." I said where I was actually from...no big deal. And since the South Side doesn't have the best reputation, I'm surprised that people claim they're from there. Is it because it shows that they're tough in some way, not soft dough that's kneaded in comfort and trees? Have they ever been to the South Side? Maybe they ventured to Beverly or Hyde Park or Bridgeport, some of the few South Side areas that have neighborhood names, as opposed to most of the South Side where people just give coordinates, such as "I stay at 67th and Kostner," which really is the southwest side (because there's the general South Side, which is then divided up into near, southeast, southwest, and other areas that people deny are the South Side but really are).

Actually, I should've done some more research to find out why people claim they're from the South Side but really aren't. One person explained that their burb had a similar zip code as Chicago, thus the intended misleading statement. But really, it sounds wannabe to me. Meanwhile, there are lots of northern, northwest suburban folks who would never say they're from the North Side. But they do say they're from "Chicago," which is hardly the case, unless that's a way to explain to people in other states or countries where they're generally from. But drill down and you'll discover they barely know the city anyway.

7.15.2018

Stop using comma splices

I teach English as a Second Language, and naturally, I often see students use comma splices. That is totally understandable because writing in another language is difficult; I totally messed up pretty much every sentence I wrote in Swedish class, and I'm currently having trouble writing even super-simple sentences in my online French class (I'll blog about that at another time).

So anyone who is learning English is excused. This is for the native speakers who presumably got enough schooling to know enough grammar. (And this is also a continuation of my previous post about "However.")

I don't know why so many people use comma splices. I can understand if someone has trouble applying rules, etc., and maybe writing isn't their strong suit, but even very educated people use them.

And I'm not talking about people who are writing English creatively. Sometimes people text or write in a certain way to convey a feeling, or to sound casual. I myself (shocker) have used comma splices to express myself in a less-constrained way. But I know the rules, so I can break them to vary my writing style. And other people can break them, too. But there are those people who are not purposely doing anything; they are just messing up, and their writing has to be corrected. (See, I just successfully avoided some comma splices by using a semicolon after the first independent clause and a conjunction to connect the second and third.)

I could link to many articles or blog posts that I've read where there were numerous comma splices, but I wasn't nerdy enough to keep a list of them all (or even some of them). But that's fine, because I'm not the only one who's annoyed; in addition to the several grammarians who are complaining online, there's a nerdy guy who gets paid to write such commentary at the illustrious Financial Times, saying he's also annoyed with the situation, and mentions British Airways as one of the offenders.

Basically, here is a type of comma splice that I often see:
Please take a number, someone will be with you shortly.

"Please take a number" is a complete sentence. "Someone will be with you shortly" is another complete sentence. They each can stand alone, so they cannot be separated by a mere comma.

That is an example of businesses that are speaking to customers. So perhaps using a semicolon would seem stuffy:
Please take a number; someone will be with you shortly.

One way to get around it and still be friendly and creative would be to use a dash (which I use when I want to be in the ballpark of correctness, but not so stiff):
Please take a number--someone will be with you shortly.

Another way, which someone (a reader) recommended, is to combine them:
Please take a number and someone will be with you shortly.

But using a comma just seems wrong, and perpetuates the problem we have (at least what we uptight language folks see as a problem). It is especially egregious in academic papers, which I see if the writers haven't gotten a professional to look over their work.

Are texting and quick social media causing the decline? I can understand people who use writing to communicate with their friends or whatever, but professionals with degrees or people who make a living from communicating shouldn't violate the rule. Or they should get someone else to check their work.

But my concern will eventually seem anachronistic, because there is no governing body for English that puts forth linguistic decrees, and the language will inevitably change over time...Oxford comma, anyone?