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?

7.02.2018

I am sick of millennials

Wait, maybe I should title this post: "I am tired of hearing about millennials all the time" or "I am sick of the obsession with millennials" because that's what this really is about: our culture's obsession and fascination, and even disgust, with millennials. I've been thinking about this for a while, and have even told people in that age group what I think. So let me be clear: I am not against millennials (who I will refer to as "that age group" or "M's" because the "millennial" label is way overused), but I am sick of people salivating over them.

There are so many examples...where should I begin? How about all the whining we encounter about them. As someone who has probably experienced age discrimination when applying to jobs (but can't prove it), I am disgusted when I read articles online lamenting the horrible work ethic that these supposedly entitled people have. If those in power are so horrified by their attitude, why hire them? If you feel you have to constantly figure out ways to entertain them and motivate them, why hire them? Are the M's really that bad, or are you people in power hiring the wrong people? Newsflash: there are many people in that glorified and reviled generation, so maybe your screening process is awful. Maybe you're one of those people who is so enamored with what you perceive as their tech savviness (yes, I created a noun out of a legitimate adjective) that you choose whoever seems the cutest and most "current" to the point that you don't look beyond the gadgets that they're playing with.

Or better yet, why don't you just look past the age of a person and hire people who would be good for the organization. I know, it's shocking to suggest that people not worship M's, but seriously, if you're going to complain that much, just be open-minded. But I'm not here to bash the M's or their opportunities, because they're doing what anyone would: applying for jobs and enjoying the fruits of their labor (or just the fruits of being in the right age group).

I would love to link to a company that I saw online, which I unsuccessfully applied to (luckily, since something way better and more prestigious came along, where age does not matter), but I obviously can't, because what I'm about to say is not complimentary: the company posted lots of pictures of the employees having fun and working together, which attracted me to it. After I experienced the rejection (for a vague reason, but as I said, I got something much better), I went back to the website. Then it dawned on me: the gray-haired owners *only* hired M's, and I wondered if they wanted to be surrounded by young, attractive, energetic people so the owners would be surrounded by eye candy all day. I wouldn't put it past them, because the obsession that I often see in blogs and other media is so shallow. I even know of large, successful companies that openly prefer to hire recent grads or those who are younger than Christmas cakes. There are a few "older" people there, because someone has to know what's going on, but when I pass by a building and see thousands of M's walk out, I wonder if the eye-candy motivation is present, or if they simply think "older" people don't understand tech or much of anything else that they perceive as important.

Another newsflash: guess who got online way before Fakebook and other entities spoiled it? It wasn't your precious M's. Who got educated, hustled, made due with changing times, and have plenty of years of proof of victories and overcoming obstacles? Yup, not recent grads or almost-recent grads. Yet we are inundated with information and advice and woes of dealing with such a spoiled generation.

If they're so spoiled, who do you think raised them? Who do you think didn't make them do chores, didn't make them get part-time jobs, didn't force them to apply to jobs on their own, allowed them to be boomerangs, bought them fancy phones that are more powerful than computers have been? And better yet, who do you think invented all the technology that has saturated our culture, separating people from one another, creating walls, promulgating misconceptions? It wasn't your beloved M's. That generation is a product of what the older folks created. They are simply living in the environment that was set up by others, so I don't assign them much guilt (I say "much" because at a certain age anybody from any generation should be able to eventually mature).

When the "millennial" label first emerged, and at the dawn of the non-stop analysis of them, I told folks that I think the baby boomers are envious, because for years people talked about BB's, wrote about them, the media shone its light on them, often turning it on themselves because they were the media, and they had plenty of opportunities to wax poetic about how wonderful and change-agentish (a noun that I purposely adjectified) they were. After all, they protested the Vietnam War, grew up in suburbia, duck-and-covered, rebelled against their staid parents, listened to thoughtful and daring music, and were being rewarded for all their hard work with good jobs, sanitized memories, and human potentiality. Then...the millennials. Uh oh, they're a large generation, they use technology, they post on social media. Who is this group, and why do they have control now? Waaa, the BB's cried, and they proceeded to work against the M's, causing people to deride them and praise them, yet fear them. They were coming up in the world...such a mysterious bunch, pushing buttons and smiling into screens on their phones. Why aren't they paying attention to us, the war protesters and popular-culture warriors? Now the M's were getting all the glory...where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, it left the rest of us with BB's who control the market and look away from non-M's. Somehow, they don't believe that it is possible for "older" people to...understand strategy, technology, complicated English, complex thoughts. One time, someone was commenting on my technical knowledge and activity, and said, "Well that's how people in your generation are," implying that I am part of the M generation. When I told the person I was not, that I was actually the same age as them, they were stunned.

But now that the doors have been opened to the M's, they are also running the market, and probably want to hire their own. That's expected, since that's what the culture has established. Back when the economy was more stable and wasn't so top-heavy, it was loyalty and hard work that could open and maintain doors. Now it's flash and misconceptions, promoted in the bubble that the M-obsessed populace echoes as it continues to keep discussing and praising and wondering about their precious bunch.

Even if I talk to someone of that generation, they'll preface a statement with "Well, as a millennial..." or "I'm not a typical millennial because..." which I find really self-absorbing. I'm not saying the person is arrogant or spoiled; I'm saying they're self-absorbed because instead of referring to him-or-herself as an individual, they're lumping in with the rest of their generation, because everybody talks about them. If people didn't always talk about them, it probably wouldn't occur to them that they are part of a group, and would speak not as a label, but as a human, which is really what American society is about. Our culture is about rugged individualism, not collective identification that looks twee in a marketing campaign.

Thanks to the taste-makers and powers-that-be, we have moved away from American ideals of what we actually fought for (as we approach Independence Day) and instead are grouping people together to pursue mediocrity, conformity, and control.

So if you're a millennial, don't buy into the hype. Just do what you're doing, and don't worry about what other people think. Not that you should be rude or anything, but don't believe the hype. Don't react to labels you hear, complaints of being less than what you really are. You're just a person who has different influences and societal conditions, and you have a right to pursue your dreams. You may have paid a lot for an education, studied hard to get good grades and improve your prospects, and been hit with an economy that hasn't responded in the same way previous generations experienced. Schools have promised you a future, but that was also a marketing ploy, and what you're encountered is not what they held out in front of you. So go a better way, and don't pay attention to the whiners on the sidelines.

4.17.2018

I am tired of seeing "however" with a comma

How many times do I read an article or blog post or email or whatever, and I see the word "however" punctuated incorrectly? Enough to finally do a post about it, after years of tolerating the mistake! And yes, I just created a fragment on purpose...it was a deliberate style decision.

But back to the important topic at hand: many people, educated and not, do not understand the role of "however" in a sentence. I know people who are sticklers about language, and they use "however" in such a way because they're quickly texting and want to loosen the rules. That's acceptable, and I've probably done that myself. I'm not talking about those people who know the rules enough to break them; I'm talking about people who don't even know the rule, and think it's acceptable to not use a semicolon or to start a new sentence. In fact, that previous sentence is an example of what I'm talking about: I was joining two independent clauses, thus needed a semicolon, not a comma, which is what a lot of people use even when "however" isn't in the picture.

People usually throw independent clauses together with a comma like it's no big deal (btw--an independent clause has a subject, verb, object, complement...basically, it's a complete sentence, not a fragment, not a dependent clause that serves an introductory purpose, etc.).

So back to "however"...here's an example of how people usually treat it:

I want to go to the store, however I have to work.

That is a comma splice! The comma is separating two independent clauses. It should be:

I want to go to the store; however, I have to work.

or

I want to go to the store. However, I have to work.

Someone just told me that they hate it when people start sentences with "however." However, that's correct, unless it's a fragment. And that sentence I just typed is correct. This is not correct:

Someone just told me that they don't like sentences that start with "however," however it's fine to do that even though it's not stylistically preferable.

So when is it okay to use "however" with a comma? When it's a side comment...example: (I just created another fragment for emphasis, on purpose, in case you wanted to point it out.)

She wanted to organize a trip for 50 people. What she was planning, however, was not feasible.

Commas around "however"?! That's correct, because it's an aside, a break, instead of starting the sentence with "however" or continuing the previous sentence with "but." For instance, I could write the previous two sentences like this:
She wanted to organize a trip for 50 people, but what she was planning was not feasible.

Those are two independent clauses being separated by a conjunction (with a comma before that, because independent clauses require it).

I can understand why students may not know these rules, but professional writers or people who call themselves "experts" and are writing articles or newsletters to promote themselves really should know better. If they don't know, they should have someone check what they're submitting to stem the flow of bad punctuation.

4.08.2018

Is McDonald's okay?

I always assume large, multinational corporations have a lot of money, but apparently McDonald's doesn't seem to be able to afford a proofreader for something as simple as a temporary sign. I was walking by the torn-down Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's and saw this sign: do you see the mistake?


Answer: "its only a short time away," which should be "it's [as in "it is"] only a short time away." It's incredible that people from a company where the CEO has a compensation package of over $15 million can't afford to peel off less than $100 to hire someone to proofread their signage. Yes, I make mistakes at work, and even here (about which comments have been made), but I'm usually writing well over three sentences, which is all this sign has. It probably would've taken 15 minutes to check this sign before it went to the printer, yet they didn't bother to do such work. 

So I guess McD's still needs some help, even though their profits went up. I wonder if I'm the only one who noticed this.

3.20.2018

My first Swedish translation

As I've said before, I'm studying Swedish. My Swedish is honestly awful because I haven't followed my own advice which I usually give my ESL students and which I myself followed when I was studying Japanese: memorize a sample sentence for the grammar point you are learning. And there are other reasons, too, such as not watching many videos, not putting a lot of time into it, etc.

But that's not what this post is about, even though I could write many words about why my Swedish is so horrible. This is to announce to the world that I managed to translate a simple Swedish article because our teacher gave us such an assignment for homework (and another aside: Colloquial Swedish, which we're using in class, is not an appropriate book for total beginners like me who have no clue what's going on. It progresses too quickly and there aren't enough chances to practice grammar, etc. I really think I have to take the class again. But what's great about the book is that they offer free audio--enjoy!)

The teacher told us about Ikea's super-rich and alleged cheapskate founder, who died a couple months ago. At that time, she told us to read an article about him at the excellent site 8 Sidor. Basically, that wonderful site has simplified news stories that you can read and also listen to. I love it! (NHK has a similar one for Japanese news, btw.)

So we read it, and instead of translating some clunky sentences and offering a stilted translation (which we had to do for class to create a close approximation of the original), I decided to attempt to make it smoother. So here's the result...I know he died back in January, but I'm posting it now because I've overcome my hesitation to share it with the world and I now had time to look it over.

From 8 Sidor's Ikeas grundare är död:

Ikea's Founder is Dead

News has spread throughout the world that the famous business owner, Ingvar Kamprad, has died. He was 91.

His company, Ikea, is known for inexpensive furniture that we buy in flat packages. Then we put it together in our home.

Today Ikea has more than 300 stores in 43 countries. 150,000 people work there.

Ingvar Kamprad was known for caring a lot about costs, including having factories in countries with low wages.

Ikea made Kamprad one of the richest people in the world. He liked to show that he lived a simple life, despite all his money. But to avoid paying taxes in Sweden, he lived in Switzerland for many years.

Over the years, Ingvar Kamprad got a lot of flak, including because he liked Nazism when he was young. He had said that he regretted it.

During the last few years, Ingvar Kamprad lived in Älmhult in Småland. That was where he started Ikea years ago in 1943.

1.24.2018

A number of

This is interesting timing because, as I said in my last post, I wanted to discuss the issue of what seems like a collective noun, "a number of," and whether it should be "is" or "are." And this week, someone was writing something at work, and he asked me if he should say "a number of is or are." After we had a brief conversation about it, I told him it should be "a number is," but now I realized I was wrong (but maybe it was right for the context? I don't remember what the sentence was; it made sense at the time).

I encounter "number of" many times in my work (usually "the number of") and saw "a number of" recently in something I had to copy edit. I hesitated when I saw that because it's very tempting to use "is" due to focusing on the first part of the sentence, which is "a number." But the Oxford Living Dictionary says it's supposed to be are: "A number of people are waiting for the bus." But that makes sense to me, too, because "people" is close to "are" and it sounds right.

But it's not enough for something to just "sound right" when writing or editing, because it's more formal than speaking, and we can usually break the rules in spoken English.

According to Editage, "Do not be misled by the indefinite article a in that expression: the expression is always used to indicate more than one of something and therefore takes a plural noun and a plural verb."

They also discuss "the number of," and now that I'm thinking of it, I see it way more often, which pretty much everyone says should be singular, such as "the number of plants in each pot was 25." In that case I've been right, and I'm glad my instincts were correct.

After much thought and online searching, I think I found the best explanation for this phrase at ESL Library: "a number of means many...it is serving the same role in the sentence as a quantifier such as 'many,' 'a lot of,' 'lots of,' 'hundreds of,' etc."

So from now on, I won't think twice about making "a number of" plural! I feel like I've read the equivalent of a booklet on that topic!

1.07.2018

A variety of is or are?

I've been proofreading and copy editing and just analyzing English for years, but sometimes I get stuck on collective nouns. For instance, I recently saw "A variety of methods was used." That seems correct because the focus on the sentence is "a variety." Just in case, though, I did a search online, and the conflicting information is worrisome. Many articles and books have "was used," so it seems legitimate. But when I did a search for "were used," there are many articles using that as well. So what's the correct usage?

Well, if I were to use "variety" related to the articles and books I found, I would say "a variety of articles and books show" instead of "a variety of articles and books shows" because I want to emphasize the plurality of "articles and books" instead of "variety," which is singular. I guess that falls in to the "proximity agreement" concept, because I'm "relying on the noun that is closest to the verb to determine whether the verb is singular or plural."

I ended up keeping "A variety of methods was used" because I felt that the emphasis was on "variety." But if it said "A variety of methods were used," I probably would've kept that as well, because it "sounds right" and a lot of people online seem to agree. Many sources say that if it's preceded by "the," then "variety of" would be singular. But if it's "a," then it's not.

So am I wrong? I don't think so, because I still think the emphasis is on "variety," plus "of..." is a preposition, and it seems like prepositions create subsets of the main subject. But according to language nerds discussing this stuff online, I'm wrong because it's "a." And what doesn't help is that the Oxford learner dictionary seems to contradict itself; they say (ha ha, I'm breaking the grammar rule here; I should say "it says") "There is a wide variety of..." but later on they say "A plural verb is needed after a/an (large, wide, etc.) variety of...A variety of reasons were given."

I like Grammar Girl's explanation; it seems more forgiving: "Some people get tripped up when a prepositional phrase comes after a collective noun that is the subject of a sentence. For example, if you're talking about 'a large group of students,' 'group' is the collective noun and the subject of the sentence; however, it's easy to get distracted by the prepositional phrase 'of students' because it sounds plural. The thing to remember is that the verb takes its cue from the subject of the sentence--'a large group'--and not from the prepositional phrase that modifies the subject. In cases like this, just ignore the prepositional phrase 'of students' and take your cue from the real subject: 'a large group'.”

So according to GG, I'm correct. Plus American English (which I'm a native speaker of [of which I'm a native speaker]) uses the singular, while Brits use plural. And just to make sure, I asked a writing group that I sometimes meet with what they think, and all of them agree with what I did.

Thus I think I made the right decision, though I'm still struggling with "a number of," which I'll discuss in another post.