The Grammar Factor, November 2011

First, a couple of great links readers sent me (thanks).

Proofreading is a dying art

These headlines and comments are swimming around the blogosphere at the moment. I’ve selected a few, but you can read more at http://digitaljournal.com/blog/3859

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that’s taking things a bit far!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
The good-for-nothing lazy so-and-so’s!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Weren’t they fat enough?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw massacre all over again!

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Plural of computer mouse

Reader’s comment: I have just reread Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct. It was published in 1994. In it (p.121), Steven talks about how new words sometimes take a while to bed themselves down – he quotes the word ‘mouse’, i.e. as in a computer mouse. He said in a few years the English language would naturally settle on a plural – either ‘mouses’ or ‘mice’. Seeing he wrote this 16 years ago it seems it’s still not settled.

Response: You’re right, you can use either, but in a mini survey (a 5-year-old and a 22-year-old), the verdict was ‘mouses’.

‘So’ – such a simple little word?

A few readers took umbrage to my stating it was OK to start a sentence with ‘So’. The example: ‘I am not happy about it. So I’m going to do something about it.’

One reader was taught not to ‘so’ sentences together and another was taught you should only use ‘So’ in some circumstances, such as:

  • When writing poetry: ‘So lovely were the lavender lilacs, I could only breathe in a sweet smell.’
  • When making an impression in informational essay writing: ‘So these colonies stood strong, just as our America has become.’
  • When giving speeches: ‘So I say to all my family and friends, take my words and think of them when the sun stops shining so brightly!’

I think it is OK – and increasingly common – to start a sentence with ‘So’, particularly in spoken English. But ‘so’ can be a problematic word because its meaning changes depending on the context. Just take a look in any dictionary to see how many definitions ‘so’ has.

Another reader asked how you would punctuate the sentence, ‘I am not happy about it, so I am going to do something about it’, if you replaced ‘so’ with ‘therefore’.

The sentence would then read: ‘I am not happy about it; therefore, I am going to do something about it.’

‘Therefore’ is an adverbial conjunct, rather than a conjunction, so you need a semicolon before it and a comma after it. Adverbial conjuncts (sometimes known as conjuncts, conjunctive adverbs or connectives) are closely related to conjunctions, but are actually adverbs.

Quote of the month

‘Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.’
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 
 

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