A number of readers of this wordstruck column remember, from back in those school days, school days, dear old golden rule days, the challenges and joys of diagramming sentences. Those solid and dotted horizontal and diagonal lines, with words, phrases and clauses written above each one, acted as a pre-GPS map to help you navigate the highways and byways and twists and turns of language. Some of you may still be applying the technique to your analysis and writing.
One such person is U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is President Trump’s nominee to become a Justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch actually included a sentence diagram in one of his opinions, using the technique to untangle a confusing sentencing statute. The teaching of sentence diagramming has fallen sharply since the ’70s and ’80s, but — who knows? — the practice may be reviving.
Today 1.6 million apostrophe’s will brutally and erroneously be forced to make word’s plural. Another 1.2 million apostrophes will go missing because they will be locked up in mens and womens closets. And yet another 800,000 apostrophes will be misplaced in kid’s playgrounds and childrens’ romper rooms.
One of these mislocated “prepostrophes,” as I have named them, will be evident this coming Monday, Presidents’ Day. Note the apostrophe after the s. That’s because this federal holiday honors all our presidents (plural), especially George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both born in the month of February. Yet all over America’s Finest City you’ll see signs that say, “Closed for President’s Day.” Which president? I ask.
In addition to grammar and punctuation skills, it’s useful to be able to identify and vaporize spelling and typographical errors. Recently, the Library of Congress offered a poster commemorating the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. Superimposed on a photograph of the smiling president appeared these words: “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great. Nothing we want for the future is beyond our reach.”
Can you spot the spello?
The eyes of grammar cops popped when they noticed that the adverb to in the second clause should have been spelled too, as it is in the first clause. Embarrassingly, the poster included the statement “this print captures the essence of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency of the United States.”
On February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the U.S. Education Department’s official Twitter account released the statement “Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life,” attributed to W.E.B. Du Bois, an African American co-founder of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the U. S. Alas, Du Bois was misspelled as DeBois.
Hours after the error was lampooned by a number of Twitter users, it was corrected, with an apology: “Post updated — our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”
Ack! Yikes! Hoo boy! OMG! Oy vey! Note that the correction is afflicted with another typo — apologizes, which should be apologies. Hey, we all make mistakes, but come on, this is the Department of Education!
Speaking Mandarin Chinese makes children more musical at an early age suggests a recent study from UCSD. That’s because Mandarin is a tonal language, in which speakers employ pitch and intonation not only to express emotions but altogether different meanings. For instance, the syllable ma in Mandarin can mean “mother,” “hemp,”: “horse” or “scold,” depending on the pitch pattern of how it’s spoken, while in English ma can mean only “mother.”
As Science News reports, “Mandarin-language learners quickly learn to identify the subtle changes in pitch to convey the intended outcome. It’s the linguistic attention to pitch that gives young Mandarin speakers an advantage in perceiving pitch in music.” Lead author Sarah Creel, of the UCSD Department of Cognitive Sciences, and her colleagues believe the data show that the areas of the brain that learn music and those that learn language are not walled off from each other. In our galactically circuited brain, so-called specialized cognitive abilities can have a synergistic effect on other mental skills.
Americans are advised to use duct tape for protection against terror attacks and natural disasters. You may be surprised to learn that the original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive product was duck tape, so called because it repels water