Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.



DEAR RICHARD: In the U-T Sports section, I noticed that one of the articles was headlined “Magic Talks About Kobe’s Affect on L.A., Beyond, On Eve of Memorial.” Based on what I learned in grammar school, affect is a verb, while effect is a noun, if the word is referring to “a consequence” of an event. If I am interpreting the article correctly, it appears that the author is trying to convey Kobe Bryant’s effect on society. I would greatly appreciate it if you would offer some insight on the proper usage for affect (verb), and effect (noun). -Megan Pepi, Carmel Valley

 I call you Megan, a gem, which is a palindrome, in which the letters read the same forward and backward. Affect is almost always a verb that means “exerts influence on” while effect is almost always a noun that means “a result or outcome.”

 DEAR RICHARD: When using the “envelope” as a metaphor for acceptable or allowable boundaries of behavior it has always been my impression that when someone gets close to going outside these boundaries, they are “pushing the edge of the envelope”. However, I constantly hear this reference on TV and in movies as “pushing the envelope.” Are both equally acceptable? –Laura Carey, El Cajon

The idiom is “pushing the envelope.” The envelope here is the mathematical envelope, the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves. That envelope describes the upper and lower limits of the various factors that it is safe to fly at, such as speed, engine power, maneuverability, wind velocity and altitude. By pushing the envelope, that is, challenging those limits, test pilots are able to determine just how far it is safe to go. The expression has now expanded beyond mathematical aeronautics to mean “to seek innovation, to stretch established limits.”

DEAR RICHARD: In the last few years I have noticed people of all educational level using the word more instead of -er. As an 84-year-old man, I was taught in school to say the lemonade was juicer, not more juicy, the woman was happier, not more happy and so on. What is today’s proper use of more?Dan Yelvington, San Carlos

The general rules for forming the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives are:

  • One-syllable adjective generally add -er and –est, as in faster and fastest.
  • Two-syllable adjectives generally add more and most, as in more/most thoughtful and more/most dangerous, but sometimes you have a choice, as in more/most holy, or holier and holiest.
  • Three-syllable adjectives always add more and most, as in more/most fortunate.

DEAR RICHARD: Do commas, periods and other punctuation marks go inside or outside of quotation marks? –William Slomanson, Hillcrest

Semicolons should always stand outside of end quotation marks, while commas and periods should always repose inside. I actually prefer the British placement of periods outside end quotation marks, but I live here, so I punctuate the American way.

DEAR RICHARD: I thought the following conversation between my youngest grandson (three years of age) and his mother might amuse you:

Roy: Mommy, when Noah and me wake up . . .
Danielle: You mean “When Noah and I wake up.”
Roy: I don’t have to say it like that if I don’t want to.
Danielle: Yes, you do. That’s correct grammar, which is the right way to speak.
Roy: Well, grammar is like grandma, and grandmas are old. And I’m new. So I say it the new way. So you’re wrong.

One day I may hire Roy as my attorney. –Keith R. Goldman, University City

On this topic, I share a telling quip that whizzes around the internet: “As I watch this generation try to rewrite history, I’m confident that it will be misspelled and lack punctuation.”