Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Comma Sutra II: Apologies to Longfellow

Sometimes the comma seems to have a lot in common with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s daughter, the antagonist of the poem he allegedly penned that became a nursery rhyme.

“There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.”

The comma seems like a good little curl, rather friendly and sweet when nestled in a sentence. But it can get pretty horrid when it’s forced to share a sentence with a quotation mark.

In the last week alone, MaliaMania has witnessed firsthand many instances of incorrect comma and quotation mark mangling.

Wrong: “The curl was really the villain here”, he said.
Right: “The curl was really the villain here,” he said.

Rephrasing the quote as a question seems to take the issue from horrid to horrendous. 
Is choice 1) or 2) the right answer?

1) “Was the curl really the villain here?”, she asked. 

2)“Was the curl really the villain here?,” she asked.

Curses! On my Mac, I get the evil green squiggly underline from Microsoft Word in both of them. But on my PC, the squiggly underline only screams at me on choice 1). My advice: do an end run and go with AP Style. They recommend just removing the comma altogether, like so:  

“Was the curl really the villain here?” she asked.

Moral of the story of Comma Sutra II: “The little girl with the curl rhyme often scared small females into submission in the 1950s and 60s and probably caused the Equal Rights Amendment to fall three states short of the 38 needed for ratification in the 70s.”

Note that 1950s, 60s and 70s in the totally made-up quote above don’t need an apostrophe. They are plurals, not possessives.

If you want to confuse yourself further, click on Old Posts at the end of this page, and find Comma Sutra I from August 9, 2013. Even grammar nerds procrastinate, right?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Whatever Happened to ER?

I’d love to be blogging about George Clooney and ER, the TV series that became the longest-running primetime medical drama in U.S. history, but that would be way too fun and interesting. No, today I’m talking about the no-caps suffix “er” -- as in “simpler” -- which stars in the even longer-running English adjective series “simple, simpler, simplest.”

More and more often, I see headlines that read: “Find a More Simple Lifestyle.” After I freak out a little, my saner half is prone to tell me just to move on and quit reading ad headlines (not even within the realm of possibility for a copywriter like me). Besides, these days, even the seemingly erudite intellectuals on NPR often seem to forget “er” and say “more pretty” rather than “prettier.” And don’t even get me started on Twitter.

Turns out, as in most parts of life, there are rules.

According to Grammar Girl, you can use "more" or "most" in front of the adjective (for example, more wonderful). Or you can use the suffixes "-er" or "-est" on the end of the adjective. The one you choose depends on the number of syllables.

--For one-syllable adjectives, use "-er" or "est."
--For three or more syllables, use "more" or "most."

What about two-syllable adjectives? It's a bit arbitrary. Go to this post to read all about two-syllable exceptions, disclaimers and irregularities: Grammar Girl

Which only leaves one question about today's most popular two-syllable word "awesome." Is it awesomer, awesomist, more awesome or most awesome? Or better, yet, how about we stop calling every little thing "AWESOME!" at all. Pretty please?  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Opportunity for Revenge

In 2012 when I started writing my MaliaMania grammar blog, I promised not to be insufferable about word usage. I've failed miserably. I've often been pedantic. And smug. And sarcastic. And I've used way too many big words.

If I've offended, revolted or mystified you along the way, it's your turn to get revenge. 

I have a new book out. The good news is that it's not about grammar. It's about a new kind of sibling rivalry among baby boomers. I wrote it with my sister, who's a doctor and not a writer. (Yeah, she stepped right in it when she agreed to write a book with a grammar nerd and has regretted her poor judgement ever since).

Here's how you can get revenge. Read our book "Sisterly Shove" and comment on this blog about any grammer mistakes or typos you find. Or if you're really ambitious, write an Amazon review of the book. Consider these options:

1) BEST CHOICE!!! Buy our book "Sisterly Shove” at this Amazon.com link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980807027?ref_=pe_870760_150889320  

2) Spend your money at Starbucks instead and just read the "Look inside" sample pages from the book at the same link above.  

3) Easy way out! Re-read this blog, find any mistakes and comment on them (OR) go to the website SisterlyShove.com and say mean things about it.

Thanks so much to all of the 5,406 of you who have read my blog (not that I'm counting, of course) and bantered about words with me. You're the best!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Reviling Grammar Nerds

The truth came out last July, but it’s taken me eight months to wrap my head around the news. People like me are almost as despised as DUI checkpoints. “DUI checkpoints” rank first on haterdater.com’s list of things people in North Carolina hate most. Grammar nerds (a less offensive term than the one they used) came in second.

In a way, I am proud that I am No. 2 on any kind of list. I wasn’t even second in my kindergarten graduating class (I was robbed).

Still…how can grammar nerds like me be so reviled? Probably because we use words like reviled.
Another reason to hate us: Because we roll our eyes if a text-generation coworker meets someone on haterdater and says, “Her and I went to the brewery.” Take the pronouns apart, dude! “I went to the brewery.” “She went to the brewery,” so “She and I went to the brewery” is grammatically and maybe even grammarically correct. Obvi…

Haterdater promises to help you “meet someone who hates the same stuff.” Sounds like the perfect site for single grammar nerds looking for #lovethroughhate. Maybe there’s a chance that married grammar nerds can get a pass on this one. https://bit.ly/2GyBvUx

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Gender Bender

I read that The Chicago Manual of Style has a “Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases” at paragraph 5.220. Since I could easily be called a problematic person depending on what’s stuck in my craw on a given day, I fully empathize with words that were probably labeled problematic by a kindergarten teacher with an overcrowded classroom and too few winks on their favorite online dating site.

Notice how I cleverly segued into one of today’s top problematic words in that last sentence: the dreaded “singular they/their.” In the old days, in addition to striking through the reference to “online dating sites,” which didn’t exist yet, that sentence would have used the singular she/her, as in “her favorite online dating site,” right? The sentence had no plural noun and grade school teachers were most often women, so there was little reason for a pronoun debate in a mid-century writer’s overcrowded brain. Now that gender identity issues have evolved to a level even a 1970s bra-burner could never have imagined, pronoun parsing is trickier than ever.

Yesterday I read on mentalfloss.com that the Washington Post Style Guide has been amended to accept the “singular they” because it’s “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral, third-person singular personal pronoun.” As one commenter pithily noted, “Language is plastic. We must also bend.”

I was almost convinced to reach for my trusty mental floss and swipe the pronoun plaque from my brain, when I thought about PVC pipe, which is made of plastic and doesn’t bend. Then I get a confetti-infused Facebook notification that reads, “It’s John’s Smith’s birthday today. Wish them well.” Can’t some programming “genius” write some code so Facebook realizes that John Smith’s profile picture looks like a he and tell me to wish “him” well? Or is that the tiny T-Rex part of my brain doing the thinking?

One thing’s for sure. Now that I’ll have this dilemma stuck in my craw for the rest of the day, Malia will be a problematic word for anyone who crosses my path. Anybody got any better thoughts on gender-neutral pronouns for the conflicted writer?

Thursday, December 19, 2013


In 1997, Isuzu introduced the new tagline “Go Farther.” Last year, Ford introduced the new tagline “Go Further.”  So now I’m hopelessly confused (not that I wasn’t already). When should a copywriter use farther vs. further?

As usual, my muse, Grammar Girlhas the answer: “use 'farther' for physical distance and 'further' for metaphorical, or figurative, distance. It's easy to remember because 'farther' has the word 'far' in it, and ‘far’ obviously relates to physical distance.”

I should have been satisfied with GGirl’s explanation. But since I’m a person perversely driven to go farther, further or both whether I’m driving a Ford or an Isuzu, I couldn’t stop myself from clicking on the next Google result. At that spiffy little link, Merriam-Webster (a.k.a. m-w.com) really had its grammar jammer on:

            Farther and further have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging. As adverbs they continue to be used interchangeably whenever spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved. But where there is no notion of distance, further is used.”

That’s way too temporal for me, m-w.com. The farther I get away from that definition the better.

Which brings us to the issue of using the words “farthermost” and “furthermore.” Oh, please, MaliaMania,” I hear you begging, “don’t go there, spatially, metaphorically or otherwise.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

Words Gone Wild

After stuffing themselves on turkey and dressing yesterday on Thanksgiving, I bet some of your relatives headed for the couch and said they felt nauseous.
Many people think nauseous means to feel sick. It actually means to cause nausea.  So when people say they are nauseous, what they’re really saying is that they’re causing people around them to feel sick. Which, depending on your birth order or other factors, may be much more accurate in your family dynamic. But when you’re commenting on the state of your own digestive system, you should say, “I feel nauseated.”
Another commonly misused word is peruse. As I did for years, you might think peruse means to skim or glance over something. It actually means to review something carefully or in-depth. In other words, the perceived definition is actually opposite of the true definition.
Here’s one more before I go get a turkey sandwich for breakfast. Some people think bemused means amused or slightly tickled about something. What it really means is confused.
What other incidents of word confusion have you heard at your Thanksgiving table or elsewhere?