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Monday, December 10, 2007

Blameworthy

Headline, CNN, December 4, 2007: Storm Blamed for 18 Deaths

Headline, Washington Post, December 10, 2007: 3 Shooting Deaths Blamed on Domestic Dispute

"Blame" derives from the Late Latin word, blasphemare, (also the root of "blasphemy") and primarily means "to hold responsible or accountable."

Can a force of nature be held to account? Can it be responsible (as in, to answer for)? Can it defend itself (as in, to respond)? Can it be hauled into court and subsequently required to pay recompense or be remanded in durance vile? No? Then it cannot be "blamed." Blame requires fault, and fault requires intent, and intent requires consciousness. Storms (at least as far as Livia is aware) have yet to develop self-awareness. The deaths can be attributed to the storm; they can be a result of the storm, but they cannot be blamed on the storm.

And how on earth did that domestic dispute get its hands on a gun?

LIVIA DRUSA

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How To Speak Nonsense

1. Clyde's is one of the only restaurants in Northern Virginia to offer vegan entrees.

2. I have one of the only copies of Mein Kampf in Urdu.

If you can't see what's wrong with these two sentences, you will be shot. Line up at sunrise.

This locution causes Livia actual pain. (As opposed to the virtual or literal variety, which will be dealt with at a later date.) Why? Let's take this slowly.

One. Only. Get it?

No? Shooting is too good for you. A month in a soundproof room listening to public radio fundraisers.

If ONLY = ONE, then "one of the only" is impossible because "one of the" implies MORE THAN ONE, genius. What you mean is "one of the few," if you're not brave or knowledgeable enough to say "the only." "Only" is SINGULAR, dammit!

You have been warned.

LIVIA DRUSA

Friday, November 30, 2007

Items must fit comfortably

Airport security may or may not have improved recently, but the luggage has definitely gained some respect. I am a frequent business traveler, and time is usually in short supply for me, so I try to avoid checking luggage. Accordingly, I carry on my bag(s). You may know that carry-on luggage must be limited in size these days, as it has always been, in respect of limited storage space on airplanes.

In an airport, any airport, one can now find convenient gauges of luggage size. These gauges aid you in your decision as to whether you will be mildly aggravated (by your own luggage) by carrying on, or whether you will be completely aggravated by "checking." These gauges are boxes crafted from metal tubes to represent the outer barrier of overhead compartments.

So far, not annoyed by grammar. I'll take this opportunity to point out that the violators of the size limitation for carry-on luggage are sloths, traitors, and anti-human in the worst ways. I'll also point out that by the time I reach the airport, I have already tried to avoid checking my luggage by my packing choices, so the gauge is of little help to me.

Here comes the annoying part: the sign over the gauge. It states, in relevant part, that "...items must fit comfortably...in the box below..." [item: noun; a single article or unit in a collection, enumeration or series. www.dictionary.com]. Only a sentient being can be comfortable. Many sentient beings cannot verbalize their comfort, or lack thereof, as evidenced in spectacular fashion by my dog, Otto. Unless those airline folks have developed some higher sense of consciousness (which they must be using every effort to conceal), luggage cannot notify us as to whether or not it is comfortable. I don't speak luggage, but, again, I am not in the airline business.

I should be clear about one thing: I am grateful to those in the security roles at the airports as I do believe they have my personal safety as their primary concern. It is the folks writing this stuff that are the targets of my ire.

Airport annoyances--to be continued.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Only Two?

ONLY; adverb; without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively (thanks Dictionary.com)

If we can agree that the word, "only," is often used for emphasis, where someone is stressing the relative specialty of a situation, how is it that this word can be so widely misused???

Too often the word is used to describe more than one thing, person, or event. Examples:
Only two teams have perfect records.
Only 90 million Americans are subscribers.
There have only been 72 burglaries in the last three months.

By definition, there can only be one team, one American and one burglary. I've seen this error in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and all over TV news/entertainment (same thing). STOP IT, please.

Friday, November 16, 2007

IF YOU WILL

Livia usually toils to the soothing sounds of classical music on WETA-FM . As a result, she recently suffered through the Fall fund-raising whinefest. The "arts editor" turned up every once in a while to bang the drum, and she ended every single sentence with "if you will." "A sort of je ne sais quoi, if you will."

In rhetoric, "if you will" is a device a speaker uses to ask the listener's indulgence while the speaker constructs an analogy or syllogism. Writers use it, too. When did it become a "like"-like hiccup for the lazy-brained?

What if I don't will, hmm? What then? Will you take it back? Come up with another lame analogy and ask me if I will that?

LIVIA DRUSA

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last and Final

Have you been in an airport recently? I have, and I keep hearing airline employees over the P.A. system saying something that is driving me crazy. They say: "Attention passengers of AirDope Flight Number 1254, this is your last and final boarding call." And within 90 seconds, the same person repeats the message. There are two GrammarSnot issues here:

1. How can something be last AND final? I don't believe this is possible, grammatically, or metaphysically.

2. Airline employees are liars. If they are really making the LAST boarding call, then, by, you know, definition, you can't make another LAST boarding call.

This is not my last posting.
Cicero

Thursday, November 8, 2007

SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD

Does anyone know how to use the subjunctive anymore? Does anyone even know what the subjunctive IS? Subjunctive: states a condition contrary to fact.

One of the many crazy-making things about listening to sportscasters is the after-the-fact use of the present tense instead of the subjunctive, as in: If Brady passes to Moss instead of giving the ball to Cooley, they score.
NO! NO! If Brady HAD PASSED to Moss instead of giving the ball to Cooley, the Patriots WOULD HAVE scored. (But he didn't, so they're 3rd and long.)

And while we're on the subject, how about may/might? The auxiliary verb "may" follows a rule called the Sequence of Tenses, which states that time relationships must be accurately expressed. So when you have an auxiliary verb, like be, can, have, may, must, ought, shall, or will, it has to agree with the verb it supports. For example:

He can raise financing on his personal property and credit, so the move MAY happen sooner than you think. (The verb is in the present, therefore "may.")

He will be able to raise financing only on his personal property and credit, which MIGHT be a problem. (The verb is in the future, therefore "might.")

LIVIA DRUSA


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

HOW

I've recently witnessed several incorrect uses of this word in the form of a question. Perpetrators include NPR, ESPN, CNN, and 60 Minutes. Examples (made up) of how (!) this manifests:
  • How upset are you that you've lost your precious Teddy Bear? I'm very upset.
  • How big of a concern is the subprime mortgage crisis? Very big.
  • Talk about how much of an influence Joe has had on the team. I don't know how to measure "influence." Is it metric?
This is annoying because use of the word "how" in this context is demanding that the answerer quantify the unquantifiable.

Comments welcome, but please appreciate that we don't really care if anyone agrees with us. This is strictly a cleansing exercise for us.