Friday, October 20, 2006

Hyphens and Familial Pride

I just came across a reference to somebody's great, great grandson.

Further research showed that it was, in fact, a great-great-grandson who may or may not have been extremely wonderful.

In another comma-vs.-hyphen incident, I changed a headline from Controversial Ad Links MLK-GOP to Controversial Ad Links MLK, GOP, only to see something about an MLK, GOP Link in the Web hed on the same story. There's where the hyphen belonged.

To review, a comma can stand for "and" in a headline. The hyphen (or en dash, for publications that use the en dash) is the convention for a "between" link in an adjectival construction. Ali, Frazier Fight? They did indeed if you mean "fight" as a verb, but that fight (n.) was the Ali-Frazier Fight. (And so were the other two, though I suppose the first one was more properly the Frazier-Ali fight.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ignorance Is Strength

A teacher -- a teacher -- was quoted thusly in a story on cursive writing:

"Cursive -- that is so low on the priority list, we really could care less."

They could care less. Really! Just as literally allegedly can mean "not at all literally," could allegedly sometimes means "couldn't." Spare me the made-up rationalizations ("I could care less, but I don't!"); sometimes an error is just an error. People type "Saudia Arabia" when they mean "Saudi Arabia," they say "sherbert" when they mean "sherbet," and they say "could care less" when they mean "couldn't care less."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's Certainly Not the Hair

Q: How am I like every obscure indie band?

A: I can claim to be big in Japan.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Awf Tawpic

I make no apologies for being one of the lazy-tongued, lazy-eared (in my Post colleague Gene Weingarten's words) people who pronounce "Mary," "marry" and "merry" identically. Also, "Aaron" and "Erin": I might "think" different things when I say the two names, but the first syllable is exactly the same -- "air" (any thoughts, Airhen?). I'm also one of those people who rhyme "what" with "gut," not "squat" (and forget about that dyslexic-schoolmarm "hwat," "hwich," "hwen" nonsense with the "wh" words).

I'm as much of an accent snob as Gene is, and so I can't get too worked up about his assertion that the bizarre accent of his native New York City is superior to my Michigan-softened-by-a-quarter-century-away lack thereof. I get just as obnoxious in denouncing the equation of "Don" and "Dawn," or "cot" and "caught" (in the only linguistics course I've taken, the instructor informed me that only those with strange acccents differentiate those vowel sounds). And don't get me started on pens and pins.

I used to give a friend of mine a lot of crap about referring to milk as "melk." When he would try to say the word correctly, he could do it only in an unnatural, exaggerated way -- "miiiiiiillk." I do the same sort of thing when I try to come up with a "marry" or "merry" that isn't "Mary." My Gene-correct "marry" sounds like a bad impersonation of Rhoda Morgenstern, and my attempt at a Gene-correct "merry" is a sound not of this planet.

What do you say?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Comma or Cap, Not Both

Here's a little thing that readers occasionally ask about: What should be done with a construction like this?
But, she added, "it is likely to fail."
The answer depends on whether you want the "but" to go with the quote or with the fact that the person is saying such a thing. The difference between those two choices is generally too subtle to worry about, but it is important to avoid a mixed bag in your punctuation. A comma before the attribution indicates that the "But" is part of the thought being attributed, and so the quote, being a continuation of that thought, should not be capitalized as though it were the beginning of a sentence.

If the "But" is meant to apply to the "she added" part, a quote that is a complete sentence should be capitalized like a complete sentence:
But she added, "It is likely to fail."
These little markers can be obscured, of course, if the quotation begins with a proper noun or if you have avoided or overcome any lingering trauma from the Strunkwhite caution on beginning a sentence with "However":
However, she added, "John is like to fail."
In that case, you could emphasize that "However" isn't being put in the speaker's mouth by using a colon instead of a comma to introduce the quote.