23 9 / 2012
Pique: for our purposes (it has other more obscure usages), either a noun or a verb. In verb form, to pique is to stimulate interest. “His description piqued her curiosity.” In noun form, it describes a state of irritation resulting from a personal slight. “She stormed away in a fit of pique.”
Peak: the top of a mountain or any other actual or figurative structure or idea. To peak is to reach a highest point. To be in peak condition is to be at the height if your fitness. (You’ll notice it can function as a verb, noun or adjective.)
Peek: to look around a corner, through a keyhole, or generally in a quick and secretive manner. Also the noun for this type of look. “I’m going to take a peek.”
The most common error that results from these three homonyms is the substitution of peek or peak for pique. If you mean “to stimulate interest,” you’re looking for pique.
10 9 / 2012
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is only a short road that leads from grammatical laxity to cannibalism."
10 9 / 2012
I still have to google “how to use a colon properly” whenever my fingers stray over to that corner of the keyboard, because I’m afraid of using one improperly and looking like a dork.
The main difference between a colon and a semicolon is that a semicolon must be used between two complete sentences; a colon only requires one complete sentence, and it needs to be the first one. It’d be incorrect to say, “The reasons The Hobbit will be amazing are: Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.” The correct way would be, “There will be two amazing things about The Hobbit: Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.” You could also say, “There are two reasons The Hobbit will be amazing: Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Colons are also useful for salutations (“To Whom it May Concern:”) and for introducing bullet-point lists.
03 9 / 2012
This is another word that falls into the “smush-word” category, a class of words I have created to describe those words which are made up of two words, but which mean something different than those two words taken separately. (I just used “word” or “words” six times in the same sentence. Don’t do that for a prof.)
A PART is just A (which is called the indefinite article, if you want to be fancy) and the word PART. It can mean pretty much anything that the noun PART can mean: a segment of something, an excerpt of something, an actor’s role, or a line in your hair created with a comb.
APART has a specific meaning: separated by a distance, somehow distinguished from a crowd, exploding into pieces or shattering (“the lamp blew apart”). None of these are meanings that A PART can use, and vice versa. They are not interchangeable.
30 8 / 2012
There are ways to use the word “like” appropriately in academic writing, and this is not one of them:
Shakespeare is, like, the most famous playwright to ever live.
Just don’t do it. It won’t end well.
However, feel free to use it in the following ways:
Twilight is like The Hunger Games: they both feature a female protagonist caught between two male admirers.
Batman likes Rachel but she can’t get over his obsession with black body armor.
Her name was Thursday Next and I’d never heard anything like it!
If you’re using the word “like” and it’s both preceded and followed by a comma, you’re in trouble. If not, you’re probably okay.
29 8 / 2012
"Can you please talk about the difference between it’s and its?"
21 8 / 2012
All right. First of all, if you are in the business of interrupting unsuspecting civilians’ daily conversation to say things like “DON’T YOU MEAN ‘WHOM’?” then you need to stop right now. It doesn’t matter how right you are, you’re still really annoying.
I am bothered by some things people do in regular conversation, such as the flagrant misuse of the phrase “begging the question,” but this is not one of them. I don’t really care whether you use “who” and “whom” correctly when you’re speaking to me, and I’m an English major. So don’t sweat it. (Relatedly, anyone who’s apologized to me for having bad grammar or spelling in their texts, messages, facebook posts or notes to me can relax. I like grammar and I like using it right, but that does not mean you have to and I love you just as much even if you don’t.)
Howeeeeeever (there is always a “however” or I wouldn’t be posting), you do need to know the distinction for writing things like business correspondence, resumes, cover letters, and anything formal, including, of course, anything that a prof is going to grade. In my research I came across this neat little rule for determining when to use “who” and when to use “whom”:
Use “who” when you might replace it with “he” or “she,” and “whom” when you might replace it with “him” or “her.”
“She drives me crazy when she corrects my grammar.” “Who drives you crazy?”
“I corrected his grammar for him and he seemed peeved.” “Whom did you correct?”
The difference is that “who” refers to the subject of a sentence and “whom” refers to the object. This is the sort of thing that my dad used to try to explain to me in junior high, and then my eyes would glaze over, so before your eyes glaze over (though yeesh, this is a grammar blog, who am I kidding—I probably lost you ages ago) the distinction can be summed up thusly: the subject DOES the action and the object has the action done to it. This is a beautiful example from Grammargirl:
If I say, “I love you,” you are the object of my affection, and you is also the object of the sentence (because I am loving you, making me the subject and you the object). How’s that? I love you. You are the object of my affection and my sentence. It’s like a Valentine’s Day card and grammar mnemonic all rolled into one.
See? Gorgeous. And there you go.
21 8 / 2012
“I could care less” means, taken at face value, that on a spectrum of caring about an issue, you’re not quite at the bottom. On a 1-5 scale, you’re about a 2. It would be possible for your level of caring to descend further. The misuse of apostrophes, say, irritates you somewhat, but you’re not passionate enough to devote a tumblr to it. However, when people use this phrase, what they generally seem to mean is “I couldn’t care less.”
“I couldn’t care less” means, also taken at face value, that on a scale of 1-5 you’re a 0. This does not matter to you. You would fling apostrophes to the whole world and have them happily scattered everywhere and not be perturbed. It is not possible for you to have less of an opinion on an issue.
So pick a spot on the scale, and use the appropriate saying. Generally it’ll be “I couldn’t care less” if what you’re trying to say is that something doesn’t matter to you at all.
20 8 / 2012