Have You Seen Your Spellchecker Naked?

WitchesSpellcheck

How Do You Do?

How well do you know your spellchecker? I’m not talking about the spouse or best friend you ask to double-check your writing. I mean the checker in your word processing software. Did you recently go on your first date? Or are you old friends? Have you seen your spellchecker naked?

No, that wasn’t a typo. Most writers trust that spelling and grammar checkers will find all their mistakes. However, if you rely solely on your digital checker and don’t do a manual check, your writing will likely go out infected with STDs—stupid typos and dammits.

Today’s post will lay bare digital spelling and grammar checkers. You’ll learn how they work and their claims to fame—and shame. Next time I’ll show you how to tweak Microsoft Word’s checker to make it more responsive to your needs.  Continue reading Have You Seen Your Spellchecker Naked?

Grammar is…Beautiful

Read this first…

Before you read one more word, please click on this link and read this essay, an excerpt from the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Do it now. I’ll wait. I’ll even wait while you order the book. The rest is as fabulous as the excerpt. Clicking on the title or picture of the book above will whisk you to Amazon via my affiliate link. Just don’t get shopping and forget to return!

Now that you have Paloma’s marvelous take on grammar as “a way to attain beauty,” I’d like to add my own comments to the mix. I could barely sit still when I first read this essay, as I am a grammar maven. I’ve always thought that was a strange-sounding word, maven. It means “expert or connoisseur.” I’m by no means an expert, but I’m certainly a connoisseur.

Though perhaps not as classically beautiful as Fibonacci’s golden spiral in a rose or nautilus, each of grammar’s innate structures is attractive in its own way. Below are a few of my faves…

Continue reading Grammar is…Beautiful

Huh? A Universal Interjection

HaHa
Even the Fence Has a Sense of Humor                      Photo: Claudia Comte/Creative Commons

What do you think of interjections? You know, words like Ha! Yeah! Aw… Huh? In formal writing, these are scorned as third step-cousins, twice removed. But in spoken conversation, they are the grease that lubricates the wheels of language. Wow! Can you imagine getting through a day without them? Nope. Now that much of our communication involves email and texting, vehicles that simulate spoken language patterns, we employ interjections there, too.

A newsletter from my favorite grammar website, About.com/Education, discussed an article about interjections from the March 2014 Smithsonian. “Everybody in Almost Every Language Says ‘Huh’? HUH?!” cited original research from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, that found that “huh” is a “universal word.” People speaking ten different languages all grunted something that sounded like “huh?” when they didn’t understand what was said to them. Gosh! Continue reading Huh? A Universal Interjection

A “Dirty Dozen” Ways to Begin Sentences and Get Rhythm

Girl riding a horse
This girl loves to ride!                                                   Photo: Everett Robinson. All rights reserved.

Sloppy Sentence Starters

At the beginning of each semester, a fair number of my student writers relied on “The Sloppy Seven” sentence starters. In any given paragraph, most of their sentences began with The, I, He, She, They, We, As, or It. Each student had his or her favorites. Dave (name changed) started three out of five sentences in one essay with The. Ellie (name changed) started four out of six with I. So the students could see, at a glance, how frequently they used them, I highlighted the words they repeated.

For example:
My niece is passionate about horses. She loves to brush them and braid their manes and tails. She doesn’t even complain about mucking out the stalls. She takes lessons twice a week and goes to competitions. My sister pays the bills, so she hopes my niece outgrows this hobby. I bet someday she’ll be buying a horse.

As I taught other ways to begin sentences, my students varied their first words and found that this automatically varied their sentence structures, too! More rhythmic, more sophisticated, better-written paragraphs resulted. And these were more interesting to readers. Continue reading A “Dirty Dozen” Ways to Begin Sentences and Get Rhythm

The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers

Why Doesn’t Everyone Use “Proper” English?

I used to be a language snob, complete with William Safire trading card. Growing up with teacher parents who corrected my grammar made me hypersensitive to language rules. (“Where’s he at? Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’!” and “You’re ‘done’? Let’s stick a fork in you!”) Plus, excelling at grammar, punctuation and spelling tempted me to think people who didn’t speak “properly” were uneducated or lazy. How could you hear correct grammar at school and (sometimes!) on TV and still say, “I didn’t do nothing” or “I should of went fishing”?

My “Aha!” Moment

Then I had a daughter with dyslexia, who not only couldn’t follow the inconsistent, irrational rules of English spelling (How do you pronounce “ghoti”?)* and grammar, but still doesn’t remember the differences between (oops! among) to, two and too.

Another sea-change in my attitude occurred when I read The Story of English by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil. As I railed against Ebonics in the seventies, I was shocked to read that my own “proper” language was the product of hundreds of years of the same sort of evolutionary bastardization. English began as West Germanic, with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving in England and pushing the Celts westward. It was changed by invading Norse speakers in the 9th and 10th centuries and Norman-French speakers in the 11th. During the Renaissance, French, Latin, Greek and Italian influences changed the language and grammar. Scholars tidied up English in the 16th and 17th, but punctuation was still haphazard in the early 17th century. English has been enlarged by words and constructions from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Native Americans. Continue reading The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers