grammar

Stop with the stupid statii: things that get my online goat

The plural for status is statii. Right? Anyway. I was talking to my buddy Mike. I have many buddies named Mike. And I won’t tell you which one he is. It’ll be more fun, and safer, that way.

There are two types of status updates on Facebook that are guaranteed to raise my ire, three types that I will respond to in anger. Well, passive aggressive snarkiness. Four that make my ears steam. Let me count the ways. Oh Facebooker.

This post should not be read as a personal indictment if you are the sort of person who does this. And if you’re reading this thinking that I’m writing about you specifically, I may well be, but I do love you, and I only want what’s best for you. Think of it as a Public Service Announcement that will hopefully help me to keep on liking you.

My hot wife says this post is a preachy know-it-all rant that makes it sound like I’m some sort of social media guru. I’m not, I’m just Joe Average. Your typical Facebook friend. But I have a blog. A voice. A platform. And I’m happy to use it to tell you what Joe Average is thinking, or at least what I’m thinking. And that’s loving. Isn’t it?

Here are the types of Facebookers that get my goat. And if you’re one of them – feel free to come back at me in the comments.

1. The “Facebook is out to get you” Rumour Miller.

Facebook is a company that makes money by selling its user base to advertisers. Deal with it. If you want to use the platform then you need to get with the program. You are the commodity. You are not the customer (unless you buy ads). Sometimes Facebook will change the way they do business. Businesses do that. They announce these changes. It’s not hard. If you hear a nasty rumour about how Facebook is out to get you and exploit you – it may well be true. But please go to google.com or snopes.com and do a little research. Just copy and paste your chain-letter style status update into google and see what comes up. Chances are it’ll be a hoax. 90% of the time it is. 9% of the time its something that some conspiracy nut has blown out of proportion – and the other 1% of the time Facebook is doing something to make a bit more money. That’s its job. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Two friends, possibly connected by mutual friends, who knows – posted the same status update tonight about a change Facebook made two years ago. A change that wasn’t even really a change, and certainly wasn’t the kind of change this conspiracy laden status suggested it was. Sure. Facebook is going to show you if your friends like or interact with a particular brand or advertisement. Newsflash. This is a social network.

2. The Megachurch Wannabe.

I get it. You are the minister, assistant minister, or student minister at a fantastic church. And you want your church to get Facebook attention. We all do. But this stuff sounds better if other people are talking about it. Not the person who is paid to. Here are some secrets. Nobody likes the overly pious memory verse machine. They get hidden. Nobody likes the walking church bulletin who advertises an event every time they open their mouth. You are not Mark Driscoll. You are not John Piper. You are you. Be you. Let Piper be Piper. Let Driscoll be Driscoll (or point out how bizarre his stream of status updates can be and get lots of hits on your blog). A stream of Piper imitators in one’s status feed is annoying and it dilutes the effectiveness of the original.

Don’t talk too much about your awesome prayer life, sermon, Bible Study, worship session, Bible reading, quiet time, anything a bit jargony that is going to make others feel inadequate or your non-Christian friends and family think you’ve joined a cult. Sure. We all want our non-Christian friends to read our statii and know we are ruled by the Lord Jesus. But not posting drunken pictures on Facebook will help with that impression, as will myriad other things. And a couple of updates per day or week, in proportion to updates about what you are actually thinking or doing would be fine. Thankyou.

There are a few subsets of the megachurch wannabe that almost became special categories in this rant. Don’t spread Christian chain status updates about how we want a million people to like Jesus on Facebook, or how if you don’t make something your status for an hour it means you don’t love God. I won’t copy your status. Almost ever. As a general rule. I don’t want to be some sort of status quoting robot. And I love God. I’m sure there are others like me.

The Christian superparent/superspouse. I get it. Your wife is hot. Your daughters are amazing and daddy date worthy (there’s an incredible cringe factor to that term). Your sons are growing up to be real men of God. That’s great. Show us some photos. That’s what Facebook is for. Tell us you’re proud of them. But don’t keep telling me how hot your wife is, or about your plans for an amazing daddy date (seriously. Creepy). We know you love your family.

If you do want to plant a megachurch just follow these ten steps to success.

3. The Oversharer.

I’ve been over this before. But it just keeps happening. Let me state this clearly. As clearly as possible, and with as much love as I can muster.

I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT THE POO YOUR CHILD JUST DID.

Ever. And your child doesn’t want to google themselves one day and find out that their potty training produced wonderful shapes. Nor that they had a poosplosion on the carpet. In fact. Nobody wants to know. Especially if one day they are going to visit your house and sit on the chair that was once covered by infant defecation. We get that you love your child and that parenting can be a funny and frustrating process. But you don’t need to rub our virtual noses in it.

As a general rule most people don’t want to read about the minutiae of your daily life. There’s a point where enough information crosses over into too much information. Why straddle that line? Why not stay metres away from it. But try not to be so vague you’re completely boring too. That’s too far.

4. The Grammar Pest.

I’ve saved this one until last because it’s actually the one I find most annoying. I cringe at bad grammar, and bad spelling. I don’t understand how, with the advent of the in-browser spell check, anybody can post gibberish in their statii anymore. It’s not that hard. Come on people.

But. To publicly correct somebody, unless they are a professional proof-reader and you are their colleague, is just mean spirited and almost only ever designed to make the one doing the correcting look good. And it doesn’t. Nobody is buying what you’re selling. Nobody. We all see through it. People hated you as a child and scribbled on your face with red pen. We get it. Now there’s a grammar sized chip on your shoulder and you feel the need to make your contribution to every conversation a comment about somebody else’s mistake. Good for you. You will die alone. But your will will be immaculate. Error free. Leaving everything to your 18 cats.

People make mistakes. If you love them you should tell them in private. Not shout it out for the world to see. And if you do that – you better make sure that you cross every t, dot every i and catch every rogue apostrophe before hitting enter. Because if you don’t – I’m watching you. And I’m coming for you. Don’t be a grammar hypocrite for a moment. Grammar Pharisee is probably a better name for these people than grammar nazi – communication is about the spirit, not about the law. Shakespeare taught us that. As did anybody else who deliberately broke a rule for the sake of better writing. Because everybody likes to see a bully get their comeuppance.

Colons: the new dash

I tend to liberally pepper my writing with the humble endash (-) or emdash (–) to break up clauses and insert injunctions not worthy of parenthesis or new sentences. But I’m apparently behind the times. It seems the humble colon is the punctuation I need in these situations, it has many functions that I have failed to accommodate:

1. The lister: “The meal requires three ingredients: milk, eggs, and flour.”

2. The talker: “He shouted at the sky: ‘I’m retired!’”

3. The natural extension: “She saw him for what he was: a prodigy.”

4. The juxtaposer: “His face was red: the guests were staring.”

And now:

A new colon is on the march. For now let’s call it the “jumper colon”.

For grammarians, it’s a dependent clause + colon + just about anything, incorporating any and all elements of the other four colons, yet differing crucially in that its pre-colon segment is always a dependent clause.

I love this quote:

“To that end, rules be damned, a new punctuator has been born.

My plan for today:

Totally random thought:

Best meal ever:

That’s the jumper colon. Check out Twitter, Facebook, or Myspace and you’ll find one.

Last night: soooo crazy!

Punctuation can go viral. Syntax is a meme.”

It’s very rare that I ask personal questions here but: how’s your colon use going?

Style Guide: to infinitives and beyond

The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the seminal style guides in the world. If you’ve got a grammatical question or are pondering an obscure rule governing the use of the English language (like whether or not to capitalise the E in english, or the names of birds in a tourism brochure) then you should check it out. Especially interesting is the FAQ/Q&A section.

On split infinitives:

CMOS has not, since the thirteenth edition (1983), frowned on the split infinitive. The fifteenth edition now suggests, to take one example, allowing split infinitives when an intervening adverb is used for emphasis (see paragraphs 5.106 and 5.160). In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched. Many such shibboleths—the en dash, for example—are worthy of being held onto… euphony or emphasis or clarity or all three can be improved by splitting the infinitive in certain situations. It’s one of the advantages of a language with two-word infinitives.”

Cop that one grammar nazis…

The St. Eutychus Guide to First Year Greek – Part Two

Nouns

A noun has four roles or functions within a sentence, aka cases, (and a fifth rare type): the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative. Each has a particular ending which represents the noun’s function in a sentence. They come in declensions (patterns) – each declension has a different set of endings. Nouns also indicate gender. A noun is masculine, feminine or neuter. Inanimate objects can be masculine or feminine.

If it is the subject of a sentence (the thing doing stuff) it’s nominative. If it is the object (the thing stuff gets done to) – it’s the accusative. If it in someway related to possession (eg if it is something from the nominative, or belonging to the nominative) it is genitive. If it is an indirect object it’s dative. For example in the sentence: “I give the ball to you”, I am the nominative, the ball is the accusative, and you are the dative, give is the verb.

The genitive can be used as the “ablatival genitive” which indicates the source of the thing (“I take the ball from the cupboard”), the dative can be used as a locative dative (in), the instrumental dative (by) and the dative of personal advantage (for). These uses are likely to come up in exam questions because they’ll trip you up if you’re not careful.

The declensions come in tables that you have to try to learn by rote. I hate learning by rote.

Nouns have stems too. They have case-number suffixes (like the verbs have person-number suffixes) that stick on the end to tell you what the word does in the sentence.

Neuter plural nouns are a bit like collective nouns in English. They take singular verbs.

Some nouns try to trick you by being cross-dressers or having special patterns (aka declensions). You can always tell what gender a noun is by the article (the) that comes before it. Greek has 24 words for “the”, or more correctly, four cases, with three genders and singular and plural options – there is some duplication across the grid (eg all the genitive plural articles are the same).

Complement

Sometimes a nominative cased verb will actually be playing the part of the accusative. This happens in a “complement” where you’re basically throwing an equal sign into the statement. You’ve just got to think of ειμι (I am) as an equals sign. It’ll come with a nominative noun, but you’ll need to supply the pronoun to complete the complement.

Conjunctions

Greek, like every other language known to man, has conjunctions. They bring two clauses together.

  • δε means “now” or “but” – it’s a strong statement, and it’s postpositive. It never starts a sentence. It tells you that something new has been introduced.
  • και means and, it used twice in a sentence it means “both…and”
  • αλλα is “but” it marks a stark contrast between sentences.

Word Order

Because nouns have cases and verbs have all sorts of bells and whistles syntax is of reduced importance in Greek. You can jumble up the order and the meaning will still be determined by the endings. Normal word order for English is “subject verb object”, normal word order for Greek is “verb subject object” – changing the word order is normally a marker of some sort of significant emphasis.

Vocab and Memory Hooks

  • αγγελος* = (angelos) = angel or messenger = self explanatory
  • αγρος = agros = field = like agriculture
  • αδελφος = (adelphos) = brother = like Philadelphia (brotherly love)
  • αλλα = (alla) = but = But alla the other guys get to watch TV.
  • αμαρτωλος = Sinner = (amartolos) Sinner = Amart-all-sports is actually where the rebels go.
  • ανθρωπος = (anthropos) man/person = anthropology
  • δε = but = but de other guy hit me first
  • διακονος = (diakonos) deacon = self explanatory
  • δουλος = (doulos) servant/slave = If I had a servant/slave they would δουλος for me.
  • δωρον = (doron) gift = Doron look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • εργον = (ergon) work = people who work at εργον don’t do any.
  • ερεμος = (eremos) wilderness = If your GPS takes you to the wilderness it’s made an ερεμος
  • ευαγγελιον = (euangelion) good news = like evangelism.
  • θανατος = (thanatos) death = Then Athos got stabbed, and he died.
  • ιερον = (eyeron) temple = the temple got i-roned out by the Romans
  • λαμβανω = (Lambano) I take = I take a lamb-an-o-pen up the oven.
  • λεγω = (lego) I speak = I would like to speak like the people on the Leggo’s ad
  • λιθος = (lithos) stone  =  lithographs are carved in stone.
  • λογος = (logos) word = Your logo is your business in a word.
  • νομος = (nomos) law = If you’re autonomous, you’re a law unto yourself.
  • οδος = (hodos) road/way = Hit the hodos Jack, and don’t you come back
  • οικος = (oikos) house = I had to write about οικος in an essay so I have not trouble with this one…
  • οχλος = (oxlos) crowd = There are big crowds at the bull fights to see the ox loss.
  • τεκνον = (teknon) child = Looking after children is tekn’on a big responsibility
  • υιος** = (wi-os) son = Your son ui-sed all over the floor
  • φερω = (phero) to bear = Apparently Christopher means “bearer of Christ”…

*γγ together is pronounced as ng.

** ui as in suite – which I sort of render as “wee”

Visiting grammar

One of the perks of moving back to Brisbane is that we’re living around the corner from my gran for the first time ever – she moved to Brisbane this year from regional New South Wales. It’s nice having the family together.

I have no doubt that my gran would be horrified by the story I’m about to share with you. It comes after Robyn and I (along with some other first years at QTC) took a crash course in English grammar as part of our first Greek lesson today.

There may be hope for us yet – apparently first year university students in Canada are demonstrating a complete lack of proficiency in the English language. This is happening all over the world, but some of the quotes from lecturers at the university are brilliant.

“Little happy faces … or a sad face … little abbreviations,” show up even in letters of academic appeal, says Khan Hemani.

“Instead of ‘because’, it’s ‘cuz’. That’s one I see fairly frequently,” she says, and these are new in the past five years.

I must confess – in the past I was a complete comma fiend. My father always used to bang on about run on sentences. I solved that problem by replacing commas with dashes and throwing in the occasional ellipses between disparate clauses. This little quote from a second professor is pretty funny.

“Punctuation errors are huge, and apostrophe errors. Students seem to have absolutely no idea what an apostrophe is for. None. Absolutely none.”

“I get their essays and I go ‘You obviously don’t know what a sentence fragment is. You think commas are sort of like parmesan cheese that you sprinkle on your words’,” said Budra.

Ten Commandments of Social Networking

Learn these. Follow them. Do your friends a favour.

Here are the subheadings – presented in list form for your edification. Read the rationale for each point at Noupe. It’s a good list.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Be a Narcissist
  2. Thou Shalt Listen to What Others Are Saying
  3. Thou Shalt Not Spam
  4. Thou Shalt Say Something of Substance
  5. Thou Shalt Not Abuse Thy Neighbour
  6. Thou Shalt Give Credit Where Credit is Due
  7. Thou Shalt Learn How to Spell (or at least use a spell checker)
  8. Thou Shalt Use Real Words
  9. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness
  10. Thou Shalt Not Be a Friend Whore

Though shall not overshare should be number 11.

Why you shouldn’t be the grammar police, and how to get away with your mistakes

The correct response, when confronted with someone correcting your grammar, syntax or spelling, is an appeal to authority (Shakespeare) with a simultaneous request for their contradictory evidence from a superior authority (confident in the knowledge there is no greater authority on the written word). This may not work when it comes to obvious spelling or punctuation mistakes – but it should help keep the wolves at bay.

I have two slightly contradictory pet peeves. On one hand, I hate reading bad grammar – particularly their/there/they’re, its/it’s and your/you’re. This is mostly because I hate making the mistake myself. I feel so incredibly stupid when an error is pointed out. I think, deep down, that I am a perfectionist. On the other hand – I hate when people point out bad grammar – mine or otherwise. Nothing raises my online hackles more than the superiority of a grammar pedant. I tried being one once. It didn’t make me feel nice. I don’t know how others can do it – it must come from hating bad grammar more than one hates appearing like a complete and utterly superior prig.

If knowing how stupid you feel when someone points out your error does not stop you pointing out the errors of others (sticks, logs and all that jazz), and if you’re so sure that you will never make your own scorn worthy mistake so that you run no risk of hypocrisy, then perhaps you should continue reading – and remember that people actually think less of you when you correct your/their friends in public. Not more.

I will say that I think the exception to this rule is when an institution makes a mistake – and the closer the institution is to the rules of grammar the funnier it is. When governments have grammar style guides and stuff up bridge inscriptions that is funny. When we laugh at Chinese translators mangling English while making their country more open to visitors that is cultural imperialism.

I’ve read a couple of articles today courtesy of Twenty Two words that helpfully reminded me that being a “Grammar Nazi” does not make one superior – nor does it actually make somebody a better writer. Imagine how the very Bard himself would be remembered if he had bowed to the pressure of the grammar pedants of his day.

Firstly, grammar pedants speak too early too often and provide no evidence for their claims. They expect us to sit idly by and accept their views on the movable feast of language while providing not a skerrick nor shred of corroboration for their claims. Up with this I shall not put.

Here’s an article that compares grammar experts with etiquette experts who make claims and then move the goal posts when someone disagrees.

This article provides recourse for people like me who want to rid themselves of pesky comments from friends who suffer from badgrammaritis (symptoms include the inability to let bad grammar pass unpunished).

We have all heard admonitions at some point or other that the word unique cannot be modified — a thing is either unique or it is not. This would be considerably more convincing if it were not so obviously untrue, as people modify unique quite frequently, and have done so for a long time. Through the magic of Google Books you can now search through enormous numbers of books and magazines from the 19th century and see literally hundreds of writers who use more unique, less unique and even that bugbear of the purists, somewhat unique.

(And speaking of literally, the next time someone tells you that it cannot be used to mean aught but literal, you might point out that it has been used in various figurative and nonliteral senses for hundreds of years, by such literary figures as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Richard Milhous Nixon.)

The article points out that most grammar conventions and corrections are given without any sense of evidence – in fact, on Facebook where both bad grammar and pedantry runs rampant, corrections are given with a sense of superior satisfaction but no reference to any rules or conventions that actually back up the criticism.

The erudite conclusion from the NY Times article is proof that a predilection for pedantry does not give you the exclusive rights to good writing. It’s today’s rule breakers who become tomorrow’s rule makers. To use an analogy – pedants are the engineers of the writing world while the rest of us are the artistes – the architects and interior designers, the painters, the landscapers and the Feng Shui consultants.

So I say outpedant the pedants, and allow yourself to gluttonously revel in the linguistic improprieties of yore as you familiarize yourself with the nearly unique enormity of the gloriously mistaken heritage that our literature is comprised of. For those of you keeping score at home, that last sentence contained a verbal noun, a split infinitive, an improper -ize, an inflectional comparative, a blatantly misleading word choice, at least one example of catachresis, an unnecessarily passive construction — and it ended with a preposition. All of which I’m willing to bet appear in Shakespeare.

The Txt Commandments

I have a real problem with the way SMS language has garbled English. But the generation below me – iGen – or whatever they’re called – are content to conduct any written communication in that form. So I’m glad I found this list of the “text commandments”

It’s pretty brilliant.

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.

2. dnt wrshp pix/idols

3. no omg’s

4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)

5. pos ok – ur m&d r cool

6. dnt kill ppl

7. :-X only w/ m8

8. dnt steal

9. dnt lie re: bf

10. dnt ogle ur bf’s m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.

M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.

ttyl, JHWH.

ps. wwjd?

To ‘postrophe, or not to apostrophe

Continuing in my campaign for better apostrophe use comes this news story about a man in England who has taken the unusual path of adding apostrophes to signs.

The most significant problems with apostrophe use involve the overuse – but this guy wants to ensure they don’t die out altogether…

“The 62-year-old’s defence of the apostrophe comes after Birmingham council announced it would scrap the punctuation from council signs for the sake of ‘simplicity’.”
Mr Gatward, who served for four years in the Gordon Highlanders in the 1960s, is not just a campaigner for the apostrophe.

He will not join the ‘five items or less’ queue at the supermarket, in protest that the sign should read ‘five items or fewer’.

He also gets annoyed when people-neglect the ‘Royal’ in ‘Royal Tunbridge Wells’, and was vexed when he saw a major chain store advertising sales with signs saying ‘until stocks last’ rather than ‘while stocks last’.

‘I fought for the preservation of our heritage and our language but some people seem happy to let that go. I’m not,’ he said.

Read more here

Sadly, Brisbane’s council has the opposite problem and probably should be following the flow chart. Its error is set in stone.

Here’s a photo dad snapped on his iPhone of a new footbridge.

It’s in the sentence:

“Although many changes have occurred along the river, it’s spiritual significace endures.”

On the question of Worship

I read this somewhere the other day. I thought it was prescient and worth recording for posterity…

The problem with the modern church’s understanding of worship is they see it as a noun not a verb.

Brilliant.

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