Grammar Check! “I” vs. “Me”

Today’s GrammarBook.com email (June 21, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focuses on the right use of the personal pronouns “I” and “me”, though it includes other pronouns too.

Since this is always a sticking point with writers – and especially speakers (we get even lazier when we speak)! – we should work on getting this right, both in our writing and in our speaking.

I remember my dear mother correcting me over and over on this as a child, until it was drilled into my stubborn Dutch noggin. Today I thank her for those daily grammar lessons. I believe they finally sunk in. Check my grammar in the previous sentences. 🙂

If you visit the blog post on this at the end of this post, you can even take a pop quiz to check yourself.

Source: I vs. Me – Grammar & Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Verbs as Engines and Steering Wheels: How Does Your Car Drive?

hero-blue-bookLast week’s GrammerBook.com email (May 10, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focused on the healthy use of verbs. Employing the metaphor of a car, the grammar lesson spoke of verbs as the “engine and the steering wheel driving our languages.”

Today as you speak and as you may sit down to write something, think of how you use verbs, and how you can use them better. After reading this “lesson” I am sure we will all think of ways to make our verbal cars run well and steer better.

Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs

Imagine the English language as a car that can keep its body and performance pristine if driven and maintained correctly.

Think of nouns as the wheels that keep it rolling; adjectives as the chassis riding the wheels; adverbs as the paint job (some say the less flashy the better); and all other parts of speech (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) as the vehicle’s other components (e.g., windows, trunk, mirrors, hood).

That leaves us with verbs, which form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. Without them, our language, like a car, would sit still and take us nowhere.

For this reason, verbs need tune-ups for optimal function. You can achieve this by tightening verb phrases.

Opportunities to do so appear throughout our writing:

Substitute a single word for “is” phrases that can be instantly shortened  Instead of writing “he is in violation of,” go with “he violates.” Rather than express “the petition is a representation of the community’s wishes,” state “the petition represents…”

Pare verb-object phrases to the core verb   Have you ever written that you “made the decision”? “I decided” is leaner and so will use less gas in taking your sentence further more quickly. Perhaps you’ve expressed in an e-mail that “the meeting came to a close” and “all who attended took the matter into consideration.” If so, next time you can adjust your linguistic belt a notch and write “the meeting ended” and “all who attended considered the matter.”

Delete redundant modifiers   We don’t need to write “hoist up” and “plunge down” when a simple “hoist” and “plunge” will do. Likewise, why use page space to say we “mix together” ingredients and “merge together” documents? The careful writer confesses the two words just don’t belong together. (These verb phrases also can be defined as tautologies; to learn more about this topic, review our recent article (Striking the Surplus from Tautologies.)

Choose the right verb to shorten an idea   Did the book “give the people hope”? You could write that it “inspired” them and buy room you might need elsewhere on your page. Someone sharing a passionate opinion might say a statement “flies in the face of” the facts. He could also state that it “counters,” “contradicts,” “refutes” or “opposes” them and lessen the risk of flying spittle.

Use these techniques as your tools for your tune-ups. If you apply them often, you’ll find out just how far and fast your writing can go.

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance — A Hillsdale College Online Course

 

Reserve your spot in Hillsdale College’s free Online Course, “An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance.”

In the last week I received this notice from Hillsdale College about a free online course on C. S. Lewis. I pass it on in case there are those who may be interested in pursuing it.

Hillsdale is a conservative liberal arts college with a strong academic record (consistently ranked among the top colleges in the country). It offers other free online courses as well, such as one on the U.S. Constitution. Check out the online course page and the courses offered in the areas of politics, literature, history, and religion.

Below is the introduction to the course that was sent with the email.

I’d like to invite you to join me in Hillsdale College’s newest free course studying the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis, best known as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, also authored works on apologetics and philosophy, including The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity. This free online course will study both Lewis’s apologetics and his fiction, as well as his philosophical and literary writings, and their continuing significance today.

I have the privilege of delivering three of the nine lectures, and I will be joined by Michael Ward, a leading expert on the works of C.S. Lewis, and Hillsdale professor of English and Provost, David Whalen. I hope you enjoy the course.

Source: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance — A Hillsdale College Online Course

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 10:38 PM  Comments (2)  

“Ta-ta” to Tautologies

hero-blue-bookToday’s GrammerBook.com email about English grammar is too good to pass up. It fits in well with our “Word Wednesday” feature, besides teaching proper English grammar.

Isn’t it time you say “ta-ta” to tautologies?

Read on, my friends! And you don’t even have to go above and beyond. Just beyond.

Striking the Surplus from Tautologies

The English language includes the tools it needs to communicate with beauty, depth, and precision. Like any other healthy entity, it also moves most swiftly without extra weight. In the world of words, flabby noun phrases are known as tautologies.

Merriam-Webster online defines a tautology as “1a: needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word.”

Common English is rife with such excess. It often occurs because of needless descriptive emphasis or a simple lack of grammatical economy.

GrammarBook.com touched on this issue similarly before in Pleonasms Are a Bit Much. In that entry, we defined a pleonasm as deriving from pleonazein, a Greek word meaning “more than enough.” “The jolly man was happy” is one such example of adding a pound made more of fat than muscle.

We return to this subject and call it by its other namesake so you might recognize this intruder of our language by either ID card it carries.

Tautologies will never be fully edited from spoken language simply because of inherent informality; only a well-trained and -disciplined mind will omit extra words during a conversation in motion.

Careful writers, on the other hand, have the time and the will to infuse their linguistic diets with protein. They cut the sugar and carbs that add calories without nutrients to their thoughts.

They avoid composing phrases and sentences such as:

each and every one  Choose “each one” or “every one”–both are clear when standing alone.

above and beyond   “Beyond” is all you need in a statement such as “Her report went beyond expectations.”

vast majority   You hear it all the time, and you might even use it yourself. If you do, you now recognize that “majority” means the largest part of the group, so you can cast the “vast” and not lose your meaning.

forward planning   If “plan” means “to devise or project the realization or achievement of” or “to make plans” (as in “plan ahead”), is it possible to plan backwards?

mass exodus   Yet another pudgy phrase we hear or use all the time. An “exodus” is defined as “a mass departure,” so we know which word need not join the evacuation.

Trained expert, violent explosion, invited guest, identical match: The line continues out the door and winds its way to the streets of congested communication outside.

You have the power to improve the speed and flow of traffic in English. Just say “ta-ta” to tautologies by reviewing word choices and ensuring you enhance your meanings rather than duplicate them.

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 9:00 PM  Comments (1)  

Photocopy of Rare Sir Isaac Newton Letter in T. Letis Collection

Today Kevin Rau and I stumbled on a rare find while browsing in the Dr. Ted Letis collection at the PRC Seminary.

We were on a mission to find some possible correspondence between Gordon Clark and Letis for a contact who will be publishing the letters of Clark in his next book (cf. Doug Douma’s The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark; Eugene, OR, Wipf & Stock, 2016).

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689While we did not find any new correspondence between Letis and Clark in the boxes of containing much of the personal research of Letis, we did find an amazing photocopy of a letter of Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726)- yes, that Newton, the famed mathematician and scientist.

Newton was also a professing Christian, and in 1690 he wrote a letter to a friend expressing his views on biblical-textual matters, which is why the late Dr. Letis was interested in what he had to say. In that letter, Newton wrote to John Locke about two disputed texts in the Bible – I John 5:7 (on the Trinity – “For there are three that bear record in heaven”) and I Timothy 3:16 (about Christ being “God …manifest in the flesh.”).

The letter was published posthumously first in 1754 (in English) and came to be called (from the title Newton himself gave at the top of the letter – cf. below) An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Sacred Scripture, in a Letter to a Friend, from which title you can judge what Newton’s views were. Although Newton was accused of holding anti-trinitarian views because of this, and even claimed by the Arians, the charge does not hold according to this section found on the Internet:

Even though a number of authors have claimed that the work might have been an indication that Newton disputed the belief in Trinity, others assure that Newton did question the passage but never denied Trinity as such. His biographer, scientist Sir David Brewster, who compiled his manuscripts for over 20 years, wrote about the controversy in well-known book Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, where he explains that Newton questioned the veracity of those passages, but he never denied the doctrine of Trinity as such. Brewster states that Newton was never known as an Arian during his lifetime, it was first William Whiston (an Arian) who argued that “Sir Isaac Newton was so hearty for the Baptists, as well as for the Eusebians or Arians, that he sometimes suspected these two were the two witnesses in the Revelations,” while other like Hopton Haynes (a Mint employee and Humanitarian), “mentioned to Richard Baron, that Newton held the same doctrine as himself”.[67]

The letter went through several published editions, the title page of one of which Letis also had in the sleave with the copy of Newton’s letter. Both of these items I scanned and show you here.

INewton-letters-1754

The photocopied first page of these letters is what Letis had, and he got it from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford (England), which holds the original letters and their copyright (evident from the stamp on back of photocopy). Below is that copy.INewton-letter-1690-2

For more on the fascinating history and contents of this letter of Newton, visit this page.

presence-of-creator-inewton

As an added note (now that I have checked the Letis collection again), the library of Letis contained at least five (5) biographies on Isaac Newton, including this one. So, Letis’ interest in Newton was not a passing one.

A Journey Into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory – The New York Times

It has been some time since we did a “Word Wednesday” feature. Today (tonight!) I post this significant “word” item I saved a while back.

In this article penned for The New York Times (March 22, 2017), Jennifer Schluessler uncovers the secrets of the Merriam-Webster “word factory,” that is, the company’s famed dictionary. Along the way, you will find out some of the old ways of producing this time-tested word book, as well as the new ways that modern technology has added to and enhanced the process. Ah, the thrill of being a lexicographer!

Below is one of the images that go with the story, and then the beginning part of the article. Find the rest by clicking on the image below.

And, yes, this place certainly looks like a verbal gem-mine to me! Another one to add to my book-tour trip. 🙂

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in America, has turned itself into a social media powerhouse over the past few years. Its editors star in online videos on hot-button topics like the serial comma, gender pronouns and the dreaded “irregardless.” Its Twitter feed has become a viral sensation, offering witty — and sometimes pointedly political — commentary on the news of the day.

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer here, is very much part of the vanguard of word-nerd celebrities. Her witty “Ask the Editor” video contributions, like a classic on the plural of octopus, and personal blog, Harmless Drudgery, have inspired a Kory Stamper Fan Club on Facebook.

…But the company remains very much a bricks-and-mortar operation, still based in this small New England city where the Merriam brothers bought the rights to Noah Webster’s dictionary in the 1840s and carried on his idea of a distinctly American language. And this month, Ms. Stamper, the author of the new book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” was more than happy to offer a tour of some of the distinctly analog oddities in the basement.

Published in: on April 19, 2017 at 10:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

Reading With Delight – Two Examples: Dekker and Wangerin

Yesterday I posted a quote from Leland Ryken’s book (A Christian Guide to the Classics) concerning the importance of reading with purpose, the two most significant purposes being for edification (instruction) and for delight – that latter being the first focus.

Today I follow up that post with two concrete examples from my recent reading of books that gave me (and are giving me) great delight, hoping to inspire you to read for delight too.

Chosen-TDekker-2007The first is from the pen of Ted Dekker (author of Black, Red, White, Saint, Sinner, A.D. 30, etc.), a great story-teller whose writing I have come to enjoy simply for the great read (but they are also edifying!). The book of his I just finished is Chosen (“Lost Books”, #1), which is actually in the juvenile fiction category (fantasy and speculative), the main characters being teenagers.

I read this title to see if it was good material for my older grandchildren, and I can assure you it is. And for adults. I thoroughly enjoyed this classic “good versus evil” story. In fact, I would classify it as an extended biblical allegory.  I also have the second book in this series (Infidel) and plan to start it soon. Highly recommended!

Without giving away the story, I quote from the publisher’s description:

think with your heart and prepare to die . . .  for you have been Chosen.

Thomas Hunter, supreme commander of the Forest Guard, has seen a great evil decimate much of his beautiful world. With a dwindling army and an epic threat, Thomas is forced to supplement his fighters with new recruits ages 16 and 17. From thousands, four will be chosen to lead a special mission.

Unknown to Thomas, the chosen four are redirected to a different endgame. They must find the seven lost Books of History before the Dark One. For these seven books have immense power over the past, present, and future, controlling not only the destiny of their world . . . but that of ours as well.

The second example is from one I have referenced before – Walter Wangerin’s Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book about Children and Parents (Zondervan, 1993; reprinted in 2004). The first chapter is a writing gem, the reading of which is sure to conjure up memories of your own mother’s Spring cleaning ritual. I have read “Spring cleaning” three times already, each time with a deep smile on my face and joy in my soul.

Here’s a glimpse of why (And here, too, the spiritual imagery is intentional on the part of this Christian author):

One particular gift of hers [his mother] to us was cleanliness. The experience of cleanliness, of becoming clean. We took it for granted; but it was a way of life, maternal virtue and holy consolation.

My mother kept cleaning, kept reclaiming territory by the act of cleaning it, kept redeeming her children therein.

And spring was always that fresh start of faith and the hope in cleanliness, of the forgiveness of cleanliness, actually, since everything old and fusty could be eliminated, allowing the new to take its place – or better yet, the old itself could be the new again.

…How dearly I loved spring cleaning.

Mom was happy, cleaning. She sang the winter away. She cracked old closures. Everything grievous and wrong and knotty and gritty and guilty was gone. Life returned, and sunlight and laughter and air [p.28].

Need more? There are so many jewels here:

In buckets Mom made elixirs of Spic and Span. She shook Old Dutch Cleanser on sinks as if it were a stick to scold. Throughout the house went ammonia smells, pine smells, soap smells, sudsy smells that cancelled sweats and miasmas.

…By evening we ourselves were bathed, the dust of the day removed, leaving a creamy me.

And this, finally, was the finest comfort of the sacred day: that when I went to bed that night, I slipped my silver self between clean sheets. Sheets sun-dried and wind-softened and smoother to my tender flesh than four white petals of the dogwood tree. Delicious above me and below, blessing me and holding me at once: my mother’s cleanliness. Such a sweet fastness of sheets declared the boy between them to be royalty for sure, chosen, holy, and beloved – the son of a wonderful queen [p.29].

Is this not why we read? What a delight to the soul! What are you reading for pleasure, as well as for instruction?

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 11:30 AM  Leave a Comment  

Grammar Check – Fine Distinctions

hero-blue-bookThis is this week’s grammar lesson from GrammarBook.com e-newsletter, which came by email today. It was instructive for me, and I trust it will be for you too.

Such fine distinctions do matter, for both writers and readers. When you read about these examples, no doubt you will say as I did, “I’ve made that mistake.”

Plus, it is a great item for “Word Wednesday,” which I have gotten away from of late.

A Fine Distinction

How valid can a rule be if nobody knows or cares about it anymore?

That all depends on what the definition of “nobody” is. A lot of people I’ve been around seem to feel “nobody” applies to just about everybody 15-plus years younger or older than they are. Generational outcasts—the nerds, wonks, and misfits—also get labeled nobodies, although some of them grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In many circles, alas, nobody is more of a nobody than a grammar geek—those verbal neat freaks with all their precious little rules. But if those of us who rail against diseased English shut up and went away, we like to believe the world would soon miss us. Amid the rampant demagoguery and disinformation, our guiding principle is sound: clarity and precision are worth the bother.

Here is a short list of increasingly ignored fine distinctions:

Transpire  The errant celebrity issued a statement through his attorney that he was “sorry and saddened over what transpired.” Make it “sorry and saddened over what happened.” Put a big shot together with his lawyer and brace yourself for pompous verbiage. This usage of transpire, though common, is a lethal combination: pretentious and incorrect. The word doesn’t mean occur or happen. Something that transpires is revealed or becomes known over time. It’s not simply what happened so much as what it all means in the bigger picture. The Oxford online dictionary gives this example: “It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions.”

Condone vs. endorse  “I do not endorse or otherwise condone this,” intoned some anonymous official. Isn’t “condone” redundant in that sentence? Not at all—there’s a substantial difference: When you endorse something, you’re all for it; you’re proud to recommend it. To condone is to pardon, overlook, disregard. When you condone, there’s not much enthusiasm or pride involved. Someone who condones is being tolerant, not enthusiastic.

Persnickety  It’s a colloquial term for “too particular or precise.” (Some would say it describes people who maintain that convince and persuade aren’t synonyms.) How’s this for world-class persnickety: there are nitpickers who reject the word in favor of pernickety, which preceded persnickety by about a century.

Substitute vs. replace  “The chef substituted chocolate with carob in the brownie recipe.” Make that “replaced chocolate with carob” or “substituted carob for chocolate.” Don’t confuse the two or you’ll end up with shaky English to go with those ghastly carob brownies.

—Tom Stern

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

Identifying the Classics: (2) Bible Reading as a Model – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories (literary “taxonomy”).

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).

Last time we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).

In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his opening thoughts on this – well worth our reminder as we daily read God’s Word:

..There is a big difference between reading the Bible and reading the classics: the Bible is without error and is not on trial. It is our authority and not a book whose truth claims we need to assess. Its role for us as we read other classics is that of a standard by which we weigh their themes and moral vision. But in other ways our reading of the Bible provides good answers to the question of how we should read a Christian classic.

After which he goes on to say:

The first thing we can say about Bible reading is that, as Christians, we begin with the liberating knowledge that we will be nurtured by what we are about to read. These are the words of life, and we can find that exhilarating. Related to that, we know that reading the Bible is more than a purely literary experience. It is not less than that, but it is more. We know with our minds that reading literature of any kind is valuable to us as a potential source of insight into human experience, but often we need to work hard  to make sure that we are gaining and appropriating that insight. When we read the Bible, we are completely aware that this is the source of light for daily living. When we read a Christian classic, we experience something similar [pp.66-67].

Let the Children Laugh – W. Wangerin, Jr.

One of my favorite writers is Walter Wangerin, Jr., son of a Lutheran pastor, professor at Valparaiso University, and prolific author (Book of the Dun Cow; Paul, A Novel; As for Me and My House; and numerous children’s books).

Though we may differ with him in some of his theology, Wangerin has tremendous gifts of insight into the human condition, everyday life, and God’s ways with His people, and I have benefitted greatly from his writings. Besides, he is simply a gifted writer, whose prose makes you think, relate, and laugh. And, his writings make you enjoy reading and stimulate you to read more.

little-lamb-wangerinOne of his older books I recently picked up in a thrift store is Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book about Children and Parents (Zondervan, 1993; reprinted in 2004. Mine is a first ed., hardcover). The title comes from a poem by William Blake, called “The Lamb,” in which Blake parallels God’s Lamb and the lambs of the church.

Wangerin’s introductory chapter is titled “You Are, You Are, You Are” – the end of which line comes at the end of the chapter (“You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!”), and in it Wangerin calls us to let our children laugh. Before you dismiss this as light and frivolous, listen to what he has to say:

Let the children laugh and be glad.

O my dear, they haven’t long before the world assaults them. Allow them genuine laughter now. Laugh with them, till tears run down your faces – till a memory of pure delight and precious relationship is established within them, indestructible, personal, and forever.

Soon enough they’ll meet faces unreasonably enraged. Soon enough they’ll be accused of things they did not do. Soon enough they will suffer guilt at the hands of powerful people who can’t accept their own guilt and who must dump it, therefore, on the weak. In that day the children must be strengthened by self-confidence so they can resist the criticism of fools. But self-confidence begins in the experience of childhood.

So give your children (your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, the dear ones, children of your neighbors and your community) – give them golden days, their own pure days, in which they are so clearly and dearly beloved that they believe in love and in their own particular worth when love shall seem in short supply hereafter. Give them laughter.

More from this wonderful book on being a child and being a parent in the year to come, D.V.