When it comes to quotes, honesty isn’t always the best policy

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A few weeks back, a baseball player got angry with a reporter. Often, public figures rail against the press, feeling they’ve been misquoted or that their comments were taken out of context. This case was different though. The baseball player in question, Carlos Gomez, was angry that they’d gotten his words exactly right.

Continue reading “When it comes to quotes, honesty isn’t always the best policy”

“They” gets its day

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Yesterday, I had the good fortune of being interviewed by the talented writer Catherine Jan, the person responsible for the economical fun over at the blog TorontoFrugal.

After we’d been talking for a little while, Catherine hit me with a question that a lot of people have been thinking about recently. She wanted to know:

Is “they” acceptable as a singular pronoun?

This is a question that gets people’s hackles raised, and so before we answer the question, we need to delve into why it’s an important question and why anyone should care. Continue reading ““They” gets its day”

To boldly go where schoolteachers told you not to go

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When I was in grad school, before we fell to marking student essays, my department’s teaching assistants were corralled together for a quick review. A faculty member swiftly ran through the things we should look for and mark out in the papers: clarity of argument, use of proper terminology, and adherence to rules of grammar.

Don’t let modifiers dangle. Make sure subjects agree with their verbs. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, you should never let an infinitive be split. Like our friend the atom, if an infinitive is split, it could spell disaster for all of us. Continue reading “To boldly go where schoolteachers told you not to go”

J.L. Austin and doing things with words

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Back in the 1950s, a British philosopher gave a series of 12 lectures that would forever change the way we think about language. His name was John Langshaw Austin, and he was a thin man who wore thick round glasses, pinstripe suits and a perpetual smirk. In the course of those 12 lectures, delivered at Harvard, he strode back and forth charting out a new theory he’d devised. Dr. Austin had noticed something that had been lurking in our language for years and decided to point them out. He called them speech acts. Continue reading “J.L. Austin and doing things with words”

Nobody wants to hear about your weird dream

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When you wake up from a psychedelic trip through space or a surreal journey back to a childhood home, the first thing you’ll want to do it tell someone about your unbelievable dream.

Don’t. Hard as it may be, don’t do it.

Within a few seconds, your listener’s eyes will glaze over, their smile will become strained, and you’ll soon be fumbling to pull together a narrative that never made sense in the first place. You’re trying to translate an experience that was seen in your mind and felt in your guts into a different language. It never works. You’re trying to use words and they’re just not up for the task. Continue reading “Nobody wants to hear about your weird dream”