Making the World More Understandable

Category Archives: Usage

My thoughts and comments on how we use words – the building blocks of the English language.

Emphasis on the Wrong Syllable, English is Weird or am I Just Saying it Wrong?

Have you ever looked at a word, pronounced it in your head, and then not know what everyone else is talking about? You are probably suffering from Emphasis on the Wrong Syllable syndrome (pronounced Em-Fā-Siss on the Wrong Sa-Lab-El).

My best personal example is Appomattox. I walked into US History class one day and that word was on the chalkboard (yes, we had chalkboards in those days). In my head, I said it quite wrong: A-Pot-O-Mox. So, when my teacher started talking about the famed Appomattox (Ap-Ō-Matt-Ax) Court House where Lee surrendered to Grant, I was a bit confused.

  SIDE NOTE: I don’t remember anyone even trying to teach me how to understand/work with pronunciation break downs (or what it’s even officially called), so you’ll have to deal with my version.

English is Weird

So, that’s an example of just getting a word wrong. However, English is weird. There are words you can get wrong even when you’re getting them right! In fact, “right” is a prime example. If something is correct, it is right. If something is not to the left, it is to the right. You write text. We’ve got three meanings, two spellings, and one pronunciation. All of them are homophones. Right and right are homonyms while right and write is an example of heterographs.

Some examples of English heteronyms – two words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings.

Then you have the heteronym: one spelling, different pronunciations and meanings. My favorite example is lead. If you lead (long e sound) the pack, you are ahead of everyone else. Or, you have number 82 on the periodical table: lead (not a long e sound). If you want to give yourself fits, check out the Wikipedia page for Heteronym. There are lots of examples in English, French, Modern Greek, and Italian. (Yes, Modern Greek.)

Finally, there’s read. Who thought that spelling the past tense and present tense of a verb the same way but pronouncing them differently was a good idea?!

Words People Get Wrong

I used to have an issue with hear, here, there, and where. Eva in 7th grade English class saved me. You HEAR with your EAR and HERE is part of location words.

OK, now for the frequently memed words. Here’s a handy reference table:

to

Indicates motion or direction

too

Also or more than is needed

two

2

there

Not here

their

Technically, indicates the possession of a group. Informally, indicates the possession of a person of undesignated gender.

they’re

They are.

your

Something that belongs to you.

you’re

You are.

These words can create great annoyance among readers when improperly used. Oddly enough, of all my word foibles, these are not at the top of the list.

And thus ends our grammar lesson for the day. I’m sorry to Mrs. Zimmerman and Mrs. Fuller who taught me better than I learned.

-Lorrie Nicoles

Word Rant: Percent

Word Rant: Percent

Language evolves. Words change meaning – sometimes to the opposite of the original definition. I get this, sometimes I encourage it, sometimes I don’t. However, there are some incorrectly used words that evolution will never fix. Today’s rant is around the use of the word “percent.” Simply put, percent means “of 100.” It is another… Continue Reading

More “Bogus Grammar Errors”

More “Bogus Grammar Errors”

Last time, I talked about 2 of the 7 bogus grammar ‘errors’ you don’t need to worry about as explained by author Ben Yagoda. I was having a day of Latin grammar references that needed attention, so I skipped the so-called rules that I couldn’t directly connect to Latin. However, I’m so pleased that someone… Continue Reading