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Friday, 24 August 2012

What is Ironic?

This is Alanis Morissette.

And in 1995, she wrote a song called 'Ironic'

The word ‘ironic’ means something has happened in the exact opposite way than what is expected. Things that are ironic are, say, a fire station being burnt to the ground, or a Nazi war criminal discovering the joys of kosher food, or Simon Cowell financing an experimental music project with Patti Smith. These things are ironic because it’s the opposite of what you would expect, this is not the same thing as when something happens that is just inconvenient or crappy.

This is different to when something happens that sucks a bit. Take, for example, every single line of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 song, ‘Ironic’.

Morissette sings that irony is ‘like rain on your wedding day’ or ‘it’s a free ride, once you’ve already paid’ or ‘it’s the good advice that you just didn’t take’ These things are not in any way ironic – they just suck, or were caused by the individual’s own stupidity.

The Jon Stewart Show once aired a clip of George Bush from back in 2000, having a discussion with a woman about baloney sandwiches. For some reason that isn’t entirely clear, they are talking about the fact that Bush says he eats baloney sandwiches everyday. When the woman asks him ‘don’t you find that ironic? Bush guffaws, then responds to the woman ‘I find you ironic!’ then smirks at his own joke and shoves the rest of the baloney sandwich that he was eating at the time into his mouth.

Clearly from this comment, we see that George Bush thinks that the word ‘ironic’ is a sort of insult, to be used along the same lines of ‘you suck!’ or ‘your mother!’.

The same goes for the use of the word ‘literally.’ The definition of ‘literally’ is when something actually happened. For example, you can’t say ‘I literally fell of my chair laughing’, unless you actually did do this. You can’t say ‘I’m literally roasting’ to describe heat exhaustion, unless you are being attacked with a flame-thrower. You can’t say ‘I was literally crawling up the walls’ unless you are actually Spiderman.

A great example of this kind of language misuse is the manufacturer of a toy called ‘Timmy the Energy Bear’ which comes with the description ‘Timmy is a delightful cuddly, soft toy who is literally alive!’

On the up-side, these kind of slip-ups can be funny, and good for a lol or two. The only time it starts to get uncomfortable is when that particular person happened to be the leader of western world for eight years.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Holy Shit: When a sentence doesn't need to start with a capital

Throughout history, many famous artists have painted over their previous work to make a whole new painting. This makes sense, since canvases were, and are still, pretty expensive, and as MC Grammar knows all too well, sometimes you'll be working day and night on a piece of art  in my case, this voluminous blog  and it will be only halfway through that you'll realise that what you're doing is shit.

For example, this is a very beautiful portrait painted Frida Kahlo in the 1930s.

 But what most people don't know is that X-ray images have shown that Kahlo was originally painting this:

Which IS good, but I'm sure you'll agree, isn't as good as what she ended up with. And the painting by Botticelli, which is generally known to look like this:

Is in fact painted over an earlier draft that looks like this:

And just like these examples, it has been recently discovered that a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting has been hiding behind a fresco at Florence’s town hall.

The painting, which is titled ‘The Battle of Anghiari’, is believed to have been hidden for the last five centuries. In 1504, da Vinci worked in the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio and managed to complete only the centrepiece of his work. After 1555, the palace room undertook renovations, and the painting was covered by other stuff, which we now realise is a piece of total crap.

Here's a bit of the uncovered painting:

Anyway, here's where shit gets seriously crazy. When Leonardo da Vinci makes it to the papers. When you start a sentence with 'da Vinci', you don't have to start the sentence with a capital letter. Here's an example.

In this case, because 'da Vinci' is a surname that starts with a lower case letter, not an uppercase letter. You can't just make it an uppercase letter because you're starting a new sentence - in this case the fact that da Vinci's name starts with a lowercase letter overrides the fact that sentences are meant to start with an uppercase letter.

I'm sure that I don't have to tell you that this is some crazy shit. But don't be too frightened by this, just let this fact wash over you like a big wave. After all, da Vinci created some pretty dope stuff, like this business:

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Rick Santorum's greatest fear: When possessive and plural apostrophes collide

This is Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum is a republican politician who is deeply concerned for his country.

You see, Rick is worried about the gays. He is at pains for other people to see that if we let gays marry, everything will go totally shit.

For example, just think about this: what if two gay people marry (each other), OK fine, but then what if they become some sort of power couple who have a number of valuable assets? Assets, if you're following me, that HETEROSEXUAL people could have owned! What if they buy a holiday house, then a gay couple will have not one, but two houses. Those are TWO houses that one hetero couple could have owned. Nuff said!

So in this case, if you wanted to talk about the two houses of a gay couple, would you say 'Jane and Mary's Houses, or would you say Jane's and Mary's Houses?'

It's complicated, because it's like this: there's only one of Mary and Jane, but they have more than one house (until Rick Santorum becomes president, then they will just live in a mental institution for wayward girls).

When it comes to using pronouns, the rule is that the one that would stand in isolation is the correct one, and while this situation doesn't deal with pronouns, you should follow this rule when you are forced to say something awkward, and as Rick Santorum is at pains to emphasise, like Jane's and Mary's Houses.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

What is the difference between i.e. and e.g.?

The term i.e. tends to come up a lot in writing, but what does it actually mean? And why is it different from e.g?

I.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin term 'id est', which means 'that is' or 'in other words'. So you use i.e. when you want to clarify things a little bit further. For example:

The key issue at hand, i.e. who will rid of all this raw sewerage, really needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Things got a lot worse after that, i.e everybody died.

E.g. on the other hand, is short for 'exampli gratia', which means 'for example'. As you can see, e.g. wouldn't work in the two examples we looked at above, because the i.e.'s in question are not examples of something, they are the key clarifying aspect of the sentence.

So if you want to say something like 'a number of vegetables, for example, carrots, celery, snow peas and beets, appear to have come to life', you could also say 'a number of vegetables, e.g. carrots, celery, snow peas and beets, appear to have come to life.'

or, A lot of the things that people need, e.g. clean water, shelter, and food, are inaccessible since the floods.

And what is the deal with the full stops that come out of nowhere?  Yes, as you might have noticed both i.e. and e.g. have awkward full stops after them. But the truth is, those full stops are there because both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations.

While we think about these differences, let's look at this picture of an actor playing Mark Antony, a famous Latin speaker, pictured here trying to decide who he's going to kill next.

Mmmm. Well, there are a number of people who might just stand in the way of me gaining absolute power, and there are a number of ways I could kill them, e.g. push them over a cliff, poison them, or even send an army to snuff them out.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

MC Grammar's own grammar and spelling mistakes, part 2

As we all know, when you run a grammar blog, you run the risk of making your own grammar and spelling mistakes as every turn.

And indeed, the saying 'don't throw stones in a glass house' has proved to be particularly significant for me, because my house is actually made of glass. I don't know what I was thinking when I bought it: I guess that I liked how much sunlight the house got. But in reality, living in a glass house is really difficult. Anyone can look in at any time, which makes stepping out of the shower an arrestable offence. In fact, having a shower at all is an arrestable offence, since that has glass walls too.

And just like my house made of glass, this blog is also made of glass, and mistakes that I make in it are like stones. But as I have said before, we all make mistakes in our spelling and grammar, even MC Grammar. Enjoy!

In 'Pronounciation that could get you killed' I wrote 'ain't so such word as irregardless' and, I didn't put a full stop at the end of the first sentence of this post.

In 'Rainbow Grammar Family', I spelled 'spelling' with two l's. Ironic, considering the content of that post!

In 'whom vs who', I wrote 'a online viral story'. How foolish, as I should have used an 'an'.

In 'Indecent Preposition', I placed a hyphen where there should have been an en-dash when I wrote 'Hey - I didn't know they knew each other!' and, I wrote 'They live in same apartment block' instead of 'they live in the same apartment block'.

In 'Mission: To pause for half a second', I wrote 'again, this move seemed to make absolutely no sense', instead of 'this movie seemed to make absolutely no sense'.

And you have to ask yourself, what other outlandish mistakes have I made without even realising?

That's where you come in. These mistakes cannot be brought to light unless avid readers like yourselves step forward to take out the trash. Which, incidentally, I take out in a glass trash can.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Mission: To pause for half a second.

At the end of last year, the fourth Mission: Impossible film came out.

I remember seeing the first Mission: Impossible film. I was just a slip of a thing, and me and my friends had a sleep over and watched it. But no matter how hard I tried, I had no fucking idea what was going on. As far as I could tell, some people the main guy cared about were killed, and he somehow knew who was to blame, so he packed a bag, made some phone calls from the airport, and killed everybody. There was a very confusing sequence where he abseiled from the roof in order to steal something, but really, that's all I could work out.

Four years later, the second Mission: Impossible film came out, and I went to the movies on a date. Again, this move seemed to make absolutely no sense. It had something to do with a vial of disease, a woman who was good at driving a car, and Tom Cruise also enjoyed abseiling in that film too, but mostly just for leisure in the same way that some people enjoy taking a nap in the middle of the day, or having a kit kat in the middle of the afternoon.

When the third film came out, and I found out about it, I exclaimed loudly: 'no fucking way am I going to see that movie. The last two didn't make sense, and I've got too much on my plate, and no one on God's green earth can trick me into seeing it.'

And I was right. Now, with the fourth film on it's way, I still feel happy with my realisation that the Mission: Impossible films make absolutely no sense.

But there is one thing about the Mission: Impossible films that keeps me awake at night, and that it the mysterious colon that lives between the words 'mission' and 'impossible'.

The colon looks like this

Although it resembles the semi-colon, the colon is used for telling the reader that what follows in a sentence will prove, clarify, explain, or simply list items in relation to what is referred to before.

The verdict was in: The jury took their places with resolved faces.

There could be no mistaking it: It was the same gnome she had thrown out the week before.

She checked the contents of her bag again: Lipstick, banana, diary, passport, pick axe, chestnuts and bleach.

Another useful way to think of the colon is to regard it as a brief pause  it's a little longer than a comma or a dash, and can be used to lend importance to what is about to follow it.

So, considering all this, having a colon in the middle of 'mission' and 'impossible' is like saying 'this mission is totally impossible'. The 'impossible' part is the clarifying part, explaining exactly what short of mission we're dealing with here. A damn impossible one.

'Lucky no-one put a CCTV camera in here, or this would look totally stupid.'

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

And now, a post about whether you can use 'and' at the start of a sentence.

When I was at school, Our Sacred Lady of the Mean Streets and Correct Grammar, teachers told me that if I used ‘and’ at the start of a sentence, that it was the worst thing I could ever do. This was also the way they felt about using ‘because’ at the start of a sentence.

This was because these words are conjunctions.A conjunction is a word that connects two other words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. For some reason, many teachers used to think that it was a bit unclassy to start a sentence like this, maybe because it makes a sentence look incomplete.

In times like this, I like to turn to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage book, which says

‘There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with 'and', but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards’

Snap, New Fowler’s Modern English. There is pretty much no reason why you can’t use ‘and’ at the start of a sentence. In fact, almost all of the best writers do this whenever they feel like it. Take J.M Coetzee for example:

‘In his youth Dostoevsky had been attracted to utopian socialism of the Fourietrist variety. But four years in a prison camp in Siberia shook his faith.’

Here, you can see that far from being weird and wrong, the conjunction ‘and’ has been a helpful sentence opener.

For any teachers reading this, hey, I know you were just trying to do the right thing. But for all you up-and-coming teachers whose dream it is to create the grammar superstars of tomorrow, just remember that not all clauses have to be complete – a sentence can be dependant on another clause in order to make sense.

To see us out, let’s appreciate this excellent writing from Daphne Du Maurier, as her heroine, an unnamed woman, wanders through the ruins of her old home.

‘And there were other trees as well, trees that I did not recognise, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled cheek by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered.’

Creepy, conjunction-begun stuff!