Last week I saw a headline that read, “Irene Menaces East Coast.” I have to admit that the first thought that crossed my mind was, “Aha, I gotcha!” Then I (naturally) thought, “How on earth did that one make it past the editors?”
Now, contrary to my household’s general belief, I am not the Grammar Police. My goal in life, though, is to assist anyone who needs help so that an unhappy encounter with said Grammar Police can be avoided.
I made a mental note to double-check and confirm my suspicion, though I was already nearly positive that I was right. In fact, I was close enough to being certain of my correctness that I even announced during lunch to the adoring crowd (my children) that I had found a faux pas in the morning news. They too were aghast. I shook my head and sighed. They shook their heads and sighed. Together, we shook our heads and sighed.
Ring ring ring!
“Hello?” I responded. “Oh, hello Aunt Ruth.”
“Hello, my nauseating nephew,” she replied in her usual jovial way. “Do you remember the World Series of 1972?”
“Sure I do. That was the beginning of the dynasty.”
“Dynasty? You mean like the Ming Dynasty?”
“Did the Mings win the World Series?”
“Uh, no, but I’m not sure what dynasty you mean,” she said, clearly exasperated.
“The Oakland A’s won the World Series in 1972, 1973, and 1974, behind the slugging of Reggie Jackson, the pitching of Catfish Hunter, and the fielding exploits of Joe Rudi.”
“Right. They had a catcher, too, who had a great series in ’72.”
“That would be Tenace.”
“Right. Tenace menaced the Reds in 1972.”
“Yes he did. He hit three home runs in that series.”
“What was Tenace’s first name? Was it Dennis? Dennis Tenace menaced the Reds.”
“It wasn’t Dennis. It was Gene.”
“I like Dennis better. Saying, ‘Gene Tenace menaced the Reds,’ just doesn’t have that ring to it.”
“Word play isn’t solid justification for changing somebody’s name, Aunt Ruth. Oh, and hey, better look up the word menace. You don’t want to be arrested by the Grammar Police for verbizing.”
“Wrongo, my nephew. Look it up yourself.” Though I couldn’t see her, I knew she was smiling a victorious sort of smile.
“Really,” she replied. “Say, what are you doing the rest of the day?”
“I’m hoping to have a ruthless afternoon,” I said, sighing and hanging up the phone.
Verbification, the act of verbizing – taking a word that is not a verb and using it as such – is a fun but scary thing and should not be taken lightly.
When done correctly, verbizing can be effective and humorous. A favorite word coined by our church youth group is “Robligate,” which comes from a combination of the word “Rob” (the first name of the director of our church’s youth ministries) and the word “delegate.” When Rob assigns a task to a youth, the youth has been Robligated to do something.
When done incorrectly, verbizing can be ambiguous and confusing, or even just simply annoying. Text as a verb is a verbized creation, and though it has become more accepted, I suspect that the majority of people out there who care about English are aghast at the use of the word. The problem with text is that a few of those who text tend to be so rude … sending or reading text messages while talking face-to-face with someone else. It’s almost like being on the phone with somebody and he receives another call. “Excuse me, but I’m waiting for an important call.” Sigh.
So anyway, I eventually looked up menace and discovered that it CAN be properly used as a verb. It is perfectly fine for something to menace something else. I was actually pleased to discover that – my vocabulary space just grew a couple of sizes and I have a new word I can use. Yeah!
Be careful with verbizing though. Verbizing can cause one to be aghast. And I don’t like it when someone aghasts me.
“Where to this time, my lovely aunt?”
Aunt Ruth turned and looked side to side. Then she looked behind her. There was no one else in the immediate vicinity other than the two of us.
“Oh, moi?” she asked, smiling with a bit of modesty. “You’re asking me where I’d like to go?”
“Yes, I’m asking you, and when did you start speaking German?” I knew that inquiring minds would want to know.
“German? Darling nephew, everyone knows that ‘moi’ is a French word meaning ‘me.’”
Feeling impatient, I knew I didn’t have time for leisurely banter. “French, Schmench, tell me where you’d like to go. I need to be back in time for dinner with my friends Mr. and Mrs. Murphy.”
“What time is dinner with the Murphy’s?” she asked, checking her wristwatch.
“Dinner is at 6pm, and it’s not with the Murphy’s, it’s with the Murphys.”
“Wait,” argued Aunt Ruth, “you just said the same thing. It’s like saying, ‘We’re not eating chicken, we’re eating chicken.”
“No, look carefully. You used an apostrophe.”
“Doesn’t using an apostrophe make it sound different?”
“There’s no difference in sound,” I replied.
“Then how did –”
“The author whispered in my ear,” I interrupted.
“Um, how can … oh never mind. I don’t even want to go there,” she sighed. “So anyway, the apostrophe doesn’t alter the sound. Humph. Who would have thought?”
“That’s right. It only makes it incorrect.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you can’t say you’re going to have dinner with the Murphy’s, because Murphy’s is possessive. Maybe you’re going to have dinner at the Murphy’s house or at the Murphy’s farm, or maybe you’re going to eat one of the Murphy’s pet rhinoceroses for dinner. You, however, are not having dinner with the Murphy’s.”
“You’re not,” I replied. “When you have a proper noun that ends in ‘y’ and you want to make the word plural, you simply add an ‘s’.”
“Whoa there, big fella,” Aunt Ruth remarked. “What’s the plural of monkey?”
“Monkies,” I replied.
“What’s the plural of fantasy?”
“What’s the plural of luxury?”
“Name or object?”
“Fannies,” I replied.
“Okay. So what’s the plural of Murphy?” she asked.
“Murphys,” I stated.
“Kids!” shouted the author from somewhere up above. Aunt Ruth and the Nauseating Nephew paused their bickering to look around. Trumpets sounded. Banners unfurled from on high. The voice continued.
“This discussion has been going on for years. Some are adamant that the ‘y’ will always change to ‘ie’ before adding the ‘s’. I tell you, though, that the more widely accepted plural form of a name ending in ‘y’ is simply with an ‘s’ on the end. It’s not the Kennedies, it’s the Kennedys. And now we pause for a word from our sponsor.”
Men dressed up in fruit costumes appeared on stage for an underwear commercial. We’ll leave a more detailed description of this event for another time.
After a few seconds of silence, Aunt Ruth and I resumed the discussion.
“Anyway, do you understand the ‘y’ and plural word examples?” I asked.
“Yep, I think so,” sighed Aunt Ruth in relief. “So, basically, I’m going to have dinner with the Murphys.”
“No, you’re not,” I said with a hidden smile that went undetected by my grammatically challenged aunt.
“And why not?” said Aunt Ruth, as exasperated as I’ve ever seen her.
“You are not having dinner with the Murphys because the Murphys didn’t invite you.”
From somewhere in the background, “Ride of the Valkyries” blared.
“Oh! My cell phone!” said Aunt Ruth with glee.
“Hello?” she responded. “Yes? Yes? What time? Oh, that would be wonderful. See you then.”
She smiled smugly at me. “You can have dinner with the Murphys. That’s fine with me.”
“What are you doing for dinner?” I asked.
“They invited me over.”
“The Jones’s. And don’t tell me to not use an apostrophe.”
“Don’t use an apostrophe. Just add ‘es’ instead.”
WHAM! Aunt Ruth’s umbrella came crashing down upon my skull.
“I told you not to tell me that!” she said with a frown.
Sigh. Like many other English grammatical lessons, I realized this wasn’t as easy and straight-forward as it seemed.
“Hey Aunt Ruth, I think we should postpone our trip in the time machine. We don’t have time for it today.”
“I believe you’re right. Besides, we’re not sitting in the time machine.”
“We’re not? Why?”
“Herman took it in for repairs. This is an old refrigerator box. It used to belong to my good friends the Chavez’s.”
“Aunt Ruth …”