MC: “Good evening folks, it’s time once again for that delectable morsel of entertainment, the sauerkraut on your Reuben sandwich, What’s Your Metaphor? On tonight’s show we have as our special guest the one and only Aunt Ruth, the leg of lamb herself, the creme’ de la creme, the marshmallow in your steeping cup of hot chocolate that is a divine nectar to your throat on a howling winter’s eve in which snow fell with the fury of a squadron of 1975 Dodge Darts flying across the country in a remake of Friends of Eddie Coyle. Aunt Ruth, how are you on this rhino of an evening?”
AR: “I’m fine, MC, just fine. Other than your bizarrely excessive use of metaphors, how are you?”
MC: “I’m as good as a Boy Scout holding a royal flush.”
AR: “That’s a simile because you used as. Remember, using like, as, or than will, more often than not, result in a simile.”
MC: “Oh, uh, right. Can you remind our stellar audience how this could be made into a general metaphor?”
AR: “If you had said, ‘I’m a Boy Scout holding a royal flush,’ then that would have been a good old fashioned metaphor. Remember, though, that a simile is indeed a metaphor.”
MC: “Right. Aren’t all metaphors similes, or something like that?”
AR: “No, not quite. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.”
MC: “All … wait, how am I going to remember that?”
AR: “Think about tubas and brass instruments.”
AR: “Tubas … now, are all brass instruments tubas?”
MC: “Certainly not. Some brass instruments are euphoniums; some brass instruments are trumpets; some brass instruments are trombones; some brass instruments are french horns; some brass instruments are …”
AR: “That’s quite enough. You are a walking dictionary of brass instruments, apparently. Now, are all tubas brass instruments, for purposes of this discussion?”
MC: “Well, yes.”
AR: “So there you have it.”
MC: “There I have what?”
AR: “There you have the answer. Just like all tubas are brass instruments, but not all brass instruments are tubas, it’s also the case that all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.”
MC: “I see, I think.”
AR: “Think of it this way. Tubas are similes.
MC: “Tubas are similes. Got it.”
AR: “And the brass instruments are metaphors.”
MC: “Brass instruments are metaphors. Got it.”
AR: “So, by saying, ‘Tubas are similes,’ you are using tubas as a metaphor for similes.”
MC: “So a tuba is a metaphor for a simile?”
AR: “That’s not all. Remember the thing about chihuahuas and dogs?”
MC: “Where all chihuahuas are dogs but not all dogs are chihuahuas?”
AR: “Right. What does that tell you?”
MC: “If I said, ‘A tuba is a chihuahua of dogs,’ then I could say that a tuba is a metaphor for a chihuahua?”
AR: “Bingo. Now, what do you think about that?”
MC: “Well, technically it makes sense, but it’s not intuitive to me.”
AR: “Why not?”
MC: “Tubas are big and heavy and have a deep sound. Chihuahuas are small and light and bark like a canary with a sore throat.”
AR: “So in other words, folks, not all metaphors are effective. The metaphor should make sense; it should create an image for the reader or listener that emphasizes certain attributes, an image that gives the reader or listener a nice visualization.”
MC: “For example, if you want to emphasize that the man ate a huge amount of ice cream, could you say something like, ‘The waiter brought the man an olympic sized swimming pool full of ice cream, and before you could say, “She sells seashells by the seashore,” he had eaten all of it in its glorious entirety.’ How’s that?”
AR: “Well, the seashell thing is a bit much, but I guess it gets the point across.”
MC: “Thank you for your time, Aunt Ruth. Remember, folks, make your metaphors meaningful. Tuba players, drop the chihuahuas. Until next week, this is your show’s emcee, MC, a billion points of light coming at you.”
AR: “Oh, never mind …”
This week will feature Thanksgiving in the U.S., and that always reminds me of pumpkin pie, pink fluffy (my favorite almost-but-not-quite-a-dessert side dish), and of course the ubiquitous turkey. The turkey, with that big flap under its beak, reminds me of Aunt Ruth.
Aunt Ruth has a number of chins, and my little sister loved to walk up to Aunt Ruth, grab a handful of chins, and shake them. That, of course, caused my sister to be endeared to Aunt Ruth forever. The source of the chins, of course, was the large amount of food that Aunt Ruth enjoys, along with the fact that she doesn’t get nearly enough exercise. That also leads to an interesting observation. Let’s look at this next sentence.
One of the desserts that were prepared this week was pink fluffy.
How does that sentence sound to you? Should the were really be was?
My trained ear winces (if an ear can wince) at were, but I do believe it is correct. Of course, One would go with was, and it does later in the sentence.
I guess the real question is this: what is the prepositional phrase in that sentence? Is it “of the desserts” or is it “of the desserts that were prepared this week”?
You could say, after all: One that was prepared this week was pink fluffy. But, in this case, what was prepared?
The adjectival phrase “that were prepared this week” modifies desserts — that is, which desserts are we talking about here — and so it is part of the prepositional phrase.
If you remove the entire prepositional phrase, you are left with: One was pink fluffy.
I suppose the other way to look at it is to put the prepositional phrase first, as in:
Of the desserts that were prepared this week, one was pink fluffy.
Of course, you already know all this. I think I’m just trying to convince myself that it is really right. My head says it’s right even though my ears don’t like it.
Anyway, enjoy your turkey and all the trimmings this week if you are so inclined (or even if not inclined but sitting upright), and enjoy the pink fluffy!
Pink Fluffy Recipe
One pint of whipping cream, beaten until stiff
One can of sweetened condensed milk
One can cherry pie filling
One can crushed pineapple, drained
One pint of cottage cheese
One bag of small marshmallows
One teaspoon of almost extract (optional)
Fold all the ingredients in one bowl and mix gently until consistently thick.
“I accidentally sat on the lady sitting next to us at the concert’s hat,” my daughter exclaimed.
I thought about that for a moment. Okay, to be honest, I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. The English brain (and here I mean English-speaking brain, not the brains of those who inhabit England) is used to parsing sentences left to right, and therefore we are greatly relieved when we reach the noun that an adjectival phrase modifies. When we finally reach “hat,” we are happy to learn that my daughter didn’t sit on the lady sitting next to us at the concert, but she sat (instead) on her hat.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this is exactly the same as almost ending a piece of music on a chord that isn’t resolved, but at the last second it gets resolved and the audience breathes a sigh of relief; or (because I’m hungry at the moment) perhaps it’s like making a peanut butter sandwich but forgetting the grape jelly. There you are with a slab of peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth and no jelly to help it slide down, and finally someone shows up with that much needed glass of milk. You are relieved.
But none of that is the point of what I want to say here. Yes, the wording in the sentence is awkward. It would have been better stated, “I sat on the hat of the lady sitting next to us at the concert.” But the question, I guess, is this: Was what my daughter said actually grammatically correct (though awkward)? Or, if it’s not correct, what rule did it break?
First of all, there’s the related question of what to do with gerunds and possessives. The famous example goes like this:
I couldn’t stand Uncle Bob’s singing in the shower.
I couldn’t stand Uncle Bob singing in the shower.
Now, what is it you can’t stand? Is it the fact that Uncle Bob is singing in the shower, but you might not mind Aunt Mildred singing in the shower? Is it his singing that bothers you? Perhaps he’s doing the Macarena and you just can’t take it any more, but yesterday, when he hummed Ride of the Valkyries in the shower, you enjoyed it so much that you recorded it and posted it on Youtube.
Once upon a time, the noun-gerund combination was called a fused participle (the noun being Uncle Bob and the participle being singing), and that was not a good thing. The correct form automatically would be to use Uncle Bob’s singing, not Uncle Bob singing.
In our enlightened society, feeling it necessary to be able to distinguish between whether it was Uncle Bob singing or Uncle Bob’s singing that really bothered us (as though the cause of a splitting headache really matters), both are now acceptable.
When we have an appositive (a noun phrase that describes the related noun to provide clarity), we add the “‘s” (apostrophe-s) to the end of the appositive phrase. Note that the following comma that would normally be in place for an appositive is removed when the apostrophe-s is added.
For example: We must get Steve Berry, our attorney handling the case’s signature.
Another appositive example is the following:
Marjorie, the woman sitting next to us at the concert’s dog is a golden lab.
If this is allowed, then it seems the following should be allowed as well.
I sat on Marjorie, the woman sitting next to us at the concert’s hat.
It therefore seems permissible that the original sentence that my daughter uttered — and that confused me — is indeed legal, except for the mandate that we want sentences to be as understandable as possible.
Legal? Perhaps. Good sentence structure? No.
With Ride of the Valkyries blaring from the stereo speakers and a squadron of helicopters racing over the horizon, Aunt Ruth looks into the camera and says, “I love the smell of grammar in the morning. It smells like … victory.” (This is a famous line from that blockbuster hit in the 1970′s, Apostrophe Now.)
Why is it that apostrophes are so scary to folks? Well, I offer two reasons as to the origin of punctuational fear (and frankly I’m amazed that my spell checker didn’t nail me for punctuational). Consider this grammatical dogma:
The apostrophe can be used with possessives and with contractions.
The former, of course, is often shunned because of society’s push-back against the “me too” generation. Everything is gimme gimme gimme, so I guess is makes sense that we don’t promote the idea that something can actually belong to somebody. How dare we say that we possess something, let alone that we actually earned it.
Not only is it disgraceful (though correct) to say that I ran over Jim’s cat, but it would be even worse (though still correct) to say that I ran over Jim’s cat that was purchased with Jim’s own money.
Goodness gracious, that sentence contains two apostrophes, both related to something possessed by Jim. The horror, the horror …
Let me reiterate, though … this is still correct grammar in the English language. It may not be politically correct, nor may it be favored by anyone expecting that the government should have paid for Jim’s cat instead of said cat being purchased with Jim’s money. Still, it’s correct.
Oops, there’s a contraction (with it’s). And here’s another one (with there’s) (and yet another one, with here’s).
That’s a nice segue into the other issue with apostrophes, namely contractions. Any woman who has given birth (and any person who has attended to any woman who has given birth) will tell you that contractions during child-birth are not fun. Oh, generally those contractions are required as part of the process, but nobody likes them. No wonder people shy away from using contractions, then, in grammar.
Remember the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? Ed McMahon (not the former quarterback of the Chicago Bears but the guy who was supposed to show up at your front door with a Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes award of millions of dollars (back when a million dollars was a lot of money)) would introduce Johnny with a long, “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny.”
I now suspect that Ed McMahon had apostrophe-phobia and had to prolong the “Heeeeere’s” because he was trying to remember whether to include the apostrophe.
Of course the apostrophe should be included.
“Here’s” is a contraction for “Here is.”
“There’s” is a contraction for “There is.”
And – you knew (or should have guessed) that this was coming — “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.”
The simple rule is this: it’s means it is.
The corollary is this: “its” is possessive and refers to something belong to “it.”
People get confused between using an apostrophe for a possessive and the fact that “it’s” is NOT possessive. Or, turning it around, “it’s” is not a possessive even though it contains an apostrophe.
Anyway, do we have it straight now? Remember, it’s means it is.”
Incidentally, in 1978, do you know what the Colorado state legislature removed from the official name of Pike’s Peak?
Yep, you got it. The apostrophe was officially removed from the name. It is now Pikes Peak.
Oh, one more note on contractions. You can only use apostrophes on them every two to five minutes apart.
I recently received a note from Minnesota Michelle in which she indicated that she had been in a somewhat heated discussion regarding commas where parentheses are involved. First of all, before I discuss that issue here, I want to applaud Minnesota Michelle in her quest to stick up for proper grammar! Now, I should point out that I don’t know what her stance on said issue was (or is), but anyone involved in a lively discussion about grammar deserves to be commended for the very fact that he or she cares enough about it to get worked up in the first place. Way to go, Michelle!
Don those grammatical boxing gloves! In love and kindness, while throwing timidity out the window, let’s clean up English grammar out there!
The basic question is this: what do you do with parentheses and other punctuation, specifically commas?
The answer is simply that when the parenthetical expression is removed, the sentence should still be grammatically correct.
The parenthetical expression can be an interruption to the flow of the sentence, and it does not need to follow the grammatical structure of the sentence. There should be no punctuation in the sentence that wouldn’t be there without the parenthetical expression.
In other words, don’t add an extra comma for a parenthetical expression unless the sentence needs the extra comma anyway.
I have to go to the grocery store this morning.
I have to go to the grocery store this morning (I’m out of milk).
I have to go to the grocery store this morning (I’m out of milk), and I think I’ll stop by the hardware store because they have aardvarks on sale this week.
If you remove the parenthetical expression, the sentence still stands.
I have to go to the grocery store this morning, and I think I’ll stop by the hardware store because they have aardvarks on sale this week.
I’m going to buy milk, mustard, and melons.
I’m going to buy milk (my favorite is 2% low fat), mustard (for the bratwursts I bought last week), and melons (honeydew, which are unusually good this season).
Note that the parenthetical expressions themselves do not need to be complete sentences or anything like that. The parenthetical expression should serve to modify or clarify or edify. It’s a nice tool to have in our English arsenal. Use it to your heart’s content.
One of the joys that children (and children who have friends) can bring is the gift of comical situations, and among those funny moments is one of my favorite things — mispronunciations. Well, it’s not strictly a mispronunciation that gets my funny bone, but a misuse of a word will have the same result.
I was reminded of that this morning when one of my youngest son’s friends was arguing that another of my youngest son’s friends was not using the correct “pronounciation” of a word. To make sure I was hearing the friend correctly, I asked him to spell the word he was using. He spelled it just like he pronounced it — p-r-o-n-o-u-n-c-i-a-t-i-o-n. It’s pronunciation, not pronounciation.
I was out in a canoe with one of my kids a couple summers ago, and out of the blue I heard the question, “Daddy, how much does a yakd cost?”
I asked for a repeat of the question. Again, the same question was asked using the word that was pronounced “yakd.”
I asked for a definition of the word. All I could think of was Young Yolanda Yorgensen and her Yawning Yellow Yak. Well, the definition that was given to me was “a big boat that a wealthy person might have.” I thought for a moment … “oh yes, I think you mean yacht.”
My kids have used words such as knobdoor (for doorknob) and, one of my all-time favorites, umbercukes (for cucumbers).
The best example of using the wrong word probably goes to my twenty-year-old daughter, now in college. When she was four or five, we were driving to church one day and she saw someone walking a large, beautiful dog on the sidewalk. She asked, “Daddy, what kind of dog is that? Is it a, er, a golden delicious?
The rules for Double Possessives can be confusing and can cause problems if you are not paying careful attention.
Which is correct:
The brother of my supervisor’s is also a good friend of mine.
The brother of my supervisor is also a good friend of mine.
Some would claim that the of my supervisor phrase itself is possessive and that using both the of my supervisor phrase and the apostrophe makes it a double possessive. The question here is this: should the apostrophe -s be written at the end of the word supervisor?
Now, if you reorder the sentence and get rid of the of phrase, using my supervisor’s brother instead, then it is easy.
My supervisor’s brother is also a good friend of mine.
The answer: According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage and other sources, brother of my supervisor’s is correct. Why? Well, consider the ambiguity otherwise, e.g., the king’s photograph. Is the king’s photograph a likeness of the king or is it a photograph belonging to the king? We can use an “of phrase” to help remove the ambiguity.
I don’t know which king is in question here — Elvis? Hank Aaron (the home run king)? Barry Bonds (the steroid king)? Benny Goodman (the king of swing)? Anyway, regardless of which king …
I have a photograph of the king. That is, I have a picture that is a likeness of the king.
I have a photograph of the king’s. That is, I have a picture that belongs to the king.
Of course, there is another (related) ambiguity that caused confusion throughout my childhood. Baseball card collectors tend to talk about Hank Aaron’s baseball card. “Look Mom, I just got Hank Aaron’s baseball card!”
In my vast baseball card collection, I don’t have Hank Aaron’s baseball cards. Presumably he does. I have baseball cards of Hank Aaron.
I went to a baseball card show, and I bought the Queen of England’s baseball card.
That’s different than saying
I went to a baseball card show, and I bought a baseball card of the Queen of England.
I picked up a toy of my chihuahua’s off the floor.
I picked up a toy of my chihuahua off the floor.
(Was the thing I picked up a plastic replica of my chihuahua? I’m not sure what I would do with such a thing. Maybe I could put it on the front porch to scare away erstwhile burglars.)
The double possessive has been around at least since the 1500s. Chaucer used it and Shakespeare used it. The good news is that you can use it too!
Where would we be without commas semicolons colons dashes hyphens question marks periods exclamation marks and parentheses Life would be tough and these sentences while still able to be parsed would not be able to be read as smoothly as they otherwise would be That would not be any fun Oh yes the apostrophe too is something that would be missed along with ellipses
Can you imagine trying to tease apart a sentence like this Last night for dinner I ate my dog Max went for a run and then suffered from massive indigestion Later I dressed to kill my wife made dinner and then we went to the movies
I for one am glad we have commas because it would be messy otherwise Take a look at this sentence
Mom you smell pretty bad flowers would neither help nor hinder
So who is glad that we have punctuation I am A duck waddling in the room said that is okay just put it on my bill
What is wrong with these sentences?
1. Running along the pavement, the mountains provided a glorious scenic background.
2. To eat ice cream in a cone, the ice cream must be somewhat still frozen.
3. At the age of two, my father moved us to Lafayette, Indiana.
4. Out of shape and overweight, the doctor says that Aunt Ruth needs to eat less and exercise more.
5. Spiraling through the air, the quarterback threw a touchdown pass to win the game.
6. Leaping like a gazelle, the crowd watched the halfback evade tacklers all the way to the end zone.
English is a funny language, whether we intend for the sentences we write to be funny (or not). Dangling sentences, where adverbs or adjectives are attached to the wrong things, occur most frequently when those adverbial or adjectival modifiers are at the beginning of the sentence.
Adjectives and adverbs tend to want to be attached to the nearest noun available, and sometimes (if we’re not paying attention) we get it all wrong.
In #1 above, the mountains are not running along the pavement. That would be quite a sight, indeed.
Correction: As we ran along the pavement, the mountains provided a glorious scenic background.
In #2 above, the ice cream is not going to eat ice cream in a cone. That would be kind of weird (and maybe cannibalistic on the ice cream’s part).
Correction: To eat ice cream in a cone, you want the ice cream to be somewhat still frozen. Or maybe even better is this: If you want to eat ice cream in a cone, the ice cream must be somewhat still frozen.
In #3 above, my father was not two years old when he moved us to Lafayette.
Correction: When I was two years old, my father moved us to Lafayette, Indiana.
In #4 above, perhaps the doctor is indeed out of shape and overweight. That’s how it comes across.
Correction: The doctor says that Aunt Ruth, out of shape and overweight, needs to eat less and exercise more.
In #5 above, that would be quite an athlete who could throw a touchdown pass while he is spiraling through the air.
Correction: Spiraling through the air, the quarterback’s touchdown pass won the game.
In #6 above, it is unlikely that the crowd leaped like a gazelle.
Correction: Leaping like a gazelle, the halfback evaded tacklers all the way to the end zone.
Generally, we can probably figure out the meaning of the sentence. Still, we should strive for accuracy. Don’t laugh too loudly at the next dangling error you hear. Your turn is coming.
“While I’m in the time machine, I still can’t get over the fact that we’re doing this,” declared an excited Aunt Ruth. “I know it’s a long ways there, but you know I’m not adverse to travel, and I’m so anxious to speak with Abraham Lincoln that I can almost taste it. All I’m waiting on is for this machine to go as fast as it can go. All right, are we ready to precede? Let’s get on with it. I want to meet Mr. Lincoln; plus, I’m hungry as a bear.”
At that moment, though, I put my hands to my mouth and did perhaps my best grammar police call ever: “One Adam Twelve, One Adam Twelve, we have numerous and severe shreddings of the English language in a time machine located at the corner of Fourteenth and Vine. Be on the lookout for a handsome nephew, accompanied by the perpetrator, a vastly overweight and senile old …”
WHAM! The umbrella came down on my head with a fury that hasn’t been seen since early on in the grammar classic I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head. I definitely deserved it, and I didn’t even complain as a lump on my head began forming.
“I am not old,” croaked Aunt Ruth. “Now, what were the grammatical difficulties that you encountered in my earlier utterance? Are you, indeed, concerned about the following?”
At this point, she began rattling off the following list of grammatical errors:
- Avoid using while instead of although if it can lead to ambiguities. While could mean at the same time, but it also could mean although or whereas. I said that while I am in the time machine, I still can’t get over the fact that I am doing this. Do I mean that if I were not in the time machine, I would be able to get over that fact?
- When referring to distance, one place is a long way from another place, not a long ways.
- When using adverse or averse, remember that adverse means difficult or unfavorable; averse means being opposed or reluctant. I said I am not adverse to travel, but I should have said I am not averse to travel.
- Anxious carries with it the sense of worry or apprehension. Though I may be anxious in the time machine, I was attempting to express that I was eager to get there. Eager would have been better than anxious.
- I said I was waiting on the machine to go as fast as it can go. I should have said I am waiting for the machine. To wait on someone is what a waiter or waitress does. To wait for something is to be ready or in some state of preparedness for something.
- Precede means to come before something; proceed means to continue. I should have used proceed.
- Do not use plus as a conjunction to connect two independent clauses. When I said, “plus, I’m hungry as a bear,” I should have used and or besides or some other appropriate conjunction.
Aunt Ruth had finished her list. I was stunned. “Aunt Ruth, you mean you knew that you were saying those things incorrectly?”
“Well of course, my dear nephew. I’ve been hanging around you a long time … don’t you think I’m going to do some preemptive research so that I can avoid these grammatical stumbling blocks?”
“I suppose so … but how long have you been doing this?”
“Longer than you think,” she said with a wink. “Now, hop in and let’s go. I’m eager to meet perhaps the greatest president of all time. Beside, I want to give him a surprise.”
“Beside? You mean besides, right?”
“Uh, what’s the difference? I figured since it’s forward and not forwards, and it’s backward and not backwards, that it would be beside and not besides.”
“Well, beside means next to; besides means also or in addition to. Anyway, what’s your surprise for Mr. Lincoln?”
Image via Wikipedia
“Oh, I just wanted to give him a copy of the biography that Carl Sandburg wrote about him.”
“You can’t do that, Aunt Ruth.”
“I cannot? Watch me.”
“Okay, I mean you shouldn’t. Of course you can – you are able – but it’s not a good idea. We shouldn’t mess with history.”
“Well, what if Mr. Lincoln read ahead in the book and found out what was going to happen in the future?”
“That could certainly change things, couldn’t it. Okay, you’re right. I won’t mess with history. So I suppose that means that I shouldn’t give him a copy of the picture of me standing at Mount Ruthmore.”
“Right,” I sighed.
We arrived almost instantly. After all, the year 1863 wasn’t all that long ago, relatively. We found ourselves on a train bound from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The president’s security staff were surprised at our arrival initially, but they quickly got over it and allowed us to mingle with the other passengers on board, including the president himself.
As usually happens when I have an opportunity to speak with someone famous, I stumbled with my conversation with Mr. Lincoln. I had thought of all these great questions, questions of tremendous historical import, but when it came right down to it, all I could really talk about was the weather.
Aunt Ruth, on the other hand, somehow turned on her charm, and she spent over an hour with the president, sitting in a corner of the train car, conversing. I watched them closely, mostly to make sure Aunt Ruth wasn’t overstepping her bounds by trying to change history. The president had a solemn, somber look on his face at first, but eventually he was smiling and I thought I even heard him chuckle a time or two.
The train conductor announced our imminent arrival to Gettysburg, and Aunt Ruth approached me. “We best be going back home now, nephew. I’ve done my part.”
As we were getting into the Time Machine, Mr. Lincoln walked up to say good-bye. “Ruth, thank you for your thoughts. Four score and seven … that’s brilliant. I think I’ll use it. And nephew, I enjoyed talking with you. I share your fascination with the weather. Good-bye, my friends.”
With a push of a button, we were off, back to real life so that we could fight the good fight for the preservation of grammar in the free world. What adventures lay before us? I had no idea, but I knew that any adventure with Aunt Ruth, the indomitable one, was worth it.