The Harnett County Library in Lillington, NC, was host for a visit by me (Joel Schnoor) this past Monday, and I had a wonderful time! The librarian, Angela McCauley, did a superb job in advertising and getting the word out, and over 60 people were in attendance for the event!
The adults were given a short grammar quiz on the conjugation and usage of lie and lay, and the young kids were introduced to the Grammar Police and were given a few words that are commonly misused.
I then recited the title story from the book I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head, and that was well received.
We talked about writing; I told them what I thought the most important two things are as a writer (and if you want to find out, you can come to my next library storytelling event ; and I read from my manuscript “Spoonful of Dirt,” based on the life of my great-grandfather as he traveled by covered wagon from Eastern Iowa to Western Nebraska.
I played a couple of songs on my tuba to which the kids could sing along, and boy the kids enjoyed it. I’ve never before played my tuba in a library.
I then finished by doing another Aunt Ruth story.
The library graciously allowed me to sell the book and the CD, and sales went quite well.
1. The library and staff were the epitome of hospitality. I mean, they were WONDERFUL.
2. They do what they say and they say what they do. They told me they would advertise heavily, and they did!
3. The kids were VERY well behaved. The event lasted over an hour, and the kids sat and listened. They even looked enthralled.
4. I would drive down to Lillington again in a heartbeat for another event. I hope they ask me.
It was a hot, sultry evening in Detroit, and after a brisk stroll through the park (well, brisk at 90F and high humidity has a different meaning than brisk at 20F with high winds) and I was looking forward to an ice cream cone from “Bullet Bob’s Barbecue, Muffler, Web Site Management, Business Consultant, and Ice Creams” wagon. I had seen the wagon when I started out about an hour earlier, and I figured that any place that had “ice cream” in the name was worth investigating.
There was a long line, but I guessed that most people were there for the ice cream.
“You in line for the ice cream?” I asked the young lady standing in front of me.
“You no verbs?” she responded.
“What?” I asked, a bit tired and confused.
“You used no verb in your sentence,” she said, “and therefore the meaning is just a bit beyond me. Try asking again nicely using a verb – any verb will do, just find one – and I’ll politely answer your question.”
I stared at her for a long moment. I wasn’t sure if she was joking, trying to be cute, or if perhaps she had ties with the Grammar Police. I didn’t want to risk it. The last thing I needed was a run-in with the Grammar Police.
“I, uh, I was wondering if you are in line for ice cream,” I stated, trying to be a bit more clear.
“Oh, I see. No, I’m not, actually.”
“You in line for mufflers?”
“Use a verb please,” she reminded me.
“Are you in line for mufflers?” I asked, a bit exasperated. I’ll admit that I, of all people, should have been using verbs, but the fact of the matter was that I was tired, I was trying to be informal, and perhaps I was even trying to be a bit incognito – in disguise – since, after all, I was in town for the first annual meeting of the Society Desiring a Kinder, Gentler Grammar Police, and the Grammar Police themselves descended upon the city en masse in an effort to stop our initiative.
“Web Site Management?”
“What about web site management? Use a verb, please.”
“I’m reusing the verb from my previous sentence. I believe in the conservation of words. Web Site Management is part of a list of items about which I am enquiring.”
“Should it be inquiring or enquiring?” she asked.
“Either will do fine, actually,” I replied with authority. “Some prefer to user enquire and enquiry when referring to asking a question, while others prefer to use inquire and inquiry to refer to a more formal investigation. Either will work though. Note that my word processor gives me an error with enquiring but not with inquiring.”
Her jaw dropped. “You depend on word processor spelling checks?”
I smiled. “Of course not,” I said.
At that moment, the line advanced with a rush. Whatever or whoever had been holding up progress at the head of the line was apparently finished with his or her transaction. It wasn’t long before I discovered what the problem had been. There, walking toward me, with an ice cream cone in each fist and a circle of ice cream around her lips, was none other than Aunt Ruth.
“Aunt Ruth!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Moi?” she said with a smile. “I’m enjoying some of this demomo ice cream.”
“Demomo? What does that mean?”
“It’s not delicious, it’s demomo,” she said, as though that was supposed to clear up the whole question for me.
“But what does demomo mean? Does it mean delicious?”
“Well, yes and no. It means delicious but it’s so much more.”
“Then … why couldn’t you say something like scrumptious, which I believe is sort of a delicious on steroids.”
“Scrumptious sounds too cutesy. Can you picture the Queen of England saying that something is scrumptious? Can you envision Ndamukong Suh devouring a steak and saying it was scrumptious?”
“Um, not really, I suppose. I guess that’s a good point.”
“Demomo means more than delicious, and it is more than just a matter of whether you like the taste of something. It’s almost like it has special relevance, a special delight, for you. Demomo means it is the perfect thing at that moment.”
I was actually beginning to comprehend what she was trying to say.
“So, Aunt Ruth, if I ran a race on a hot day …”
“Like today. If I ran a race on a hot day and someone gave me a roast beef sandwich, I might think it’s delicious – I love roast beef – but it might not be the perfect thing I needed at that moment, which would be a cold, cold drink of water.”
“Yes, in that instance, the water might be demomo, but the sandwich would only be delicious.”
“Aunt Ruth, I think you invented a new word.”
“Well, I can’t really take credit for it. This was a word that the author’s oldest daughter invented years ago, and it has become a family favorite.”
“Author? Wait … are we in a story?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Aunt Ruth with a smile.
“Well how about that,” I exclaimed. “It’s been a while.”
“It’s demomo to be in a story,” Aunt Ruth said.
“It is,” I agreed. “It’s the demomoest.”
“I think you’re getting carried away with this demomo thing, my nephew who is not demomo.”
“Okay Aunt Ruth, how would you define and use demomo?”
“Demomo is an adjective, and it means something akin to delicious but with a satiable quality about it.”
“Yes, if something is demomo, it is satisfyingly delicious. Yeah, actually, I think that’s a reasonable definition,” said Aunt Ruth. “What’s more, demomo is a strong word, a word that imbues an aura of manliness.”
“Imbues an aura of manliness?”
“Imbues an aura of manliness.”
“Kind of like sweat and body odor?”
“Um, not exactly. What I mean is that demomo is something a man’s man can say without feeling like a sissy. For example, a cowboy might say, ‘Hank, after I finish branding the cattle, may I try a bite of your chocolate cheesecake? It looks demomo.’”
“Does demomo only describe food?”
“No, it can be attached to anything that you think is great. The fruitcake that I make at Christmas might be demomo – “
“Or not, I suppose,” continued Aunt Ruth, “but your favorite song or movie may be demomo too.”
“I think I’ve got it! Okay Aunt Ruth, what does a cow say to describe something satisfyingly delicious?”
“I give up, nauseating nephew.”
“Demoomoo. What does a cat say?”
“You got it, Aunt Ruth.”
“Say good night, my demomo nephew.”
“Good night, my demomo nephew.”
The title works well if you’re in the U.S. If you’re in England, it’s backwards. That is, the British model has single quotes on the outside and double quotes on the inside, if a quote is being quoted.
Either way makes sense, really. The important thing here is consistency — and/or perhaps knowing what your audience expects. And again, as before, commas and periods almost always go inside the quotes (for American English) and question marks and exclamation marks go where they logically fit.
Examples of question marks and nested quotations:
Mildred began, “And then Edna screamed, ‘Who put a frog in my peanut butter sandwich?’”
Note in the above example that even though Mildred’s statement itself is not a question, Edna is asking a question. The question is “stronger” than the period, so the whole thing has a question mark as the ending punctuation (well, besides the quotation marks, of course).
Mildred asked, “Did you hear Edna scream, ‘There is a frog in my peanut butter sandwich’?”
In the above example, Mildred is asking the question, while Edna is must making a statement. If I were Edna, I probably would have used an exclamation mark. If that happens (if you have both a question and exclamation), you use both:
Mildred asked, “Did you hear Edna scream, ‘There is a frog in my peanut butter sandwich!’?”
Was it Mildred who asked, “Did you hear Edna scream, ‘There is a frog in my peanut butter sandwich’”?
Now, in the above example, Mildred is asking a question, but the narrator is also asking a question (about Mildred). The outermost question mark wins.
Did she say, “He said, ‘She said, “He said, ‘She said, “He said, ‘She said, “Hey”‘”‘”‘”?
That’s silly, I know.
What do you do if you are quoting someone who makes an error, and you don’t want to change what the person said, but you also don’t want the reader to think you’re an idiot?
I asked George how he’s doing. George said, “I’m doing good [sic].”
As far as you know, George isn’t helping an old lady across the street. George is doing well, but he’s not doing good. To point that out, use “[sic]” and the world will be happy.
Language is a funny thing. Not only do we have the infamous (and sometimes odd) irregular conjugations in English (but not in languages such as Mandarin Chinese, where verb conjugation doesn’t really occur), but we have markings such as commas, colons, semi-colons, periods, question marks, exclamation marks, single quotes and doubles quotes (I don’t even really want to mention hyphens and dashes at the moment, but I supposes I will). Oh, and we have parentheses too, and apostrophes and even brackets sometimes.
So who can tell me definitively how quotation marks are used?
No hands? Good. Why is it good? It’s good because the answer is not really definitive, at least in the “one size fits all” definition of definitive. How you use quotation marks depends on your context. Are you in the United States or are you in England (or anywhere else with British influence) or elsewhere? Context also depends upon your audience, your professor, and perhaps even your upbringing.
Since I am in the U.S., that’s where my focus will be for this post.
Most of you probably know the rule that when quoting something, the ending period goes inside the double quote mark at the end. For example:
Mr. Smithers said, “Gladys, the boa constrictor is trying to eat your bratwurst.”
This illustrates several important rules. First of all, note the comma after the word “said.” Second, note that the opening double quote mark comes after that comma. Third, the period ending the sentence comes before the closing double quote mark.
I know you are worried about Gladys. How does she know Mr. Smithers? Are they friends? Are they married (to each other)? Why is the boa constrictor trying to eat her bratwurst? Whose snake is it? We’ll figure that out. Be patient.
Now, how do you handle periods at the end of sentences if the last word in the sentence is enclosed in quotes but is not a quote? That is, if the word is used ironically but is not something that someone uttered, then it might be the case that the word is in quotes.
Gladys was aghast that Algernon had spied her “pet.”
The word “pet” is not something that someone has said, but it is in quotes because it is being used ironically. Now, the whole question of whether pet should be used ironically here is moot … that’s not the point of this discussion. Just live with it, folks. The point is that if you have a word or phrase like that at the end of the sentence, the closing period needs to be inside the quotes, as demonstrated above.
Who says this is the way to do it? The Chicago Manual of Style says it, that’s who, along with several other online resources I had to double check this morning.
Now, here’s something interesting. If the thing being quoted at the end of a sentence is a single character or a number, then the period goes outside the quotation mark.
He marked the spot on the treasure map with an “X”.
Tell me how you feel, on a scale of “1″ to “10″.
Now, what if the ending punctuation is not a period but is a question mark? Good question — and the answer is determined by the following. Is it the thing quoted that asks the question, or does the sentence itself (including something quoted) ask the question)? In other words, it could look like this.
Gladys asked, “I wonder if I should cry for help?”
It makes sense that the question mark is inside the quotes, because Gladys is asking a question and she is being quoted.
Did you hear somebody saying “Help”?
Here, we have a comma after saying because the thing quoted is not really being said. Note, though, that the whole sentence is a question, but the word “help” is not really instrumental in making it a question. You may as well ask if you heard someone saying “banana.”
Did you hear somebody saying “Banana”?
The quoted word is not the question, so it does not include the question mark inside the quotes. The same concept at work for question marks also applies for exclamation marks.
Simple enough, right?
Now, what about quotes inside of quotes?
What happens when you want to quote something with an error in it?
We’ll touch on those next time.
Meanwhile, keep reading your Aunt Ruth book!
In case you’re feeling kind of Poe-ish tonight, here’s something to calm your nerves. I selected this because of the nice use of quotes and an apostrophe in the last sentence.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door–
Only this and nothing more.”
Yes, that is the actual quote from a presidential campaign button for the 1968 presidential election. No wonder Humphrey lost. The button was sent to me by Mrs. McDowell from Minnesota, and I am grateful for this piece of Americana in my grammatical museum.
What I want to know is this: Minnesotan’s WHAT for Humphrey ?
That is, I am assuming that “Minnesotan’s” isn’t short for “Minnesotan is” in this case, but that “Minnesotan’s” is being used in the possessive case. Is this a “Minnesotan’s BUTTON for Humphrey” or is this symbolic of a Minnesotan’s VOTE for Humphrey” … I certainly don’t know.
Or perhaps it is indeed a contraction and the first letter is an implied “this,” as in: This Minnesotan’s for Humphrey.
Realistically, I guess, the button really intended to say that the wearer of the button is part of a group of Minnesotans who are for Humphrey. But that’s not what the button says.
Where were the proof readers and spell checkers?
What would be really funny is a button that says: Minnesotan’s for Grammar.
I am not knocking Minnesota. In fact, the button very possibly was not even made in Minnesota. Across this great land of ours, colored with purple mountains’ (yes plural possessive) majesty above the fruited plains, grammatical mistakes are abundant. We need to encourage each other to clean up our usage. Being a grammar policeman is fine as long as we’re a “kinder, gentler” grammar policeman (note: policeman implies both genders here).
Anyway, thank you, Mrs. McDowell, for the chuckle. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Aunt Ruth Grammar attended a wonderful homeschool resources fair in Chapel Hill, NC, this afternoon — the first of many, I hope — and the standard question that was asked was indeed a very good question, namely, “What is the appropriate age group for this book (I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head)?”
In some ways, it would be nice to have an easy answer, like, “eighth grade,” or maybe “age 13 years 7 months and 12-15 days, no more, no less.”
As it is, though, the answer really is, “It depends.”
For the stories themselves, I believe there is no age restriction. There is a 6 year old girl at church who absolutely loves the stories (her dad reads them to her), and every week she tells me about the latest of Aunt Ruth’s adventures that she has read. Oh that warms my heart! I have also received a couple phone calls from seventy-year-olds who have delighted in telling me how much they enjoy the stories.
It is my hope that any age level will enjoy the stories. Of course, there are things that adult readers will catch (puns, etc.) that youngsters may miss.
Regarding the grammar lessons embedded in the stories, the answer really does depend on the reader. I’ve heard of 3rd and 4th graders getting the grammar lessons; I’ve heard of high schoolers using the book and “actually enjoying” the grammar points; and adults are getting it too.
My stock answer to the question is something like, “mid-high and up, but a good 3rd or 4th grade reader will find it helpful too,” and that still stands.
A local sixth grade teacher reads a story to her class at the end of each class period.
The stories are gentle and the stories are (all modesty aside) fun.
No one ever said that learning has to be fun, but there are areas (such as grammar) where a little fun can go a long way.
Try it, you’ll like it!
There’s no avoiding the fact that someone hailing from a country whose language does not use articles is going to have difficulties with proper usage of articles (a, an, the) when learning English. We English speaking folks use more articles a day than you’ll find mosquitoes at dusk in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. “Pass the persimmons, please. May I have a pickle? Hey, who ate my chips?” On it goes.
There are basic rules, of course; and there are a gazillion exceptions. I am exaggerating slightly. There are a gazillion mosquitoes in Minnesota — I think I met each one of them last summer — and perhaps only trillions of exceptions dealing with articles.
Actually, maybe there are only a handful of exceptions, and those exceptions just occur a gazillion times. I don’t know.
Let’s look at it a bit and see what sense we can make of it. I can hear you English speaking people in the background getting excited about this. “Mama, turn off the Lawrence Welk video … the nauseating nephew is going to talk about articles! Yes, it’s true, Mama. We haven’t seen anything like this since the Guns of Navarone.”
Here are some guidelines / rules for starters. These don’t cover every case, but someone learning English as a second language would do well to remember these.
Rule #1: If the noun is singular, countable, non-unique, has not been introduced, and does not refer to “all, everywhere” of that noun, then use “a” or “an” …
Rule #2: If the noun is plural or uncountable, or if it has been introduced, and it does not refer to “all, everywhere” of that noun, then use “the” …
Rule #3: If the noun is specific or unique, use “the” …
There are exceptions and there are special cases …
Examples? Yes, examples abound.
Rule 1: A cow is in the field. We are introducing said bovine. It is singular and countable. It is not unique.
The cow is eating hay. By now we know which cow we mean — the cow we introduced earlier — and at this point it is now a specific or particular or unique cow. Rule 2 tells us this.
The cow belonging to Farmer Brown just ate my entire rhubarb patch. This is one specific particular cow. It has not been introduced, but there is no question s to the identity of said cow. It is Mr. Brown’s. This is Rule 3, more or less.
Does this help? I don’t know. I’ve also put together a document with more examples and more description. See the “Using Articles” document in the Grammar Help page.
Incidentally, if the cow ate my entire rhubarb patch, how long will it take the rhubarb to come back up?
Answer: about 20 minutes.
Thanks to Drew Neil for pointing out his great web site, http://all-sorts.org.
I encourage you to check it out! He’s got a ton of collective nouns … or would that be a boatload? Have some you’d like to add? You can do it on his web site.
All right, it’s time to revisit the ever popular who versus whom discussion.
First of all, I need to say that The Who got it right. In their late 1970′s hit song, the expression “Who Are You” is completely (and always will be) correct. In fact, if they had reversed the expression and said, “You Are Who” it would still be correct.
Some people seem to think that the decision to use who or whom is based on some class structure, some fancy formality. That is, you might say to a stranger at the ball game, “Who are you?” and you might say to a stranger (wearing a tuxedo and thoroughly enjoying listening to a rumble of tubas in the background) at the Governor’s Inaugural Gala Event, “Whom are you.” Well, rest assured, the latter is (and always will be) incorrect.
When the word is the subject, use who. When the word is the object, use whom.
Who is shoveling the snow in front of our house? (Who is the subject.)
I kissed whom? (Whom is the object, receiving the action of the verb.)
You dropped the bratwurst and sauerkraut on whom? (Whom is the object of the preposition.)
Remember, in the case of linking verbs, the noun on either side of the linking verb is to be thought of as the subject.
Who is he? He is who.
If the verb is not a linking verb, though, and if some form of who is being used as the object, then it is the word whom that needs to be used.
You gave the book to whom?
Again, if the form of who is being used as the object of the preposition, use whom.
To whom did you give the book?
Thinking about collective nouns a bit more leaves me feeling almost giddy with creativity. Some of the (possibly) new collective nouns that come to mind include:
- a slide of trombones
- a choir of robes (or should that be a wardrobe of choirs)
- a treasure of pirates
- and one of my favorites, a trans-am of eight-track tapes.
Postage stamps? I know they come in sheets or rolls, but how about a gum of stamps.
Corporate managers? I’d call them a dilbert of managers.
Grammatical errors? How about a ruth of grammatical errors?
All right, you creative folks out there … any other new ones that you care to share with us?