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We are … trademarked!

By Joe Diorio

A colleague was a cheerleader in college. Each year she and her squad would go to a weeklong preseason camp attended by cheer squads from other colleges and universities. One of the teams in attendance was from Penn State University. Every morning at breakfast, the camp cafeteria would erupt with the Penn Staters shouting, “We are … Penn State!”

A good showing of school pride, I suppose. But by the last day of camp all the other cheer squads had their fill of the cheer and would respond to that chant with, “We aren’t. Shut up!”

The “We are … Penn State” is a familiar chant in college sports and has been etched in stone as a part of Penn State University, which successfully filed a trademark for the cheer. Heaven forbid some other school hijack that ditty.

Before anyone rolls their eyeballs, consider that the trademark of a collegiate chant is not limited to a full phrase. On June 23, Ohio State University, after several attempts, trademarked the word “The.”

Yes, just the word “The.” After three years of trying to get a trademark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the school’s application.

“The” is deeply ingrained with Ohio State University alumni. In addition to the “O-H-I-O” chant, Ohio State fans can be heard yelling “THE Ohio State” during football games.

Now, no one should run to their laptop and start putting the trademark symbol next to every usage of the word. The trademark only applies to sales of Ohio State University clothing, so it’s a rather narrow trademark.

Gender neutral pronouns

I confess to not thinking much about using gender neutral pronouns until I was working in higher education, and someone explained their value this way, “it’s a show of respect.” That is good enough for me.

That said, it was disappointing to read that Argentina has imposed one of the world’s first bans on gender-neutral language. The argument is that this degrades the language.

Welp, I am not a linguist, and I am no expert in Spanish, despite three years of high school classes and one semester in college (I’m a slow learner). But I do know that language is an evolving thing. We would sound a bit off if our language never evolved. Consider this exchange between Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and a night watchman named Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) in the movie, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

Amelia Earhart: “Crimey, we’re jimmy-jacked!”

Larry Daley: “Jimmy-jacked?”

Amelia Earhart: “It’s the way I speak.”

Larry Daley: “Yeah, but that sounds made-up, even for you …”

Amelia Earhart: “’Oh, no, our path has been blocked by bad people.’ What’s the fun in that?”

Larry Daley: “Yeah, you’re right. We are …”

Amelia Earhart: “Jimmy-jacked.”

Change is the one constant in language. I won’t cry for Argentina. But I won’t applaud this decision either.

New Poet Laureate

Kudos to Ada Limón, who on July 12 was named by the U.S. Library of Congress as the 24th U.S. poet laureate, officially called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. “Poetry is a way to remember our relationship with the natural world is reciprocal,” Limón says. “It’s having a place to breathe and having a place to pay attention.”

Language talk reminder Remember, I will deliver an online talk on Saturday, August 13 at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of Language. My talk will be about writing, grammar, and how a love of words led to a book. Please join me. It’s via Zoom and I’d hate to feel like I’m talking to myself.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His double award-winning first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.

Run the gantlet/gauntlet?

By Joe Diorio

FORT MYERS, FL, July 11, 2022 – Writing in the June 15 edition of The New York Times Victor Mather mused about the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League managing to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the third straight year. Mather said that “postseason play is a grueling gantlet to run.”

Some may question if Mather committed icing (Icing is a hockey penalty, please don’t ask me to explain it.) in his choice of words; should he have said “gauntlet” instead?

Welp, gantlet is the original spelling. It refers to a form of punishment where people armed with sticks are arranged in two lines and beat a person who must travel between them. Armed with sticks sure sounds like hockey, doesn’t it? Gauntlet is an alternative spelling and usually refers to someone having to endure punishment to reach a specific milestone.

If he was writing about the Tampa Bay Lightning specifically – which he eventually did, but not in that sentence – then he probably should have said gauntlet. Kudos to him for putting the right word in between the pipes. That’s another hockey term for scoring a goal.

Preregistration for a free pass

Hats off to all teachers. They have managed to navigate a pandemic, conducted hours of remote learning, and let us not forget they must run active shooter drills. So as a modest thank you Sea World in Orlando, Florida is offering free passes to teachers. A story on local TV news said teachers must “preregister” for the tickets.

Preregister is one of those words that can easily be misused. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a special registration period (as for returning students) prior to an official registration period.” Unless Sea World is asking everyone to register rather than simply buy tickets, the teachers being honored simply have to “register” for their free passes.

From the department of redundancy department

News flash: Heavy winds in Lee County, Florida knocked down a large tent where fireworks were sold. “The tent was completely destroyed,” said the TV reporter. 

“Completely destroyed” is a term that Jeff Butera, author of the wonderful book Write Like You Talk: A guide to broadcast news writing calls “journalese,” or terms that get used so often they are accepted as the gospel of the spoken word. Something either is destroyed, or it isn’t. There is no need to modify it.

“Young journalists […] see and hear them being used and assume it’s the style they’re supposed to use. So they begin to adopt these non-conversational words and phrases, perpetuating the cycle,” Butera, a television news anchor in Southwest Florida, writes in his book.

His lament is echoed by a colleague in Philadelphia. Vince DeFruscio, a news editor for a Fox affiliate in the City of Brotherly Love, keeps a list of words and phrases he hopes news professionals will just stop using, like “a slew of laws,” “brazen crimes,” “iconic moment,” and “black smoke billowing.”

Butera’s book is a must read for anyone working in the broadcast news business, and for anyone who just wants to express themselves in clear and concise language.

And while I am doing book shout-outs, kudos to Wordshine Man: Tips for polishing words until they sparkle by Tom Madden. A veteran public relations professional, Madden’s book is 175 pages of solid advice for polishing, revising, and re-revising your writing until … well, until it sparkles.

Regionalism in language

Last month I wrote about John Fetterman, a candidate for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania, using the term “yinz” in one of his email messages. That prompted more than its share of responses.

“I’m from Pittsburgh,” one reader says. “There we are sometimes referred to as ‘Yinzers’.”

“In Cleveland they used to say ‘yoonz,’ as in ‘yoonz guys better watch it,” a second reader said.

Speaking of regionalism, the National Museum of Language has a terrific online exhibit on regional language

And while I’m talking about the National Museum of Language, please mark your calendar for Saturday, August 13 at 2 p.m. That’s when I will deliver an online talk at the museum about writing, grammar, and how a love of words led to a book.

And … and, since I am talking about my book did I mention it received a Bronze medal in the FOREWARD Reviews 2021 book awards (Humor category)? Well, if I haven’t, then I have now.

Item last (almost)

I’m running Zoom seminars for individuals or groups on improving one’s writing. Hit me up if you are interested in learning more.

Item last (really)

I was the guest on the July 1 edition of “Friday Morning Coffee,” a regular show on the Writer’s Bone podcast. Care to listen?

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His book, A Few Words About Words, is available wherever fine books are sold.

A politician for yinz

By Joe Diorio

John Fetterman is running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. Just recently he sent out a campaign email containing the line, “sending yinz a quick note.”

“Yinz,” as the six-foot-nine-inch Fetterman used it, is a piece of slang unique to parts of rural Pennsylvania. (Fetterman is from Springettsbury, a tiny town northeast of Hanover.) The Urban Dictionary says it is the Pittsburgh equivalent to “y’all” used to address two or more persons.

Interestingly, “yinz” is not recognized by either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford dictionaries, whereas “y’all” is identified as a variant of “you all.”

Well, considering how big a guy Fetterman is, I’m not telling him he cannot use a word that is not found in the dictionary.

Farewell Roger Angell

The book I have owned the longest is a 1972 paperback (with a $1.50 price tag on it, proving I have owned it for a while) copy of The Summer Game, Roger Angell’s first collection of his New Yorker columns about baseball. Angell, who died May 20 at the age of 101, was a master writer and storyteller. He just happened to ply his craft writing about a game.

His superior use of words is unforgettable. Writing about the Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk coming out of a crouched position, Mr. Angell wrote how Fisk looked like “an aluminum extension ladder stretching for the house eaves.” The Baltimore Oriole relief pitcher Dick Hall pitched “with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud.” Writing about the 1969 New York Mets he penned, “Instead of resembling a real ball team, the new Mets reminded me most of a Hollywood cast assembled to play in another unlikely baseball movie.”

Baseball fans would say Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson could hit. Jackson would say this about Angell: “Roger Angell can write.” Indeed, he could.

Have you learned that yet?

Recently someone asked via Twitter, “If I said, ‘that’ll learn you,’ do you know what I mean? The Urban Dictionary defines this as Southern slang. Most of the responders agree.

“It’s a double yes for me. I understand what the character is saying, and I have an idea where the character is from.”

“I was raised by Southern parents. I absolutely know what this means.”

“I have heard it in the Southwest, but mostly as a teasing remark.”

Let me know if you have heard the phrase and your thoughts on its origin and appropriate usage.

Local TV. Need I say more?

A Fort Myers, Florida television reporter was reporting a story about training for first responders and said the type of training being undertaken is “tantamount.” Not tantamount to something. Just tantamount.

Tantamount is an adjective, meaning the same as. It would modify a noun. But there was no noun in the reporter’s sentence to modify. 

The way the reporter framed the word makes one think the word they meant to use is “paramount,” as in the training is more important than anything else.

Yes, watching local TV can sometimes makes me crazy. But then the same news program, in the very next story, mentioned that a group of stingrays is called a “fever.” Good recovery guys.

I am a museum piece

Read this. You’ll write better.” That’s the title of a talk I am scheduled to deliver at The National Museum of Language on Saturday, August 13, 2022, at 2 p.m. (ET). It’s all being done via Zoom so please join me. I hate feeling like I am talking to myself.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.

What’s in a name?

By Joe Diorio

One of my favorite stand-up comedy bits by the late George Carlin is when he discusses how someone spells and pronounces their name. “Your name could be spelled, S-M-I-T-H,” Carlin says, “but because it is YOUR name you can say it is pronounced Jenofsky.”

OK, it’s funnier when Carlin does the delivery, but the point holds. Our names are personal and play a big role in how we self-identify.

Journalism schools take the business of getting one’s name right seriously. “[M]y students understand that no matter how brilliant their reporting and writing, if they messed up a name, they got an automatic F on that assignment,” says Kathy English, public editor for the Toronto Star and a journalism instructor at Ryerson University.

With that as background, it is surprising to see major news organizations using different spellings of Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post use the single “y” spelling for Zelensky, while Fox News, the Associated Press and MSNBC go with a double “y” (Zelenskyy). Meanwhile, Reuters goes completely off track by spelling his last name “Zelenskiy.”

Did they all fail Professor English’s class?

No, but there is a problem when translating something from the Cyrillic alphabet to English. There is no easy way to translate Zelensky’s name to English from its Cyrillic letters, hence the variety of spellings. 

When translating the title of this newsletter to Cyrillic, the name “A Few Words About Words” (above) becomes unrecognizable to anyone not familiar with the language.

CNN reports that Zelenskyy uses the double “y” spelling. At least he did so on his passport in 2019.

Scholars point out that confusion when translating names from Cyrillic to English is the rule rather than the exception. There also is speculation that the double “y” spelling is President Zelenskyy’s way of showing defiance to Russia.

Festivus observations – the gift that keeps on giving

Mention there are words and phrases that make one’s skin crawl and a tsunami of similar complaints land in the email “in” box.

“After years of complaining about my husband saying, ‘in any way, shape, or form’ he has stopped and now I say it! I started as a joke, and now it’s a habit,” one reader says.

Merriam-Webster does recognize “in any way, shape, or form” as legitimate language, meaning an action or other activity that is unacceptable.

This reader goes on to mention she has picked up the terminology “might could,” which she correctly defines as a shortened version of “might be able to.” The term “might could” is a regional idiom. Although grammatically incorrect and redundant, the actual correct phrase would be something to the effect of, “I am not sure, but I might be willing (or able) to do it later” is verbose and sounds just as awkward. You might could just stick with the idiom.

Reminder: AFWAW will be an online blog come June This is a reminder from your friendly neighborhood word nerd that A Few Words About Words will become solely an online blog come June. I have been posting AFWAW to the blog and emailing it for years and have decided to stop doing so much extra work. Just click the “follow” button (lower right) and add your email so you get a reminder when a new column is available.

And remember, let’s write carefully out there people.

A Celebration of Festivus, Part III

By Joe Diorio

Based on reader feedback I am learning that the grammatical celebration of Festivus, where we air our grievances about language, should not be confined to one month of the year.

Case-in-point: Don Block teaches English at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania (just outside of Philadelphia). He is a self-described complainer and after reading A Few Words About Words. A common-sense look at writing and grammar decided to share his own list of pet peeves.

  • “I’m like” plus a sound effect or occasionally a word.
  • “Let’s do this.”
  • Any use of “this” when this word does not directly precede a noun.
  • “Reach out” instead of “contact,” “write to,” or “talk to.”
  • “Conversation” when it’s used instead of “discussion.”
  • “Conversate” (Possibly because it is used incorrectly … it is an intransitive verb … yes, I checked.)
  • Any use of “leverage” to explain something that does not involve a fulcrum.
  • The use of “their” to refer to a singular antecedent: “Be prepared to politely and respectfully disagree when the client trashes your efforts to explain their jargon….” (OK, this one might get some pushback. “Their” is an indefinite third person singular antecedent, as in “Anyone in their senses.” It is a good example of language evolving and we cuss and discuss said evolution.) 
  • Using at least two pronouns to refer to a singular antecedent: “he or she” or “she or he” is a lot of she-he-it. (Clever Don. Very clever.)
  • Using “grow” as a metaphorical transitive verb, as in “Grow your business.”
  • “This is not my first rodeo.”
  • Using “in terms of” or “moving forward,” usages that point to dead areas in the brain of a speaker who feels compelled to keep talking. 
  • “Synergy,” a great bullshit word.
  • “It is what it is.”
  • Using “Dan” when it should be “Don.”

The last item on his list is my fault; I apparently have a bone in my head that forces me to call him Dan. Regardless Dan, er, Don, I do appreciate the feedback. 

Holy oversight, monsignor.

An old joke about language goes like this: A classified advertisement in the daily newspaper (yes “classified advertisement;” I told you this is an old joke.) contained the following:

“ATTENTION: Everyone who purchased our ‘Skydiving Made Easy’ correspondence course, please take note. On page 17 you should change the text from STATE ZIP CODE to PULL RIP CORD. Thank you.”

The crux of the joke is that words matter. Anyone who was baptized or had a child baptized by Father Andres Arango at St. Gregory parish in Phoenix, Arizona feels seen.

For years Father Arango was using the wrong word when baptizing babies. He was saying “WE baptize” you rather than the accepted “I baptize you.” This seems like an eensy weensy oversight, but from the standpoint of the Catholic Church it has invalidated scores of baptisms and subsequent sacraments like confirmation and marriage.

Even though Catholics understand the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” making the thought of using “we” seem acceptable, it isn’t, according to a Vatican spokesperson. “The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” the spokesman explained.

Here’s hoping that Father Palucci said the right word as he baptized Pat and Gerry’s little boy 66 years ago …

A grocer’s apostrophe

Here is a new way to misuse an apostrophe, shared by Emily Haag, a proofreader and editor in the United Kingdom.

A grocer’s apostrophe is the name given to an apostrophe when used to form a plural, as in apple’s, pear’s, and orange’s. It’s a common mistake, she explains.

“It’s quite common,” she explains in a post on LinkedIn. “It can happen easily by accident because we’re so used to putting apostrophes before the letter S.”

In this case the correct use would be to indicate possession, as in “The apple’s stalk …” or “the pear’s skin.” Not sure why it is called a grocer’s apostrophe, other than it may be most frequently used when talking about produce.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

A Few Words About Words will, in June 2022, transition to an online blog rather than a monthly email. I would appreciate retaining all my readers, so please visit my website and click “Follow,” which can be found in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Then again, if you are reading THIS, then you are at my website.

And remember. Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. His first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.