Karl Hagen's blog

9 Jul 2009
I've written before about how preparation material for the SAT writing section sometimes presents an over-simplified view of grammar that can get you into linguistic trouble. Here's another case in point: The following question appears in a Kaplan practice SAT (12 Practice Tests for the SAT 2009 Edition, p. 589):
Although talent may be a crucial element on the road to fame, it is difficult to succeed without a highly developed work ethic.
26 Jun 2009

Those crazy biologists

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Anyone who thinks scientists don't have a sense of humor only knows scientists through their movie stereotypes. Still, it takes a certain daring to get this into the title of a major peer-reviewed journal: Campos-Arceiz, A. 2009. Shit happens (to be useful)! Use of elephant dung as habitat by amphibians. Biotropica doi:10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00525.x And no, this is not a spoof. Here's the abstract.
25 Jun 2009

Dasn't

Submitted by Karl Hagen
As dictionaries go, you can't get much better than that towering giant of lexicography, The Oxford English Dictionary. It's always the first place serious word lovers turn when they have questions about the origins or use of a word. Yet really serious logophiles know its limitations. There are certain instances where you need to supplement the OED with a specialist work.
22 Jun 2009
The Grammarphobia question for June 22 addresses our old friend "none is" vs. "none are."

Q: As an SAT writing instructor, I am intrigued by your Grammar Myths page, which debunks the rule that "none" is always singular. Since the College Board follows this rule, we have thousands of students learning to write sentences like “None of the chickens is hatched.” What do you think about that?

10 Jun 2009

Prescriptive Fetishes

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Discussing the people's understanding of the split infinitive, Fowler said, "Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes."

Fowler's dictum holds for many other prescriptive rules of grammar. In many cases, ignorance is bliss. Your writing will probably be better, because you're not twisting yourself into knots trying to avoid some illusory error, and you won't waste your time thinking about other people's grammar when you should be attending to their meaning.

18 May 2009

Comma fanboys

Submitted by Karl Hagen
In a recent discussion on the ATEG mailing list, a question arose as to the origins of the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that is often used to teach how to punctuate compound sentences. Brett Reynolds, who writes the blog English, Jack pointed to a post he wrote a few years back trying, without success, to pin down the origins of the word's use as an acronym.
1 May 2009

Langue and Lingua Franca

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Writing in the New York Times, David Cohen meditates lyrically upon the differences between British and American English. Cohen uses these differences, especially individual words--loo vs. bathroom, bonnet vs. hood, car park vs. parking lot, etc., as a token of a larger cultural divide. He quotes Victor Katz, noting
There is the illusion that we speak the same language, but we really don't.

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