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Tag: grammar

The Nominal “Be”

Saturday, 10 March, 2018 0 Comments

“To be” can take on many different meanings as a verb, but it’s also flexible enough to become a noun. “Has-been” has been a noun since the 17th century, when the Scottish referred to ancient customs as the “gude aulde has-beens.” Now “has-been” is a succinct way to say “person who once was important in a field but no longer has that importance.” There are also nouns for future states, as in “bride-to-be”; states that never came to pass, as in “might-have-been”; and desired states, as in “wannabe.” These are just a few of many uses the ancient, flexible, large, and messy “be” has been put to. Without it (to use an example of “identifying be”) English just wouldn’t be English.

That item of grammatical erudition is the work of Arika Okrent, a linguist who has carved out a nice of her own thanks to a series of popular Tube videos about language. “The Little Verb at the Heart of the English Language” is a piece she wrote last month for Curiosity, and it’s a useful outline of the history and structure of that most irregular English verbs, “to be.”

The thing learners of English find so challenging about “to be” is that it looks nothing like “am”, which looks nothing like “were”. All of this is due to the fact that “am” and “is” date back to one verb, while “be”, “being” and “been” have their origins in a verb meaning “to become” or “grow”. And if that wasn’t enough, “was” and “were” go back to verb meaning “remain” or “stay”. Down the generations, these concepts merged into a verb with a unique identity, but a vast number of precise meanings.


Working toward a singular society

Tuesday, 3 May, 2016 0 Comments

“The iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPads.” That was written by a blogger, who does not work with or for Apple. Now, here is the sentence as written by Apple: “iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPad”. The blurb appears on the Apple iPad Pro webpage, and what’s noticeable is the lack of the definite article at the beginning of the sentence and the use of the singular at the end. In a world beset with enormous problems, this is not a critical issue but it was important enough for Philip Schiller, [the] senior vice president of global marketing at Apple, to engage in a debate on Twitter that resulted in the issuing of the following rule: “It would be proper to say ‘I have three macintosh’ or ‘I have three Macintosh computers.'”

According to the “Schiller Rule,” talking about “iPads” is grammatically incorrect. The correct style is “iPad devices.” As the man said, “One need never pluralize Apple product names.” Thinking of using “the” in relation to Apple products? Don’t. Delivering Apple’s results last week, CEO Tim Cook said the company was seeing very high customer satisfaction “for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.”


We need to dialogue around

Thursday, 14 April, 2016 0 Comments

dialogue around [phrasal verb]: to take part in a conversation to resolve a problem. Example: “Steve, we need to dialogue around your choice of office attire.”

The awful “dialogue around” is up there with “action” as a verb: “You can’t call her now. She’s actioning the deliverables.” The adjective “amped”, meaning to be excited about something, is in the same category: “They’re really amped about the new site.”

Business communications would be a lot easier if people dropped the jargon. On the other hand, if you want to speak “corporate”, the Center for Corporate Studies talks the talk of those who disintermediate, enthuse and incent.


The iPhone: On this day in 2007

Saturday, 9 January, 2016 0 Comments

Apple reinvented the telephone on 9 January 2007. “iPhone is a revolutionary new mobile phone that allows users to make calls by simply pointing at a name or number,” claimed the company press release. Steve Jobs was at his entertainingly visionary best during the Macworld convention in San Francisco when he made that legendary presentation. From that day on, for better or worse, a person became known by the company of the phone they kept. (Grammar note for 2015: singular “they”).

“We’re gonna use the best pointing device in the world. We’re gonna use a pointing device that we’re all born with — we’re born with ten of them. We’re gonna use our fingers.
We’re gonna touch this with our fingers. And we have invented a new technology called multi-touch, which is phenomenal.
It works like magic.
You don’t need a stylus. It’s far more accurate than any touch display that’s ever been shipped.
It ignores unintended touches, it’s super-smart.
You can do multi-finger gestures on it.
And boy, have we patented it.”

Steve Jobs (24 February 1955 – 5 October 2011)


Kirin knows its apostrophes

Sunday, 21 April, 2013 0 Comments

While its and it’s are surely the most often confused words in English, the people at Kirin Brewery know how to use the apostrophe and there’s no fear that Kirin will be cited by the the Apostrophe Protection Society for abuse of punctuation. By the way, in Japanese, “kirin” can refer to giraffes or to […]

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We verb / We noun

Sunday, 3 June, 2012

move (verb) to change the place or position of something. “Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered President Hosni Mubarak to be moved to a military prison on the outskirts of Cairo.” Reuters sale (noun) the transfer of ownership of something from one person to another for a price. “Romney discloses sale of stocks in dozens of companies […]

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