Five Thanksgiving Words

Origins of common words.

As millions of Americans will be counting their blessings and gathering with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I thought it would be fun to investigate the origins of several words commonly associated with the holiday. Please enjoy this post first published on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.

1. Thank

Thank comes from the Old English word thanc, which is derived from the prehistoric Germanic thangk, with a root idea of thoughtfulness. The English word think comes from the samehappy-thanksgiving root. It’s easy to see how our word for expressing gratitude originated from the concept of thinking or giving thoughtful consideration. A twelfth-century translation of Matthew 15:19 reads, “From the heart come evil thanks.” By the early sixteenth century the same verse was rendered, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (KJV). To give thanks is to think about and express one’s gratitude for something. And what better way to say “thank you” than by enjoying a big feast. Continue reading “Five Thanksgiving Words”

Apostrophe Quiz

It takes 60 seconds. How will you do?

Test yourself on the following use of apostrophes. It will be easy for some, a challenge for others. (Answers are below.)

The Quiz

  1. Which is the correct way to write the photo caption?

(a) Here we are at the restaurant with our friends the Johnson’s.

(b) Here we are at the restaurant with our friends the Johnsons.

  1. Which is the correct way to sign the Christmas card?

(a) Merry Christmas from the Zimbardos.

(b) Merry Christmas from the Zimbardo’s.

  1. Which is correct?

(a) We enjoy watching movies about superhero’s.

(b) We enjoy watching movies about superheroes.

  1. Which is correct?

(a) We had hamburgers and French fries for dinner.

(b) We had hamburger’s and French fry’s for dinner.

  1. Which is correct?

(a) It’s easy to use apostrophes correctly.

(b) It’s easy to use apostrophe’s correctly.

The Rule

What’s the punctuation rule? Adding apostrophe + s does not make a word or a name plural. Leave the poor apostrophe out of it. Just don’t do it. Leave it!

The Answers

How did you do? Here are the answers:

1: b    2: a    3: b    4: a    5: a

For further reading on the topic, see my article: Apostrophe Use and Misuse.


© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

The Value of Words

Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.

Meaningless Words

Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.

Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.

Sometimes the feelings involved are deep and genuine—I’m not suggesting we’re all phonies on social media (but I think a lot of us are a lot more unreal there than we care to admit). Continue reading “The Value of Words”

Me, Myself, and I

Are you using the correct pronouns?

“Would you like some ice cream?” asked Mother.

“Yippee! All three of us would!” cried six-year-old Dean.

“Three? I only see you.”

Dean - Me
Me

“Oh, no, there are three: me, myself, and I. That means three bowls of ice cream!”

“Oh,” she said, coughing once and rolling her eyes.

Thus began Dean’s disastrous, short-lived career as a stand-up comedian.

But seriously, folks—when do we use the pronouns me, myself, and I? Specifically, how do we properly use reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, ourselves, etc.)? Are they just another way of saying I/me, you, her, and us? Continue reading “Me, Myself, and I”

“With That Being Said”

Category: Annoying Expressions

Here’s how an email sent to all employees recently began:

Wow! July is right around the corner. With that being said, attached is the July newsletter for you to read and share. 

“With that being said”? Huh?

It may be too kind to label “with that being said” as a cliché, but it is that at least. It should be labeled a hackneyed term,[1] or better yet, a nuisance. But because I want to be polite, I’ll call it a cliché, and it’s been around for a long time—many years. But lately it seems to be cropping up all over the place. Writers and speakers use it as a ready-made, no-bake transitional statement, along with its shorter cousins “having said that” and “that said.” It’s intended use is to smoothly shift gears from one sentence or one topic to the next, to shoehorn the reader (or listener) into what’s to follow. It’s a throw-away expression, a space-filler, and it generally adds nothing of substance to one’s communications.

I’m picking on this cliché because it seems it’s used typically in formal situations—where the communicator has prepared an oral presentation, a paper, or a correspondence like the above email, in which careful thought was allegedly required. So what can we use to transition from one thought to the next without using this trite expression? Here are a ten examples of common transitional expressions. Which one (or more) of these might work better than “with that being said”?

equally important

in the same way

as a result

consequently

for this reason

therefore

hence

in any event

meanwhile

however

And perhaps the best transitional statement of all sometimes is . . . no transitional statement at all! Take that phrase out of the above email and see if it wouldn’t be just peachy without it. Often, less is more—translated: fewer words often means better writing.

So, with that being said {cough} . . . let me quit this piece while I’m behind.  Δ


[1] hackneyed (adj.): lacking in freshness or originality.

© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

So, What Do You Do for a Living?

Can you relate to this?

Every now and then I’ll meet someone new in a social setting (gasp!), and during our getting-acquainted chitchat they[1] will ask what I do for a living, and vice versa. This is of course normal for most of us. Usually, instead of immediately launching into a detailed explanation of what I do in my workaday world, I’ll abbreviate it with a one- or two-word descriptor couched in terms of who I am. We all do this. We say, “I am a teacher . . . plumber . . . carpenter . . . homemaker . . . sales manager . . . pastor . . . circus clown . . . accountant . . . police officer . . . business owner”—whatever. If the other person wants more detail, we’re usually happy to oblige.

For the past twenty years, I’ve worked in various capacities in higher education. I’ve been an instructor in the classroom (both undergraduate and graduate); I’ve been a research technician, conducting statistical analyses using data sets both large and small;[2] and for the lion’s share of the past twenty years I’ve been a counselor—an academic counselor. I retired from full-time employment at a large university five years ago; since then, in semi-retirement, I have worked part time at a community college as an academic counselor, and I love it. I also enjoy my freelance work at home as a copyeditor, blog writer, and occasional voiceover guy. I keep busy and, for the most part, out of trouble. Continue reading “So, What Do You Do for a Living?”

Zapping Three Grammar Myths

I learned a few things in grammar school. For example, I learned that boys shouldn’t dip girls’ pigtails into the inkwells. I lived near the Little House on the Prairie then and went to third grade with “Half Pint” Ingalls. Okay, maybe not, but my ancient schoolhouse in Moorhead, Minnesota, did have desks with inkwells—dried up, yes, but I could still fantasize about dipping Half Pint’s pigtails into the inky blackness on my desk. Naughty little fantasizer! Something to be punished for. 

 I learned the hard way not to push friends down the cement steps while waiting in line to go back to class after recess—because, supposedly, friends don’t appreciate that. Oh, bother!

 I also learned not to run into the classroom coat closet to escape from the acrid smell of vomit when a classmate heaves his entire lunch onto his desk and the floor—because not all 30 panicked kids can fit in a coat closet filled with Minnesota-winter coats, mittens, and snow boots. Such things can trigger lifelong bouts of claustrophobia.

 It’s strange to think that this could come from a grammar school: I vaguely remember learning a couple of things about grammar somewhere in my youth or childhood. I learned how improper it was to begin a sentence with a conjunction, or to split my infinitives, or to end a sentence with a preposition. I have no specific memory of these heavenly dictums, but everyone from my generation simply knows such proscriptions are writ large in the canon of divine grammar and must be avoided on penalty of death. I never actually saw a student receive that penalty. Apparently, some teachers stopped short of killing their students. Instead, they rapped their knuckles with a ruler, which explains why most adults hate grammar.

Nonetheless, what a joy to grow up and learn that Miss Grundy may have gotten a few things wrong in the dark days of the Grammatical Inquisition. Today, I am going to take my trusty keyboard and explode three grammar myths. ZAP! There, it’s done. Too simple, you say? Let me explain: Continue reading “Zapping Three Grammar Myths”