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Archive for the category “English Class”

J is for Jabberwocky and Invented Words

a-to-z-letters-2013J-Day in the A to Z Challenge. That means it Thursday! That’s cool.already Thursday cat

Yesterday I wrote about invented spelling of kids and cats; today I’m writing about invented words by poets. How are these similar?

Kids use their developing knowledge of phonetics to sound out words as they write. Before they become proficient in formal spelling, they write strings of letters to represent individual whole words. Of course, they can “read” their own stories back to listening adults who can’t quite comprehend this early genius.

Invented words, on the other hand, combine familiar sounds with familiar word parts and word meanings to form new words.  Invented words also follow grammatical rules. Nonsense nouns, for example, can have an article, be a plural and/or a possessive, or have a noun ending. Nonsense verbs show past, present, or future tense. Adjectives fall into their place just before a noun.jabberwocky_340x400

One fairly well-known nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky,” is a poem written by Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872).

Alice is none other than the major character in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the little girl who fell asleep on a riverbank and journeyed to another world, a strange one at that. (And Alice, it turns out, was a real person, the daughter of Dean Liddell, dean of Oxford University, and friend of Carroll.)

Things seem to be backwards in this strange world, so when Alice finds a strangely written book, she holds it in front of a mirror, and lo and behold, a story appears. Or is it a story?

            Jabberwocky

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mom raths outgrabe.
***
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
. . .

What? Even Alice, wise little one that she was, could not understand the poem. Alice meets up with Humpty Dumpty who explains the meaning of the poem.borogoves

brillig (noun)….four o’clock in the afternoon (tea-time?)
(the time to begin broiling something for dinner)
slithy (adj)…..lithe and slimy
toves (noun)…badger/lizard creatures with corkscrew tails and noses that can dig holes
gyre (verb)…..  go round and round
gimble (verb)… make holes
wabe (noun)…   in the grass

mimsy (adj)…flimsy and miserable
borogoves (noun)…shabby looking birds with mop-like feathers
raths  (noun)……sort of a green pig
mom (adj)…..lost, away from from home
outgrabe (verb)….. bellow and whistle, shriek and squeak

Does it make better sense now?

Around dinner time, all kinds of crazy things started happening! Weird-looking animals (toves, borogoves, and raths)  began doing strange things like digging holes and making a lot of noise. Maybe they sensed the frightful Jabberwocky lurking nearby!

So what. Who cares?

Nonsense poems have a long history. Some say they have been around since Aesop’s fables and early folk tales.  The writers play with words and present humorous scenes to stimulate the imaginations of readers. Sometimes hidden meanings lurk behind the words, as when jesters make fun of the ruling powers that be, when double meanings hide the true intent of the words. But as often as not, the words just tell a silly story. The words flow in a rhythmical and pleasing way and provide entertainment for listeners.

The Last Meow

Jabberwocky. Smabberwocky. Enough of that nonsense. How about getting me a snack? All this educational stuff tires my brain.

Meow for now.   =<^-^>=weekend cat

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Hyper-Hyphenated Words Make Surprising Adjectives

a-to-z-letters-2013Hello. It’s H-Day in the A to Z Challenge.

H is for Hyphens

Hyphens have been called lots of names: left-over punctuation marks, “the smallest of the little  hyphenhorizontal line thingies” (The Grammar Cat), and “short and sweet” as compared to the dash which is long and lean (Laurie Rozakis, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style).  Laurie Rozakis says that the dash and the hyphen are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito: Confused so often they are taken for each other.

Sometimes called stacked modifiers, or make-it-up-as-you-go adjectives, these adjectives can be humorous if used sparingly, or annoying if overused. This is a “what-you-may-have-been-wondering-about topic” (Grammar Girl), or maybe not.

They look something like this:

  • He has a jump-off-the-page personality.
  • We went to a shoot-em-up movie.
  • I’m a pretty easy-going, live-and-let-live kinda girl.

Personally, I’m a love-those-hyphenated-compound-adjectives-kind-of-person! Evidently a few other writers like these phrasal adjectives, too. Here are a few samples.

So What. Who Cares?oh-my cat

Of course, these stacked adjectives can get silly if they are overused, but somehow, just once-in-awhile, a stacked adjective does the job.    This one, for example:  “my good-for-nothing, pot-smoking, boyfriend-of-the-moment…” (Heather Marie Adkins). Now that one just gets right to the point.

The Last Meow

Terribly Cute pic...cat attitudeNow to the really important stuff. Here’s how to make cat faces on your very own keyboard. How’s that for a neat cat trick?

=<^ . ^>=   Meow for now.

What’s your favorite hyphenated stacked modifier?

G is for Great Gobs of Gramma’s Grammar Goodies and Goofs

a-to-z-letters-2013Today is G-Day in the A to Z Challenge. So how about some grammar?

I admit it. I love grammar.

Ever since the third or fourth grade when we had to do those error hunts in our English book, I have loved grammar. Of course, those error hunts are considered so out-of-date now. Even so, some schools persist in this textbook approach.

My daughter knows of my love for grammar and when the grandkids get stuck on their traditional grammar assignments, she calls me to help work through the problems. She knows that Granny Jan knows the answer!

Good Posts on Grammar

I keep a look-out for good posts on grammar. Here are a few of the best I have read or viewed recently.

Writing Techniques

1. Metaphors. Catherine Johnson posts an excellent video of ancient Chinese poems set to music with exquisite background scenery. Scroll down to see the video. It’s 14 minutes long, but well worth watching.

2. Writing for the Web. “What Hemingway Can Teach You About Web Writing” by Robert Bruce.

Editing

1. Edit, edit, edit. “Edit the Blasted Book” by Grace @mosaicmoments.blogspot.com

2. “Change Tense to Highlight Weak Verbs” by Tim Kane.

3.  Change -ly adverbs into active verbs. “Adverbly yours” by Julie Bird.

4. Use commas correctly. “The Comma from Which My Heart Hangs” by Benjamin Samuel.

Common Errors

1. Common errors and grammar Nazis. This 14-year-old blogger has something to say! By Amanda @quirkyblogger.

2. Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly . Visual by CopyBlogger and Blue Grass.

3. Common errors. Victoria Grefer’s pet grammar peeves.

Instruction in Grammar

1. Don’t do it like this.  “G is for Grammar Lesson” poem posted by Scott Thorbury. Use this poem in your English class.

2. Watch the prepositions. “Grammar Student Wrestles Bear” by Sharon Doyle.

happy-lol-cat-grammarThe Last Meow

Cats have their own grammar, too. Here’s an example: I haz…a happee.

Read about Official Cat Grammar Rules by Anil Dash. You, too, can be a copycat.

But, of course, Grumpy Cat (aka Tardar Sauce) has to have the last word. If it’s not his idea, he doesn’t like it.grumpy cat despises cat grammar speak

E is for Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Punctuation Matters

a-to-z-letters-2013cats FridayHI. I’m blogging through the alphabet in April 2013 with the A to Z Challenge. Join me for some fun with A to Z Grammar.

Usually on Fridays in school, teachers slow the pace down a bit and give their restless charges a break with some lighter activities. The change of pace helps students clear their over-stuffed minds.

Following this widely accepted educator practice, I will take a break from grammar principles. Instead, I will mention two humorous books related to grammar, usage, and writing conventions.

One book, published in Great Britian in 2003, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss, has now sold more than three million copies worldwide. Seems like there might be a bit of interest in punctuation. You think?

In the first few pages of her book, Lynne Truss refers to a joke that emphasizes the importance of the comma in writing.

A panda walked into a library, sat down, and ate his lunch. After he finished his sandwich, he fired off two arrows from his handy bow.

East, shoots and leaves

East, shoots and leaves

The surprised librarian asked, “Why?

The panda tossed her a badly punctuated book. “I’m a Panda, and this book says we do that.”

The librarian looked up panda in the manual and found that a panda is “a large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. It eats, shoots and leaves.”

With that, the panda walked out of the library.

A comma placed after the word shoots changes the entire meaning of the sentence. This joke captures the essence of the message that Truss wants to leave with us: be careful with punctuation. Bad punctuation changes the meaning of what you are trying to say.

Truss covers punctuation abuse (both in Great Britain and the United States) related to apostrophes, commas, colons, semicolons, dashes, and hyphens. She deplores, ridicules, and insults those who disregard the proper conventions for punctuating sentences and cause the general disintegration of the English language.  Being a self-admitted sticker, she encourages the sticklers of the world to unite to eradicate childish and barbaric abuses of punctuation. We should “fight like tigers to preserve our punctuation,” she proclaims.

Truss’s book has since been published in a children’s edition: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a EAts, shoots and leaves.for kidsDifference.  Take a look at these two examples.

Look at that huge hot dog!   (a giant hot dog in a bun)

Look at that huge, hot dog!   (a very big, thirsty dog)

The point of all this is that punctuation does matter, and Truss brings that to our attention in a humorous, but serious, manner. Keep in mind though that there are differences between British spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary. These differences don’t really matter as long as you are consistent with the style guidelines of your own country. Of course there is a bit of finger-pointing between the two countries about which one has it right. No matter. That one will probably never be solved.

The following humorous little video points out a few differences between British English and American English. Take a minute to watch, and I guarantee you will chuckle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6ekn8h6jzE

So What? Who Cares?

Many metaphors have been used to describe the importance of punctuation, but Lynn Truss prefers this simple definition of purpose:

Punctuation is a courtesy designed to help readers to understand story without stumbling.

Improper punctuation can create potentially embarrassing situations, so the polite, careful writer will pay attention to punctuation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6ekn8h6jzE

The Last Meowgrammar cat

Gotta love those know-it-all cats.

See you tomorrow. https://janiceheck.wordpress.com

D is for Direct Object or Happy Birthday?

a-to-z-letters-2013Today is D-Day in the A to Z Challenge.

I made a mental list of all the exciting, fun grammatical terms that I could write about on D-Day: direct objects, dangling modifiers, declarative sentences, dependent clauses, descriptive writing, diagramming sentences, dialogue…and many more. You know, all those things that thrill you when you read about them. It’s more than enough to keep me writing for hours.

But dang it, it’s my birthday, so let’s have some real fun. I’ve got some party kitties just hanging around impatiently waiting for some good times.

happy birthday kitty chorusOf course, Mr. Sassy Cat Smarty Pants is hanging around ready to make a smart aleck remark!

cat birthday imageAll right. I’ve got that out of my system now. And since you laughed at Mr. Sassy Cat, you get a grammar lesson on subject pronouns, object pronouns, and direct objects.

Easy. Just think of “I love you.”

I love you image

“I love you” is a perfect Subject-Verb-Object sentence using a subject pronoun ( I ) and an object pronoun ( you ).

Subject pronouns and object pronouns get mixed up all the time. Douglas Cazort, author Under the Grammar Hammer: The 25 Most Important Grammar Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, writes that using objective case pronouns as subjects is the GRAND NUMBER ONE of all mistakes, causing “a strong negative reaction in a great majority of readers.”

People generally do not have difficulty with singular subject and object pronouns. They are easy-peasey. Just look at this chart.  There may be some odd romantic triangles here, but there are no grammatical errors. People have more difficulty with two or more subject pronouns or object pronouns. The second chart should help with that.

You just have to remember that “I” is the subject pronoun and “me” is the object pronoun and never switch them.  If you keep the subject pronouns in the front of the sentence and the object pronouns in the back of the sentence, you should get your pronoun use correct.

001 (3)

The trouble comes when two people love the same two people. Romantically, that’s an argument a fistfight a brawl waiting to happen. And grammatically, it causes anguish. People overthink their pronouns, then make the wrong choice.

Again, if you keep the subject pronouns in the front of the sentence and the object pronouns in the back of the sentence, you should get your subject and object pronoun use correct.

Look at this chart of mixed-up romantic relationships. These people are bound for even more trouble romantically, but they get five stars for correct grammar.

001 (4)

So What? Who Cares?

Here are a few reasons for trying to get your subject pronouns and object pronouns correct.men's tee grammar

correcting your grammar Zazzle1. Turns out a lot of people care about grammar. Here’s one clue. You can buy buttons or T-shirts that proclaim that people evaluate your grammar. It happens all the time. So be careful. Get your pronouns right, and people will know that you got an A in English in the fourth grade.

2. If you know your subject/object pronouns you, too, can wear the green button or the orange T-shirt. You can also correct TV newscasters and commentators. You might think twice before correcting your mother-in-law.

The Last Meow

So the cats are tired of all this grammar stuff and want to get back to the birthday party. I hear that Grumpy Cat is eyeing my cake and licking his lips. Knowing him, he’ll dive into the cake before anyone else has a chance to have a piece. See you on E-Day.

grumpy cat and cake

C is for… Complements and Compliments: So What? Who Cares?

a-to-z-letters-201326 letters of the alphabet, 26 days, 26 posts (Sundays are freebee days. *clap* clap* clap.*)

My theme for 2013: Writing PLUS Grammar You Can See

A strong knowledge of grammar helps writers produce more effective writing; more effective writing improves communication.

Each post will feature one aspect of writing with a grammar connection. Most posts will include a “So What? Who Cares?” section and a “Goals/Suggestions” section.  The goals won’t be to just write more; anyone can do that. The goal will be to write better.

Along the way, I plan to throw in a cat or two. Sorry, they just have a way of sneaking into my blogs.

C is for Complements and Compliments:  So What? Who Cares?

Complements and compliments often get mixed up in writing; in fact, these two words are on many common error in writing lists. This is a usage problem, not a grammar problem. Personally, I prefer compliments, but complements can be very effective in writing when used wisely.

Usage: complement and compliment

Usage is the customary way we use words in Standard Written English. Unfortunately, we sometimes switch words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. Complement and compliment are two of these commonly confused words. The chart below summarizes definitions, examples, and memory tricks to help avoid this mix-up.

001

Grammar: Complement

Everyone loves compliments, but the word compliment is not a grammatical term, so we can drop that word from our discussion.  Complement, on the other hand, is a much more functional term. It is a grammatical term, and it has the power to improve your writing skills.

A complement is a word or group of words that, with the verb, complete the structure and meaning in the predicate of a sentence. (Webster’s) Complements take two forms: predicate nouns and predicate adjectives. Both give more information about the subject of the sentence. Both fall in a common sentence pattern:  S  +   LV   +   C.

001 (2)

Just as little children learn language patterns through listening and speaking without ever learning the grammatical terminology, we have learned about subject complements without having to memorize the terms.

So What? Who Cares?

You already know about complements intuitively from using our language for so many years, so why bother to review this?  Why? Because complements affect style in writing, and style sets you apart from other writers.

 Style

Everyone learns about basic sentence structure in the elementary grades. Even with snow days, field trips, bomb scares, and tie-dying days thrown in to interrupt the teaching schedules, everyone seems to learn about the basic sentence types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Students and writers use these types of sentences in their writing without even thinking about the terms. Yet those writers who do know these terms and how they function learn to manipulate their sentence structure and vocabulary to have a stronger impact on their readers. Here is how you can do this, too.

1.       Count your izzes and wazzes, then exchange these weak verbs for stronger ones.

Complements require the use of linking verbs, thus these verbs become very repetitive. Because they are so overused, they are weak. Count how many times you use linking verbs in your sentences, and you will discover an opportunity to sharpen your writing.

Bliss in blizzardMr. Terry is a hiker.

Mr. Terry hikes on the Appalachian Trail even when a blizzard swirls around him.

2.        Choose more specific adjectives. Add specific detail.

“Show, don’t tell” is a common piece of advice for writers. When we replace weak adjectives with stronger verbs and add more specific detail, we strengthen our writing.

Mr. Terry is tired. He is stumbling through the deep snow.

Mr. Terry trudges through the deep snow of the Appalachian Trail, moving only a few yards before he has to rest on his walking poles.

3.         Introduce word pairs and trios in place of vague adjectives and try them in different places.

Mr. Terry is tired.

Mr. Terry is stumbling through the snow, breathing heavily, and mumbling to himself. He is panicking because the storm has intensified, and he cannot see the next trail marker.

Stumbling through the snow, breathing heavily, and mumbling to himself, Mr. Terry panics when he can’t locate the next trail marker.

4.       Use comparisons: similes and metaphors.

Initially students write common comparisons, but we can encourage them to use original comparisons.

Mr. Terry is as tired as an old man after working all day.

Mr. Terry feels as tired as a hiker on Mount Everest without a Sherpa to carry his overstuffed backpack.

Feeling as tired as a hiker on Mount Everest without a Sherpa to carry his overstuffed backpack, Mr. Terry falls into a deep sleep in a mountain shelter near the trail.

Half the fun of writing is manipulating words and sentences to make them more interesting. Have fun with complements. I’m sure you’ll do a good job. That’s a compliment!

The Last Meow

And My Cat...in the snowHere’s a little kitty that loves the snow.

Writers and cats go together like chocolate and peanuts. Here’s a link to a post I wrote last year entitled, Cat-A-Log of Cat Crimes against Writers. You might enjoy reading about these crime perpetuators. https://janiceheck.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/a-to-z-c-is-for-cat-a-log-of-cat-crimes-against-writers/

Alison at alisonamazed likes kitties, too. Her post has a neat video of a cat leading a dog on a leash back to their home.

http://alisonamazed.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/a-z-gratitude-c-is-for-cats/

B is for Blogging Bliss, Boohoos, and Booyahs

a-to-z-letters-2013April 2013 A to Z Challenge: 26 days. 26 posts. (Sundays are freebee days. *clap* clap* clap.*)

I joined the A to Z Challenge last year and despite some nail biting and hair pulling, I finished. Booyah.

Would I do that again? Hmmm.

But here it is again, the 2013 A to Z Challenge with 1969 participants lined up at the starting line. How many of us will make it to the end?  Well, one day at a time. Let’s just see how it goes. How far will we get before life interferes and brings us back to reality? In the meantime, let’s have some fun.

My theme for this year is . . .

Writing PLUS Grammar You Can See.

Through the month of April, I plan to give examples of how a strong knowledge of grammar can help writers produce more effective writing. More effective writing improves communication.

Along the way, I plan to throw in a cat or two. Sorry, they just have a way of sneaking into my blogs.

B is for Blogging Bliss, Booboos, and Booyahs

Blogging is a good way to develop your writing skill. Take a letter of the alphabet and write a brief commentary on it, add a picture, and post. Easy. Right?

Last year I published 67 posts before I caved in and took a hiatus. I went through the whole blogging learning curve, from dimwit to getting it. I managed to finish the A to Z, then added an equal number of posts on random topics of food, travel, weather, health, grammar, cats, and assorted other you-name-it topics.

Then along came a cold and nasty winter along with brain freeze, travel-to-warmer-climes wishes, and drat-it-all, family health issues.  Blogging fell by the wayside, until *tadah* the announcement of the 2013 A to Z Challenge. Memories of blogging past seemed blissful. Yes, I can do that. I did it once. I can do it again. I remembered the double-punch-in-the-air booyahs I gave myself when I published blog post number 26 in 2012. What could be more fun?

Boohoos

Theoretically, it should have been easy. I pulled up my dormant WordPress blog, raring to go. But yikes.  It looked different.  It was uncooperative and frustrating. Sometime during my absence, WordPress came in and changed a few things.

I couldn’t find my old media. I couldn’t pull up all my photo folders from my computer to select media (only some of them came up). I couldn’t remember how to add widgets.

Draft after draft disappeared. I typed and saved and typed and saved only to see my best wording and glamorous writing get swallowed up by who knows what? Whatever. Not once. Multiple times.

One post. Four hours and nothing final to show for it. Paranoia set in. I started saving drafts every two minutes, but I still lost my most recent draft.

Now I see. Part of this process is learning humility. Developing patience. Building character. I had to start back at the bottom of the learning curve again, back where it says, “Dimwit.”  Boohoo.

Okay, enough of that. Thankfully, I have already found some helpful advice from other AtoZers. Thanks, guys.

Booyahs

Along the way back up the learning curve, I outsmarted WordPress and printed off a hard copy of my post, well, several hard copies. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

I also knew WordPress must be saving these drafts somewhere, but where? After a little exploration, I found “Screen Options” and under that “revisions,” and there I found draft after draft of my post all neatly numbered and dated.

Booyah.

Now to solve the widget puzzle.

In the meantime, booyah! B is done.

So What? Who Cares?

When out to dinner with friends a month or so ago, the topic of blogging came up. “Who reads your blog?” someone asked.  The obvious answer, “my husband;  my sister-in-law, Carol; and my blogger friends.”

Without readers, our blogs would have little purpose. We are all in this A to Z Challenge together. Reading each other’s blogs and making comments motivates us to keep going.

Blogger responses to my A blog mentioned a few grammar pet peeves: apostrophe abuse, contractions abuse, and plurals abuse. I’ll write about these in future posts. Thanks family, followers, and friends for your comments.

The Last Meow

Paw Nation...BAd CtsSince this is B day, here’s a little cat humor for you. What do cats read on B day?

A is for Adjectives, Anteaters, Armadillos, and Aardvarks

a-to-z-letters-2013

Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge where bloggers write a series of 26 posts during the month of April.
This year our faithful organizers encouraged hope-filled A-Z participants to develop a theme for posts rather than posting on random topics as many of us did last year.
My theme for this year is . . .

Writing PLUS Grammar You Can See.

Through the month of April, I plan to give examples of how a strong knowledge of grammar can help writers produce more effective writing. More effective writing improves communication.

Along the way, I plan to throw in a cat or two. Sorry, they just have a way of sneaking into my blogs.
And now with a *blast of the trumpet* and a *roll on the snare drum*, we begin with . . .

A is for Adjectives, Anteaters, Armadillos, and Aardvarks

Pigs Little Three
Bad Wolf Big
Little Hood Riding Red

Did you grimace when you read these familiar characters?
Take a common phrase and mix up the adjectives, and it sounds like an off-key prima donna singing an aria at the Met. Our ears tell us something just isn’t right.

Parents read nursery rhymes and classic stories to their wee ones over and over and over and over, a trillion times in parent-count, to calm them at bed-time. At the same time, they unwittingly teach their little sponges unspoken rules for how our language works. Diaper-wearing toddlers learn the order of adjectives as they babble away practicing their early communication skills.

three pigs LGBMom reads The Three Little Pigs.
Rule: Adjectives come before nouns. (They can also be in two other places, but that’s for another post.)
Rule: Number adjectives come before size adjectives

Pattern: Adjective, adjective, adjective noun.

Dad reads Little Red Riding Hood.
Rule: size comes before color.

little-red-riding-hood-ladybird-book-first-favourite-tales-gloss-hardback-1999-1553-pChildren learn these rules seemingly by osmosis so teachers never have to teach about correct order of adjectives in school. Adjective order flows naturally in their speaking patterns without ever having to learn the official linguistic rules.

Order of adjectives is generally only a problem for non-native English speakers whose own language may have a different word order.

And yes, there is a prescribed order for adjectives. If you think about it for a bit, you can probably come up with the rules. But I’ll save you some time and give the order to you here:

1. determiners: a, an, the this, that, these, those his, hers, ours, yours several, ten, some
2. judgment (opinion, observation): beautiful, delicious, obnoxious, immature
3. physical description (fact: size, shape, age, color): small, round, ancient, golden
4. origin: Greek, Italian, Chinese, Mexican
5. composition: cotton, silk, metal, wooden
6. other specific qualifier related to the function or purpose noun . . .men’s clothing, children’s shoes
and finally, ta dah, *drum roll*, the NOUN.

Teacher-pleasing elementary students love to write lengthy sentences loaded with adjectives. Let them have their fun.

Giant, bushy-tailed anteaters with long, sticky tongues and elongated snouts vacuum up their mid-day snack of crunchy, tasty, black ants.
giant anteater
Toothless, armor-plated, Texan and South American armadillos roam around in the pitch-black, moon-less nights but roll up into balls when threatened by ravenous predators.
armadillow
That chunky African aardvark with the round, stubby, pig-like snout, catches ants with its long, inelegant sticky tongue.
aardvark

Bierce cover largeFor additional thoughts on order of adjectives, read all about “Frozen Yogurt with Adjectives on Top” by Jan Freeman, author of Ambrose Bierce’s Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynic’s Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers. http://throwgrammarfromthetrain.blogspot.com/2012/08/frozen-yogurt-with-adjectives-on-top.html

So what? Who cares? Why do writers have to think about order of adjectives?
Writing instructors say, “Show, don’t tell,” encouraging writers to give more detail in their writing, but writers need to use adjectives more selectively than those eager-beaver elementary students.

Zinsser, On Writing WellWilliam Zinsser, author of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, says this about adjectives:

Most writers sow adjectives almost unconsciously into the soil of their prose to make it more lush and pretty, and the sentences become longer and longer as they fill up wih stately elms and frisky kittens and hard-bitten detectives and sleepy lagoons. This is adjective-by-habit — a habit you should get rid of.

Goals for Using Adjectives in Writing
1. Use adjectives selectively. Piles of adjectives bore your readers. They skip over them to get to the action in your story or to the gist of your article. Don’t be like those adjective-abusing, but fun-loving elementary students.  Use fresh, original, surprising adjectives in your writing.
2. Get rid of common adjectives (nice, pretty, lovely, romantic, exciting). They have no place in your writing because they show nothing. Instead practice writing original similes and metaphors. Look for posts on S and M, oops, I mean similes and metaphors in the future. In the meantime, Catherine Johnson posts metaphors and metaphor-generating pictures on “Metaphor Mondays.” Look there for fresh ideas.

The Last Meow

And now a word from Grumpy Cat. Too bad the meme writer didn’t go to school on the day the teacher taught about apostrophesGumpry Cay-meme-wrong apostrophes and contractions. Oh well, there’s  always room for another blog post on the proper use of these elementary, confounding constructions.

Oh great. Now the Three Little Kittens are fussing because I haven’t given them any airtime. Sometimes you just can’t win.

April 2013 A to Z Challenge

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April 2013        A to Z Challenge

26 letters of the alphabet, 26 days, 26 posts

Arlee Post started A to Z in 2010 with an initial 100 intrepid bloggers. A to Z has now grown to over 1700 bloggers with just six hours to go on the countdown clock.

This year our faithful challenge organizers have encouraged participants to develop a theme for posts rather than write on random topics as many of us did last year.

My theme for 2013: Writing PLUS Grammar You Can See

A strong knowledge of grammar helps writers produce more effective writing; more effective writing improves communication.

Each post will feature one aspect of writing with a grammar connection. Most posts will include a “So What? Who Cares?” section and a “Goals for ___________” section.  The goals won’t be to just write more; anyone can do that. The goal will be to write better . . . and that includes me. Perhaps you, the reader, will help with some tips and comments for me. I would love that.

Of course, the danger in doing a blog on writing and grammar is that the grammar police, the trolls, and the technicality specialists will be on the lookout for my mistakes, both minute and egregious. Writers who write about writing have to look both ways before crossing the street otherwise trolls driving semis will smash them off the road.

My first few posts are ready. We’ll start with some easy stuff and go on from there.

April 1     A is for Adjectives, Anteaters, Armadillos, and Aardvarks

April 2     B is for Blogging Bliss,  Boohahs, and Booyahs

April 3     C is for Complement and Compliment Complexities

Writing can be fun, and grammar can be fun, too. Elizabeth Fais of writersinthestorm reminds us that “Making something fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior.”  Maybe we can have a little grammar fun as we take this ride on the A to Z.

Why not follow along? Perhaps we’ll come across a few of your pet peeves related to grammar.

You do have some pet peeves, don’t you? Let me know what they are. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Common Errors or Effective Writing?

Sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences have gotten bad raps having been labeled as (heaven forbid)

common errors in writing.

But these two style elements should have a place in every writer’s paintbox.

Developing writers rely on basic sentence patterns in their writing because they haven’t yet developed the ability to write more complex sentences, nor have they learned common revision techniques such as sentence combining. Unintentionally, they use sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences in their stories, reports, and essays.

The result? Boring, ho-hum, unsophisticated, first draft writing.

Yet effective writers deliberately use sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences to make their writing stronger. What’s the difference? Check these examples from Sandra Cisneros and Shammai Golan.

Sandra Cisneros (1954-         )

Although born in poverty in Chicago, Sandra Cisneros, celebrated Mexican-American writer, did not remain there. Encouraged by her mother, a voracious reader, and mentored by teachers, Cisneros rose above the impoverished conditions that hold so many back. She graduated from Josephim Academy and Loyola University in Chicago, and then earned a master’s degree at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop program.

But college life was not easy for Cisneros. As a Chicano in primarily white college classes, she rebelled against the traditional reading assignments that just did not relate to her early life experiences as a Mexican-American. Out of frustration and anger, she chose to write about what others could not—her life growing up in a poor, urban, predominantly Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood in Chicago—a place significantly different from those she read about in her college literature classes.

The result? Cisneros developed a highly distinctive voice that reflected her Mexican-American heritage, the voice of a poor, female child of Mexican parents growing up in big-city America. Speaking through Esperanza, Cisneros writes,

Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carol’s hair is thick and straight. He doesn’t need to comb it. Nenny’s hair is slippery—slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur.
—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, “Hairs”

Here’s another piece from “A House of My Own.”

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.
—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, “A House of My Own”

Cisnero’s writing captivates. It is conversational, warm, and comfortable, as if she speaks directly to you. Her fragments and short, choppy sentences slide out in a steady, smooth stream, but they fit her intended purpose—to reflect the natural conversational tone of her childhood. Just kids sitting on the front stoop, swinging their bare-feet, and talking about life and hope. Subject these pieces to an academic sentence-combining activity and the charm, rhythm, and honesty disappear. Her writing is not unsophisticated. It is a social commentary, rich in description about the truth of life in poverty. She uses sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences effectively for her own writing purposes.

Shammai Golan (1933-           )

Israeli writer Shammai Golan uses sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences with an entirely different effect.

Golan moved to Palestine (pre-Israel) as an orphan at the age of fourteen (1947), leaving Poland and the difficult years of World War II behind. In 1951, he joined the Israeli Army in the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict, the background for this disturbing and powerful account of an Israeli’s soldier’s agonizing death.

In this brief quote, Golan conveys fear, shock, disbelief, and horror using fragments and choppy sentences to describe the last thoughts and minutes of a soldier’s life.

The Uzi’s a good weapon. Effective. For defense. For attack. In face-to-face-fighting. But today’s Friday. And there’s peace at the borders. And I’m only on watch over their road. They fired. Suddenly. Why’d they fire, suddenly? In war one fires. People get wounded. Killed. In the War of Independence. . . .
I’m breathing. With difficulty though. That’s because of the blood. I’m all wet. Maybe it suddenly rained. Sometimes it rains in September. Even before Yom Kippur. And I’m already damp. And flowing. All is flowing. And all is vanity. And you can never enter the same river twice. The Philosopher teacher. A great sage. . . .
And the leaves fall over my body. Soft. Purple. Like the water under my belly. Soft. Warm. How long can one flow like this. An hour. Two. Three. . . .
—Shammai Golan, “Ten Centimeters of Dust” in Laurel Holliday, Children of Israel, Children of Palestine: Our Own True

Golan communicates the gravity of this tragic situation as the soldier moves in and out of consciousness, hallucinating, remembering, regretting, wondering. Truncated sentences and stream of consciousness thinking create a stunning emotional impact on the reader. This must be what happens when someone thinks he is dying.

Bad Guys Turn Good

So, yes, there are rules for writing, but good writers often ignore these rules in order to develop their own style. Short, choppy sentences and sentence fragments can be effective in writing for specific purposes. Consider your purpose in writing when you use them.

Narrative writing with dialog seems especially suited for these two stylistic devices. People do not normally speak in full sentences in conversation. Instead they use body language, clipped sentences, repetition, and reliance on commonly known information to carry their meaning. They speak in fragments and in short, choppy sentences.

Academic writing, on the other hand, is not the place to overuse these structures. Teachers and professors prefer the more complex sentence structures that demonstrate higher levels of thinking and organization.

Sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences are not such bad guys after all.  But use them wisely, as part of an overall strategy to vary your sentence structure. Tell your teacher or editor I told you so.

YOUR TURN:
When have you used short, choppy sentences or fragments as stylistic strategies in your writing?
What authors have you read that use these two stylistic strategies effectively?

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