updated 2014 December 3

Crusty old Joe's

Commonly Misused English



Fun With English and other stuff

Essay ] [ Foreign translations in technical manuals ] [ Rules for Writeres] [ 8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas - 1895]

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Mark Twain

Commonly Misused English

WRONG: "I wish I was rich."
RIGHT: "I wish I were rich."

Remember the famous song from Fiddler on the Roof? Why did Tevye use were and not was when he sang "If I were a rich man"? Because he was expressing a desire he knew was unlikely ever to be fulfilled, and that requires the subjunctive mood. In the subjunctive, the verb "to be" is always expressed as were -- even if the subject is singular.

When should you use the subjunctive? Anytime you're saying something that is highly unlikely or contrary to fact. A good test is to add a "but" statement to the sentence: "If I were you (but I'm not), I'd lose weight"; "If it were up to me (but it's not), everyone would get a raise."

When you use as if, as though, if and wish to express something contrary to fact, remember the song and use were, not was.

WRONG: NUKE-you-lur
RIGHT: NUKE-lee-ur
It's amazing how many otherwise articulate people (including members of our Defense and Energy departments) mispronounce the word nuclear. This error is all the more confounding since the word is pronounced exactly the way it's spelled. Unfortunately "NUKE-lee-ur" demands more gymnastic skill of the tongue than we think. We can't all be nuclear physicists, but at least we can say the word as if we know what we're talking about.

Just say it the way it's spelled: NU-cle-ar.

WRONG: "Myself and the wife ..."
RIGHT: "My wife and I ..."
It is NEVER proper to use myself as the subject of a sentence. The pronoun myself is used primarily in two ways: first, as an intensive pronoun, it emphasizes or "intensives" the meaning of "I" in a statement such as "I myself have been known to commit a grammatical error or two."

The other is as a reflexive pronoun: in the statement "I hurt myself", myself allows the action of the verb (hurt) to "reflect" back upon the subject (I).

Don't use myself, yourself, himself or herself as the subject of a sentence.

Someone once said don't talk about "me, me, me". They were not suggesting that the word "me" is not to be used, rather they were suggesting that one should not always speak of oneself. In other words, don't toot your own horn all the time. Unfortunately, many people misinterpret this to mean do not use the work "me". They then substitute the work "myself" incorrectly. This only demonstrates that they do not know proper useage. This is more common in the USA, as you will generally hear correct useage when listening to the BBC

WRONG: "I feel badly."
RIGHT: "I feel bad."
"I hear so many TV personalities and others who should know better saying they 'feel badly' when they are describing their condition or emotion. Verbs of the senses (feel, look, smell, sound, taste), when used to express a condition rather than an action, are called connecting or linking verbs. Like "to be", they connect a subject to its modifier, so the modifier must be an adjective: "I feel bad", "He sounds terrible", "It smells sweet".

When using a sense verb, substitute am, are or is, and you'll immediately see whether -ly is called for afterward.

WRONG: Acommodate, Accomodate
RIGHT: Accommodate
This is one of the most commonly misspelled words around. The key is remembering that the word requires two C's and two M's. With the help of a mnemonic--a quick and easy formula you can remember -- you'll always be able to accommodate your colleagues with the correct spelling.

The room was big enough to accommodate two couples -- both the C's and the M's.

WRONG: "I volunteer to take less baths."
RIGHT: "I volunteer to take fewer baths."
To conserve water you can use less water, but you must offer to take fewer baths.

Fewer refers to individual items that can be counted and almost always describes plural nouns: "Fewer cakes were sold at this year's bake sale." Less refers to amount or bulk and is used with a singular noun: "To lose weight, I need to eat less cake."

There is only one exception. The phrase less than can refer to blocks of time or amounts of money: "Less than ten years remain until the end of the millennium"; "Less than $50 was collected at the bake sale."

Less fat; fewer calories.

WRONG: "Your reading this."
RIGHT: "You're reading this."
Your is an adjective referring to you or yourself.
You're is a contraction of "you are".

WRONG: "If you can see from here to there, you have a line of site."
RIGHT: "If you can see from here to there, you have a line of sight."
site is a noun referring to a place.
sight is a view or something you can see.
cite is to quote something or someone.

To cite the report, he said there is a line of sight from here to the site.

WRONG: "Til Death do us part."
RIGHT: "Til death us do part."
In the 1549 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, it was "till death us departe", where "departe" meant "separate", and was in the customary subjunctive (hence not "departeth"). Subsequently (i.e. in the 1662 revision), somebody must have missed the original point[e]. [via Michael Rathbun, 2006.]

WRONG: "Greatful"
RIGHT: "Grateful"
It is great to acknowledge a favor done. You are being grateful to person who did the favor. Greatful is not a word.

Fun With English

The most excellent (and only) glossary of the Stammtisch Beau Fleuve with Eponyms. (Caution: This site could sidetrack you for hours!)

Let's face it -- English is a crazy language!
There's no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

English muffins weren't invented in England nor french fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?

How you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love?

Have you ever run into someone who was dis-combobulated, grunted, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all).

That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it!

Didn't George Bernard Shaw pronounce GHOTI as fish?
The GH as F as in enough.
The I as the O in women
and the TI as SH as in fruition.

"It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word." - Andrew Jackson

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

"Why?" asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"Well, I'm a panda," he says. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

Buy the book

Foreign Language Translations in Technical Manuals
Mapmedia documentation:
To insert your permits in MaxSea, to open the attached file herewith. By double click or straight click on the joined piece. MaxSea must have been installed to the previous one.

From the manual for JRC M92 radar:
"Since the circuits of this radar is very complicated, if something trouble happens, take a contact with a serviceman and ask the repairment of directions of the trouble measure.

From the instruction sheet for an AMP connector crimping tool:
Rocking lance of the extracted contact would be deformed. AMP recommends to use new contact. If you use extracted contact again, reform the deformation of the rocking lance as new contact by using small screw driver before re-insert. If the contact damaged during extraction or reformation, Do not use the extracted contact again.
Keep the tool not to damaged after use.

From the Voice Processing System integration manual for a Panasonic model KX-T123211D telephone system:
-- When you set Call Forwarding, an extension number of extension with which the VPS is connected should be set as an extension number of extension to which call is forwarded. Voice Mail Port should be set to the extensions which are connected to VPS.

Rules for Writeres

  1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)
  6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
  7. Be more or less specific.
  8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually)
  9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies. 
10. No sentence fragments. 
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used. 
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos. 
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's 
      highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize. 
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words
      however should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
23. Kill all exclamation points!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how alot of others use them.

25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth
      shaking ideas.
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not
27. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate
      quotations.  Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist
      hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
32. Who needs rhetorical questions?
33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

And finally...

34. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.


From: "Ben Smith"   ben.smith (at) design.otago.ac.nz
Subject: Isnīt this an example of assonance as opposed to 
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 22:37:16 +0100

  "6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration."

Iīve always thought that alliteration was a consonant-only thing. 

Hereīs a quote plucked from the net. Definitely not conclusive 
as the source wasnīt stated, but interesting all the same: 

  "Assonance is the sequential repetition of vowel sounds, 
  particularly in stressed syllables, as in the line 
  "Full fathom five thy father lies," in which "fathom" 
  and "father" and "five" and "lies" have paralleled vowel 

The syllables in question are definitely stressed, and 
they fit well into two groups. The first two words share 
the same vowel sound, as do the last three.

I donīt have any books on me that might be good for 
checking this, since Iīm in Norway and donīt speak Norwegian, 
but Iīd be interested if you could come back to me with some 
more information.

Nice page, I love that sort of thing.


alliteration: the repetition of usu. initial consonant sounds
in two or more neighboring words or sylables (as wild and wooly, 
threatening throngs) -- called also head rhyme, initial rhyme.

1: resemblance of sound in words or syllables  
2a: relatively close juxtaposition of similar sounds esp. of vowels  
2b: repetition of vowels without repetition of consonants 
(as stony and holy) used as an alternative to rhyme in verse.

So it seems you are correct.  Interestingly the on-line version 
of Webster's on my web page didn't know either word...
I'm not sure if the error was intentional or accidental since 
in this piece, which I did not author, it is hard to tell where 
the humor leaves off and the serious stuff begins.  


From: "Ian Dron"  IanDron (at) tesco.net
Subject: Look at rule 26!
Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2001 00:01:14 +0100

Dear Joe
I enjoyed your site Joe, but on page-
I quote -
--Like "to be", they connect a subject to it's modifier--
Having said that, keep up the good work.
Best Wishes
Ian Dron

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) There is no time like the present to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the face of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell into the sewer.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Why don't these words rhyme?
The only difference is the first letter.

beard heard
bowl fowl
cave have
come home
food wood
gone done
wand hand
watch match
weight height

Words that ought to be

skivvy-dipping       looking for re-usable underwear in the hamper
whomnesia       can't remember whosis's name

Many words that we preceive to be Americanisms are in fact British. The spellings 'color' and 'honor' were widely used in Britian in Victorian times, the word 'railroad' was just as popular here as 'railway' initially and the expression 'subway' for an underground railway came from the original name of the City & Southwark Subway. The company thought it might not get parliamentary assent if they called it anything as radical as a railway so they used the term 'subway' instead. The USA picked up the news stories and adopted the term 'subway', whereas we abandonded it and called them tube railways instead! [written by a Brit.]

A Two-Letter English Word
Lovers of the English language might enjoy this. It is yet another example of why people learning English have trouble with the language. Learning the nuances of English makes it a difficult language. (But then, that's probably true of many languages.)

There is a two-letter word in English that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is 'UP.' It is listed in the dictionary as being used as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP ? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends and we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver,

We warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has a real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets,

We work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this up is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP !

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.

It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP .

When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on & on, but I'll wrap it UP , for now .......my time is UP ,

Don't screw UP. Send this on to everyone you look UP in your address book.

Now I'll shut UP !

"Lexophile" is a word used to describe those that have a love for words, such as "you can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish", or "to write with a broken pencil is pointless."

A competition to see who can come up with the best lexophiles is held every year in an undisclosed location. This year's winning submission is posted at the very end.

.. When fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate.
.. A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.
.. When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.
.. The batteries were given out free of charge.
.. A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.
.. A will is a dead giveaway.
.. With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
.. A boiled egg is hard to beat.
.. When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.
.. Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
.. Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He's all right now.
.. A bicycle can't stand alone; it's just two tired.
.. When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
.. The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.
.. He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
.. When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she'd dye.
.. Acupuncture is a jab well done. That's the point of it.
And the cream of the twisted crop:
.. Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?

Translations just for fun

World Wide Words investigating international English from a British standpoint
The Word Detective Words and Language in a Humorous Vein Since 1995
American vs. English: British words with definitions for Americans.
British vs. American English
Australian slang
Scottish slang
Irish slang
Latin Sayings
Latin Sayings
Useful Latin quotes
Fun with words, some Latin

More Words, definitions and lots more fun.