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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wishing to Be Elsewhere

I’m not. I don't. That isn’t the point. It's something a Belgian friend said to me years ago.

She used to give dinner parties at which the guests -- who might be from France or Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, or any of the French-speaking African countries -- all spoke French. An American with only high school French but some experience living in Paris, I found it a rich opportunity, because besides the language of the conversation, there were the subjects, which always included much cross-cultural explanation and discussion, but also, for all of us, it was an escape from the surrounding prairie, flat land that stretched uninterrupted to the horizon in all directions, planted almost exclusively in corn.

At the end of one such evening, my hostess sighed happily and exclaimed, intending no humor or irony, “Champaign-Urbana is such a wonderful place! There are so many interesting people here who wish that they were elsewhere!”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Always Pithy Mr. White --

“The names of great centuries and epochs in human history are always given to them by their remote descendants. Few men realized while they lived it that the age of Augustus was the high point in a thousand years of history. When XX Legio Valeria Victrix left Britain in A.D. 403, none of its men realized that the golden eagles of Rome would never return to the island, or that they were part of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Certainly no Renaissance man knew he was living in a century that other men would call the “rebirth,” just as his great-great-great-grandfather had no knowledge that he was part of the Middle Ages. Thus we do not know what to call our time, what label to give the remarkable and extraordinary events that we not only witness but live.” – Theodore H. White, FIRE IN THE ASHES: EUROPE IN MID-CENTURY (1953)

“A whisper of suspicion from on high, a gout of irritation . . . exaggerated and repeated by thousands of skilful and ambitious men until it reaches an echo that drums, deafens and freezes the thinking of the very men who started it.” – Ibid.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Again, Is This Just Me?

When you hear the phrase "to think outside the box," doesn't it sound to you as if the speaker is still inside the box? I mean, it's hardly an innovative phrase, is it?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Possessive Pronouns Do Not Contain Apostrophes

A noun, proper or common, when turned possessive requires an apostrophe. The book belonging to Mary becomes "Mary's book," and the cover of the book is referred to more succinctly as "the book's cover." This is the source of the confusion.

But possessive pronouns work differently. We might say (colloquially, allowing ourselves to end our sentence with a preposition) that possession is already what such pronouns are all about. The word my, for example, does not by itself indicate anyone (such as Mary) or anything (such as a book) but always accompanies a noun and is understood to refer to that noun. Thus no apostrophe is needed.

Here are some examples:

My book

Our hope

Your phone

His laptop

Her notebook

Its appearance

Their agenda

If we make the nouns plural, those plural forms do not contain apostrophes, either: books, hopes, phones, laptops, notebooks, appearances, agendas.

Subject-verb contractions are a different kettle of fish. When we contract (pull in together and make smaller) the following subjects and verbs, the results require -- guess what! -- apostrophes!

I + am = I'm
You + are = You're
It + is = It's


You're [You are] going to bring your agenda [the agenda belonging to you or made up by you] to the meeting.

It's [It is] going to run long if we don't respect its [the meeting's] time limit.