Tag Archive | February Phraseology Fix

Delusion of Grandeur: February Phraseology Fix

What comes to mind when you hear or see the word “manor”? You might envision a lovely, stately home in rural England. Perhaps you imagine women with curly up-dos gliding around a parlor or ballroom in empire-waist dresses, pretending to ignore the well-dressed, sophisticated men around them. Whatever you picture, you probably think of something that seems proper. Just thinking about the word “manor” so much makes me want to whip out the good china and drink tea from a dainty cup, keeping my pinky finger elegantly elevated!


Now, let’s consider the word “manner.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this word: it’s a nice, solid word! However, it likely does not induce lofty thoughts in your mind. Broadly speaking, a manner is a way or type. It’s pretty simple.

I have a feeling that this perceptual difference between the lofty “manor” and the plain “manner” underlies a mistake I’m noticing more and more these days: using “manor” in place of “manner.”

To be honest, this is a very easy error to fix. All that’s needed is an awareness that a manor is a place (or a figurative representation of such a place), and a manner is a way or type. Referring to a manner as a manor doesn’t make a sentence sound or look better: it just introduces unnecessary confusion.

So, let us all pledge to eschew grandiosity gone wrong: manor is manor and manner is manner, and never the twain shall meet. (Except, of course, in the case of the expression “to the manor born,” which arose as an intentional corruption of “to the manner born”—but we can explore that another day!)


Labeling Graduates: February Phraseology Fix

I dedicate today’s post to my excellent Latin teacher and one of my favorite characters, Fr. Art Humphrey, who would never hesitate to correct anyone’s Latin/English usage in a lighthearted and friendly manner. The first thing Fr. Art taught our class, during our first class on the first day that we were in high school, was “Noli me tangere, porce” (Don’t touch me, pig). He told us to say this to any man who ever tried to come near us. I’m sure that many of my fellow alumnae of Lacordaire Academy have said this on many occasions. Who said that learning Latin is useless?

I’m always a little bit puzzled when someone refers to me as an alumnus, alumni, or alumnae. I think it should be pretty apparent that I’m a woman, as well as that I’m just one person.

Today, I’ll provide you with a quick guide to the elusive correct use of alumni/alumni/alumna/alumnus. In the spirit of Fr. Art, this guide will take the form of a discussion of noun declension.

In Latin (as in many languages other than English), nouns are assigned a gender. Adjectives that modify the noun agree with the noun in gender. Genders in Latin are masculine, feminine, and neuter. As in English, nouns in Latin are declined to indicate number (singular or plural).

The word “alumn-” in Latin can be declined according to the person or people to whom it refers.

One female graduate is an alumna.

Two or more female graduates are alumnae.

One male graduate is an alumnus.

Two or more male graduates, or any group two or more graduates in which at least one is male, are alumni.

See? It’s easy!

When graduation time rolls around in a few months, your correct use of the words alumna, alumnae, alumnus, and alumni will make everyone think you’re a Latin scholar!

The day I became an alumna of Drew University

The day I became an alumna of Drew University

I Just Can’t Relate: February Phraseology Fix

One of the sentences I dread most when reading my students’ papers:  “This character is very relatable.”  Can anyone tell me what this actually means?

In order to solve this conundrum, I have turned to the trusty Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The word “relatable,” an adjective, has several meanings.

The oldest meaning, first noted in 1621, is “able to be told or narrated; suitable for relating.” This meaning pertains to storytelling.

The second meaning, first noted in 1868, is “able to be brought into relation with something else; capable of being related or connected (to something).” This usage pertains to relationships, but it requires some specificity. Specifically, it mandates that the relationship be spelled out.

The newest meaning, first noted in 1965, is “that can be related to; with which one can identify or empathize.” In the examples the OED provides, the earlier examples show specific definitions of how and why the elements are relatable—the first even places the word “relatable” in quotes! The 1965 example reads: “The research indicated that boys saw teachers as more directive, while girls saw them as more ‘relatable.’” The 1981 example from the Washington Post includes a definition, in context: “It’s relatable humor, the kind that takes place in every home.” By the time we arrive at in 2007, the year of the final example, which hails from the New York Times Magazine, we see a looser usage: “This is what’s going on in sex and in college right now, and these are real people, and you’re more relatable if you’re a real person. And when I read this 2007 sentence, I’m left wondering: “relatable TO WHAT”? Luckily for me, the New York Times Magazine sentence provides me with some context clues. I can reasonably infer that the “relatable” person understands what’s going on in the real world.

However, in everyday conversations (in class and in the “real world”) and often in writing, I hear and see references to a person or thing being “relatable,” and I am absolutely unable to determine to what the entity is said to be relatable, or why. It seems to me that we’ve become very sloppy in our usage of the third, newest, and most elusive meaning of “relatable.”

So, my advice about this neologism is to use it with tremendous care. Clarity in communication is paramount: in fact, clarity of expression is the main point of communication! So, if your reason for seeing a relationship between two things is not clear, don’t just bandy about the term “relatable”—please! Think the relationship through. If the context of your use of “relatable” will help to enlighten your reader as to your meaning, then feel free to use “relatable.” But, if not, find a different and more precise way to express your idea. Otherwise, no one will be able to relate to the idea you’re trying to express.


Lead-off February Phraseology Fix: A lesson from Punxsutawney Phil

Today, let’s think about the verb “lead.”

Consider the following sentence:

“The groundhog’s prediction lead to a long winter.”

Can this sentence possibly be grammatically correct?

If it’s in the present tense: no. The verb needs to be conjugated, and since “prediction” is the subject, the verb needs to be conjugated in the third-person singular form: “leads.” “The groundhog’s prediction leads to a long winter.”

If it’s in the past tense: no. That’s right—NO. Let us remember that the past tense of the verb “lead” is “led.” As a result, if you want to express the idea that in the past, the groundhog’s prediction precipitated an extended cold season, it’s essential that you conjugate the verb and place it in the past tense “led.”

Plain and simple. Easy to remember!

The past tense of “lead” is “led.”

Phil thanks you for your precision in conjugation. And now, he’s going back to sleep.
Punxsutawney Phil

February Phraseology Fix

Let’s face it: we all can be lazy, at times. We might toss our coat on the back of a chair instead of hanging it in the closet, leave the dishes in the sink overnight, or know it’s time to do laundry only when there are no more clean socks. Regrettably, sometimes even the best of us are lazy with our language.

February, between New Year’s resolutions and spring cleaning, is a fantastic time to fix our phraseology! This month, I’ll call your attention to various mistakes and ambiguities I see and hear often in speech and writing and explain how to fix them. This way, by the time we get to the spring, we’ll all use language so clean that it sparkles!

Let’s get started on our February Phraseology Fix! #FebruaryPhraseologyFix #FPF #GracefulGrammarian