Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Language Perfectionist: Whose Rules?

By Don Hauptman
In matters of grammar and usage, it's not always easy to know what's correct.
In France, a government-run Academy serves as the official authority. Here in America, no single authority has been appointed to give us definitive answers. We must consider various sources, sometimes conflicting, and make our own decisions.
Language authorities generally fall into one of two schools. The prescriptivists offer explicit guidance. The descriptivists simply record how language is used, without passing judgment.
The second group might be called permissivists. At least some of its members apparently believe that no rules should exist. If enough people use a word incorrectly, it somehow comes to be "right." Thus, for example, it's okay for disinterested to mean uninterested, instead of -- or in addition to -- its primary meaning of impartial. Many dictionaries have capitulated on this point. But by this reasoning, ain't is acceptable. After all, so many people use it!
If following a rule creates an awkward result, you might need to break it. But another choice often exists. For example, a venerable rule forbids beginning a sentence with however. The alternative: It's usually possible to respect the rule by substituting but or another word or phrase. Or by relocating however within the sentence.
In general, I advise observing traditional standards, unless a compelling reason exists to disregard them. Here's why:
1. Customs and conventions aren't irrelevant. They're part of civilized society. I call this "The Necktie Principle." No good reasons exist to wear ties, and one could cite several arguments against them. But a man in the corporate world who abandoned ties would likely come to regret that decision. So it is with language. Even the permissivists don't spell physician with an F, even though it would be more "logical."
2. We're judged by how we use language. In your career and social life, you're viewed as educated or uneducated, literate or illiterate, on the basis of how well you speak and write. Like it or not, such first impressions help determine your status, advancement, and romantic success.
3. It doesn't pay to be perceived as wrong, even if you can prove that you're "right." If you flout a rule, you may have a case. But it's impractical to justify your position in conversation or in most written work. For instance, if you use enormity to mean large and your listener advocates its traditional meaning of "a great evil," it would be a bit awkward to haul out a dictionary containing the permissive definition.
As you might guess, I incline toward the prescriptivist camp. But I recognize that language changes, and that the rules may be bent when necessary. As with many things in life, common sense should prevail.
[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Sunday, January 10, 2010


A friend of mine told me a story about how when he was a kid he was in the hospital & near dying. His Italian grandmother came to the hospital & told a family member to go buy her a large onion & a new pair of white cotton socks. She sliced the onion open then put a slice on the bottom of each of his feet & put the white cotton socks on him. In the morning when he awoke they removed the socks. The slices of onion were black and his fever was gone. The following story that someone sent to me might have some truth in it & we are going to try this this winter. In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their family had contracted it and many died. The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two roomsback then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria therefore, keeping the family healthy. Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser in AZ. She said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work.. (And no, she is not in the onion business.) The moral of the story is, buy some onions and place them in bowls around your home. If you work at a desk, place one or two in your office or under your desk or even on top somewhere. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu. If this helps you and your loved ones from getting sick, all the better. If you do get the flu, it just might be a mild case.. , what have you to lose? Just a few bucks on onions!!!!!!Now there is a P. S. to this for I sent it to a friend in Oregon who regularly contributes material to me on health issues. She replied with thismost interesting experience about onions:Weldon,thanks for the reminder. I don't know about the farmers story...but, I do know that I contacted pneumonia andneedless to say I was very ill...I came across an article that said to cut both ends off an onion put oneend on a fork and then place the forked end into an empty jar...placing the jar next to the sick patient at night.It said the onion would be black in the morning from the germs...sure enough it happened just like that...the onion was amess and I began to feel better.Another thing I read in the article was that onions and garlic placed around the room saved many from the black plague years ago.They have powerful antibacterial, antiseptic properties.

Monday, January 4, 2010


I waited for you that night
And you did not come.
I waited for your call,
And you did not phone.
I waited for your car to drive up
And it never appeared.
I wanted to call you around eleven pm,
I want to take you your usual just around then.
But you had an appointment so I thought you were there,
And so I sat waiting for you to appear.
At two o´clock I decided to wait no more.
So, Oscar and I decided to close the door.

I did not fall asleep for another hour or two.
I just laid in bed thinking about me and you.
The next day I awoke with a start at seven,
I was going to call you around then.
But I figured you´d be asleep so it would make no sense,
So I closed my eyes as I laid there surrounded by the smell of incense.
At 9am I sent you a text to remind you to call,
I did not know you were not there at all.
We went out and it was not until after three,
That I expressed what your absence was doing to me.
Because we had such a rule in our home,
I waited for your call feeling somewhat alone.

A call came at 5 but it was not from you,
Suddenly my world changed and I didn´t know what to do.
I went looking for you and no one could say,
I went everywhere searching for you on that day.
Finally at our home someone said those words I still hear,
Then I realized what had happened and I felt the tear.
Days turned into weeks and weeks now into months,
As we seek justice and as the evidence mounts.

I waited for you to arrive that day,
I waited for your call for you to say,
“Hola, negrita, mi amor, como estas?
Ya tengo hambre, en que piensas?”
And I would say, “Adonde sea, cielo, no importa, mi amor,”
Porque ya sabía que sea como sea estaría contigo,
Y juntos estaríamos en nuestro mundo de YO PUEDO.

So I waited for you and you never came,
Now I am sitting here in so much pain.
You are still with me, I know that to be,
Because you were always so much a part of me.
But I waited for you that silent night,
When someone took you away and turned off my light.

I waited for you and I wait for you now,
To tell me what happened, to tell me just how.
Can I go on living without you by my side?
Will my tears forever come with the tide?
Y la pregunta sigue siento lo mismo, mi amor…
La pregunta que te hice muchas veces sin este dolor,
-¿Sabes que, mi cielo?-
Y tu, riéndote me decías, -¿Que, negrita?-
-Te amo un chingo,- yo te decía.
Y nos abrazábamos, riendo, y besando.
And so I wait…

Brenda A. Ysaguirre
January 4, 2010
Copyright 2010 Brenda A. Ysaguirre