Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This Week: Back to the Archives for a Conversation with Mr. Gradgind on the Podcast + beginning of time

beginning of time
Stephen Hawking writes about the beginning of time, but few other people do. People who write “from the beginning of time” or “since time began” are usually being lazy. Their grasp of history is vague, so they resort to these broad, sweeping phrases. Almost never is this usage literally accurate: people have not fallen in love since time began, for instance, because people arrived relatively late on the scene in the cosmic scheme of things. When I visited Ferrara several years ago I was interested to see that the whole population of the old city seemed to use bicycles for transportation, cars being banned from the central area. I asked how long this had been the custom and was told “We’ve ridden bicycles for centuries.” Since the bicycle was invented only in the 1890s, I strongly doubted this (no, Leonardo da Vinci did not invent the bicycle—he just drew a picture of what one might look like—and some people think that picture is a modern forgery). If you really don’t know the appropriate period from which your subject dates, you could substitute a less silly but still vague phrase such as “for many years,” or “for centuries”; but it’s better simply to avoid historical statements if you don’t know your history.


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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Week: Reviving "When Is a Rose Not a Rose?" on the Podcast + parallel/symbol

parallel/symbol
Beginning literature students often write sentences like this: “He uses the rose as a parallel for her beauty” when they mean “a symbol of her beauty.” If you are taking a literature class, it’s good to master the distinctions between several terms relating to symbolism. An eagle clutching a bundle of arrows and an olive branch is a symbol of the US government in war and peace.

Students often misuse the word “analogy” in the same way. An analogy has to be specifically spelled out by the writer, not simply referred to: “My mother’s attempts to find her keys in the morning were like early expeditions to the South Pole: prolonged and mostly futile.”

A metaphor is a kind of symbolism common in literature. When Shakespeare writes “That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold” he is comparing his aging self to a tree in late autumn, perhaps even specifically suggesting that he is going bald by referring to the tree shedding its leaves. This autumnal tree is a metaphor for the human aging process.

A simile resembles a metaphor except that “like” or “as” or something similar is used to make the comparison explicitly. Byron admires a dark-haired woman by saying of her, “She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” Her darkness is said to be like that of the night.

An allegory is a symbolic narrative in which characters may stand for abstract ideas, and the story conveys a philosophy. Allegories are no longer popular, but the most commonly read one in school is Dante’s Divine Comedy in which the poet Virgil is a symbol for human wisdom, Dante’s beloved Beatrice is a symbol of divine grace, and the whole poem tries to teach the reader how to avoid damnation. Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tales is an allegorical figure meant to symbolize Christ: dying to save others and rising again (aslan is Turkish for “lion”).


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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Week: Reviving "Steam" on the Podcast + ancestor/descendant

ancestor/descendant
When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets author J. K. Rowling corrected that to “last remaining descendant.” People surprisingly often confuse these two terms with each other. Your great-grandmother is your ancestor; you are her descendant.


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week: Troubleshooting Photography on the Podcast + shined/shone

shined/shone
The transitive form of the verb “shine” is “shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” You can remember this because another sense of the word meaning “polished” obviously requires “shined”: “I shined your shoes for you.”

When the shining is less active, many people would use “shone”: “The sun shone on the tomato plants all afternoon.” But some authorities prefer “shined” even in this sort of context: “The sun shined on the tomato plants all afternoon.”

If the verb is intransitive (lacks an object) and the context merely speaks of the act of shining, the past tense is definitely “shone”: “The sun shone all afternoon” (note that nothing is said here about the sun shining on anything).


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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we discuss troubleshooting photography.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + downfall/drawback

downfall/drawback
A downfall is something that causes a person’s destruction, either literal or figurative: “expensive cars were Fred’s downfall: he spent his entire inheritance on them and went bankrupt.” A drawback is not nearly so drastic, just a flaw or problem of some kind, and is normally applied to plans and activities, not to people: “Gloria’s plan to camp on Mosquito Island had just one drawback: she had forgotten to bring her insect repellent.” Also, “downfall” should not be used when the more moderate “decline” is meant; reserve it for ruin, not to designate simple deterioration.



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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + Old English

Old English
Many people refer to any older form of English as “Old English,” but this is properly a technical term for Anglo-Saxon, the original language in which Beowulf was written. Norman French combined with Old English to create Middle English, one form of which was used by Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. By Shakespeare’s time the language is modern English, though it may seem antique to modern readers who aren’t used to it.

There are many “Old English” typefaces which have nothing to do with the Old English language.


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + disease names

disease names
The medical profession has urged since the 1970s the dropping of the possessive S at the end of disease names which were originally named after their discoverers (“eponymous disease names”). The possessive is thought to confuse people by implying that the persons named actually had the disease. Thus “Ménière’s syndrome” became “Ménière syndrome,” Bright’s disease” became “Bright disease” and “Asperger’s syndrome” became “Asperger syndrome.”

But the public has not always followed this rule. “Alzheimer disease” is still widely called “Alzheimer’s disease” or just “Alzheimer’s.” Only among professionals is this really considered a mistake.

“Down syndrome,” named after John Langdon Down—originally written “Down’s syndrome”—has been so often mistakenly written without its apostrophe as “Downs syndrome” that many people conclude that the syndrome’s discoverer must have been named “Downs.”
Although some professionals write “Huntington disease”—originally “Huntington’s chorea”—many still write “Huntington’s.” But another popular name for this illness is “Woody Guthrie’s disease” because the folksinger actually had it, though one also occasionally sees “Woody Guthrie disease.”

Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after its most famous sufferer, always bears an apostrophe-S because professionals prefer the rather more cumbersome but nonpossessive “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (ALS).

The best practice is to follow the pattern prevalent in your social context. If you are a medical professional, you’ll probably want to avoid the possessive forms.

“Legionnaires’ disease” has its apostrophe at the end of the first word because it was first recognized among a group of American Legion members celebrating the American Bicentennial. Specialists consider it a severe form of Legionellosis, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Lyme disease should never be written “Lyme’s disease” because it is not named after a person at all, but after the village of Lyme, Connecticut.


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