Monthly Archives: November 2013


Okay, sometimes I can be a grammar Nazi. It bugs me when I hear people – especially teachers, serious writers, or news anchors among others who should set a good example – make simple grammar errors. We wonder why American students keep falling behind in literacy tests, but the answer is clear. They are exposed constantly to bad grammar, mispronounced words, and bad usage. Just tonight I heard a high school teacher say, “Her and her Mom went…” Ouch. That hurts.

The teacher used the wrong case. The subject of a sentence should be in the subjective case. That only makes sense. The subjective case is also called the nominative case, a term probably dating back to Latin. I don’t care what you call it as long as you get it right. For all practical purposes this is only important for pronouns. The subjective case includes I, we, he, she, and they. The objective case, which is used for direct and indirect objects and objects of prepositions, includes me, us, him, her, and them. The words you and it have the same form in both cases.

Mistakes are almost always made when there is more than one subject or object, like in the example I gave. It is now common to hear things like “Her and and her Mom went…” or “Me and him decided…”. The proper form is “She and her Mom…” (or “Her mom and she…”) and “He and I …” You should always put yourself last, too, out of politeness, not grammar. This is one point of grammar that has a very easy rule to remember. You should use the pronoun you would use if there was just one subject or object instead of two or more. You wouldn’t say, “Her went to the…” or “Me decided to…”. You’d say “she” and “I”. So why change those pronouns to “her” and “me” just because someone else is in the sentence? There is no reason. This mistake of using objective case for a subject is typical of less educated people.

Better educated people make the same mistake only the other way around. Typically you hear them use the subjective case when they should use objective. You might hear them say “The doctor gave my wife and I good advice.” Once again, the rule is the same. Pretend there is just one person there and see if it sounds right. You wouldn’t say “The doctor gave I good advice.” You would use “me”, not “I”. So why change just because there is another person there? Again, no reason. This is so simple, yet so many people get it wrong.

Grammarians can come up with exceptions or difficult sentences, such as predicate nominatives and dependent clauses, but let’s not bother with that now. It’s easy to do right for simple sentences like the examples I gave. If you want to sound intelligent, or at least pass bonehead English, this is one small thing you can do to help. It also helps a lot in learning a foreign language if you understand your own English grammar.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Word Association game

I’m a geocacher. That’s a hobby where people hide caches in publicly accessible areas, rural or urban, and post the coordinates online. Other geocachers go out to find the cache, sign the log sheet, then rehide the cache in the same spot. Some caches are Unknown or Puzzle caches, where the coordinates showing on the website page are phony and you must find the real coordinates by solving a puzzle of some kind. I have created many of these. I enjoy writing amusing stories as part of the puzzle. I am posting the body of one of my puzzle caches here because it is a word game, in theme with this blog. The link to the game and the instructions are contained below. If you are not a geocacher, just a puzzle fan, it doesn’t matter because you can complete the game without realizing it has anything to do with geocaching. All you have to do is complete the 15 words or phrases as described. If you get a tax receipt at the end, you have conquered the game. If you’re a geocacher, you need to use the answers to derive coordinates to a cache. I will warn you, though, that you won’t be able to complete the game unless you figure out the real theme of the puzzle. Here’s the game:

As I approached the Goodwill truck with several bags of old clothes I intended to donate, I noticed the clerk, a rather ancient-looking black man. Despite his age he was listening to an iPod and tapping his toes in a lively fashion. He must have been hard of hearing as the volume was cranked up so loud I could hear the buzzing from his earbuds even from several feet away. He greeted me warmly and removed his earbuds as I plopped the bags on the counter, but as he began to pull out my old cast-offs he looked somewhat disapprovingly. This was Los Altos, after all, and they were more interested in designer dresses worn once than the cheap, worn-out stuff I was offering. As he was examining the bags I asked for a tax receipt.

“You’re going to take a charitable deduction for THIS?” he said, holding up a tattered T-shirt I got as a souvenir on a trip to New York. The picture on the front was a photo of the old Ziegfeld Theater from the 1950s. “That was a great musical, though,” he offered, pointing to the name on the marquee. “I saw that after I got out of the army.”

“You’re a fan of the theater, then?” I replied, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice.

“The theater, movies, music of all kinds, dance, opera, even the circus,” he answered. “I’m something of a cognoscente of all the performing arts.”

“Well I know my old clothes are more suitable for washing cars than being resold, but I still need my receipt,” I declared, impatient to get going.

He obviously pegged me for the cheapskate I am, more interested in the tax deduction that helping out the Goodwill. “I tell you what,” he said, holding up that T-shirt. “Let’s play word association. I’ll say a word, or the beginning of a word, and you guess the second part to complete the word or phrase I’m thinking of. If you can get fifteen right, I’ll give you your receipt. I’ll make the first one easy.”

I had no choice so I went along. The first few were easy enough, but then I got stuck. After a bit of quiet contemplation, though, I finally realized what was going through his head. I needed a lot of extra guesses here and there, but he let me guess as often as necessary on the harder ones, and I eventually got them all. As he handed me the receipt, he nodded his head respectfully and said, “I guess you’re something of a cognoscente, too. Maybe I’m a bit prejudiced, but I didn’t take you for someone who would know those.”

After I got home and did a little research I realized that the answers led to a perfect geocache hiding location, so I placed one there. If you want to play the same game, you can by clicking the link below.

Word Association

Type your answer in the right-hand box and click the Try button. You will know if you got it right. The answers are not case-sensitive.

Cavalry / Calvary

This is a slightly edited repost from my previous blog, Electricaching.

Recently I was listening to the CD audiobook Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and (in really small print) Martin Dugard. It was read by Bill O’Reilly. I gave up on it after one disc, disgusted not at the content but at O’Reilly’s reading of it. Let me tell you why.

Let me first say the book seemed pretty interesting and it may be a good read. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it. At least I don’t think I do. For those not familiar with it, it’s a non-fiction New York Times best seller and the subject matter is exactly what you would expect from the title: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. For those unfamiliar with Bill O’Reilly, as I was until I just now looked him up in Wikipedia, he’s a television personality on Fox News and according to that source is considered conservative. I consider myself pretty conservative although I do not belong to any political party and don’t watch Fox News. O’Reilly’s politics play no part in my opinion of the book or his reading of it, but I now would place no reliance on anything he says, political or otherwise. I got disgusted at the book by O’Reilly’s abysmal reading. The reason I am blogging about this now is because I want people to realize that their misuse of words is not just an unimportant personal style to which only picky people pay any attention. Maybe I am picky because I’m an author, too (see the link to my mystery books above). So be it. My geocaching friends all know me by my alter ego of The Word Police, but for you guys it is just occasional good-natured ribbing; I hold professional book readers, and especially authors, to a higher standard. When people speak and write incorrectly, there is a part of the world, like employers, judges, Word Police, and even potential spouses or significant others, who recognize that the speakers don’t know what they’re talking about and, consciously or not, place them in a lower category, that of someone second-rate.

There are two main problems with O’Reilly’s reading. First is the style he uses, which he characterizes in the prologue as that of a “thriller.” I can accept that to a certain extent. I always hated history as a school subject and found it very dull and dry. There is no reason it shouldn’t be made more exciting and interesting. That, however, brings to mind the other problem I always had with history: its lack of objectivity. Even the driest, dullest historians suffer from the inability to see historical events from all sides, in my experience. They see things through the filter of a moral or or political lens, a viewpoint, usually rather nationalistic in nature if not outright jingoistic. Wars and politics especially are characterized as between heroes and villains, good guys and bad guys. When trying to make a story exciting, there is an even greater tendency to do this. One is tempted to exaggerate here, or drop that inconvenient fact over there to juice up the story and keep the drama going. Movies about historical events, for example, tend to be appallingly far from accurate. So when O’Reilly told the listener not to let the thriller style diminish faith in the factual rigor of the content, I was a bit skeptical.

The second problem came when he came to the word cavalry. He pronounced it Calvary every time, and it was used a lot in describing the final battles of the Civil War. I’ve heard other people mix up the two words, and for them I don’t consider it a big deal. I’ve never corrected anybody on it before so far as I know, and I probably made that mistake myself sometimes — up to maybe 6th or 7th grade anyway. But this book is about cavalry battles, among other things, and purports to be a serious non-fiction work based on solid research. It became clear after about the twentieth time he said it wrong that he was not just a dyslexic misreading it; he really didn’t know the difference between the two words. More importantly, O’Reilly claimed to be a former history teacher and he attended not one but two church-affiliated universities (Marist and Boston U.) He has a Master’s from Harvard, too! How anyone who attended two Christian schools and has a Harvard master’s degree can fail to know these words is beyond me. How many of his former students now think that Calvary means mounted troops? His Sunday school or catechism teachers must be cringing in embarrassment about now. For the record, Calvary is the hill upon which Jesus Christ is reported to have been crucified. It is capitalized as a proper noun. The word cavalry refers to the fast-moving mounted military forces of the time. In the Civil War they were mounted on horses, hence the word cavalry, which comes from the French cheval or Spanish caballo, meaning horse. Just think ‘gay caballero’ if you have trouble remembering it (although O’Reilly probably wouldn’t approve of the term if his politics are as described in Wikipedia.) In later years it referred to motorized forces, especially tanks. This does go to show that fancy degrees mean very little as to intelligence or learning.

If there were other mistakes in grammar or usage, they were minor enough for me to ignore or forget. I haven’t read the print copy of the book, but I may do so. Perhaps in the book it is spelled correctly as cavalry. (If so, how can one see that word and pronounce it Calvary? Beats me.) Perhaps the style of writing does not come off as quite so much like an action comic when not read by O’Reilly. Perhaps Dugard actually did the research and it is rigorous and accurate while O’Reilly was merely roped in to put on the cover and read it because of the name recognition. But for me, O’Reilly now is permanently categorized as ignorant, stupid, and an unreliable source about anything. People who embrace his politics, self-styled conservatives, I suppose, would be well-served to patronize other more articulate pundits – someone like the late William F. Buckley, Jr., say. This is about more than just this book or a single word being mispronounced. It is about how to persuade, or how to avoid casting doubt on your own views, credibility, or product. O’Reilly’s yellow-journalistic style combined with obvious ignorance of the subject matter leaves me dubious of everything he represents. Choose your spokesperson with care.


Bitstrips is all the rage right now, the latest fad for both iPhones and Android phones. I went to the website to check it out. I was not impressed. First of all, I don’t have a smart phone so I couldn’t use the mobile apps. The website said it could be used with facebook, too, so I clicked that button and that took me to a facebook page and that took me to another page and that took me to another page and finally there was a button that allowed me to actually get started. I began to make my avatar. Skin color? No problemo – I’m a white guy. Head shape? Oops – they only had one, which did not look like mine. Or at least they didn’t have mine on the page I was using. I saw a button for the “pro” version. So they’re trying to sell me something already. Fair enough, I suppose, but I don’t like buying things sight unseen. So that was the end of the experiment. I can upload whatever profile pic I want on facebook now, and more pictures with my posts, so I don’t really see the point. The main website is down anyway.

I’ll wait until one of my friends or maybe one of my kids starts using it. I haven’t actually seen any of the cartoons yet, but I doubt they’re going to persuade me to buy the app. I like words, not pictures. My blog is OnWords, not OnPix.