Sic Burn!

If you’ve read enough, you’ve probably come across sic. And you probably also have a good idea of how it’s used. If you’re not familiar with it, or you’ve seen it used but aren’t sure what it means, no worries. It’s not something that’s taught much in schools, and it’s not something most of us ever need to use in our lives. It might be mentioned in a style guide at university, especially on a course with a strong focus on writing, such as journalism. But generally, it’s not talked about much. Which is a bit of a pity, as it can be quite a powerful weapon. Continue reading

Teacher, can I say…?

This is the beginning of one of the most common questions English teachers get asked. And the answer is usually, Well, it’s technically correct, but we never actually say that in English. Which in turn is usually met by frustrated sighs. For all the language’s flexibility, we often fix on only one of the many possible ways to express an idea. This is often a tremendous source of frustration for learners, especially if they’re feeling pleased about using a certain grammar form, only for their teacher to tell them what they’re saying doesn’t really sound natural.

Often, this stems from direct translation from one’s mother tongue. In French for example, it’s standard to use nouns to refer to feelings. For example: Continue reading

Lady Mondegreen

Ireland’s industry

There’s a bathroom on the right

Excuse while I kiss this guy

What do these statements have in common? They’re all mondegreens. What’s a mondegreen, you ask? Let me show you…

Ireland’s industry – Islands in the stream (Islands in the Stream, Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers)

There’s a bathroom on the right – There’s a bad moon on the rise (Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Excuse me while I kiss this guy – Excuse me While I Kiss the Sky (Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix)

A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric. The unusual-sounding word was coined by American writer Sylvia Wright in 1954 when she wrote about how she misheard the line …and laid him on the green from the 17th-century Scottish ballad “The Bonnie Earl of Moray” as …and Lady Mondegreen.

I’m quite fond of mondegreens, simply because they can be very funny, but they’re also a great leveller. No matter your mastery of the English language, the rhythms of song lyrics and the accompanying make it often quite hard to heard lines correctly. Plus, we tend to expect language to follow familiar patterns, so it makes more sense to our brains to kiss a guy than kiss the sky. (It’s also only fair to point out that in normal conversational connected speech, Excuse me while I kiss this guy and Excuse me while I kiss the sky sound identical.)

We all have our own mondegreens. The one I always remember from my youth is Prefab Sprout’s “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” I always thought the line Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque was actually Hot dog, jump in fire, how about turkey? Which I think works equally well. I also thought the Transformers jingle proclaimed them to be robots in the skies, as opposed to in disguise. It never made sense to me, because only some of them could fly.

I was surprised to discover that the most-commonly misheard line, according to a British survey was Call me if you try to wake her up from R.E.M’s “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,” which people mishear as Calling Jamaica. It kind of fits I suppose, but you really need to stretch it! I would have thought Haddaway’s “What is Love” (When You Don’t Hurt Me instead of Baby Don’t Hurt Me) would be more common, or Abba’s “Waterloo” (How does it feel to have won the war? instead of I was defeated, you won the war).

What are some of your mondegreens?

He Had Had Good Grammar, Had he?

What does it really mean to be grammatically correct? Is it important? People often tell you that you shouldn’t get bogged down in grammar when learning a language, and should aim for real communication. And I agree about that whole communication thing, but you still need good fundamental grammar to do so. Grammar and natural use of English don’t have to be enemies. Continue reading

Little Timmy and Me

First of all, I’d like to thank Spanglish Jill for giving me the idea for this post.

We’ve probably all found ourselves in a situation like this:

Little Timmy: Yesterday, John and me went to the beach and…

Heartless Teacher: No, Timmy, it’s John and I!

Little Timmy: Huh?

Heartless Teacher: You don’t say John and me, you say John and I! John and me is for vulgarians only…

Little Timmy: Oh, ok. John and I went to…

It’s one of those golden rules we have drilled into us repeatedly as children that we never forget, like i before e except before c (more on that in the future): never say (insert name) and me.

But, does this rule always hold? The fact that I’m asking should tell you the answer… Continue reading

Night of the Zombie Film-Maker

Today I came across the phrase zombie film maker (to describe someone who makes zombie films) somewhere online. I don’t really remember where now, but that’s not important. What struck me about this fabulous phrase was that it was crying out for some punctuation! Before I go any further, I want you to think about how it should be punctuated. Should it be:

zombie-film maker?


zombie film-maker? Continue reading

Is Good Grammar Necessary?

This is a question that always sparks debate, and we probably all know people whose views fall on opposite sides of this debate. Some are sticklers for grammar, pouncing on any tiny error with relish. Others put less thought into how they use language and make errors without regard to how well they’re understood. And most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes. If you’ve ever been concerned about whether you have good grammar or not, then let me reassure you that your grammar is almost definitely much better than you think. Such is usually the case for most people in terms of their native language. But to know exactly what we mean by having good grammar, first we need to look at what grammar is.

What is grammar? Continue reading