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Know Your Prepositions!

I love Schoolhouse Rock. Growing up, I watched Saturday morning cartoons, and I knew that between the shows on ABC, I would see a bus driving some children to a little schoolhouse. Then the youngsters would get out and walk on the snowy path to the house. Then my brother and I would guess what we would see: Multiplication, Grammar, America or Science Rock.

Thanks to Multiplication Rock, I knew my “times tables” (multiples of 2 through 12) inside and out, and I could quickly recall the answer to any multiplication problem on the tables. This helped me dominate my fifth-grade class contest. I beat everybody in my class of about 35 by shouting the answer before my opponent.

Thanks to America Rock, my wife would hear people start singing the preamble to the Constitution in class.

And thanks to Grammar Rock, I knew my parts of speech: A noun is a person, place or thing; adjectives describe, verbs are action words, pronouns are shorter than nouns, conjunctions join words, etc.

But there was no song about prepositions. Not until 1993, when Bob Dorough, who wrote 20 of the three-minute songs, penned “Busy Prepositions.”

By definition, a preposition is a word (and a part of speech) that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. The “Schoolhouse Rock” song about prepositions says “nine or 10 of them do most all of the work” and then lists 11: of, on, to, with, in, from, by, far, at, over, across.

But wait a second. Far? Far is an adverb , so I could go to Lolly and get it there. Far also is an adjective, so I could find it hiking with my turtle friend. I would not find far with the other prepositions.

Some comments I have received since I first posted this tells me it is very likely that Dorough wrote and Jack Sheldon sang for, which is a preposition, but the video clearly shows the word far. Another listen to the song confirms this.

Bob Dorough is still alive. I wonder if he knows. Somebody find him and ask him!

In the meantime …

Until next time! Use the right words!

March 21, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Are You Trying to “Imply” or “Infer?”

In my experience, when people use imply and infer, they typically use imply this way: Someone tells them something, and they ask, “What are you implying?

The answer: nothing. The speaker should have asked, “What are you inferring?”

While most of us treat these two words as synonyms (and my dictionary says Sir Thomas More was the first to do so, in 1530), they’re not. Imply means “to involve or indicate by inference, association or result and not by direct statement.” Its synonym is suggest.

Infer means “to reach a conclusion by reasoning.” Its synonym is deduce.

In other words, by definition, a writer implies; a reader or speaker infers.

I’m not implying; I’m imploring you to…

Use the right words! Until next time!

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Time I Thought “Congratulations” Was Misused

Last week, my daughter “graduated” from elementary school, if one can actually graduate from fifth grade. When I finished elementary school, I was in sixth grade, and I didn’t go through a ceremony; the sixth-grade area of my school was roped off and we roamed the halls signing autograph books (no yearbooks until seventh grade; my daughter got one this year) and enjoyed a barbecue.

But I digress.

After the ceremony, a father of another student came up to me and said, “Congratulations.”

My response: “For what? I didn’t do anything. I finished elementary school in 1980.”

I figured that if anyone deserved congratulations, it was the person who had just completed the grade. After all, she did the work, learned the material and passed the tests. I did, too — 32 years ago. I figured it was too late to congratulate me.

Then I checked the dictionary.

The definition: “an expression of vicarious pleasure to a person on the occasion of success or good fortune” (italics added).

It is my good fortune that my daughter reached this milestone, even though there never was any doubt. She didn’t have to overcome some great obstacle as some of her classmates did, nor did she have to walk in the snow five miles uphill everyday to reach school.

By the way, I looked up graduate and found this definition among the ones that mentioned conferring a degree or diploma: “to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one.”

Until next time! Use the right words!

June 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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