I’m Sorry, But You Can’t Just Make Up Words

Posted by Kathy on December 20th, 2011

scrambled letters My sister sent me this notice she received at the insurance company where she works:

Member/Dependent Premium – The premium will reflect a monthly premium. For Monthly billed plans, nothing needs to be done with the premium. For quarterly, semi-annual and annually billed plans, the premium needs to be monthletized (made to reflect a monthly premium).

Quarterly billed plans: MI Quarterly Premium / 3

Semi-annual billed plans: MI Semi Annual Premium / 6

Annually billed plans: MI Annual Premium / 12


Sorry, but you can’t just make up words, people. And if you have to put the definition in parentheses so people know what the hell you’re talking about, there’s proof you can’t use it.

So says me.

But if they get to use made-up words and get away with it, so should I.

I submit for your review:

1. Dinnerate – to make a meal out of food products for consumption between the hours of 5:00PM and 8:00PM.

2. Bathletize – to make yourself clean with soap and water in a large vessel, sometimes combined with a shower, sometimes standalone. Or if you like old-style charm, claw-footedized.

3. Readify – to look at and understand words in a book for entertainment or scholarly purposes.

4. Calculatate – to use a calculator or computer to perform mathematical computations. See also, mathemalate.

5. Purrification – a cat’s act of expressing approval by making soft, vibratory sounds. May result in snugglification between owner and cat.

6. FedExcitation – the exhilaration felt when receiving a delivery from an express shipping service.

7. Charminimum – the point at which you’re down to the last roll of toilet paper.

8. Examinightmare – those terror-filled dreams you have a decade after graduating college, where you think you have finals the next day and haven’t studied at all.

9. Yule blog – a blog post about Christmas.

10. Pointificate – to continue making an argument for something, long after people got annoyed and stopped listening.

Got any others? I’m all earified.

Apostrophe Madness and the Return of What’s That

Posted by Kathy on August 20th, 2011

Hey, peeps! Remember me? I used to blog here. I’ve been unable to string words together lately. So I hope you forgive me while my brain undergoes maintenance.

I have some workmen on it and they think it’s limited to my temporal lobe, which controls semantics and word meaning. They think if I just practice writing every day, words will make sense to me again and six eggs dance in the moonlight when the 31st of April takes a bath.


Nevermind. Brain still needs work.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some apostrophe problems and a couple What’s That items for you to mull over.

First up, Food Network. This is from the show Good Eats with Alton Brown.

Nice try. Even if it needed an apostrophe, that’s not where it would go. So double FAIL for you!

Food Network

This next one comes from sender-inner Grant, my pal at work who knows how insane I get over grammar mistakes, especially by the big boys.

Here, Crayola makes a boo-boo of the that-doesn’t-make-it-plural variety.


Now, for the What’s That items: A friend wrote me this week and asked if I was still doing the series. I told her how difficult it’s been to find good items that will make your heads hurt. Because I’m all about hurting the heads of others.

I hope these fit the bill.

How to play:

1. The photos show a small portion of a larger object.

2. First person to correctly guess one or both objects wins a Junk Drawer magnet and a choice of either bacon, Jesus or eyeball bandages.

Object #1

what's that 1

Object #2

what's that 2

Commence hurting heads!


Do You Have a Favorite Word?

Posted by Kathy on July 6th, 2011

alphabet I love the word kerfuffle (noun. A commotion or fuss.)

I wish I could work it into everyday language, but there are never enough commotions or fusses going on, which I suppose is a good thing.

The word makes me happy. Probably because it sounds like the equally fun-sounding word kiffle, a pastry rolled paper thin and stuffed with assorted fillings, then baked.

I don’t like kiffles because they’re too dry and hard. Maybe I’ve just had bad kiffles. Anyway, I prefer a softer sort of cookie, like Toll House.

Incidentally, I recently visited an official Nestle Toll House Ice Cream Shop, where I bought their chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and I was deeply disappointed.

The cookie dough was soft, broke apart too easily and practically dissolved into my ice cream. The hell? It’s supposed to be harder and, frankly, could have used more chips.

I mean, they make the stuff. It’s their product and they couldn’t even get it right.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

Favorite words.

I like kerfuffle.

What do you like? Extra points if you use it in a sentence. I’ll post grades on the bulletin board outside the principal’s office later in the week.

One Out of Two Ain’t Bad

Posted by Kathy on December 27th, 2010

And then Kathy wrote a letter to the CBS Early Show.

It's THAN people!

My Disease and The Winner’s Circle

Posted by Kathy on November 16th, 2008

My husband and I attended a wedding yesterday at a ski resort. On the way to the ceremony venue, we passed this sign near the ski rental shop.

It killed me to see it hanging from a ceiling, because if it had been hanging on a wall where I could reach it, I’d have pulled out my lipstick and corrected it.

I know. I have a disease. Pity me.


It’s sep-A-rate, people! And “an pole?” An pole??? And why is “Rack” capitalized?! What’s so special about the rack? Please tell me this sort of thing bothers other people.

I mean, if you’re going to the trouble to make a giant sign, what’s the harm in running the text through a word processor or at least having two people check it for spelling? Drives. Me. Insane.

******* The Winner’s Circle *******

Today’s Comment Extravaganza winner is Bryan of Philly Today! My husband picked a random comment (#37) from yesterday’s post and his number came up. Congratulations, Bryan, on winning a Junk Drawer magnet. I’ll be in touch soon.

Babs Beetle joins Bryan in the winner’s circle by correctly guessing that the What’s That? Saturday mystery item is the stopper for a hot water bottle. Congratulations, Babs!

I’m pleased that only a few of you guessed correctly. It’s my goal to post an item that no one can guess. I’m getting wicked better at it!


Don’t forget — have your trigger fingers ready for the 10,000th comment! It might come sooner than you think.

Was I on Drugs or Something?

Posted by Kathy on October 9th, 2008

scrambled_letters Every month I have to prepare a report of activities at work. I keep notes in my calendar for each task and then quantify them.

Taking a look at one item today, I realized I might have been on drugs or something when I recorded the following:

9/17: Met with Tim to have him login and mortyupe his data; help w/email; sent Thunderbird-at-home instructions.

I have no idea what it means to “mortyupe” your data. But it sounds painful. And who’s Morty? For the record, I asked Tim to review his data to make sure I backed it all up.

For all of you who are irritated you didn’t win a Junk Drawer magnet in yesterday’s contest, here’s another chance.

Any idea what I meant by that? I actually typed that word straight to my laptop. From my head. It wasn’t a case where I couldn’t translate my own handwriting.

Help me. Tell me it was an easy mistake to make. What was I saying?!?! If nothing else, reassure me that these mental blips are OK and I won’t soon start speaking in a language no one understands, not even me.

I Swear I’m Not a Grammar Snob

Posted by Kathy on September 7th, 2008

What makes me weirder?

a) I watched The Bourne Ultimatum and freeze-framed this newspaper shot so I could read the fine print.

b) I noticed a mistake in grammar, called my husband into the room and excitedly showed him what I’d found.

For the record, he gave me the same blank stare as the time I made him get in my car without telling him why. After we drove around for five blocks, I stopped and showed him why I made him come with me.

My odometer turned over to 77,777 miles!

Well, I thought it was something.


So can you spot the error?

Another Resolution, Like, Broken

Posted by Kathy on November 24th, 2007

They can’t say I didn’t try.

Back on October 1st, I made a resolution to stop saying "like" so much. I got tired of hearing myself say it in every other sentence. I vowed to drop a quarter in a jar every time I used it as a filler word. I dropped a lot of quarters, and then bills, as you can see.

I would have had the same degree of success if I’d vowed to, say, drive to work every day backwards at 120MPH wearing big clown shoes. It fast became an impossible task.

Thankfully, resolutions are meant to be broken. So I’m back to saying "like" and what a relief. LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE!!! Ahhhh, that feels better.

Throughout my little experiment, every time I felt a "like" coming on, I would stall, stutter, and stumble for something else to put in its place. Or I’d just skip the word entirely and replace it with an uncomfortably long pause. But that was unsatisfying, like when you feel a sneeze coming on, but can’t get it out.

I wanted and needed a "like" in there and it felt ridiculous to try not to do it. It got embarrassing, too, because people thought I was having a stroke when they saw that vacant look in my eyes while I searched for a word. She alright? What’s wrong with her?

After a few weeks of this crazy challenge, something really weird started to happen. I developed other speech and gesturing problems when I talked.

Out of nowhere, I began to say "literally" a lot, even when I knew it was stupidly inappropriate. As in, "Jason, I literally forgot my lunch today. Wanna go out for something?" It’s as though my brain was looking for any filler word, no matter how dumb it sounded.

Whenever "literally" didn’t cut it, out came the air quotes.

I’ve been accused of being animated with my hands when I talk excitedly about something, but I’ve never done the index and middle finger quotation marks thing to express sarcasm or anything else. This may be a subconscious gesture due to my obsession for finding pictures to submit to my favorite specialty blog. Or it could be that if I wasn’t letting myself speak the way I wanted, my hands were taking over by force.

So what did I learn from all this? I learned that the likes, the you knows, and the I means are essential in speech. I learned that it’s not a personal weakness to use them, unless you’re a teenage girl who uses "like" every third word. I mean it, ladies. You sound flighty and stupid and you’re giving me a headache. Bring it down a notch, will ya?

Would I try this again? No. Did anything good come out of this? Yes! I have just over $100 in my Like Jar, which I’ll put to good use for Christmas. It was an interesting savings plan, one I didn’t have to think about.

Saving without pain. I like when that happens.

An "Unnecessary" Shout Out

Posted by Kathy on October 22nd, 2007

Today I’m giving a hearty shout-out to one of my favorite blogs, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. The blog’s brainchild, Bethany Keeley, documents the needless double quote marks that wind up transforming an everyday phrase into a seemingly disingenuous one. One example shows an East India Tea & Coffee LTD bag labeled Old Fashioned Sassafras Herbal "Tea." It may be tea, or it may not be tea. Inquiring minds want to know.

It took about a month, but I was able to find a sign with unnecessary quotes, take a snapshot and send it in. It’s from a catering business near the Allentown (Pa.) Fairgrounds. She posted it on Saturday.

If you want to see more like it, check out her blog. It’s a really "enjoyable" read. Wink wink.

This is gonna, like, cost me a fortune

Posted by Kathy on October 1st, 2007

Taking a twist on New Year’s resolutions, I’m making one for the new month. Starting today, October 1, I’m vowing to stop using "like" so much in conversation. A friend and I were discussing how much you hear it uttered in every day speech, sometimes as much as ten times in a couple minutes. Believe me, now that I’ve said it, you are guaranteed to hear yourself do it. And if you’re like me, you’ll be shocked at how much.

Today, while talking about whether I could keep a resolution such as this, I counted how many times I used "like" and stopped short every time I did it. It was so often, I almost rendered myself speechless. An exercise like this makes you keenly aware how much you use what are called "discourse markers." These are words or phrases that mark a boundary in speech, and usually serve no purpose. Other examples are "you know," "I mean," and "actually."

There is some disagreement as to whether the words are unnecessary filler, or are essential to conveying information in conversations. I see it as a little of both. Whatever the case, it’s annoying to hear it so much, from myself or others. Just listen to a teenage girl on her cell phone for five minutes, and you’ll, like, know what I mean.

Here’s how my resolution will work: For every time I use "like" in a sentence, I will drop a quarter in a jar. The way I see it, I’ll either succeed at ridding myself from my own annoyance quickly, or I’ll have a nice little nest egg to use for my next trip to Paris. Either way, I win.

If you want to follow along with my resolution, I’ll be keeping a daily "like" counter in my sidebar, updated each morning. I may not always be aware I’m saying "like," so if you work with me and hear me say it, feel free to point at the jar on my desk and wait for the clink. You might also want to buy me lunch, because I’m pretty sure in the first few weeks, I’ll be completely broke. Like, bummer.

UPDATE: The experiment is over. Click here to see how it turned out!

Do you know what ":?,(-;[!. day it is?

Posted by Kathy on September 24th, 2007

That’s right. Today is National Punctuation Day. A day to honor all the commas, exclamation points and semi-colons in your life. I plan to buy a cake to celebrate. My justification for buying cake is VERY thin. Here’s a link round-up of my favorite punctuation and language blogs. Enjoy!

Bethany Keeley over at The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks highlights the misuse, overuse and questionable use of double quotes. I "read" it every day.

Patrick Fitzgerald and Amber Rhea write a comical blog about the misuse of the word "literally." It’s so funny, I literally laugh my head off. Well, not really. Last I looked, my head was still attached. Check ’em out at Literally, A Web Log.

Chris, at Apostrophe Abuse, publishes reader-submitted photos of an "orthographic pet peeve" of his. In my opinion, the apostrophe gets the least respect as a punctuation mark. It’s either being used where it shouldn’t, or not being used where it should, as in it’s vs. its.

William Levin takes us on a visual tour of Lowercase L abuse, when you see mostly uppercase letters on signs, but someone inexplicably uses a lower case "L" in the mix. Why? What did capital L ever do to you?

If you have trouble with language rules, spelling and parts of speech, check out Dumb Little Man for 40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation.

At least for today, let’s all try to punctuate correctly. For any text-messagers out there, you’re exempt. There’s no hope for you, snc u cant evn spl.

It’s vs. its

Posted by Kathy on August 24th, 2007

A common mistake in grammar involves the use of it’s and its. Everywhere I look it’s being misused.

What’s the difference and why the confusion?

It’s is a contraction for "it is" or "it has," as in It’s (it is) annoying when people correct my grammar, or It’s (it has) been a great week so far.

Its shows possession, as in The dog chased its tail, or Its bark is bigger than its bite.

The confusion occurs because on almost every other word, an ‘s indicates possession, so naturally people want to use it’s to mean "something belonging to it." But it’s is used only as a contraction for "it is" or "it has."

How to get it right: If you can replace the word with "it is" or "it has," then use it’s. In every other case — no exception — use its.

By the way, if you ever see me misuse the word, you’re entitled to publicly admonish me. I’d deserve it.

Hey youse guys!

Posted by Kathy on August 14th, 2007

While talking with one of my colleagues yesterday, I slipped and used a phrase I hear all too often at work: "Sounds like a plan." I surprised myself that I even said it, given it’s on my list of stupid phrases to avoid. I should probably submit it to Lake Superior University’s Banished Words list and see if it makes the cut. The school accepts submissions for words deemed mis-used, over-used and just plain useless. View the whole cringe-worthy list here.

In my opinion, the 2007 list is a little weak. For instance, I see no particular violation in using the phrases "went missing" or "healthy food," but that’s just me. I do agree that "Ask your doctor" in pharmaceutical commercials makes little sense. What am I asking him for? Shouldn’t he be telling me what I need?

Other phrases that drive me (and my sister) nuts: moving forward (would you ever move backwards?), adds functionality (an unnecessary mouthful), grow your business (just doesn’t sound right) and I see what you’re saying (you don’t actually, unless you can lip-read).

My all-time least favorite word in the English language is youse, as in "Are youse guys taking Mary out to lunch for her birthday?" Well, it’s not a real word, and that’s precisely the point. I once worked alongside a woman who used that word ad nauseam. It didn’t help we work for a university, where one expects to find reasonably good use of the English language. She eventually took another job, and for all I know she’s still "yousing it" around a new crop of stunned co-workers.

What words or expressions drive you nuts?

Beauty in brevity

Posted by Kathy on August 2nd, 2007

I love this site, One Sentence, which asks readers to submit a true story in just one sentence. According to the site, they can be "Insignificant stories, everyday stories, or turning-point-in-your-life stories, boiled down to their bare essentials." A simple reader voting system, thumbs up or down, calculates your score.

Here’s the one I submitted, which as of today, has earned 64.75 points. Maybe it’s why I can’t balance my checkbook.

"The only professor I could find who was able to get accounting concepts through my thick skull died three weeks into the semester."

For the record, I dropped the class after I couldn’t regain my momentum with two substitute instructors the college hired following his death. I then developed a terrible fear of accounting and waited until the very end of my college career to take it again. Thanks to an excellent teacher and sheer determination on my part, I got an "A" in the course. May wonders never cease.

Exercising with Will Shortz

Posted by Kathy on July 30th, 2007

Exercising my brain, that is. Every week Will Shortz, editor of the NYTimes crossword puzzle, hosts the Sunday Puzzle on NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition. He presents an on-air quiz and gives a challenge to listeners at home. Those who answer the puzzle correctly and submit it to NPR get the chance to go on-air with Will for the next week’s puzzle.

Here’s one example: Name something commonly found in an office. It is two words, with five letters in the first word and four letters in the last. Both words are the last names of famous singers. What is the office item, and who are the singers?

The challenges are sometimes easy, and sometimes brutally hard (like the one above). I share them with some of my colleagues at work so we can all exercise our brains. Check out the recent puzzles and see if you don’t go as mad as we do!