In continuance with last week’s patriotic theme, I though I would write about the Pledge of Allegiance. This might get messed up so much mainly because it has historically been recited by schoolchildren who don’t understand a lot of the big words contained in it.
Here is the correct text of the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I’ve heard lots of Pledge of Allegiance malapropisms. Some which come to mind are “for Richard stands” instead of “for which it stands,” “invisible” instead of “indivisible,” and “with livery and justice” instead of “with liberty and justice.”
What are some incorrect recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance that you’ve heard?
Today I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite words that was coined by Shakespeare: multitudinous.
Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red. – Macbeth, Macbeth, Act II, Scene II
Multitudinous is really just about the most complicated way of saying “many,” but that’s what makes it so great. Sometimes, an overly flowery word is exactly what you need to spice up your writing.
Then again, sometimes it’s just what you need to make it sound ridiculous. But isn’t that half the fun?
Half is a weird word because it can be either singular or plural.
Example 1: Half of a pie was left after we each ate a slice.
In this sentence, a singular verb (was) is used since I am referring to half of a singular object (pie).
Example 2: Half of the sodas were left after we each drank one.
In this sentence, a plural verb (were) is used since I am referring to half of multiple objects (sodas).
Fractions can be tricky since sometimes they are plural, even though a fraction is usually less than 1. For example, all of the following are correct:
Three quarter teaspoons
Three quarters of a teaspoon
Three eighths of a truckload
.375 truckloads (read aloud as “point three seven five truckloads”)
Usually in writing, it’s best to write a fraction as “half” or “three eighths,” etc. Only use decimals when it is important to be accurate and a simple fraction can’t be easily conveyed, as in “that house is worth $3.279 million.” If the house were worth $3.5 million, you could say “that house is worth three and a half million dollars” or “that house is worth $3.5 million.” It all depends on the context.
There really isn’t a rule that applies across the board with fractions, so sometimes it is best to check a dictionary if you are unsure. Or you could always check with your editor!
People frequently get confused about the names of holidays, especially ones they aren’t familiar with. For example, Labor Day is often confused with Memorial Day. This could be because these two American holidays are the bookends of summer, or because each one is a 3 day weekend for most American workers.
The backgrounds of and reasons for celebrating the two holidays, however, are very different. Memorial Day, originally named Decoration Day, was established sometime after the Civil War as a day to remember all the people who died in service to the United States (source). Labor day, on the other hand, came out of the labor movement (when workers organized and formed unions). Labor day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers – so laborers, union members, those in public service and essentially everyone else who holds a job in this country (source).
I’ve seen a lot of contention over the correct way to say this phrase. Either way, usually the writer’s/speaker’s intent is “I don’t care,” but the phrase makes more sense if you use “couldn’t.”
I Could Care Less: this implies that you do care a little bit, because the potential for you to care less than you already do exists.
I Couldn’t Care Less: The implication here is that you don’t care at all, so you could not possibly care any less than you do.
Of course, the argument could also be made that “I couldn’t care less” would still be true if you cared a lot, but felt that there was no way you could stop caring. Whereas with “I could care less,” maybe you care a little, but you can find it in your heart to care even less than you do.
Most people have no idea what the difference is between “fewer” and “less.” This is evidenced by the number of grocery store checkout lanes with signs designating them only for people with “ten items or less.” Usually, the mistake people make is using “less” when they ought to have used “fewer.” Here are the rules:
“Fewer” refers to items that can be counted individually
“Less” refers to a commodity, such as air or dirt, that cannot be counted individually
He has less marbles than I have
Ten items or less
He has fewer marbles than I have
Ten items or fewer
There’s less water in my bucket
Fewer drops of water spilled from her bucket than from mine
While we’re on the subject, the words “amount” and “number” work in the same way as “less” and “fewer,” referring respectively to commodities and individual items.
Why do most Americans only speak English? I think it’s because we don’t need to learn any other languages. English is the only language most of us will ever use to get through our day-to-day lives.
I know some Spanish and some Latin (a dead language, but hey! It counts), but I’m nowhere near fluent in either – though I’d like to be. I’ve just never had to use a language other than English to get by, so I’ve never been really forced to learn one. I think most Americans are similar. We studied a language in school, maybe even spent a month or two in a foreign country, but in the end never really “mastered” any other language.
Anyway, here are some non-English words and phrases English speakers use a lot. You might have heard some before, but it’s important to know what they really mean before you use them in anything you write – it’s easy to interpret words or phrases based on context, and forget that we don’t know their actual definition.
As always, please comment if you want to add any foreign words or phrases that I may have missed!
Hasta la vista: Spanish – usually used in place of “see you later,” but literally closer to “until the next time.”
Mano a mano: Spanish – directly or face-to-face, usually used in reference to a confrontation or conflict.
Prima donna: Italian – literally “first lady.” 1. a distinguished female operatic singer; a leading female operatic star; a diva 2. a person that’s considered vain, temperamental and/or conceited.
Alpha and Omega: Greek – “first and last” or “beginning and end.”
Hoi polloi: Greek – the common people; the masses.
Mazel Tov: Yiddish – Literally “good luck” – used to congratulate someone rather than to wish them a good outcome that hasn’t yet happened. Consider it more of a declaration that good luck has already fallen on someone and you’re congratulating them for it.
Nota bene: Italian – literally “note well.” Usually used in text, telling the reader to carefully observe what comes next.
Que sera, sera: Italian – this phrase became popular when Doris Day sang the song of the same name for the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Literally, it means “what will be will be.” It translates similarly in multiple languages so the exact origin is unknown, but it’s been around for a while: I found an excerpt on the phrase from the World Heritage Encyclopedia, via gutenberg.org, which says it may have originated in either Italy, Spain or France in the 15th or 16th century.
Schadenfreude: German – comes from schaden (harm) + freude (joy). Pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.
Verboten: German – forbidden, as by law; prohibited.
Zeitgeist: German – comes from zeit (spirit) + geist (time). The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of time.