Not Every Man Is a Gentleman

Do you notice anything odd in these sentences?

  • A gentleman approached me to ask directions and then held me up at gunpoint.
  • I saw two gentlemen approach the boy, and then they beat him to a pulp.

Well, in case you don’t – would you ever define a gentleman as someone who holds up a person at gunpoint or beats someone to a pulp? No, I didn’t think so.

Yet, I can’t believe how often I hear people on the news referring to criminals (and mean, rude, or otherwise unsavory males) as gentlemen. Usually it’s just bystanders providing filler for TV news stories. But this past week, even a psychologist commentator on NPR referred to Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, this way. (Granted, one might cut some slack to the mentally ill, but still…)

I’m sure people use the word gentleman because they are trying to be politically correct, or polite, and don’t want to offend anyone. But here’s the thing – calling someone a man is not politically incorrect or impolite, so why can’t people just leave it at that?

Please, let’s save gentleman for men who really exhibit the qualities of one.

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Walla!? (Non, c’est voilà!)

The English language is constantly evolving. Definitions change, nouns become verbs, spelling changes, and so on. It’s also only natural that we should misuse words we borrow from other languages. However, sometimes a word is in an awkward stage between correct, original usage and accepted new usage.  “Walla” is one of these words, and it’s like fingernails on a blackboard when I hear people say it.

“Look at this hat. It’s empty. I tap three times, and walla! A rabbit comes out!”

OUCH!

The real word is voilà (sounds like vwah-lah). It’s French, and it means “see there.”

“Out of buttermilk for your pancakes? Combine a tablespoon of lemon juice and 15 tablespoons of milk, let sit five minutes, stir, and voilà! You’ve got buttermilk.”

Ahhh… doesn’t that feel better?

Now here’s how you can change the future: Correct your friends when they say walla. Tell them that the word they intend to use is voilà. And then they can correct their friends, and so on. Correct usage will win and we will all sound smarter.

Are there any foreign words you find people misusing? Do tell!

Best Word Ever: Defenestrate

I love the word defenestrate. It means, “to throw someone or something out a window.” Now, I ask you, how awesome is it that there is a word specifically for that action? Extremely, I say!

Last week I got to use the word when I told my friend Lisa, “If I get tired of you, I’ll just defenestrate you.” And my friend JD told me, “Don’t ever try to correct my bad grammar or punctuation … you will surely be defenestrated!”

There is no shortage of people I’d like to defenestrate, if only in my dreams. However, one of my pet peeves is when drivers defenestrate cigarettes or other garbage. In this case, their defenestration demonstrates a callous disregard for the environment.

If you’d like a visual, check this out – there happens to be a sculptural mural here in San Francisco called Defenestration (Brian Goggin, 1997, at 6th and Howard Streets).

I’m also reminded of two jokes I used to teach my ESL students (although I used the definition, not the actual word defenestrate):

  • What do you get when you defenestrate butter? A butterfly!
  • What do you get when you defenestrate water? A waterfall!

So, who or what would you like to defenestrate? Do you know any good defenestration jokes? 🙂

Optician vs. Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

I’m always immersed in ophthalmology, but I was particularly immersed last week, attending an ophthalmology conference in Brazil. So it seems appropriate to focus today’s post on some eye-related professions. In particular, what’s the difference between an optician, an optometrist, and an ophthalmologist?

I got my first pair of oh-so-fashionable “pop-bottle” glasses when I was about 10 years old. It was the first time I realized that “normal”-eyed people could see individual leaves on trees, as opposed to just big blobs of green. Amazing!

The optician helped me choose the frames that would support the thick glass and look good on me. (Which is a lot, for a dorky fourth-grader.) Being 1976-ish, they were rounded-square, silver wire frames. So perfect with my Dorothy Hamill haircut and embroidered wide-leg jeans.

But first, in order to get a prescription for lenses, I went to see the optometrist. He did all kinds of tests, having me follow his pen, shining a light in my eyes, and asking me, “Which is better, one or two? Three or four?” He then decided how strong my glamorous new lenses should be.

I didn’t see an ophthalmologist at that time, but I knew other people who did. My mom had some weird things called floaters and flashers, and some more serious stuff like scratches on one of her corneas. My grandmother had to have cataracts removed, and a friend had a detached retina that required surgery.

My dilemma was, how do you remember which of these O’s is which?

It’s actually really easy! The longer the job title, the more training the person has, and the greater their scope of practice is*:

  • OPTICIAN – 8 letters/3 syllables, 1–2 years of training
    • 1- or 2-year degree, certificate or diploma.
    • Fill prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses; fit frames.
  • OPTOMETRIST – 11 letters/4 syllables, 8+ years of training
    • 4 years undergrad + 4 years optometric school. Some optometrists will do residencies in optometry subspecialties.
    • Degree: OD (oculus doctor). Like the JD (juris doctor) and PhD (philosophiae doctor), the OD is not a medical degree.
    • Provide eye exams; diagnose and treat some eye conditions; prescribe some medications.
  • OPHTHALMOLOGIST – 15 letters/5 syllables, 12+ years of training
    • 4 years undergrad + 4 years medical school + 1 year internship + 3 years residency. Many ophthalmologists also obtain fellowships in ophthalmological subspecialties.
    • Degree: MD (medicinae doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine). Both of these are medical degrees.
    • Provide eye exams; diagnose and treat all eye conditions; prescribe medications; perform surgery.

* According to US standards. Other countries may require different qualifications or have different scopes of practice.

They’re vs. There vs. Their

Which one is correct?
A) Their on they’re own there.
B) There on their own they’re.
C) They’re on their own there.

If you guessed C, give yourself a gold star!

These homophones are often mixed up, but it’s actually very easy to remember which is which.

First, they’re — the odd one with the apostrophe. Remember that one job of the apostrophe is to take the place of a missing letter. In this case, it’s taking the place of the “a” in “are”.

Second, there. You know that “there” is a place, and “here” is a place, too. Just remember that “there” is “here” with a “t” in front.

That leaves their. It’s a possessive (it shows ownership) pronoun, like my, your, his, her, its, and our. It contains the noun “heir”. You can make an easy rhyme to remember this one: Will and Kate just gave birth to their heir to the throne.

In a nutshell:
They’re = they are
There = “t” + here
Their = T(heir)

Tasty Serial Commas

I am a huge fan of the serial (also known as Oxford) comma. I’m also a huge fan of puns. When I hear of a serial murderer, for example, I wonder why anyone would want to kill cereal? (Ha ha!) Or serial dramas – how boring to watch a TV show about cereal! (Ha ha ha!)

OK, OK, I never said I didn’t have a dorky sense of humor.

But imagine my glee when I discovered that other people make jokes about cereal commas, too! I’m not the only serial weirdo! And check this out – you can buy pastry cutters in the shape of (backwards) commas! But wait, there’s more – you can stuff them with Rice Krispies and make cereal commas! For real!

How awesome is that?! Tell me if you are as excited as I am. Someday I’ll make these and will post a photo.

Lose vs. Loose

I see loose being used so often in place of lose, and sometimes vice-versa. “He’s a looser” – ouch! That hurts my eyes.  Here’s how you can remember when to use which.

It’s all about visualizing the letter “o.”

Loose rhymes with moose and goose. It is an adjective which can also be formed into looser and loosest. There’s also an adverb form, loosely. Think of the letter “o” as being fabric. If you have double fabric, your pants will be bigger. They will be loose, and you’ll have plenty of room for both legs.

Lose rhymes with ooze and shoes. It is a verb, with past tense, lost. The noun form is loser. Think of fabric again. If an “o” goes missing, you have less fabric, and the pants will be tighter. If you lose fabric, maybe you’ll only have room for one leg.

OO = two legs = loose. O = one leg = lose.

Can you guess which words are correct in the sentences below?

  1. The (lose/loose) goose ate chocolate mousse.
  2. Beck sang, “I’m a (loser/looser) baby, so why don’t you kill me?”
  3. If the Giants (lose/loose) this game, they won’t go to the World Series.
  4. Although these shirts are (lose/loose), the ruffled one is (loser/loosest).
  5. When I (lose/loose) weight, my skirt will fit (loser/loosely).
  6. The prisoner got (lose/loose) but was a sore (loser/looser) when he got caught.