The JRW Blog

The pronoun controversy

In Florida, Governor DeSantis has taken on the woke world, as you may know. Now he has signed legislation that prohibits teachers from quizzing students on their pronoun preferences. HB 1069 states that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait,” and “it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.” This is one of a group of bills the governor calls “Let Kids Be Kids.”

Well, I may not be a student any longer, but as a former English major, I am by turns amused and outraged by the pronoun controversy that seems to pop up almost daily.

I keep thinking, “What’s the matter with everybody?”

Among the pronouns that people seem enamored of is “they,” a plural pronoun that refers to more than one individual. But some people seem to think it’s OK to use “they” in a situation that is clearly singular. Here’s an example: A man went into a bar, and they ordered a beer.

Excuse me?

I looked over this guy’s shoulder, expecting to see at least a small group of beer drinkers. But no. Apparently, “they” was used either because the writer wanted to appear cool by today’s woke standards or because it was just too much trouble to be correct and write, “he ordered a beer.”

I do not intend to become embroiled in the pronoun controversy. However, if I’m wearing my “editor hat,” you can be sure that I’m going to correct any woke-inspired pronouns I find. Every time.

Look to “Jabberwocky” as a start

Previously, I have written about my interest in words and how the dictionary adds new ones over time. If you like to write, perhaps you are a fan of old words, how they came about, and what they meant. Personally, in this day of woke-isms, preferred pronouns, etc., I find it refreshing to escape into the past and explore the antiquated collection of words that were once common in the English language.

  • blutterbunged: surprised, confounded
  • flonker: something that is extremely large
  • grammar-folk: educated people
  • grimbribber: a lawyer, legal jargon
  • miscomfrumple: to crease or rumple, as in rumpling another’s dress by sitting too close
  • mundivagant: someone wandering through the world
  • pig-puzzle: a gate designed to swing both ways to meet a post
  • quanked: overly fatigued
  • scuggery: hidden, a state of concealment
  • slister: to be lazy, to while away time
  • transcribbler: someone who transcribes carelessly
  • wordify: to put into words

You’ll find a ton of old and interesting words in The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk. But start reading early or you’ll probably be late for your evening bouffage (satisfying meal).

Word Play

I have always been interested in words, where they came from, and what they mean. But I have to admit that for some time now, new words I simply don’t get seem to pop up almost daily. Some are puzzling eyebrow-raisers that I let slide by because they’re associated with something in which I have no interest. On the other hand, I find that many are worth understanding and storing away for possible future use.

In 2022, 370 new words made the hallowed pages of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Here are just a few:

Galentine’s Day: This is a holiday for celebrating friendships, especially those among women. It is observed on February 13.

Mojo: A word often used to mean a charm or a spell, as in “She’s got her mojo working,” it also refers to a seasoning, sauce or marinade in its latest addition to the dictionary.

Hoglet: A baby hedgehog (used mostly by the British).

Yeet (yeeted, yeeting, yeets): A transitive verb that first came to light in 2007. To yeet means to forcibly throw something without regard to the thing being thrown.

Adorkable: Quirky or awkward in an endearing way.

Janky: This can refer to something that is faulty or not functioning properly. It can also refer to something that is of very poor quality.

Shrinkflation: According to the dictionary, this is the practice of reducing a product’s amount or volume per unit while continuing to offer it at the same price.

Atmospheric river: Here’s a word I heard out of the mouth of a TV meteorologist just recently. It is a “concentrated band of water vapor that flows through the atmosphere and that is a significant part of the global hydrologic cycle and an important source of regional precipitation.” There. Think about that!

Heard a new word that has piqued your curiosity? Check to see if it was worthy of Merriam-Webster’s notice.

Writing, caregiving and developing a routine

As you will note with a glance at the dates, I have not written a blog post for my website in over a year. But, as we all know, life can throw curveballs. In my case, a major change occurred when I unexpectedly became the caregiver for a family member. Unless you have been in this position yourself, you probably cannot relate to the difficulties involved, difficulties that include the various adjustments you have to make to your own life while you try to make someone else’s life easier.

It has taken me many months to figure out how to juggle my time successfully between caregiving, my writing/editing work and a bit of relaxation. Caregiving takes up the bulk of my days—and sometimes my nights—and relaxation usually comes in the form of reading or watching a little TV in the evening. Writing, frankly, is a godsend. Especially creative writing. And lately, it has dawned on me that over the past few months, I have slowly fallen into a routine.

Relying on routine

The experts say that children thrive on routine. I think there is a certain amount of truth to that no matter what age you are. A routine has structure, which can be comforting. You see, as a caregiver, you have to be prepared to handle a wide range of situations that can pop up at any time. They might be outside your field of expertise. They might leave you emotionally or physically drained. But whatever happens, you have to do your best on behalf of the person who needs your help. Having done so, you can fall back on the welcoming structure of your routine and pick up where you were required to leave off.

Tweaking the routine I have put together is fun, especially when it concerns my work. To that end, I have slotted time for various projects. Pretty sure that will help me post James River Writing blogs in a timelier manner.

The mysterious hyphen

Recently I was doing some website proofreading and edited out a couple of hyphens that appeared after words ending in “ly.” Words ending this way are adverbs. If they precede an adjective, they combine to make a compound adjective and a hyphen is unnecessary. Why? Because no further clarification is needed. Examples:  a “dimly lit room,” a “horrendously large blister,” a “finely tuned piano.”

Here is what the Chicago Manual of Style has to say on the subject:

Compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly plus an adjective or participle (such as “largely irrelevant” or “smartly dressed”) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible. (The -ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun.) CMS, Section 7.86.

On the other hand, hyphens do appear in your everyday compound adjectives such as a” high-speed chase” or “well-intentioned remark,” and in a good many other places. So, using a hyphen properly can be challenging. You and your colleagues may have differing opinions on the best way to insert it, and some may decide to ignore it altogether. There are times when the use of a hyphen simply comes down to personal choice—or appears by mistake.

In The Elements of Style, noted wordsmiths Strunk and White give the example of a hyphen being used to considerable public amusement when two newspapers joined forces. The News and the Free Press became the Chattanooga News-Free Press. The hyphen, of course, made it sound as though readers who were looking for news items weren’t going to find any in that publication.