Plural and Singular of College Graduates

Over the years, I have seen many misuses of the terms relegated to graduates of colleges and universities. I sometimes see stickers in car windows from reputable institutions of higher learning with an egregious mistake in verbiage embossed on the sticker, proudly proclaiming that the driver of a vehicle is a graduate of that particular school. I wonder what would be inscribed on the sticker if it were a driverless car. We would not be able to cast aspersions on the driver of a car from a certain institute of higher learning, associating the possible intelligence or knowledge or lack thereof gained from an association with that school. (I don’t believe robots go to school, or do they?)

I digress, so let’s get back to the main message intended in this note. Recently I saw a vehicle from a not-to-be-named university proudly proclaiming himself as an ‘alumni’ of a state college. Do you see the problem here? Alumni is the plural form of alumnus, and can either be male or female, so the driver of the car either has multiple personalities or is grammatically incorrect. If gender is important, as it is to some, and the driver is female (I don’t know the rule for any sexes other than male or female, and perhaps a suitable term has not been invented yet), one would use the term alumna. Alumnae is the plural form of alumna for females, while males are tagged with the term alumni.

Now for the grand finale. I was writing this message, and glanced at the mail I had just brought in. Could you believe that I had an ad for a new real estate agent, who proclaimed himself as a summa cum laude graduate in real estate and finance. He proudly proclaimed he was an alumni of a local university! With a college degree and ostensibly with high grades, which some think indicates superior knowledge and intelligence, which is not necessarily so, he might need to continue to educate himself. Having a college degree does not equate to having an education but only a degree. One writer in a prestigious literary group some years ago started his presentation, stating, “I completed my college degree, then I set out to educate myself!” My kind of man!


Ending Sentences With Prepositions

I know this topic was visited earlier in a blog but there seems to be no improvement in either the formal or informal education regarding the matter that would lead to more correct phrasing of statements and questions. I know most readers realize that a preposition governs or precedes a noun (hence the term pre- , which means coming before) although many place a preposition after the noun. That action is gain the topic of this post.

I was recently watching a police program, based on reality, which usually engenders perhaps pity in me as to the plight of the alleged criminals. It also engenders wonder in me as to why one would live a life of crime or one that may lead to an arrest for some violation of an ordnance or law. But perhaps one who is careless with his or her patterns of speech may also concurrently be careless in constructing sentences! (You think?)

In several situations where policepersons were interacting with individuals afoul of the law,  prepositions were placed at the end of a sentence (see following examples). The use of a police program does not insinuate that I don’t think most policepersons use correct grammar (this program was a handy source for material). One interloper was asked, “Where are you coming from?” rather than “Where were you prior to my stopping you?” Another was, “Where are you heading to” rather than, “Where are you heading?” Another question was, “At 8 PM, where were you at?” Winston Churchill, as a tongue in cheek quip, stated, “A preposition is a good thing to end a sentence with!” Of course, ‘with’ is a preposition. So, a bit of thought or just practice in properly phrasing one’s questions and statements would obviate this error of speech.

Statements of Encouragement

Often we are given trite and overused statements as a means of encouragement during trying times. Sometimes the words leave the possibility of an alternate effect that might make the situation worse. A tunnel is usually visualized as a thing to be dreaded, and we are sometimes relegated to  a symbolic long tunnel with gloom all about, with no escape and no end. A helpful person might offer intended words of cheer such as “There’s light at the end of the tunnel!” A light ahead could be a good thing, but what if it is a rushing freight train coming toward one?

Another situation also comes to mind, where a song of encouragement, an old Irish song that begins, “May the road rise to meet you.” I am reminded of and individual walking along a road with me when she tripped over a small mound of concrete dropped sometime in the indeterminate past. The road did seemingly rise to meet her, resulting in bruises and cuts requiring stitches. Also, many a person who has had too much alcohol may also find the road seemingly rising to meet him!

Phrases That Make Little Sense

We have all heard phrases from the past and wondered at their respective origins. Some words and phrases of today had archaic origins, but a number of them that we hear with regularity are in abundance in our everyday language. No doubt some of the readers of this post can dredge up some of their own words and phrases that make little sense.

I have heard many times recently the phrase, “Until you sign on the dotted line…….” I don’t believe I have seen a dotted line recently. Printers have advanced to the point that almost no one uses a dot matrix printer anymore. Therefore, there are few lines to sign today that come from a printer that prints lines as a series of dots. Perhaps we should modify our language and say, “Until you sign on the solid or continuous line……” Right?

Another saying that is definitely unreasonable is the one where an individual is searching for a lost object and declares upon finding the sought-after object, “It just had to be the last place I looked!” Well, I hope it was, or the declarant might be a candidate for a skilled psychotherapist. If one continued to search after finding an object, he or she might become a public figure around the local area, and be looked upon with pity as the butt of jokes.

Proof of Being Right

Recently another retired college professor who hails from Great Britain and I were discussing the English language. One thing led to another, and I ventured to ask him and several others who were listening in to tell me what the most mispronounced word in the English language is. They all ventured a guess, and they all were indeed candidates. But none mentioned my favorite word, which I have been trying to hammer home for years. Since I have no well-established or well-known platform from which to listen, I am working on this project one person at a time, in most cases. I am not like E. F. Hutton, to whom everyone listens when he speaks, and I am a lone advocate for the word, crying in the wilderness. Of course most millennials would not remember this ad, although it disappeared from our lexicon only a few years ago.

I proffered the word ‘dissect’ and the professor immediately stated that the word was pronounced ‘disect’ as there was only one ‘s.’ I replied that there were two ‘s’s, so the following vowel, an ‘e,’ would require the short sound, since the ‘i’ immediately preceded the first ‘s.’ After a spirited debate, I showed him on my phone that the word was pronounced ‘dis-sect.’ He stated that I was looking in an American dictionary, and the British had the leg up on the English language. Not to be outdone, I Googled the English Oxford dictionary. Again, that dictionary stressed that the word is dis-sect, since the prefix ‘di-‘ means two, and when something is dissected, it is cut into more than two parts, and the example given was that the crowd dissected the prime minister’s position on a given subject. Bi- is also a prefix meaning two, so if we only cut something into two parts, we have a perfectly good word, bisect, to describe the activity. I won this one, as the worthy professor admitted his error and that of most others with whom he associated! I still haven’t heard any one say:

di-ssatisfied; a-ssembled; di-ssembled; di-ssertation; di-ssention, etc.

You get the point!

Cursive Writing

There is a potential storm brewing on the horizon. With the advent of texting, writing emails, twitter messaging, etc., none of the lettering is in cursive. We pre-millenials saw writing in cursive as a rite of passage, much as learning to drive, although of course later in childhood. We initially laboriously copied thousands of letters, both lower case and upper case, and were required to become expert in making a legible word of these letters, and heaven help us if we used a combination of upper and lower case letters in the same word (but this is commonplace now)! I have even seen words with letters that appear more than once, and one time the letter is written in lower case and the next as an upper case letter, in the same word! Of course, I am not including the first word of a sentence, a proper noun, or acronyms. I hope you know what an acronym is. The letter that is most frequently used incorrectly is that of the letter i. A lower case ‘i’ is dotted (has a period above the letter), while an upper case ‘i’ should NEVER be ‘dotted!’ But I digress.

The intent of this post is to decry the loss of the ability to write in cursive, and I hear it is not taught in grammar school any more. Cursive letters are much more attractive than printed writing, so this is a great artistic loss. Remember those beautiful flourishing lettered words of old literature? And cursive writing allows a great deal more speed in writing  sentences than when printing them. Recently my wife went to a physician’s office, and was required to sign her name in CURSIVE, and printing her name on a separate line. I assume to confirm her age if she could write in both cursive and printing styles. So what will millenials do when they can no longer write in cursive form and need to sign a legal document?

There is a bright side to this problem, however. When we oldsters are ensconced in a nursing home by our children who do not wish to be burdened by us any longer, we can write notes to each other and write our memoirs. The younger generation will think we are writing in code!

Difficulties in Publishing One’s Story

Over the years since I began this blog, I have been encouraged to write a book, by readers of this blog who have enjoyed my writing style, and others who have read my poems and the manner in which I communicate in writing. Actually, I already have several textbooks and one non-fiction that is published. But publishing fiction is a different kettle of fish.

Several years ago I wrote a novel of mystery and suspense, in a secluded mountainous area with which I was familiar, but knew nothing of marketing a book. I posted the book on Amazon and there it has languished, although I have sold a nominal number of books. I was gratified when one of the purchasers said it was the best book she had ever read! So, recently I began entertaining thoughts of methods for ‘pushing’ the book, entitled “Missing the Mark.” With great expense along with fear and trembling, I hired a professional reviewer to read the book, and was sure the reviewer would savage my book. Surprise! I received about the best possible review I could have been awarded, so I was vindicated in the work I had done. Please read the review from this professional and also obtain a copy of the book if you wish, either in Kindle or hard book form.

Missing the Mark by John W. Ridley, Reviewed by Priscilla Estes

“…solving the mystery of Jerry’s life had again become all-encompassing.”

A powerful prologue promises a main character who will succeed and retain her high character despite shortcomings, mistreatment, and danger. Ridley successfully delivers Margaret Ann, part Cherokee and Yakima but fully Appalachian, who treats “everyone with respect and dignity, even when wronged by others.”

Deep in the isolated mountains of northern Georgia during the late Sixties, Margaret Ann’s poor but loving family of thirteen concentrates on survival. Margaret Ann yearns for more and gets it via an unexpected scholarship to a local college. She works single-mindedly toward her nursing degree, but then meets Jerry. Margaret Ann’s poverty and innate need to comfort render her “psychologically drawn to him due to his unhappy and needy mien.” Margaret Ann weds Jerry, joins the military reserves, and plunges down a seventeen-year-long marital rabbit hole. Jerry represents all that is bad about Appalachia: poverty, crime, cruelty, family feuds, questionable ancestry, and shanty-shack living. Despite two children with Jerry and a full-time nursing career, Margaret Ann manages to maintain her decency and, for reasons unfathomable, her marriage.

An Appalachian native, Ridley skillfully contrasts Margaret Ann’s love of nature, the seasons, and the elements with Jerry’s ugliness. Lack of dialogue, use of the passive voice, and a third-person narrative lend a removed tone to a character who smolders with passion and wisdom. Some sparks escape when Margaret Ann finally plays amateur sleuth in a convoluted mystery involving her husband and murder, drugs, fraud, and the U.S. Government. Convenient coincidences threaten the ambitious plot, but Margaret Ann persists. She is an admirable, memorable character who fights poverty, mistreatment, and marital misery in a complicated Appalachian mystery that blends the beauty of the mountains with the ugliness of drugs, murder, and misuse of power. A surprise ending channels events toward a possible continuation of the adventures of Margaret Ann.

US Review of Books