Dave Barry on Grammar
It's time for another edition of "ask mister language person," the column
that answers your questions about grammer, vocabulary, and those little
Q. What are the rules regarding capital letters?
A. Capital letters are used in three grammatical situations:
1. At the beginning of proper or former nouns.
EXAMPLES: Capitalize "Queen," "Tea Party," and "Rental Tuxedo."
Do NOT capitalize "dude," "cha-cha," or "boogerhead."
2. To indicate a situation of great military importance.
EXAMPLE: "Get on the TELSAT and tell STAFCON that COMWIMP wants
some BBQ ASAP."
3. To indicate that the subject of the sentence has been bitten by a
EXAMPLE: "I'll just stick my hand in here and OUCH!"
Q. Is there any difference between "happen" and "transpire"?
A. Grammatically, "happen" is a collaborating inductive that should be
used in predatory conjunctions such as: "Me and Norm here would like
to buy you two happening mommas a drink." Whereas "transpire" is a
suppository verb that should always be used to indicate that an event
of some kind has transpired.
WRONG: "Lester got one of them electric worm stunners."
RIGHT: "What transpired was, Lester got one of them electric worm
Q. Do you take questions from attorneys?
A. Yes. That will be $475.
Q. No, seriously, I'm an attorney, and i want to know which was correct:
"With regards to the aforementioned" blah blah blah.
"With regards to the aforementioned" yak yak yak.
A. That will be $850.
Q. Please explain the expression "this does not bode well."
A. It means something is not boding the way it should. It could be boding
Q. Did an alert reader named Linda Bevard send you an article from the
December 19, 1990, Denver Post concerning a Dr. Stanley Biber, who
was elected commisioner in Las Animas County, and who is identified
in the article as "the world's leading sex-change surgeon"?
Q. And what did Dr. Biber say when he was elected?
A. He said, quote: "We pulled it off."
Q. Please explain the correct usage of "exact same."
A. "Exact same" is a corpuscular phrase that should be used only when
something is exactly the same as something. It is the opposite (or
"antibody") of "a whole nother."
EXAMPLE: "This is the exact same restaurant where Alma found weevils
in her pie. They gave her a whole nother slice."
Q. I am going to deliver the eulogy at a funeral, and I wish to know
whether it is correct to say: "Before he died, LaMont was an active
person." or "LaMont was an active person before he died."
A. The American Funeral Industry Council advises us that the preferred
term is "bought the farm."
Q. Where should punctuation go?
A. It depends on the content.
EXAMPLE: Hi Mr Johnson exclaimed Bob Where do you want me to put
these punctuation marks Oh just stick them there at the end of the
following sentence answered Mr Johnson OK said Bob ".!"."?"?,,".."!".
The exception to the rule is teenagers who should place a question
mark after every few words to make sure people are still listening.
EXAMPLE: "So there's this kid at school? Named Derrick? And he's
like kind of weird? Like he has a picture of Newt Gingrich carved in
his hair? So one day he had to blow his nose? Like really bad? But
he didn't have a tissue? So he was like sitting next to Tracy Steakle?
And she had this sweater? By like Ralph Lauren? So Derrick takes the
sleeve? And he like..."
PROFESSIONAL WRITING TIP: In writing a novel or play, use "foreshadowing"
to subtly hint at the outcome of the plot.
WRONG: "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"
RIGHT: "O Romeo, Romeo! I wonder if we're both going to stab
ourselves at the end of the plot?"