Voter Caging (word study)

After hearing reports of widespread voter caging (voter suppression) across the United States, I grew curious about the derivation of the term and looked up “caging” in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Here is the salient part of the definition:

caging (1556).   1 : to confine or keep in or as if in a cage  2 : to drive (as a puck) into a cage and score a goal

The point of voter caging is to prevent certain groups of qualified registered voters from casting their ballots by essentially “putting them in a cage.” The usual targets are voters who are unfamiliar with their rights under the law, soldiers deployed overseas, and people who lack the time and other resources to prove that their registration is valid.

In this 2008 election, voters who have lost their homes due to foreclosure are especially vulnerable to caging; when they arrive at their polling places, challengers may charge that their registrations are no longer valid because their addresses aren’t current.

For more details, take a look at Wikipedia’s writeup on caging. Also take a look at NOW’s recent program on caging.

If you believe that you are at risk of being challenged at your polling place, take action:

  • Vote early, if possible. This will give you time to resolve any issues that may arise
  • Call the Election Protection Hotline at 1 866 OUR VOTE
  • Call your county registrar of voters, or county elections office
  • Avoid using a provisional ballot, which may not be counted.

This is a particular important and exciting election year. Happy voting!

Cheers,
Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in clear thinking, word usage | Leave a comment

Compound Possessive (noun + pronoun)

This morning, I received the following question about compound possessives from William Tate:

What about when yourself and someone else are in possession. Do you say “me and Sarah’s house” or “Mine and Sarah’s house” or “Sarah’s and my house”?

In this case, I would choose “Sarah’s and my house.”

To review, the rule for indicating joint possession for compound nouns is to make only the second noun possessive by adding ‘s to the end. But when one of the possessors is a personal pronoun, it doesn’t make sense to follow that rule. Here’s how the online Guide to Grammar and Writing puts it:

When one of the possessors in a compound possessive is a personal pronoun, we have to put both possessors in the possessive form or we end up with something silly: “Bill and my car had to be towed last night.”

* Bill’s and my car had to be towed last night.
* Giorgio’s and her father was not around much during their childhood.

If this second sentence seems unsatisfactory, you might have to do some rewriting so you end up talking about their father, instead, or revert to using both names: “Giorgio and Isabel’s father wasn’t around much . . . . ” (and then “Giorgio” will lose the apostrophe +s).

Also keep in mind that “me” is the objective form, not the possessive form, of “I.”

Finally, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, “mine” is the absolute, or independent, form:

[Mine] can stand alone without a noun . . . The independent form does not require an explicit object: the thing possessed may be either an antecedent or something understood {this dictionary is mine} {this cabin of yours} {Where is hers?}.

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in possessive noun, possessive pronoun, word usage | 12 Comments

Grammar Contest Winner

Tim Dougherty, an English teacher at a Catholic school in Delaware, is the third winner of a March 2008 grammar contest on this blog. Here is the sentence that I invited readers to correct:

Dr. Gonstead was a pioneer in the chiropractic profession, developing equipment and a method of analysis that used more than one criteria to verify the precise location of vertebral subluxation.

Tim wrote that the plural form, “criteria,” is not correct. It should be the singular form, “criterion,” as below:

Dr. Gonstead was a pioneer in the chiropractic profession, developing equipment and a method of analysis that used more than one criterion to verify the precise location of vertebral subluxation.

Tip: There can be two, three, or more criteria, but there is only one criterion.

Tim also noticed an error in one of my September 2008 posts, in which I offered the following as an example of a sentence with a nonrestrictive dependent clause:

People whose thoughts are mostly positive are happier than people whose thoughts are mostly negative, in my opinion.

In fact,  as Tim wrote, “in my opinion” is a prepositional phrase. Here’s a correct example of a nonrestricitve dependent clause. Notice that the clause begins with a subordinate conjunction (if) and has both a subject (you) and a verb (want):

People whose thoughts are mostly positive are happier than people whose thoughts are mostly negative, if you want my opinion.

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in clear thinking, parts of speech | Leave a comment

Diagramming Sentences

I learned the rudiments of diagramming sentences when I was in grade school. Or was it junior high?

In any case, diagramming is a valuable tool for writers and editors who want to know not only how, but why, one way of putting thoughts on paper is “correct” English usage and another is not.

I often go to the web pages below to make sense of what’s going on in puzzling sentence constructions. Perhaps you will find them useful too.

Large powerpoint presentation
(the link to this presentation is at the center, and also at the bottom, of the page)

Brief powerpoint presentations

This last page offers a full menu of powerpoint presentations, for diagramming, punctuation, sentence fragments, quizzes, and more.

Powerpoint menu

Enjoy!

Tara Treasurefield

Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in diagramming sentences, sentence structure | Leave a comment

Prepositional Phrase, Adverbial Phrase

Heard on the radio:

In a startling announcement, the New York Mint plans to release a limited number of $100 union silver coins to the public.

There’s only one thing wrong with this sentence: it doesn’t make sense.

The opening  prepositional phrase, “In a startling announcement,” modifies the infinitive “to release.” By specifying where the mint will release the silver coins, this prepositional phrase is also an adverbial phrase. That’s fine. Prepositional phrases often double as adverbial phrases.

The problem is that there is no way to release silver coins in a startling announcement. You might release them in a bank, a restaurant, or even a drugstore, but definitely not in a startling announcement.

Here are two ways to make this sentence logical:

In a startling announcement, the New York Mint divulged plans to release a limited number of $100 union silver coins to the public.

See? Now “in a startling announcement” modifies “divulged.” It is logical to divulge plans in a startling announcement.

Here’s another option:

Recently, the director of the New York Mint made the startling announcement that the mint plans to release a limited number of $100 union silver coins to the public.

In this sentence, the prepositional phrase “At a recent press conference” doubles as an adverbial phrase. It modifies the verb “made” and tells readers where the director made the startling announcement. It is logical to make an announcement (startling or not) at a press conference.

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in clear thinking, parts of speech, preposition | Leave a comment

I or me?

Last week, I heard this on the radio:

We wonder how it’s going to impact you and I.

Oops. Wrong choice. The sentence should read like this:

We wonder how it’s going to impact you and me.

Why? Because “me” is the objective case of the pronoun “I,” and in this sentence, “you and me” are direct objects of the infinitive “to impact.”

To get a quick sense of whether to use the nominative I or the objective case me, it sometimes helps to eliminate distracting words and focus on the word in question:

We wonder how it’s going to impact I.

Sound odd? That’s a big hint that the objective case, not the nominative, is the correct choice.

Notice how it’s the presence of “you” in the original sentence that muddies the waters. The source of the confusion is that the nominative and objective forms of “you” are identical. In a sense, when the pronoun “you” is the first word of a compound object, speakers and writers can easily forget that any following pronouns will change form:

Not: We wonder how it’s going to impact you, he, and she.

But: We wonder how it’s going to impact you, him, and her.

Tip (from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition):

. . . the English language has only seven words that have different nominative and objective forms: I/me, we/us, he/him, she/her, they/them, who/whom, and whoever/whomever.

These seven little words certainly cause a great deal of confusion!

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in clear thinking, word usage | Leave a comment

Words + Actions Tell All

As a young woman, I was ill-prepared to distinguish between relationships with real potential and the other kind. My favorite therapist, Dr. Ed Wortz—who was also my dreamwork mentor—gave me a hint:

If you listen and watch carefully, people will tell you which type of relationship it is.

It wasn’t long before I noticed plenty of material to test out Ed’s pronouncement.

At that time, I was intimately involved with Monty, who offered what I thought to be a relationship with terrific potential. He taught environmental studies at the college level, and my work was all about promoting conservation and renewable energy resources. What’s more, I believed that he was emotionally mature, because his father was a Freudian psychologist. Dismissing my reservations about Freudian psychology, I envisioned life with Monty, my future husband.

Monty lived about fifty miles away, and my work occasionally brought me to his town. After  meeting with a few members of the City Council one day, I joined him and our mutual friend Jim for dinner at the home of one of Monty’s colleagues, Linda. Over the course of the evening, I followed Ed’s suggestion. Listening and watching carefully, I noticed  that Monty and Linda had a great deal in common: they were both extremely reserved and self-assured, and they had similar tastes in music, art, and literature.

Feeling unsettled–okay, jealous–I tried to ease my discomfort by befriending Linda. When we had left the table and were having coffee and cookies, I stood in front of her, intending to initiate a conversation. She promptly took a step back and turned sideways. I find it difficult to communicate from the side and at a distance, so I stepped forward and again moved in front of her. Once again, she took a step back and turned sideways.

Puzzled, I stepped forward once again, and she again stepped back and turned sideways.  You see the problem? I wasn’t capable of understanding Linda’s body language. But I was capable of watching it, as Ed had advised.  And by the time Monty brought the bizarre non-conversation to an end by announcing that he needed to get home,  I had finally learned to read the message that Linda’s body language was shouting: my hoped-for friendship with her had no potential.

After mulling over the events of that evening for a few days, I wrote Monty, telling him straight out that I thought our relationship had a lot of potential. The wiser part of me knew that it just wasn’t so. But I wanted to be sure.

Monty’s response arrived in the mail about a week later: he would have to think about whether or not our relationship had “lots of potential. ” The signature line was “Cordially, Monty.”

Even with that, I clung to my “happily-ever-after” fantasies about Monty until my friend and neighbor Lynn spoke the truth:

“Cordially” says it all!

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

Posted in clear thinking, word usage | 3 Comments