Write Stuff – Wordplay

There’s no denying it. Whether English is your mother tongue or second language, the rules are tough to learn. Not as difficult as Latin, which has enough tenses to actually make you tense. But if you’ve ever struggled with pronouns and the choice between her and she, you know that most grammar books make CPAC look like a laugh fest. This week, we take a lighthearted look at language, grammar, and the confusion that reigns when rules are abandoned.

While It’s true that we learn from our mistakes, It’s much more fun to learn from other people’s linguistic mishaps. And those lessons usually stick best when they come with a healthy dose of humour. Look no further than The Telegraph‘s Sign Language feature, a weekly collection of ?strange signs and bizarre translations from around the world.? Like the sign warning drivers to drive slowly because of a ?Free Range Child? in the area. Or a restaurant in Luxembourg offering ?Second-Hand Food and Drinks? (I’d prefer to chew my own dinner, thanks). Then there’s the sign maker in Beijing who offered this helpful advice to tourists: ?Thunderstorms do not call cell phones.?

If you prefer to mix your grammar lessons with celebrity gossip, check out Grammar Guard. The site exposes ?the sloppy speech of high-profile people,? and does a decent job of explaining exactly where celebs and politicians went wrong. A grammar blooper by Meghan McCain includes some interesting background on why Mercer Mayer changed the titles of her popular kids? books. If You’re ever confused about whether to say ?me and my friend? or ?my friend and me,? a mental image of cartoon hedgehogs should sort things out.

Still in the mental sticky-note category, this entry on Lindsay Lohan’s eating habits will clear up any confusion about singular pronouns?and probably turn you off energy drinks forever.

Spelling seems to be a mystifying black hole as well, with to, too, and two interchanged with abandon. The Oatmeal has a weird yet handy guide to commonly misspelled words, as well as advice on semicolons and why you should handle the word literally with care.

Another common error is the dreaded alot. If you want to free yourself of this bugaboo once and for all, visit Allie’s brilliant post at Hyperbole and a Half. For the record, alot is never, ever a real word unless You’re talking about the town in India (in which case you need to capitalize it), or allotting yourself the biggest slice of cake (which means you’ll need an extra ?l? and some generous friends).

On a serious note, if you need a deeper understanding of sentence structure for things like essays or business reports, the Reed-Kellogg Diagrammer is an indispensable resource. The main page gives a good intro, and the tool itself offers much more than static diagrams. Hover your cursor over any part of a diagram and a pop-up window provides clear explanations for each part of the sentence.

And finally, what would a collection of Internet resources be without at least one video? Thanks to Open University, you can now enjoy the complete history of the English language in 10 minutes . This witty, animated series of shorts covers American English, Internet English, Shakespeare and more. It’s time well spent, or at least well wasted, and you’ll never again wonder where the word werewolf comes from.

If you haven’t played with words in a while, why not check out some of these sites? You might like them a lot. Or, at the very least, be tempted to hug an alot.