The Week: Most Recent from James Harbeck recent posts.en-usFri, 05 Sep 2014 09:32:00 -0400http://theweek.com Recent from James Harbeck from THE WEEKFri, 05 Sep 2014 09:32:00 -0400Everything you wanted to know about danglers but were too afraid to ask<img src="" /></P><p>There's been a little kerfuffle lately over danglers. Steven Pinker, who is a noted linguist, said in an article in <em>The Guardian</em> that some dangling modifiers are OK to use &mdash; in fact, according to him, they're not even ungrammatical.</p><p>What <em>are</em> dangling modifiers, or "danglers" for short, you ask? In a nutshell, a dangler is a little phrase &mdash; not a complete sentence &mdash; that is used at the start of a sentence to describe something, but that something is not the subject doing the main action of the sentence. Since dangling modifiers don't attach to what comes right after them, they...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 05 Sep 2014 09:32:00 -0400Four annoying sounds you need to stop making<img src="" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p><strong>Listen to more of</strong> <strong><em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts</strong>:</p><ul><li>Robin Williams: A remembrance<br /></li><li>The secret behind our fascination with spy movies<br /></li><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>Escape From Tomorrow</em></li></ul><p> </p><p ><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, and TuneIn.*</strong></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 13 Aug 2014 16:45:00 -0400Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?<img src="" /></P><p>One "rule" that many self-appointed experts on writing return to again and again is: "Don't use the passive!" Or, as some puckishly put it, "The passive voice should be avoided."</p><p>The passive voice is often disliked because it can be used to evade responsibility: "Mistakes were made." However, not every construction that avoids pinning blame uses the passive voice, and not every use of the passive voice avoids pinning blame. Sometimes the passive is the better choice because you want to put the focus on the receiver of the action.</p><p>And sometimes people criticize sentences for being in the passive...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:11:00 -0400Hey, grammar nerds! Stop freaking out about 'alot.'<img src="" /></P><p>There's one word that upsets alot of people. And I mean <em>alot</em>. It's been around for awhile, but don't let anyone who's particular about grammar get ahold of it! "It's not a word!" they'll tell you. "It's <em>two words</em>!"</p><p>I'll be honest: writing that paragraph practically made my teeth hurt. I'm about as allergic to <em>alot</em> as most of you probably are. But I'm here to tell you to get used to it. It will be around for quite awhile.</p><p>Should that be "for quite a while"? And what about "get a hold" instead of "get ahold"? Many people will tell you so. But, ah, there's the key to why <em>alot</em> is not going away....</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:29:00 -0400'I know, right?': The anatomy of a wonderfully nonsensical phrase<img src="" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p>Listen to more of <strong>The Week's mini podcasts</strong>:</p><ul><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>Headhunters</em></li><li>This week I learned plants can hear themselves being eaten, and more</li><li>It's time to kill the word 'troll'</li></ul><p> </p><p ><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, Swell, and TuneIn.*</strong></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:20:00 -0400'I know, right?': The anatomy of a wonderfully nonsensical phrase<img src="" /></P><p>Sometimes people say something that you understand perfectly well, but if you stop and think about it, it doesn't make literal sense. I know, right?</p><p>There are those who argue that "I know, right?" is stupid and meaningless, and that we should stop using it. After all, when you say it you're not really asking whether or not you know.</p><p>But "I know, right?" is a great example of how language actually works. Language is not just a means of passing literal information. Welcome to the world of pragmatics: the study of speech as behavior intended to produce effects on an audience.</p><p>Language carries a...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 11 Jul 2014 06:14:00 -04005 words that are badly broken<img src="" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p><strong>Listen to more of <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts:</strong></p><ul><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>The War Room</em></li></ul><ul><li>This week I learned why we all look hotter in sunglasses, and more</li></ul><ul><li>The cult of natural childbirth has gone too far</li></ul><p> </p><p ><em><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, Swell, and TuneIn.*</strong></em></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:25:00 -0400The curious linguistic history of pineapples and butterflies<img src="" /></P><p dir="ltr">Pineapples and butterflies: two nice things, two odd words. Pineapples are neither pines nor apples. Butterflies are neither flies nor butter. But never mind that. Look at this:</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pineapple:<br /></strong>French: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Italian: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Spanish: pi&ntilde;a/anan&aacute;</p><p dir="ltr">Portuguese (European): anan&aacute;s</p><p dir="ltr">German: Ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Dutch: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Swedish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Danish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Russian: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Polish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Finnish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Estonian: ananass</p><p dir="ltr">Hungarian: anan&aacute;sz</p><p dir="ltr">Greek: anan&aacute;s</p><p> </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Butterfly:<br /></strong>French: papillon</p><p dir="ltr">Italian: farfalla</p><p dir="ltr">Spanish: mariposa</p><p dir="ltr">Portuguese: borboleta</p><p dir="ltr">German: Schmetterling</p><p dir="ltr">Dutch: vlinder...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 27 Jun 2014 06:33:00 -040010 words that are badly broken<img src="" /></P><p>Think about when you were a kid discovering the wonder of glue. Hey, why not glue Barbie to this teacup? Let's glue Daddy's fancy pen to Mommy's ceramic figurine! But when you try to <em>unglue</em> them, you discover that glue can be strong &mdash; sometimes stronger than the things you were gluing. Now Barbie is permanently holding a teacup handle and Daddy's pen has a ceramic arm on it.</p><p>Words can be like that. They can be made of bits glued together, and then sometimes they break apart at places they weren't meant to break at. Here are 10 examples of English words that you may not have known are broken...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 20 Jun 2014 09:46:00 -0400How to be a champagne snob<img src="" /></P><p>Champagne is possibly the most divine, spirit-lifting beverage you can possibly consume. It is <em>not</em> the cheapest. While the taste of a nice <em>brut</em> champagne can seem less complex than that of many other wines, it is a wine designed to <em>elevate</em> &mdash; your spirits and your status. It is not only possible but almost inevitable to be a champagne snob if you take a real liking to the stuff. Here, for your edification, is a brief glossary to help you talk impressively about champagne.</p><p><strong>Champagne<br /></strong>Watch the capital letter: <em>champagne</em> is a sparkling wine and <em>Champagne</em> is the place in France it comes from, a...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 28 May 2014 07:45:00 -0400How advertisers trick your brain by turning adjectives into nouns<img src="" /></P><p class="p1">In marketing, it's become quite popular to use an adjective as a noun. Take a look at some examples collected by branding expert Nancy Friedman:</p><p class="p3" >Find your fabulous (Thai Tourism and others)</p><p class="p3" >Go directly to fabulous (California Lottery Monopoly Scratchers)</p><p class="p3" >Welcome to fabulous (ULTA)</p><p class="p3" >Welcome to possible (Mindtree)</p><p class="p3" >Rethink possible (AT&amp;T)</p><p class="p3" >In search of incredible (Asus)</p><p class="p3" >15 seconds of smart (Farmers Insurance)</p><p class="p3" >111 years of extraordinary (Bergdorf Goodman)</p><p class="p3" >Celebrate your extraordinary (Sephora)</p><p class="p3" >Give artisanal&hellip; Give whimsical&hellip; Give local&hellip; Give exceptional (Oakland Museum...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Tue, 13 May 2014 06:12:00 -0400The Netherlands, Holland, and the Dutch: Why some countries have so many different names<img src="" /></P><p>A person from Germany walks into a room. So does a person from Allemagne, a person from Deutschland, a person from Saksa, a person from Tyskland, and a person from </span>Niemcy<span>. At least how many people are in the room?</p><p>One.</p><p>Germany is one of several countries that have completely different names in different languages. In French, Germany is <em>Allemagne</em>; in German, it's <em>Deutschland</em>; in Finnish, it's <em>Saksa</em>; in Danish, it's <em>Tyskland</em>; in Polish, it's <em>Niemcy</em>. Why is this? And what other countries have this quirk? It's all a story of tribes, dynasties, foreign domination, and rivers&hellip;</p><p><strong>Germany<br /></strong>A long...</p></span> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Tue, 29 Apr 2014 09:28:00 -0400There's a number of reasons the grammar of this headline could infuriate you<img src="" /></P><p>There's a number of reasons this sentence could be right. But do you think it is?</p><p>It's not uncommon; the set of words "there's a number of reasons" gets almost 3 million hits on Google. But the phrase "<em>there are</em> a number of reasons" returns more than 63 million results. And perhaps the least natural-sounding possibility, "<em>there is</em> a number of reasons," gets even more hits: About 73 million.</p><p>So there's a division of opinions. But this division is a strange one. The people who prefer "there's a number of reasons" are likely to be either very sloppy or very fussy, while the great middle ground is...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Tue, 15 Apr 2014 06:08:00 -0400The fascinating linguistic legacy of the Crimean War<img src="" /></P><p>March 28, 2014, is the 160th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Russia to formally start the Crimean War. The war was fought by Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against Russia, mainly to curtail Russia's presence and ambitions in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe. It lasted until 1856, and was fought in several places, not just Crimea. But it's best remembered for just one battle, a battle that was vaunted as glorious and heroic by the side that lost it (but won the war) &mdash; and that has left us with some misquotations, three articles of clothing, and some lessons in accidental and...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 26 Mar 2014 08:06:00 -0400How to read your shampoo bottle<img src="" /></P><p>Stop what you're doing right now and take a shower. Use your fanciest natural herbal shampoo, your fanciest natural herbal conditioner, and your fanciest natural liquid soap. Then use your expensive moisturizer. And while you're doing all that, look at the ingredients they list on their labels. Go ahead, I'll wait.</p><p>You back? So how about those ingredients? Do they seem a little&hellip;esoteric?</p><p>OK, well, let's just say that such products almost always list their first ingredient as <strong>aqua</strong>.</p><p>Sometimes they helpfully translate that from the Latin: "water."</p><p>And one of the last ingredients listed...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Tue, 25 Mar 2014 06:21:00 -0400Why is the 'mor' in 'Voldemort' so evil-sounding?<img src="" /></P><p>Sherlock Holmes's mortal nemesis was Professor Moriarty.</p><p>Harry Potter's nemesis was Voldemort.</p><p>Doctor Who had a nemesis named Morbius. So did Spider-Man. Morbius was also the name of the antagonist in <em>The Forbidden Planet</em>.</p><p>Frodo Baggins went through the mines of Moria to get to Mordor, where he met Sauron, who, as great a villain as he was, started out as the lieutenant of Morgoth, the original and darkest villain in the world of Tolkien's Middle Earth.</p><p>H.G. Wells sent his time traveller into the future to encounter a cave-dwelling evil race called the Morlocks. He also created an evil genius...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:39:00 -0400