Introduction to English

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We all do stupid things on the internet. When we are typing words, mistakes or errors due to haste or lack of education are rampant. Whether it is the improper use of 'your' on IRC, or bungled grammar in an email, when humans have to interact by using words, there are always going to be misinterpretations, misspellings, and misuse that usually results in laughter all around. This article, an Introduction to English, seeks to point out the many foibles of the English language while also educating internet users to some of the more odd things that can occur within our vaunted rhetoric.

Pleonasms[edit]

File:Stuff you should know - 1.jpg
An example of a common pleonasm.

Pleonasms are the opposite of oxymora. They are a redundant phrase. For a large list of examples, please see this source.

File:Remain-dead.jpg
Another example of a pleonasm.

Examples include:

  • DMZ Zone - Where "DMZ" stands for "demilitarized zone." Adding the word "zone" to the end is not necessary.
  • ABS System - As same as the example above. "ABS" stands for "Anti-lock Braking System."
  • ATM Machine - Same as the other two. "ATM" means "Automated Teller Machine."
  • "Anonymous Stranger" - This example shows two words with similar meanings being used together. The word "anonymous" is being used in an attempt to modify the word "stranger," but because the definitions of the words are so closely related, the resulting phrase becomes a pleonasm.
  • "Collaborate Together" - This often used phrase is an example of a pleonasm due to the fact that the word "collaborate" already presupposes action taken together.
  • "General consensus of opinion" - As above, this phrase uses two words that generally have the same meaning. Consensus implies opinion by its own definition.
  • Individual Person - The word "individual" is a synonym of the word "person."
  • Past History or Past Experience - The word "past" signifies an antecedent, or "a preceding circumstance."

Oxymora[edit]

Unlike pleonasms, Oxymora are a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. For a more sarcastic discussion on this subject, please see Oxymoron. For a large list of examples, please see this link.

Almost every literate person these days knows what an oxymoron is. The most famous example in popular culture would probably be the commonly used term "jumbo shrimp." Since shrimp are such small creatures, it seems absurd to use the word jumbo to describe them. Elephants, yes. And large jet planes as well. But jumbo shrimp?

Examples include:

  • Advanced BASIC
  • Anarchist community Being a community doesn't necessitate that there be a leadership hierarchy
  • Ballpoint
  • Devout atheist
  • Even odds

Dummy Pronoun[edit]

A Dummy Pronoun is a pronoun that serves in an ad hoc capacity. This word is used to take the place of a known, unknown, or accepted (generally agreed upon fact) noun not to be spoken of directly. Dummy pronouns tend to be semantically impersonal and empty.

Examples include:

  • "It seems that my father loves pornography." This sentence contains the dummy pronoun "it." The sentence could also be written without the dummy pronoun by writing: "My dad seems to love pornography." The dummy pronoun used in the first sentence is empty of meaning.
  • "Elderly people on the internet attempt to appear as if they are with it. In this example, the slang term "with it" is a phrase used to describe being up to date with current trends and fashion. Inside that phrase, the word "it" has no physical meaning or value.

Spoonerism[edit]

Spoonerisms are a transposition of sounds of two or more words. Sometimes they are the result of wordplay and other times spoonerisms are the result of accident or error. The most famous example of a spoonerism is probably the phrase "cunning stunt." For further exploration, a humorous discussion takes place here.

Examples include:

  • fighting a liar ----> lighting a fire
  • you hissed my mystery lecture ----> you missed my history lecture
  • cattle ships and bruisers ----> battle ships and cruisers
  • nosey little cook ----> cosy little nook
  • a blushing crow ----> a crushing blow
  • tons of soil ----> sons of toil
  • our queer old Dean ----> our dear old Queen
  • we'll have the hags flung out ----> we'll have the flags hung out
  • you've tasted two worms ----> you've wasted two terms
  • our shoving leopard ----> our loving shepherd
  • a half-warmed fish ----> a half-formed wish
  • is the bean dizzy? ----> is the Dean busy?

Palindromes[edit]

 
 
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas
 

 

 
 
Was it a cat I saw?
 

 

Everybody knows what a Palindrome is. It's a phrase, sentence, or number that can be read the same forwards or backwards. Some examples include: radar, level, rotator, rotor, kayak, reviver, racecar. Recently, computer programmers have attempted to create the largest palindrome ever. These attempts result in huge sentences that contain several thousand words and several tens of thousands of letters. They also have one more thing in common: none of them make a single lick of sense when a person attempts to read them.

Semordnilaps[edit]

Essentially, a Semordnilaps is the term used for a word, that when spelled backwards, reveals a new readable word not related to the original. The actual term "semordnilaps" is a semordnilaps of the word "palindrome."

For the complete list of semordnilaps found in the English language, please see this link.

Pangram[edit]

Any person who has looked inside a font file has seen a Pangram. The sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog" is probably the most well known and most widely used pangram there is. By definition, a pangram is a sentence or phrase that utilizes every letter of the alphabet. Linguists and bored people the world over busy themselves trying to come up with new versions of pangrams. The current trend is to see who can write the shortest one in terms of total letters used.

The shortest pangram known (32 letters) that still retains an understandable structure:

"Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs."

Here are some further examples (note, these examples are shorter than the above pangram, however they make no sense.):

  • How quickly daft jumping zebras vex." (30 letters)
  • "Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim." (29)
  • "Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex Bud." (28)
  • "Bawds jog, flick quartz, vex nymph." (27)
  • Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx." (26)

Holorime[edit]

A Holorime or Holorhyme is a literary restraint where an author or poet forces a line or even entire verses to sound identical when spoken, but then composes them of entirely different words. This linguistic oddity is dominated by French poetry, but there are some good examples for English as well, despite the fact that they are nearly impossible to create:

Flamingo: pale, scenting a latent shark!
Flaming, opalescent in gala tents — hark!


In Ayrshire hill areas, a cruise, eh, lass?
Inertia, hilarious, accrues, hélas!
War, snow, rushin' on.
Was no Russian? Non.
There, hoarse as Marshall Ney,
Their horse's martial neigh.

Had and Buffalo[edit]

Two very different sentences that on the surface appear to be nonsense. If the reader carefully reads them and applies the correct usage of homonyms and homophones, he or she will find that they are grammatically correct.

Had[edit]

"James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher."

A word puzzle used to demonstrate the ambiguity of the word "had." When correct punctuation is used, the sentence is actually grammatically correct:

"James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher."

Buffalo[edit]

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

This word puzzle uses three different meanings of the word "buffalo" and does not need to be punctuated (aside from the ending period) to be grammatically correct.

The three meanings of the word "buffalo" used are as follows:

  • Buffalo, New York - a city
  • Buffalo - a large land mammal
  • buffalo - a verb defined as "bullying, coercive, or confusing."

"11 was a Racehorse, 22 was 12. 1111 race and 22112."

  • "One-one" was a Racehorse, "Two-two" was one too. "One-one" won one race and "Two-two" won one too.

If you are still confused, here is an example that will make it all seem much more clear:

[Those] buffalo(es) from Buffalo [that are intimidated by] buffalo(es) from Buffalo intimidate buffalo(es) from Buffalo.

Buffalo is not the only word in English for which this kind of sentence can be constructed; any word which is both a plural noun and a plural form of a transitive verb will do. Other examples include dice, fish, right and smelt.

Paraprosdokian[edit]

File:Stuff you should know - 2.jpg
An excellent example of a reaction to a paraprosdokian.
 
 
It's too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.
 

 

—Jack Handy

A Paraprosdokian is an unexpected turn or twist within a phrase or sentence, usually used for humorous or sarcastic styles of writing. Noted comedians such as Groucho Marx, Mitch Hedberg and George Carlin were examples of writers/humorists who used frequent paraprosdokians.

Some examples:

  • "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too." — Mitch Hedberg
  • "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." — Mitch Hedberg
  • "She got her good looks from her father, he's a plastic surgeon." — Groucho Marx
  • "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." — Groucho Marx
  • "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know." — Groucho Marx
  • "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx
  • "I go from stool to stool in singles bars hoping to get lucky, but there's never any gum under any of them." — Emo Philips
  • "Well, my brother says "Hello," so, hooray for speech therapy." — Emo Philips

There, They're, and Their[edit]

If you do not know the difference between these words and how to use them, you should be euthanized. Even still, some explanation should be given, if only for the sake of posterity:

  • Use there when referring to a place, real or imaginary.
Put the couch over there.
  • Use their to indicate possession.
The crowd has lost their mind.
  • Use they're as a contraction of the words "they" and "are."
Don't hang out with grammar Nazis, they're a bunch of jerks.

Your, You're, and Yore[edit]

Just like "there, they're and their" above, there seems to be a lot of confusion about which form of this homophone to use in which case of a sentence. I would like to think that people usually make these mistakes more often because of errors during typing, or because they are trying to be funny in a chat room, but ultimately there will always be some moron who actually does screw this one up. So, to reiterate, these are the correct definitions and usages of the words:

  • Your - this word has a few meanings, but the most common usage of the word is as a pronoun that indicates possession. For example, the following sentence uses this form of the homophone correctly:
"I really like your tits."

Your can also be used to demonstrate single parts of a whole. (Also known as synechode):

"Take your tits, for instance."

Please note, the word "your" should never indicate the act of being.

  • You're - a contraction of two words: you and are. This word is used to indicate being:
"You're being a dickhead."
  • Yore - you might think that nobody could ever confuse this word with the two words listed above, but stranger things have happened on the internet. The word "yore" is a noun that means "of ago", referring to a time period that is in the past. For example:
"In days of yore, she had a tight rack."

For a more complete discussion of this word phenomena, please see the main article titled You're/Your.

Its and It's[edit]

A good way of telling how well-educated someone is is by observing whether they know how to use 'it's' properly. There is only one rule - put an apostrophe when you are contracting 'it is'. Otherwise (i.e., when saying 'it' possesses an object or quality), leave it out. Since it is easier to recognise a contraction than the possessive, mentally say 'it is' when you use an apostrophe.

Examples:

  • It's only idiots who don't know how it's written. It's easy enough. Yes it is.
  • Its only rule is whether or not it's a contraction.
  • The best thing about your vagina is its labia. It's dangly.

To and Too[edit]

Sometimes a seemingly small error can turn a great article into a dud. Using to when you should have used too might seem small to you, but it can be one of those errors that make you look retarded.

The word "too" is used when you're referring to an extra or excessive amount of something. For instance:

  • I'm too tired to argue with faggots on IRC.
  • I've eaten too many sausages and I'm feeling sick.
  • I'm coming to your party too.

Prolixity[edit]

Also known as "logorrhoea," Prolixity is being overly verbose in writing. Prolixity involves over-use of simile, metaphor, redundant phrases, too much description, and restating the obvious. There is no mistake that the word logorrhoea sounds like and rhymes with the word diarrhea. Both explain an uncontrolled outflow from a body's orifice; they just are on opposite ends of the body.

 
 
Their stupidities are compounded by a smug belief that they are smart, that they are right, that they have a better system than most other Second or Third World countries [somewhat true only because everything in Singapore is new and so, the latest] - all these smugness compounded by a PAPaganda media that daily puts out nothing but good news, even more triumphs and successes, more worshipful verbiage devoted to showing how smart LKY, LHL, PAP and cronies are, even editing their logorrhoea like LKY's current 1s, into seemingly intelligent observations and insights, their job description including 'making the leaders, especially the Supreme Leader look better than he really is, through judicious editing'.
 

 

—USING MORE WORDS MAKE ME SOUND SMARTER, HURR!

Antanaclasis[edit]

Several words in the English language are spelled the same but have different meanings. These are called homonyms. By using more than one homonym in a sentence or phase, a writer may be able to produce a funny or profound result. Essentially, an Antanaclasis is a word used in two contrasting (and often with the intent of being comic) senses.

Here are some examples:

  • If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.
  • If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.

Benjamin Franklin was an eager and prolific creator of antanaclasis:

  • Your argument is sound...all sound.
  • We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.

Mondegreen[edit]

A mondegreen occurs when a phrase is misheard or misinterpreted due to deceptive homophony. In modern days, this usually occurs in music.

For example:

  • Britney Spears's song Toxic has the phrase "you're toxic, I'm slipping under" which can be misinterpreted as "your toxic cum slipping under" or "your toxic hands slipping under," creating several mondegreens.

See Also[edit]


Introduction to English is part of a series on Language & Communication
Languages and DialectsGrammar, Punctuation, Spelling, Style, and UsageRhetorical StrategiesPoetryThe Politics of Language and CommunicationMediaVisual Rhetoric
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