Category Archives: Grammar
Did you know that a group of vultures has a sense of humour? Or at least the people who decided to name them did (likely back in the 16th century, when a slew of collective nouns emerged): While hanging out and doing nothing, vultures are called a committee. When feeding, they’re called a wake. There’s irony in them thar’ varmints.
Some collective nouns are common sense, and others simply common, such as packs of wolves, flocks of birds or herds of cattle; but did you know that lice flock, and sea urchins form herds, too? If I say swarm, you might think of flies or gnats or even minnows; but you could use the same word to describe a group of eels.
Worms bed, dotterels trip, cheetahs form a coalition, and Hippopotami bloat. Rhinoceroses either crash or form a stubbornness, while skunks stench and squirrels scurry. Jellyfish smack, brood or fluther, while oysters bed and goldfish glint or create a troubling. Butterflies flutter, swarm or kaleidoscope; caterpillars army, while grasshoppers cloud.
There are some fun combinations: Crows murder (they also gather as a storytelling or a parcel), Flamingos flamboyance, guillemots bazaar, gulls screech (don’t they, though?), and hawks kettle (flying in large numbers) and boil (two or more spiralling on an updraft). Hummingbirds charm, as do Magpies (unless they murder), and owls and rooks hold a parliament – I’d trust them to do so more than most politicians. Peacocks muster, ostentation and pride, while penguins tuxedo or huddle (I kid you not). Young penguins gather in a Créche, just like human toddlers, and seagulls squabble.
Starlings form beautiful murmurations and chatterings, while swifts scream and tigers ambush. I’d love to see a zeal of zebras, but not so much a prickle of porcupines. Whales pod while trout hover and stingrays fever; snails walk, frogs knot and, believe it or not, rattlesnakes rhumba! Elephants gather as a memory, while deer gang and bucks clash, and gnus form an implausibility. Running into a mob of kangaroos might be quite pleasant, but not an intrusion of cockroaches!
There are hundreds more such collective nouns; English is an ever-changing language, but some things are just too good to allow them to go the way of the Dodo, so add a few more colourful expressions to your language, and enjoy the idiosyncrasies of English!
I’ll just add that, by now, my grammar-checking program is having a nervous breakdown.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Wiktionary, Flumadiddle(s) is something completely nonsensical or ridiculous; utter nonsense; cheap, worthless frills. According to Dictionary.com, it is an Americanism that arose in the 1840s as a combination of flummery, meaning “complete nonsense,” and diddle, meaning “to fool with.” It’s also the name for a savoury dish from the region around Cape Cod; click here to see the recipe.
I think it’s a word well worth rescuing from obscurity! In fact, it’s probably more relevant than ever in our modern “culture” (I use that term cautiously, as what some people consider culture, others consider flumadiddle). IMHO, flumadiddle could be applied to most television series, political speeches, internet “information”, and even many news articles. So add it to your vocabulary, and have fun!
English is an amazing language, full of words even most English speakers have never heard of. I love finding obscure words – there are websites full of them. I’m going to do my part in saving them from extinction by using them as often as possible… because sometimes, it’s just fun to confuse people!
Nyctophilia is such a rare word form that not even Wiktionary has an entry on it yet (though they do have “nyctophile”). It’s close to my heart, as I am a pure (can I make up my own word, please?) nyctophilite. I’d do everything in the dark if I could. I do fitness at night when the rest of the world has gone to bed, and I usually go to bed after the sun has risen; our exchange student used to call me a half-vampire. I fold clothes, clean house, and walk around our house in complete darkness, and I’m even teaching myself to crochet without looking so that I can do that in the dark, too. There’s just something about darkness that I find restful, and peaceful. My favourite hours are in the night, and I avoid strong light as I have sensitive eyes. I’d be perfectly happy to live in the arctic circle for the winter months, except for the cold.
Are you a fellow nyctophilite? Or do you have nyctophobia?
The Nitty Gritty
I have hundreds of recipes pinned to dozens of Pinterest boards, so I come across a wide range of offerings. Nowadays, the images have to be perfectly lit and photoshopped to make them look appealing; it’s like sugar in pre-packaged foods… we’ve gotten so used to the artificial visual flavour that if a photo were undoctored in some way, it would be glaringly out of place. But what is often missing is the same attention to detail in the writing. I’ve seen “tablespoon” misspelt a few ways, or the abbreviations as Tbs., tb, tbs, tbsp, T., etc. So which one is correct? And do the forms or the etiquette of choices differ between print and online versions?
I pulled out a cross-section of cookbooks in my library and thumbed through them; I took older, newer, American and British, and I scoured online recipe sites like Betty Crocker; here’s what I discovered:
- When writing a cookbook for a printed version, editors/publishers tend to write out the entire word [tablespoon, teaspoon, cup, pound, ounce, etc.].
- The two most standard contractions for tablespoon are Tbs. and tbsp. They can be ended with a period or not; I would tend to do it so that the contraction looks intentional and not a typo! I grew up learning Tbs. for tablespoon and tsp. for teaspoon. To each his own.
- Blogs that are a collection of recipes, or allow contribution from subscribers, will have a hodgepodge of abbreviations and contractions because it’s simply too difficult to keep on top of such issues. Even professional sites such as Betty Crocker have gotten sloppy about it; for example, they often (but not always) spell out words like tablespoon, and then suddenly revert to contractions for pounds and ounce within the same recipe. Consistency should be the golden standard if nothing else is.
- Recipe instructions are written in the imperitive mood (bake this, stir that, knead this, eat with that, etc.). You’ll never find 1st, 2nd or 3rd person pronouns within the instructions of a recipe; at most, you’ll find them in the short intro before a recipe begins.
- In a printed book, NEVER does a recipe instruction include the ramblings about the cat in the kitchen, or what you changed about the recipe, or what you’re doing that’s unrelated to the topic at hand. If you’re writing a personal blog, that’s a matter of personal preference; I tend to want the recipe itself streamlined to make it easier to read on the fly in the kitchen, but maybe that’s just pragmatic ol’ me. If there are additional notes or something I’ve changed about a recipe for my own blog, I tend to put that in the introduction and not in the actual recipe, but there’s not a set rule – it depends on where it’s warranted or relevant.
As with any kind of writing, some things are a matter of personal preference; at that point, where there is no one grammar rule to apply, the most important thing is to be consistent throughout the manuscript.
If you’re thinking of writing a cookbook (or any other manuscript for that matter!), I would recommend keeping what is called a style sheet; this is used in publishing houses where several people will have the manuscript in hand at some point; this sheet prevents someone else from undoing choices – they can look at the style sheet and know that it was an intentional decision, and leave it; otherwise the risk is that one man’s capital is another man’s lower case, and so on.
As an author, the style sheet is my running list of decisions to keep me on track as I write; it can include sections for punctuation (have I decided to go with British or American English punctuation for things like Mr / Mr.?), unusual capitalisations (for me, one issue was when to capitalise “sir” as a substitute for a proper name – I could always refer to my sheet when in doubt), abbrevitation/contraction choices, etc. It could also include a record of my choice of fonts, spacing between sections, indentations, and so on. I have a section for my “cast of characters” – to remember how I’ve spelled a name, or what I’ve named an infrequent cast member. I might include an abbreviated description of a character so that I don’t give them green eyes in chapter one, and blue eyes in chapter ten. What you can include in your style sheet is endless… foreign terms/spellings, reminders to check validity of hyperlinks, punctuations such as en- and em-dashes, how you’ve written specific gadgets (capitalised or not, hyphened or not, etc.). Below is a basic style sheet template to get you started.
No matter what you’re working on, hone your craft, and keep writing!
Have you ever wanted to compare two people, places or things in a pithy way, but couldn’t remember a particular saying, or think of a way to put it? For starters, what you’re looking for is called a “simile”, and they abound in English! A simile is a figure of speech used to compare one thing to another, usually using “like” or “as”. Some are obvious, some are quirky, and some must have a fascinating history. Here is a small selection using “as…as”; if you know of any others, please add them in the comments below! Have a great weekend, and keep writing!
As likely as not
As long as your arm
As loud as thunder
As mad as a hatter / a March hare
As mad as a wet hen / a hornet
As mean as a snake
As meek as a lamb
As merry as a cricket
As mild as a dove / a lamb / milk / May
As much use as a handbrake on a canoe
As mute as a fish / an oyster / a statue / a stone
As naked as a jaybird / the day they were born
As nervous as a cat (in a room full of rocking chairs) / pig in a packing plant
As nutty as a fruitcake
As obstinate as a mule
As often as not
As old as the hills / Adam / Methuselah
As pale as a ghost / death / ashes
As patient as Job / an ox
As plain as a pikestaff / day / the sun / the nose on your face
As playful as a kitten
As pleased as punch / a dog with two tails
As plump as a partridge
As poor as a church mouse / a rat / Job / Lazarus / dirt
As pretty as a picture
As proud as Lucifer
As proud / pleased as punch
As proud / vain as a peacock
As pure as a lily / (the driven) snow
As quick as a dog can lick a dish / a wink / lightning / a flash
As quiet / still as a mouse / whisper
As red as a rose / a cherry / beetroot / a lobster / a turkey-cock / blood / fire
As regular as clockwork
As rich as Crassus / a Jew
As right as rain / nails / a trivet
As round as a barrel / a ball / an apple / a globe
As safe as houses / the Bank of England
As scarce as hen’s teeth / ice water in hell
As scared as a rabbit
As sharp as a tack / a needle / a razor
As sick as a dog / a parrot
As silent as the dead / the grave / the stars
As silly as a goose / a sheep
As slim as a willow
As slippery as an eel / ice
As slow as a snail / a wet week / molasses in winter / molasses in January
As sly as a fox
As smooth as butter / oil / silk / glass
As snug as a bug in a rug
As sober as a judge
As soft as butter / down / silk / velvet / clay / wax
As sound as a bell
As sour as vinegar
As straight as an arrow / a ramrod
As steady as a rock / the Rock of Gibraltar
As sticky as jam
As stiff as a poker / a ramrod / a board / pikestaff
As still as a mouse / death / the grave
As straight as a die / an arrow / a poker / a ramrod
As strong as an ox / a horse / a bull
As stubborn as a mule / a goat
As sure as death and taxes / death / taxes / a gun / eggs are eggs
As sweet as honey / sugar
As tall as a steeple / maypole / a skyscraper
As thick as thieves / blackberries / pea soup
As thick as two (short) planks
As thin as a rail / paper / thread / a stick
As timid as a deer / hare / rabbit / mouse
As tired as a dog
As tough as old boots / nails / leather
As tricky as a monkey
As true as steel / flint
As ugly as sin / a scarecrow / a toad
As useful as a chocolate teapot
As vain / proud as a peacock
As warm as toast
As watchful as a hawk
As weak as a kitten / a baby / water
As wet as a drowned rat
As white as a ghost / a sheet
As white as snow / chalk / milk
As wide as the poles are apart
As wise as Solomon / an owl
As yielding as wax