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Department of English Grammar

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What’s up with “eponyms” (and “proprietary eponyms”)?

Google Inc., for whom Google Search was named, should know something about this topic.

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There are certain brand names that are so famous that people are more aware of them than the technical names of the products themselves.

For instance, teachers and office workers who need to make duplicates of printed documents are likely to make “Xerox copies” (named after Xerox Corporation Ltd., one of the first companies to make photocopying machines) instead of “photocopies” (the generic name). Similarly, people who have to blow their noses are likely to grab a box of “Kleenex” instead of “facial tissues.”

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Speaking of -nym words, “Batman” is an “aptronym" (a name that suits its owner) and a "pseudonym" (a fake name, in his case, of Bruce Wayne).

Batman the hero is also “anonymous" (in the sense that people don’t know his true identity) and "synonymous" with "crime fighter" or "vigilante."

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What’s up with “less” and “fewer”?

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In recent years, many corporations, including Microsoft, Starbucks, Tesco, and Mercedes-Benz, have famously struggled with the difference between “less" and "fewer.” Therefore, it is little wonder that thousands of individuals also struggle with this concept.

The rule, however, is very simple:

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This rule applies to everything except time, distance, and money. In those cases, “less" is used even though they can be counted or measured.

  • I spent less than 15 minutes on my essay.
  • The race-car driver began to celebrate when he was less than 100 feet from the finish line.
  • I paid less than $5 for my new tattoo; what do you think?

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What’s up with “irony” and “paradox”?

Let’s take a look at paradox.

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Irony is one of the most misunderstood (and misused) terms in English.

Basically, irony is the contrast between expectation and outcome.

Unfortunately, numerous people think that “irony” is the same thing as “humor,” “coincidence,” or “bad timing.” This misunderstanding is due, in part, to the influence of Alanis Morissette and “Ironic,” her hit song from 1996.

In the song, Morissette sings about several so-called “ironic” scenariosnone of which are ironic at all. It is, in fact, ironic that a song called “Ironic” has no valid examples of irony.

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There is nothing intrinsically ironic about rain falling on someone’s wedding day; it’s happened before, and it will happen again. It can happen to anyone, and when it does happen, we can dismiss it as bad luck, bad timing, and an unfortunate coincidence.

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It is ironic because you went beyond the call of duty to pick a date on which it was virtually guaranteed that it wouldn’t rain … and it turned out to be the only day it rained during that month. Ironically, if you had picked a random day, your wedding might not have been ruined.

Clearly, the outcome was the opposite of what was expected.

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What’s up with the semicolon?

The semicolon is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated punctuations.

This famous quote from Kurt Vonnegut might have something to do with it:

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On the other hand, standardized tests (especially the ACT and SAT) insist that you know how to use a semicolon properly. Many esteemed newspaper editors also endorse the semicolon.

Kurt Vonnegut’s diatribe notwithstanding, let’s examine what a semicolon is and does:

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In other words, a semicolon combines two sentences together, and in doing so, connects their ideas more closely.

Therefore, there is one important caveat to consider when using a semicolon as a period:

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In other words, a semicolon can prevent this: I’ve seen Katy Perry perform in Austin, TX, Chicago, IL, Boston, MA, and San Diego, CA. #CommaOverdose

It is possible to overuse semicolons; combining sentences in close proximity with semicolons can make your writing seem endless; therefore, use semicolons when they’re needed (and effective). #SeeWhatWeDidThere

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