word salad

Merriam Webster’s official definition: a string of empty, incoherent, unintelligible, or nonsensical words or comment.

Addendum to definition: A speech given by President Donald J. Trump.



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Expletive! Expletive! Do Not Delete!



Bet you thought that an expletive was just a profane word! Well, it became better-known as such a few decades ago, during the Watergate scandal. President Richard M. Nixon’s audiotape recordings included a lot of profanity, which had to be deleted before being used in court hearings. That is when the phrase “expletive deleted” entered our vocabulary as a definition of profanity.

There are two types of expletive.

Expletive as Passive Voice
The expletive is a word or phrase that is unnecessary to understanding the meaning of the sentence; it gives the sentence a passive voice. For example,

There is a student waiting in the principal’s office.
This could be restated as—A student is waiting in the principal’s office.

The word there at the beginning of the first sentence is an expletive.

Expletive as Intensifier
An expletive does not modify, it intensifies another part of speech. It indicates passion and emotion. It may be mildly profane. For example,
The cruise was a freaking nightmare.
The pie was di-freaking-licious!

The word freaking is an expletive in both examples.

For help in putting your best word forward, contact dmariemarks@gmail.com and visit editsbymarks.com.






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Wrestling with “off of” and “off”

Source: Wrestling with “off of” and “off”

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Wrestling with “off of” and “off”

Recently, I was asked about the validity of using the prepositional phrase off of. How viable is it for use in standard English. Is it distasteful and should be avoided? Well, generally speaking, prepositions that are superfluous to the meaning of the sentence should not be admitted in standard English writing. For example:

  • Where are they [at]?
  • Soak the seeds for [from] 10 to 12 hours.
  • I consider the dearth of art classes [as] a great loss to our students.
  • Get up off [of] the couch and watch the eclipse from the window.

BUT, “Get up off of me!” she shouted.

This is more casual, so it’s an example of perfectly acceptable usage of the phrase.

Here’s the back story 

As in much of the history of the usage of English, this phrase once was standard usage, then it was lowered to the status of “illiterate.” Now it is categorized as excessive, and is least acceptable in formal and business writing.

Merriam Webster’s 11th edition explains that the of is often criticized as superfluous, a comment that is irrelevant because off of is an idiom. It is much more common in speech than in edited writing and also is more common in American English.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary , off of may have been around since the mid-15th century. OED includes some relevant citations to illustrate the authenticity of the phrase. In their Grammarphobia blog, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman list them, beginning with the earliest (where it appears as of of):

  • circa 1450, from a medical text: “Take a sponfull of the licour … of of the fyir and sette it in good place tyl that it be ny colde.”
  • 1667, from Andrew Marvell: “The Lords and we cannot yet get off of the difficultyes risen betwixt us.”
  • 1712, from Richard Steele, writing in the Spectator: “I could not keep my Eyes off of her.”
  • 1884, from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: “I’d borrow two or three dollars off of the judge for him.”

As a former prescriptivist (i.e., there are rules you MUST follow) turned descriptivist (1.e., it’s all in how people use the language), the use of off of is greatly dependent on your audience. What voice are you speaking in?

If you are addressing a learned audience or giving an official report, then it might be best to avoid it. Formal writing and business English are least likely to use the phrase. If you are addressing a casual audience, whose members are more in tune with a colloquial voice, use it, by all means!

 My take 

As a writer, you have all rights e to use off of, if it best illustrates your argument, dialogue, or description. According to the Motivated Grammar blog On off of, “There is nothing linguistically or grammatically wrong with off of. It’s nonstandard in some dialects and informal in most.”

However, avoid using it if you want your writing to be considered formal.

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How Should I Talk to the Babies?


Babies are a popular source of conversation in my life these days. My daughter is getting ready to have one in a few months, my nieces and nephew had one recently, several of my colleagues are new parents and grandparents, and my mother is a great grandIMG_0496mother five times over.

So what? you ask. Well, as a lover of words and writing, this got me thinking about baby talk, you know the syncopated coos and exaggerated, high-pitched mode we adopt when we see them.

There has been much discussion on whether our baby talk (or “motherese”) helps them in their language development. The instinctive response is to argue that it does not help them. Many parents believe it doesn’t help because we are not mimicking standard phonetics. The truth is that babies like to hear our exaggerated efforts to address them.

According to an articlein Parents magazine, by Tenille Bonoguore, Katherine White, a professor of developmental psychology, studies those early stages of language at the Lab for Infant Development and Language at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. She says that motherese is found in almost all languages—even sign language—but the impetus seems to be less about teaching speech than simply holding a baby’s attention. So, baby talk can help babies develop speech.

Also, there is good baby talk and useless baby talk. The good talk is speaking to your baby with exaggerated vowels, such as “sweet bay-beee,” as opposed to made-up words like “pookie-lukie baby.”

In a study titled Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth: a two-country study, by Christine Moon, Hugo Lagercrantz, and Patricia K Kuhl, and published by the research arm of The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, the researchers found that babies learn language from their mothers while they are in the womb. Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb, earlier than previously thought.

Also, I-LABS is now home to a one-ton machine that can safely read the mind of a seven-pound baby, yielding important clues into how, where, and when human learning happens.  The exquisitely sensitive MEG brain-imaging device can map the mental activity of an infant only a few days old and proves that newborn brains are anything but empty.

This new-found knowledge has supported my urge to talk to these new darlings in baby talk, just as I did with their parents when thy were babies. Of course, I will get permission from their parents first.


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Why is the “Gray Lady” Cutting Copyeditors? The New York Times Has a New Focus


The New York Times is shifting emphasis away from copy editors to reporters. significant cuts are being made to copy editor positions at the paper, signaling that readers may expect to see more errors in stories from the Gray Lady. In a letter to the executive and managing editors, the copy editors stated

Dear Dean and Joe,” the letter begins. “We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at The New York Times. We take some solace in the fact that we have been assured repeatedly that copy editors are highly respected here.

“If that is true, we have a simple request. Cutting us down to 50 to 55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality in the report, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic. Work with us on a new number.”

In response, Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Khan wrote

“We are in fact eliminating a free standing copy desk. We are not, as we have said repeatedly, eliminating copy editing. A majority of people currently employed by the copy desk will find new editing jobs. All of our desks will continue to ensure a high level of editing, spanning backfielding, copy editing, photo editing and digital and print production, for all the journalism we produce.”

Hopefully, the credibility of the writing will be preserved in this venerable bastion of news.

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Great Aunt or Grand Aunt: What am I?


Compliments of guest blogger, Dawn Marks

This year marks the third year in a row that two babies have been welcomed into my family within a 12- month period. Noooo! Not me.  My nieces and nephews are getting married and starting their families.  Early this week, my nephew’s wife welcomed an
8-pound baby — Asa — into the family.  My mom, sister and I got on a conference call and gushed over pictures of the new bundle of joy.  Handsome little fella.

I talked about how our family is busting at the seams with babies and proudly talked about my status as great aunt.  I joked that I know I’m great and that I’m an aunt, but am I really a great aunt or a grand aunt?   My mother’s mother is my grandmother, and her sister….well, is she a grand aunt or my great aunt?

According to ancestry.com, the sister or brother of one of my grandparents is a grand aunt or uncle. Grand indicates that it one generation away and great is for generations beyond that. However, colloquialism has settled on calling grand aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles.

Whether you call me grand aunt or great aunt, know that I’m an aunt and I plan to be a great one. Welcome to Asa and the other one that’s on his way!

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