Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Amused” and “bemused.”

This week we take a look at a couple of words that frequently get misused:  amuse and bemuse.

“Bemuse” means (1) to make confused, muddled, or bewildered, or (2) to plunge into thought.  “Amuse” means to entertain or to cause laughter.

The problem is that some writers mistakenly use “bemuse” when they mean “amuse.”  For example, suppose someone wrote “Jerry Lewis’s movies bemused the French.”  Although the Scribe finds Jerry Lewis’s comedy to be bemusing, that’s probably not what the writer really meant in that sentence—where the writer likely meant that Jerry Lewis entertained the French.  So be careful to distinguish between these words and choose the one that fits.  

That is all for now …

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When to use second and third-person pronouns (and when to leave them out).

This week we discuss second and third-person pronouns.  From our lesson last week, recall that a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun—such as “I” and “me” in the first-person singular.

The second-person pronoun—“you”—is used to refer to the person (or people) being spoken or written to, e.g.,

Gandalf:  You shall not pass!

 

Caterpillar:  Who … are… you?

Alice:  Why, I hardly know, sir.  I’ve changed so much since this morning, you see …

Caterpillar:  No, I do not C, explain yourself.

Alice:  I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, you see, because I’m not myself, you know.

Caterpillar:  I do not know.

Alice:  I can’t put it any more clearly, sir, because it isn’t clear to me.

Second-person pronouns—and, for that matter, first-person pronouns—are almost never used in legal briefs.  Remember, when writing to the court you are writing to persuade.  The judge is not interested in your personal opinions—only your well-researched and presented arguments.  So when writing to the court, the pronoun of choice is usually the third-person pronoun “she,” “he,” “her,” “him,” and “it”—which is used to refer to the person, people, or things being spoken or written about.  The use of the third-person pronoun puts distance between the reader and the writer (or what is written about), e.g.,

Arguably, therefore, Smith could have moved for summary judgment by stating that the Joneses have no evidence that he was involved in the entrepreneurial aspects of his legal practice.  But he did more than that.  He identified specific portions of the Joneses’ Complaint that show that their claim is not based on the “entrepreneurial aspects” of Smith’s legal practice.  That showing satisfied Smith’s burden of production.

Finally, because no list of examples would be complete without a Star Wars quote, here is an example of the proper use of the first and third-person pronouns—all in one awesome quote from The Empire Strikes Back:

Darth Vader:  What is thy bidding, my master?

The Emperor:  There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader:  I have felt it.

The Emperor:  We have a new enemy:  Luke Skywalker.

Darth Vader:  Yes, my master.

The Emperor:  He could destroy us.

Darth Vader:  He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

The Emperor:  The Force is strong with him.  The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader:  If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally …

The Emperor:  Yes.  Yes.  He would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader:  He will join us, or die, master.

That is all for now …

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Me, myself, and I.

This week we address the following observation from a reader:

Dear Scribe,

People for the most part have NO idea how to correctly use me and I. Don’t recall if you instructed on this issue in the past but, if so, people are not getting it. Me, I get it.

Sincerely,

Me, myself, and I

Hmm, this is one of those grammar rules that should be easy, but isn’t. Indeed, the Scribe has misused these first-person singular pronouns once or twice too, so a refresher on the use of personal pronouns could help us all.

As you know, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of one or more common or proper nouns. The first-person singular pronoun—“me,” “myself,” and “I”—and the first-person plural pronoun—“we” and “us”—is used to refer to the person speaking or writing, e.g.,

Darth Vader: There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power. Join me and I will complete your training. With our combined strength we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker: I’ll never join you!

Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!

Darth Vader: No … I am your father!

 

Alice: Please, please! H-How can I find her?

Cheshire Cat: Well, some go this way, and some go that way. But as for me, myself, personally, I prefer the short-cut.

According to traditional grammar rules, use the first-person singular pronoun “I” when the word is used as a subject, that is, when the sentence is about you or you are taking action (“I am your father.”). Use the first-person singular pronoun “me” when the word is used as an object, such as when someone else will perform the action to, or for, you, or require you to perform an action (“Don’t make me destroy you.”). The first-person singular pronoun “myself” is actually a reflexive pronoun—and is always the object of a sentence, never the subject (“I’m going to treat myself to a Star Wars movie marathon.”).

If you can remember that the word “I” is always a subject, and that “me” and “myself” are always objects, then it is easier to discern when to use which pronoun. For example, consider the sentence “Kaleen and I took the Mustang to the beach.” “Kaleen and I” are the subject—so use “I” not “me.” Now consider this sentence, “He told Kaleen and me to take the Mustang to the beach.” In that sentence, “Kaleen and me” is an object, so use “me” not “I.”

If the subject versus object distinction is confusing, another handy test for discerning whether to use “me” or “I” is to eliminate the other part of the noun phrase and see how it sounds with each pronoun, e.g.,

She told Evie and (I or me?) to file a motion.

  • She told I to file a motion? [Wrong.]
  • She told me to file a motion? [Correct.]

Therefore, she told Evie and me to file a motion.

If Evie and (I or me?) file a motion, we’ll win.

  • If me file a motion? [Wrong.]
  • If I file a motion? [Correct.]

Therefore, if Evie and I file a motion, we’ll win.

As you can see, once you take out the noun phrase, the correct choice usually becomes obvious.

That is all for now …

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Bald-faced, barefaced, and boldface.

When someone tells an obvious lie, is it a “bald-faced,” “barefaced,” or “boldfaced” act?

“Bald-faced” and “barefaced” have the same meaning: something that is obvious, brazen, and shameless. Thus, a deceitful owner might tell Dodger fans “bald-faced” (or “barefaced”) lies.

“Boldface” is sometimes used in this context, but it is more properly used to describe something that is emphasized.  And, of course, it also refers to a dark, thick typeface.

That is all for now …

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What is the difference between “advise” and “advice”?

This week the Scribe’s in-box contained this cry for help:

Dear Scribe:

Since our business is advising clients and rendering advice, don’t you think people should know the difference between “advice” and “advise”?  I see these words frequently misused and confused—and it makes me want to scream!

Sincerely,

Hoping for advice

Dear Hoping,

I’m delighted to advise my readers regarding this issue.

“Advice” is a noun meaning counsel that one person gives another.  “Advise” is a verb—it is the act of giving advice.  Here are some examples:

  • “Whatever advice you give, be brief.”  (Horace)
  • “The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on.  It is never any use to oneself.”  (Oscar Wilde)
  • “Dying is a very dull, dreary affair.  And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”  (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • I advise you to drink Keystone Light.  (Mark Reber)

Here’s another thought about “advise.”  It really should not be used as a substitute for “tell,” “say,” or “inform.”  Bryan Garner calls such usage a “pomposity to be avoided.”  “Advise” should only be used in the context of rendering advice.  It shouldn’t be used when you really mean “tell.”

That is all for now …

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