Sunday, December 18, 2016

humor: undermined

I hate it when I see good humor undone by some flaw:

For me, the problem with the above is the incorrect tilt of the accent in "Educatéd."* In Shakespearean English, where such "-ed" endings are commonly employed for rhythmic purposes, the "-ed" is marked with a grave accent, not an acute one. Here's the classic example of the usage I'm talking about:

That “banishèd,” that one word “banishèd”
Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. Tybalt’s death
Was woe enough, if it had ended there.
Or, if sour woe delights in fellowship
And needly will be ranked with other griefs,
Why followed not, when she said “Tybalt’s dead,”
“Thy father” or “thy mother,” nay, or both,
Which modern lamentations might have moved?
But with a rearward following Tybalt’s death,
“Romeo is banishèd.” To speak that word,
Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,
All slain, all dead. “Romeo is banishèd.”
There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word’s death. No words can that woe sound.

If you can't tell your acute accents from your graves, you're not an educated hillbilly—you're just a hillbilly, and you undermine your own attempts at clever humor.

*If we're to get truly pedantic, another problem is the unnecessary capitalization of "federal government." This seems to be a problem for English speakers who routinely mistake their mother tongue for German, a language in which common nouns are capitalized. And make no mistake: "federal government" is a common noun. Or more precisely: a noun phrase containing a common noun. See here for more info.


  1. Kevin,

    When you refer specifically to the Federal Government of the United States then "Federal Government" is a proper noun phrase. And, unlike any old constitution, the Constitution of the United States is a proper noun.

  2. "The government of the United States is not a single official entity" is a true statement. But the Federal Government of the United States is a single official entity.

  3. Henry,

    I'm not sure we're disagreeing here. Nothing you've said contradicts what I cited from the Chicago Manual.

    Capitalization of most names, titles, and official entities will follow a rule similar to the rule governing when to capitalize "president."

    • Someday, I want to be president.
    • Barack Obama is the president of the United States.
    • I now give you President Barack Obama!

    So now we turn to our mis-educated hillbilly and his improper capitalization of "Federal Government." I cleave to the above-linked rule and say the phrase should not be capitalized, and other authorities will back this up. This in no way contradicts what you said re: the full, formal title for the government of the United States. I, too, would write it out as "the Federal Government of the United States" if I were specifically mentioning that official entity in a formal way.

    But "the Federal Government" as a phrase? Nope. That's plain wrong. Same logic as when we write:

    • Did you tell the president?

    Even if we're specifically referring to the current sitting president, we don't capitalize. The rule is clear.

    Another pet peeve: people who write "How's your Mom?" The word "mom" should be capitalized only in the vocative or when used as a formal title replacing a name. Otherwise, even when it refers to a specific person (e.g., "your mom" as opposed to "my mom"), the word is considered generic. (Everyone has a mom, after all.)

    WRONG: Hey, mom!
    RIGHT: Hey, Mom! (vocative)

    WRONG: My Mom is 50 years old.
    RIGHT: My mom is 50 years old. (generic)

    WRONG: Could you ask mom to come over here?
    RIGHT: Could you ask Mom to come over here? (title replacing a name)

    This is exactly the sort of stuff I write about in my current line of work, as I now design grammar textbooks for Korean kids.

  4. I wrote:

    The word "mom" should be capitalized only in the vocative or when used as a formal title replacing a name.

    Whoops: we should also capitalize "mom" at the beginning of a sentence. Heh.

  5. My first thought was that the errant accent was an intentional misusage—after all, acute or grave, no accent is needed there at all since the syllable is already pronounced separately. To the best of my memory, the accent is only used when the syllable in question would normally be elided. For example, "banished" is normally pronounced "banisht," but the accent indicates that the third syllable should be pronounced.

    Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I can imagine it being a deliberate misusage, pointed up even further by the use of the wrong accent. I may also be giving the hillbilly too much credit.

  6. Charles,

    "I can imagine it being a deliberate misusage"

    Yeah, I thought about that possibility, too. Hey, if the Hillbilly himself were to visit my blog and tell me I've got it all backward, then I'm happy to concede the point. And if it is, in fact, a deliberate misusage, it's actually a very clever joke—one that I fell for.

    (I have, however, seen the mis-tilted accent on other blogs in my ambit... but I won't name names. My point is that the mistake seems to be an easy one to make when people have no idea that accents can actually be acute or grave.)



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