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The Awful English Language

     How To Write Good

     Oxymorons (and Near-Oxymorons)


The Awful English Language
Some Observations on the Wonderful Weirdness of English
(with some other languages thrown in for good measure)


Does “anal retentive” have a hyphen?


Haven't you ever heard of a rhetorical question?


How is it that a building burns up as it burns down?


If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?


If corn oil comes from corn, where does baby oil come from?


If horrific means to make horrible, does terrific mean to make terrible?


If laughter is pronounced lafter, shouldn't daughter be pronounced dafter?


If people from Poland are called Poles, why aren't people from Holland called Holes?


Is it possible to feel gruntled?


Is there another word for synonym?


Shouldn't there be a shorter word for monosyllabic?


What do Kermit the Frog, Atilla the Hun, John the Baptist, and Winnie the Pooh have in common? The same middle name.


What is the difference between a slim chance and a fat chance?


Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites?


Why are they called stands when they are made for sitting?


Why can't we just spell it orderves?


Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?


Why do they call it a TV set if you only get one?


Why do they call them apartments when they're close together?


Why do they call them buildings when they're already built?


Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?


Why does slow down and slow up mean the same thing?


Why don't ease, lease, and please sound alike?  And why don't tomb, comb, and bomb sound alike?


Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist, but a person who drives a race car not called a racist?


Why is abbreviation such a long word?


Why is brassiere singular and panties plural?


Why is it called after dark when it really is after light?


Why is it that night falls but day breaks?


Why is it that when you transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it's called cargo?


Why isn't phonetic spelled with an "f"?


If you speak three languages you're trilingual. If you speak two, you're bilingual. If you speak one language, you're American.


"Class, it's an interesting linguistic fact that, in English, a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language in which a double positive can form a negative." "Yeah, right."


Lawyers get disbarred and clergymen defrocked, so doesn't it make sense that ballplayers would be debased, politicians devoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed (and Calvin Klein models debriefed), organ donors delivered, tree surgeons debarked, electricians delighted, carpenters deconstructed, and dry cleaners depressed, decreased, and depleted?


Release Press from the Pepper and Salt Association of Alabama, Birmingham: The Pepper and Salt Association wants to turn the English language outside in, wants phrases changed kaboodle and kit. People should listen to roll 'n' rock, eat butter and bread, and travel fro and to. Why? Because what this country needs is a sense of wrong and right, fair play and justice, order and law. There are cons and pros, but true believers will consider it a matter of death and life, a swim or sink proposition.


Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?



Lawyers get disbarred and clergymen defrocked, so doesn't it make sense that
     ballplayers would be debased,
     politicians devoted,
     cowboys deranged,
     models deposed (and Calvin Klein models debriefed),
     organ donors delivered,
     tree surgeons debarked,
     musicians denoted,
     electricians delighted,
     carpenters deconstructed,
     Supreme Court justices disappointed,
     songwriters decomposed,
     teachers detested,
     clerks defiled,
     bakers can be defloured,
     private eyes detailed,
     lawyers distorted,
     and dry cleaners depressed, decreased, and depleted?



How To Write Good

Always proofread carefully to see if you any words out.


And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.


Avoid alliteration. Always.


Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

“This is the sort of nonsense up with which I refuse to put.” — Sir Winston Churchill, after having been criticized for ending a sentence with a preposition


Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)


Don't use no double negatives.


Employ the vernacular.


Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.


Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.


It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.  [To boldly split infinitives that no man has split before ...]


It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.


Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.


Eschew obfuscation!


Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.


One should never generalize.


Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."


Comparisons are as bad as clichés.


Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.


Be more or less specific.


Understatement is always best.


One-word sentences? Eliminate.


Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.


The passive voice is to be avoided.


Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.


Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.


Who needs rhetorical questions?


Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.


Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.


Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.


No sentence fragments.


Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.


Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.


Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.


If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.


Puns are for children, not groan readers.



Oxymorons (and Near-Oxymorons)

Act naturally

American English

Anarchy rules!

Bad health

Beginning Finnish

Business ethics

Cafeteria food

Civil war

Clearly misunderstood

Common sense

Constant change

Creation science

Curved line

Death benefits

Definite maybe

Dress pants

Extinct life

First annual

Friendly fire

Good grief

Government organization

Guest host

Half dead

Jumbo shrimp

Microsoft Works

Military Intelligence

Mutually exclusive

"Now, then ..."

Operating system

Pretty ugly

Second best

Soft rock

Unbiased opinion