What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

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Austen answers

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Answers to yesterday's quiz questions: The gerund is “flattering.” The quote comes from Chapter 14 of Pride and Prejudice.

Oh, in case you're wondering, here is Mr. Collins' reply to Mr. Bennet's question:

`They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.''

Illustration special to the Sentinel


A handy hybrid

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Although I beg to differ with Stephen Colbert's accuracy in quoting Shakespeare, the English teacher in me is rejoicing at the thought of explaining a gerund. (Countless readers undoubtedly are sharing my joy.)

A gerund is a hybrid of a noun and a verb. It always ends in “ing.” Though it sounds like a verb, it works as a noun. It can be used as a subject, direct object, indirect object and object of a preposition. Examples:

Subject: Taking good photographs is really his forte. (Complete subject: Taking good photographs)
Direct object: They like hiking.
Indirect object: They give finetuning ample time in the production process.
Object of a preposition: I beg to differ with Stephen Colbert's accuracy in quoting Shakespeare.

One must really understand nouns and verbs in order to distinguish between gerunds and participles. Participles also end in “ing” but they are verb forms. In the first paragraph I included two: “is rejoicing” and “are sharing.”

Pop quiz: Can you spot the gerund in this quote from Jane Austen? And in which novel is it? (Answers tomorrow.)

``'You judge very properly,' said Mr. Bennet, 'and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?'''

Jane Austen
Special to the Sentinel



Not just any Friday

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, April 18, 2014

TGIF.  More importantly, TGIGF.


From zed to z

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, April 15, 2014


If Dolly were a British schoolchild, she likely would not be saying “Z.”

We Americans seem to be the only ones who use “Z” for the final letter of the alphabet. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the term “zed,” which is closer to the Greek word zeta, is used.

One theory, according to staightdope.com, is that Americans changed the pronunciation of the letter after the American Revolution, because many folks did not want to sound English.


Everyday heroism

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, April 14, 2014

“Eroica” is in today's crossword puzzle answers. The clue for it had simply been “Beethoven's third,” which is a decent hint, but I had to look the word up. I am glad I did; an interesting story lies behind it.

According to various sources, Beethoven orginally wrote Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte, considering him a great man. When Napoleon pronounced himself emperor of France in 1804, however, his star fell in the eyes of Beethoven, so Beethoven renamed The Bonaparte Symphony to Eroica. Eroica was a synonym for heroic.

PBS.org has quite an enlivening explanation of the events in Beethoven's life that led him to compose Eroica and to infuse it with a wide range of emotions. For one thing, the PBS site notes, as Beethoven was writing the symphony he was struggling with the reality that he was going deaf.

One of my favorite excerpts is this: “But if the hero of the music was no longer Napoleon, who was it? The Eroica explores what it means to be human. In facing his own demons and choosing to continue making music, to continue living, Beethoven embraced the heroic in everyman and, ultimately, in himself.“

To learn more about this classic symphony and its composer, go to: http://www.pbs.org/keepingscore/beethoven-eroica.html

Title page of Eroica with Bonaparte's name partially erased
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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