Friday, December 21, 2012

He Don't Need No Vocabulary!



I was standing outside my classroom one day last week, when a fellow English teacher told me about a phone call she’d just had with a parent. It seems the student wasn’t doing his vocabulary lessons and was therefore failing his vocabulary quizzes. My colleague deemed it necessary to speak with her student’s father, hoping for some support. Instead, the father stood up for his son. He said—and I quote—“He don’t need no vocabulary.” Of course not. What are teachers these days thinking? There isn’t any vocabulary involved when we speak or read or listen. Surely it is those who “don’t need no vocabulary” whose only useful adjective is an F-bomb. I know people like that. I’ll give them some credit, though; they’ve learned to adapt. The ridiculous parental quote, however, got me thinking some more about some misstated or misspelled or misunderstood expressions and idioms—vocabulary—that I’ve seen and heard. Some are common…some not so common.


1.       I’ve heard the expression, “A card up my sleeve,” and I’ve heard the expression, “An ace in the hole.” What was new to me was when I was watching some guys play cards, and one of the players bragged about winning and said, “I had an ace up my hole.” Gross.

2.       “The actress is nothing but a temper mental pre-Madonna.” Once upon a time—you know, before Madonna rose to fame and fortune—there were crazy actresses with terrible tempers, and thinking back on them, I guess they’ve finally been categorized. The correct saying, however, would be…a temperamental prima donna.

3.       “For all intensive purposes…” These types of “purposes” are the most exhaustive, demanding, and rigorous…like “intensive” training when a workout partner has the treadmill up too high and he falls and shoots off the back of the machine. But for all intents and purposes, if one finds him or herself often flying off treadmills, maybe a stair-stepper would be a better idea.

4.       “Here are some ordurves to wet your appetite.” Hors d’oeuvres is hard to spell (I got it wrong; I admit it), but wet an appetite? Unhappy wife: “You’re an alcoholic.” Drunk in denial: “Naw, I just like to wet my appetite.” It’s whet your appetite.

5.       This brilliant exchange happened at one of my parent/teacher conferences. Mom to daughter: “Either you start towing the line or you’ll have a long road to hoe.” Daughter to mom: “Just because I missed a couple of assignments doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a hooker.” Complete idiom destruction is what happened here. What I would like to know from the mother is why would anyone choose to hoe a road and to where is the daughter supposed to tow the line? It’s toeing the line and a long row to hoe.

6.       “It’s an exercise in fertility.” Actually, that’s what Rapid Grow and sex are for. It’s an exercise in futility.

7.       “All his criticism hurts my self of steam.” Why would anyone think that made sense?  But then again, I think The Little Engine That Could had self of steam pouring out its smokestack. “I think I can. I think I can.” It’s self-esteem.

8.       “Coffee is a required taste.” Is this a rule I’ve missed? I don’t drink coffee, but I don’t want to get in trouble. It would be an acquired taste—most writers acquire it so they can get their minds off the internet and onto that book that isn’t writing itself.

9.       “I’ve all but finished the entire project.” Here’s a person who has done everything except finish. I wonder why he suddenly quit.

10.   “The island is completely surrounded by water.” I just used this sentence to make a point about being redundant—and because I heard someone say this, and I have a better way of saying it: “It’s an island.” An island is surrounded by definition. If it wasn’t...if it was only partly “surrounded,” it would be a peninsula. We in Michigan understand this. And doesn’t “surrounded” also imply completely around?

11.   “I could care less.” So you care some but there is the potential of caring less? Like “I care that you weigh 500 pounds. I could care less, but right now you’re standing on my foot, so I care quite a bit right now. If you’d get off my foot, I wouldn’t care so much.” It’s I couldn’t care less.

12.   “It’s a mute point.” This must be a point that a person cannot hear. I believe that Helen Keller is respectfully credited with a mute point or two, but the rest of us would be making moot points.

13.   “Nip it in the butt.” It’s nip it in the bud (it’s a gardening expression). Bonus irritating saying: “I got up at the butt crack of dawn.” I wonder if this is something that only people in Michigan say. I wonder because I can’t for the life of me figure out why ANYONE would say it, but I heard it for the umpteenth time on Saturday. Someone on hallucinogens somehow correlated a butt crack to the rising of the sun. “Butt” most importantly, how in the world did it then catch on? Bonus, bonus irritating saying: “He was standing there butt naked.” I’m learning there are people infatuated with butts. It’s buck naked.

14.   “It’s a doggy dog world.” What is this, Disney Land? Only in the Wonderful World of Disney can Goofy (a dog) have Pluto (a dog) for a pet—a doggy dog. But the world isn’t like Disney Land (which is good because we’d all run out of money in about a week). In the cutthroat world of business, for instance, it’s a dog eat dog world.

15.   In my class recently, I heard this. “Did you say you’re a vegetarian?” And the follow-up? “That’s right. I don’t eat meat. I’m not a carnival like the rest of you.” Well, at least the rest of us “carnivals” are having fun and eating well.


It’s not my intent to come off as some expert or ridicule people who make occasional grammar or spelling errors. As I was looking up some of these, I discovered I say a few things wrong myself. For instance, I would say “chomping at the bit” instead of “champing” and “tender loving care” instead of “tender love and care.” So I’m just trying to have fun, and in the pursuit of fun, here is a little narrative I threw together, misusing all of the above, plus a few bonus ones in italics:


Here I was, up at the butt crack of dawn, and I found myself butt naked on a deserted island, completely surrounded by water. For all intensive purposes, it would be an exercise in fertility to try to swim for the mainland, but I could care less because I had a card up my hole. I liked being alone. When I’m with other people, it’s a doggy dog world filled with pre-Madonnas, but here alone, there would be no one to hurt my self of steam. I knew living alone would be a long road to hoe, so I headed off in search of food, hoping to nip my hunger in the butt. I’d all but finished a complete trip around the island when I finally discovered some bitter berries which did nothing more than wet my appetite. I hoped the terrible flavor would become a required taste because I couldn’t see myself hunting and fishing for food—I’m not a carnival; I’m a vegetarian. Irregardless, my belief in my survival was prolly a mute point. There would be no need to tow some imaginary line because there in the distance was literally a blessing in the skies—a ship had come to my rescue. 


If you can think of a few of your own that drive you crazy or a story to tell about someone misusing an expression, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Eyes as Big as Saucers



I’m working on my next book, and per usual, I mix in occasional scenes for fun and transition. My current novel has a grizzly bear that gives occasional moments of respite, and while I was writing one scene, I manufactured the following sentence:  “By then, Lauren had scrambled onto her feet and run to the kitchen where she turned to face the grizzly, her shovel brandished like a lance, her dark brown eyes as big as saucers.” I kind of liked the “shovel brandished like a lance” phrase, but I was unhappy with “eyes as big as saucers.” So I asked my wife, who often helps me when I’m stuck, to finish my simile. I said, “Eyes as big as ________.” Can you guess her response? “Saucers.” That couldn’t be the only response, could it? 

A simile is a figure of speech in which two fundamentally unlike things are explicitly compared, usually in a phrase introduced by like or as, so I just assumed that eyes can be like other things that I can’t necessarily see out of. How about “quarters”? Well, I scrounged around the house trying to find a quarter, which was difficult because I’m totally broke, but when I did, I put it up to my eye and what I realized was…an eye is almost as big as a quarter. Not a good comparison. I found one of those dollar coins, which I should spend because I’m broke, and it was larger, but it made me think of Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes and the Planter’s Peanuts dude with the monocle, so I dismissed that comparison as well. Next I considered, “her dark brown eyes as big as English muffins,” but when a picture of E.T. the Extraterrestrial popped into my head, I nixed that idea as well. Besides, I thought it was stupid. How could one phrase be so difficult? 

I decided to try the internet. In my writing experience, that’s how all problems are solved. I made the mistake, however, of just typing in “similes” in my search. I got totally sidetracked with the following similes. 1. “His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”  2. “Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap—only one that had been left out so long that it had rusted shut.”  3. “The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her like a dog at a fire hydrant.”  4. “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.”  5. “Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.”  6. “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.”  7. “Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to be on my toes.”   8. “She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.”  9. “He was as welcome as a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.”  10. “He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.”

I find I get easily sidetracked. I typed in “her eyes were as big as…” and the first hit was this: “Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol is awful. ‘Her eyes were as big as saucers when it hit her like an oncoming train.’” Well, now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t use “eyes as big as saucers.” I’d be ridiculed. The next hit was on Jack Johnson’s “Bubble Toes” lyrics. “It's as simple as something that nobody knows that her eyes are as big as her bubbly toes on the feet of a queen of the hearts of the cards and her feet are all covered with tar balls and scars.” I never can quite understand how musicians can get away with lyrics like this. I guess if it makes no sense but it manages to fit the rhythm and has a rhyme at the end, it’s acceptable. I on the other hand, have a reputation to deal with, so my Lauren character shouldn’t have “eyes as big as her bubbly toes.”

I tried “big as…large as…round as…scared as,” and then I gave up. And a phrase came to me all on my own, as it always does. “By then, Lauren had scrambled onto her feet and run to the kitchen where she turned to face the grizzly, her shovel brandished like a lance. Just as with prey in a trap, her dark brown eyes were wild with terror in the midst of the madness.” It’s not funny like many I found or poetic like others or even unintelligible like in the songs, but it’s mine—unless I revise it later.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spelling Gaffes



My family was at my house for Thanksgiving where we all ate an inconceivable amount of food. Eventually, the females—except for my mother—all went off to watch Twilight movies, and since I have no interest in sparkling vampires and sexy men, I sat on my couch and started looking for fun posts for my author page. I was looking for grammar and spelling gaffes or grammar Nazi references and found myself chortling (a word I’ve wanted to use for a long time) at what I was reading. I’m sure my parents found my behavior strange, but I actually am good at grammar and spelling because of them. They were both school teachers who emphasized a good education, and I ended up following in their footsteps and became an English teacher which led to becoming an author and the all-important role as a blogger. It just so happens that my ability to laugh at a good grammar joke is something for which I’m proud (unless I snort or shoot snot out of my nose).

Well, I found this poster about there, their, and they’re that I put up on my author page, and I just couldn’t stop laughing about it. 

It got me thinking about spelling errors from my eighth grade students and things I’ve seen on facebook, and I even did a little research to come up with my newest blog. What you will see are some exceptional spelling gaffes, as well as some occasionally sarcastic comments about them (okay, I admit it—I made sarcastic comments for all of them). If you don’t laugh at some of these, you need to watch fewer Twilightish movies and visit The Red Pen more often (hint, hint).

1.       “In the movie, Harold looses a thumb in a work accident.” (Luckily, it only became loose because losing it completely would have been a tragedy. It’s loses.)
2.       “It was nice to meat you.” (I can’t get the picture out of my head of this person happily slapping his new acquaintance with a pork chop. It’s meet.)
3.       “I’m eating flaming young.” (This sounds cannibalistic, immoral, and dangerous to me. It’s filet mignon.)
4.       “Wow, I’m hot. I can’t go through mini pulse at nineteen, can I?”  (I’ve heard a person can have a mini pulse if they’re nearly dead or suffering from hypothermia—but then the person certainly wouldn’t be hot—so since she’s not old enough to be going through a life change, she should call 911 because she’s nearly dead. It’s menopause.)
5.       “Do you think sex can be good without an organism?” (This is truly a profound question, since an organism is a “contiguous living system” such as an animal might have. I think my wife qualifies as an organism, so the answer for me is no. It’s orgasm.)
6.       “He’s my altar eagle.”  (Our national bird is going to be sacrificed in a religious ceremony? It’s alter ego.)
7.       “I have a torn rotary cup.” (If the Rotary Club was missing a cup and you found it in your shoulder, you would definitely need surgery. It’s rotator cuff.)
8.       “She has old timer’s disease.” (This is very non-specific and prejudicial…getting old isn’t a disease; it’s just an unfortunate experience. It’s Alzheimer’s disease.)
9.       “Your dairy air looks rather attractive from my point of view.” (I think this is supposed to be a weird compliment, but I’ve lived near a dairy farm and dairy air smells like manure. Isn’t that ironic? It’s derriere.)
10.   “They said their was no dairy in the yogurt, but I’m certain their was, and I’m lack toe tolerant.” (Forget about the misspelling of “there”—two times—because we all know 50% of the population can’t spell that word. My sincere question is what does dairy have to do with the person’s tolerance of people with missing toes? It’s lactose intolerant.)
11.   “After all the candy I ate, I think I could die of beeties.” (Beeties isn’t even a word—which makes it very difficult to make even a semi-humorous comment—but regardless, I’m certain candy doesn’t lead to death by beeties. It’s diabetes.)
12.   “Obama is the apidimi of what a black man is suppose to be.” (Okay, it’s supposed to be “supposed to,” and the only reason I’m focusing on that is because “apidimi” is spelled so poorly that I can’t even think of how to spell it. My spell check for that remarkable letter arrangement says “epidemic,” so I’m beginning to think bad spelling is an epidemic. It’s epitome.)
13.   “Ladies, do you prefer natural birth or sea sexion?” (That’s definitely a cool, erotic way to spell “section,” but the real question remains—do you prefer natural birth or an unnatural one at sea? It’s C-section.)
14.   “All I could see was his sallow wet.” (Sallow is an adjective meaning unhealthy yellowish color…so I guess “wet” is a noun in this sentence, so the “wet” is a yucky yellow…like from a Mountain Dew spill? It’s silhouette.)
15.   “The valid victorian at my school was pretty much a pot head.”  (Was this stoner smart, or was he really a suitable Victorian? It’s valedictorian.)
16.   “I’m not Willy Wonka. I don’t sugar code things.” (I have watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory because there are no vampires, but apparently Willy was doing a lot of things in secret that I never noticed, including encoding messages in his sweet things. Hmmm. It’s sugar coat.)
17.   “I need a shofar.” (You need a dictionary. It’s chauffeur.)
18.   “Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I can’t have corn roads in my hair, right?” (I think people of all colors should be allowed to have corn roads, wheat streets, and sugar cane lanes. What’s wrong with that? It’s cornrows.)
19.   “Even if I have to wait a year, I’d feel I made it as an aurthur if Oprah read my book.” (Getting Oprah to read your book would definitely be worth waiting a whole year, but what’s an aurthur? It’s author.)
20.   “We just need to teach are children reading, writing, and arithatic.” (And spelling…and the difference between linking verbs and possessive pronouns. It’s our and arithmetic.)
21.   “I’m experienced in all faucets of accounting.” (His favorite is probably the trickle-down effect. It’s facets.)
22.   “I just took it for granite.” (Do people often need granite? Do they sometimes misidentify things as granite? It’s granted.)

If you chortled a couple of times because of my latest blog entry, feel free to join the site, leave a comment, or check out my aurthur page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/authorJeffLaFerney?ref=hl. I hope you had as much food, family, and fun this Thanksgiving holiday as I did.  :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Faith. Hope. Life.



Faith. Hope. Life.

My friend, David Barns, passed away. From cancer. At the age of thirty. Gary, Dave’s father was my son’s high school basketball coach. I’d coached against him, I’d cheered for him as a parent in the stands, and I had the privilege of coaching with him. I made a list (which I’m prone to do), and Gary ranks third behind my father and my father-in-law as a person I respect most in my life. And his son died of cancer at the age of thirty.

Dave was the JV basketball coach at my son’s high school. He was a Division I college basketball player at the University of Detroit-Mercy—a walk-on that beat the odds. He treated my son like family and me with complete respect. Less than two years ago, as the basketball season wound down, he started getting headaches and light hurt his eyes. He thought it was from an injury he’d sustained while playing basketball, so he went to get it checked, and there was cancer behind his eye—attached to his brain. He went through chemo and radiation because surgery wasn’t a good option, and he fought. When it seemed he’d kicked it, he got married, and then things turned for the worse, and he passed away just a little more than a week ago.

I happen to have gone over the hill. Mathematically, I’ve spent more years on my career than I have off it, and all those “career” years were occupied teaching in a classroom or coaching on the basketball court or softball field (usually both…sometimes all three). I’ve also been a parent nearly half of my life and between my career and my parenting, I’ve spent a lot of time reminding people to do their best. I teased a bright, sweet student of mine a couple of days ago who read 198 words in one minute on a fluency reading. She didn’t reach 200 and she was short of the 219 of the student who read to me the hour before. She said what she’d done was “good enough.” I said it wasn’t. Coming short of your goal or finishing in second place is not good enough. I’ve been preaching that message for years and years.

Dave Barns’s mantra through his whole ordeal was Faith. Hope. Life. He continued without fail and without complaint to say, “If you have faith, and if you have hope, you can have life.” His father said at the funeral that Dave was never satisfied with second best. Unless he was the best, it wasn’t “good enough.” Throughout his losing battle with cancer, Dave reached out to others and gave THEM faith and hope. He lost his own mortal life, but the life he led will live on. Whether it’s by memories, shared experiences, inspiration, or admiration, those that knew David Barns were touched by his life. I was touched by his life.

Dave left behind a loving wife, two fantastic parents, and two adoring sisters, but he also left us with an example of faith, an illustration of hope, and a model of life lived to the fullest. By passing away at thirty years of age, it doesn’t seem like he’d had a “good enough” life, but for a thirty-year-old, his example of never giving in to the belief that second place was good enough will be a lasting reminder and inspiration to me, a writer who will never be satisfied just to be finished. My desire to be exceptional has been ramped up another degree in recognition of a young man who was described by the man I look up to as his idol and best friend. I, personally, am stunned that the faith and hope that I had in his recovery didn’t lead to a spared life. But then I attended the funeral home and funeral and walked away a believer that when one has faith and hope, he gives of his life—to others, which in Dave’s case is a life worthy of admiration and a life of inspiration. No, reading 198 words isn’t “good enough” and what I’m doing with my life and with my writing also isn’t “good enough.” My student has more, and so do I. I’m just sorry I had to lose a friend to relearn a lesson I thought I had always been teaching others. Faith. Hope. Life. That would be something that’s “good enough.” Goodbye, David Allen Barns, but thank you for the example of a life well-lived.