Posted by: suekenney | August 17, 2017

E Pluribus Unum

This is an email I recently received from one of my nieces, Dr. Bahiyyah Maroon.  I am both encouraged and humbled by her words.  I pray that what she describes here is not an isolated situation in our troubled world; I pray that many others share in these blessings of diversity and respectful, thoughtful differences.


I often share with people about the wide spectrum of views in my family. How we have folks on the far far left, the middle, and the far far right in terms of political views. While many a contentious political conversation has been had around any number of tables over years, the fact is people in our family have generally always found a way to create bridges between the many differences we hold. We are from many different faith backgrounds and non-faith backgrounds. We have different parties we sign on to. Different this and different these. And yes, different colors as well.
 I am greatly struck in days past, by how tremendously fortunate we all are to have this family experience with navigating for better or worse the tumultuous waters of difference through the rivers of our family line. While our nation reels with long unmet histories and harsh present storms, I have found myself taking great solace in the diversity of the family that I come from. I’d like to believe that the truce agreements, the negotiated peace, and the peaceable respect we have found between our diverse beliefs is something that might one day be reflected in the greater landscapes of the country. I can’t know anymore than anybody else when such a time might occur. I can know that I take enormous appreciative solace in the experience of being part of a small group of people who is doing the remarkable simple decent thing on a regular basis of agreeing to agree and also agreeing to disagree.
I have had some lively debates with people over the years and I’ve grown from all of them. I’ve found myself in some rather awkward moments too and have grown through those as well. In our family some folks are not sure why there should be such a thing as blacklivesmatter and some other people actively teach about exactly why there should be a blacklivesmatter. And we break bread the same way together through these differences. This is one of many examples of our diversity and our willingness to respect our differences.
I wanted to take a moment today to send my love to everyone and my appreciation for the kind of family we are.
Posted by: suekenney | July 27, 2017

A Grammarian’s Tale

As a lifelong reader, a former English teacher and now a part-time freelance editor, I am very much involved with language.  Over the years since I first began teaching, many of my ideas and preconceptions about language, particularly English, have changed — some of them drastically.

I honestly don’t remember learning much about grammar when I was in grade school, although it must have happened somewhere along the line.  What stands out from that dim era of history is diagramming sentences.  Yeah, that’s right — drawing all those crazy little lines, horizontal and slanted and vertical, and fitting every word from a gruesomely long sentence into all the proper places.  I got pretty adept at it; I even (how crazy/nerdy can you be?) enjoyed it.

When I came into the role of teacher (at a very small church school with very small classes), we used primarily the ABeka curriculum, which is insistently strict on grammar — “prescriptivist,” as a linguist might say.  As a new teacher, I stuck to their program.  My students got English grammar rules dinned into their heads regularly and often.  Most of the time I thought it was a losing cause; what I taught one week would be forgotten the next, particularly on quizzes or tests.  At various times in my career at that school, I taught every grade level from kindergarten to twelfth grade.  In all my years there (around fifteen), I had very few students who were really good at grammar (yes, I admit that may be more of a reflection on my teaching ability), and maybe only one or two who actually enjoyed it.

I stopped teaching, and wondered for many years if all that effort put into teaching nouns and verbs, prepositions and interjections, clauses and phrases, active voice and passive voice, et al., had really been worth it.  English is such a flexible language, borrowing from here, there, and everywhere, with multitudinous dialects — were there any grammar rules that applied across the board?  Was learning grammar even necessary anymore?

Then I started hearing back from some of my students who had moved on to a different high school, or to college, or to a job.   One young man, still in high school at the time, and incidentally not one of my better English students, was pleased that he knew more grammar than anyone else in his class at his new school.  A young lady actually thanked me for the rigorous background in grammar because it was helping her to write better papers in college.  Another young man had a similar experience, and once he got into graduate school and beyond, where a higher percentage of the tests were essays and not multiple choice, that knowledge of grammar enabled him to write some of the best answers and essays in his various classes.  He has often been complimented on his writing ability.

Am I patting myself on the back for my great teaching?  Hardly — I know very well how many mistakes I made over the years.  I credit my students for picking it up in spite of me.  Am I saying that a solid knowledge of grammar is what makes you a good writer?  No.  But it sure helps!   (Excuse me — “surely helps!”)   I find, however, that I am moving away, slowly, inexorably, from the notion that every grammar rule should be strictly adhered to in every instance.  Or even (traitorous!) that every grammar rule I learned was correct.

For instance, one of the rules I learned over the years, which I tried to pass on to my students, was never to split an infinitive (to + a verb).  What, then, of Star Trek‘s “to boldly go where no man has gone before”?  To my ears, saying “to go boldly” or “boldly to go” doesn’t sound right.  Perhaps it’s just that  I’ve heard it said only one way for so many years.  But there is a certain rhythm in “to boldly go” that is more pleasing to my ear than the rhythm of the other two. Why?  “To boldly go where no man has gone before” is very nearly perfect iambic pentameter — which is what Shakespeare commonly wrote in — and who can beat Shakespeare as a genius of language usage?

That’s only one example among dozens.  I still believe in using rules (otherwise I’d make a lousy editor), but not as fanatically as I used to.  Grammar rules, spelling, and other language-related topics are evolving on a daily basis.  We need to find that elusive but vital balance between grammatical authoritarianism and nearly incomprehensible gobbledygook.  Make yourself understood, but take full advantage of the incredible malleability of the English language.

Posted by: suekenney | July 22, 2014

Buts and Rebuts: On Autism Acceptance

Just found this post on autism, written by one who knows. Might seem a bit long, but it’s all very good. I learned a lot from reading it, and expect to learn more as I continue to process her words and thoughts. Excellent work.

Autistic Speaks

*I’ve gotten several comments and such about this being “my son’s” or “my child’s” blog.  Note: Nowhere, in the whole post or in any of the subpages of my entire blog do I mention having a child.  That’s because I don’t have one.  I’m an autistic adult (yup, they have those!); these are my words.

When it comes to reason why parents are hesitant about–even outright againt–autism acceptance, there are a series of “buts…” that come up over and over again.  Despite what appears over the computer screen, and sometimes even in person, to be a remarkable facility with words, even despite the fact that I will soon hold a Master’s in English and creative writing, the reality for me and many other autistic people is that words are not my first language.  Trying to communicate my great-big ideas into the neat little packages of black print on a white background…

View original post 6,269 more words

Oh, wait a minute – that’s not an editorial or grammatical phrase, is it?  But that’s what I sometimes think has happened to me in terms of the blogging world.  I started a new part-time job back in October, and that, along with my other two part-time jobs, and an attempt at trying to reorganize my kitchen, and the holidays in the middle of all that, has kept me fairly busy since then.   Still working on that kitchen, but I’m also itching to get back at this.Red_rose

So let me try this again:  F is for Figure of Speech, also called Figurative Language.  A figure of speech is a word or phrase used in a nonliteral sense to achieve special meaning or effect.  The two most familiar ones are probably the simile (a comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as”) and the metaphor (also a comparison of two unlike things but implicit rather than stated, and not using “like” or “as”).  “My love is like a red, red rose” (poem/song by Robert Burns) is an example of a simile, and “The moon’s the north wind’s cooky” (poem by Vachel Lindsay) is an example of a metaphor (and one of my favorite metaphors, by the way).

There are plenty of other figures of speech, some used primarily in poetry, others used in both prose and poetry.  Apostrophe is directly addressing someone or something that is not physically present or not physically alive.  “O Death, where is thy sting?”  (I Corinthians 15:55)  Personification is giving human qualities to inanimate objects or nonhuman beings.  (Think Wind in the Willows or any of the books by Thornton W. Burgess.)  Hyperbole is exaggeration.  “Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue.”  (from a legend of Paul Bunyan)  Oxymoron is using contradiction in a way that makes sense.  “Cowards die many times before their deaths.”  (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)Mother_West_Wind_Where_Stories_frontispiece_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17250

These, and many more, make our language so much more interesting and colorful.  Nor do you have to know exactly what they are in order to enjoy their effects.  Do you need to know the inner workings of a TV set to enjoy the latest episode of NCIS or Dancing with the Stars?  Not at all.  But if you work with words a lot, figurative language is a marvelous tool, and merits more exacting study.


Posted by: suekenney | April 2, 2014

Light It Up Blue!

World-autism-awareness-dayToday is April 2.  It is also World Autism Awareness Day, first sanctioned by the United Nations in 2007.  To be honest, I knew very little about autism until a few years ago, when my older grandson Owen was diagnosed as being on the spectrum.  I hardly qualify as an expert now, but I do know more than I did back then.

Autism, first of all, is not a disease.  It cannot be cured by medicines, though some of its effects can be alleviated by various drugs.  It is a condition.  Nor is it a single list of symptoms; autism is a spectrum of symptoms ranging from very mild to very severe.  One person with autism might be severely mentally handicapped, unable to speak at all, prone to tantrums and rocking back and forth and other severe behaviors.  Another might have no mental handicap at all, no problem communicating or speaking, and only a difficulty with social relationships to indicate anything is amiss.  Yet both are on the spectrum of autism.

When Owen was diagnosed in 2011, the CDC said that 1 in 88 children was on the autism spectrum.  Just recently, the CDC released revised figures, saying that it was now 1 in 68.  That’s quite a jump.  That means that if you know 100 people, chances are really good that at least one of them has autism.  So why this sudden “surge” in the numbers of cases of autism?  Is it really becoming that much more prevalent?  Perhaps.  Has the definition of autism been broadened enough to include that many more people?  Maybe.  Have there been improvements in diagnostic techniques and an upswing in numbers of parents wanting their children screened for autism?  I think that is the most likely scenario – though certainly it’s not ONLY that.

220px-TempleGrandinAlmost five times as many boys are diagnosed with autism as girls.  I have no idea why.  One of the most well-known autistic persons that I know of is Temple Grandin, a woman who struggled with severe autism throughout much of her life.  If not for a very determined mother, Temple would have been institutionalized in early childhood.  Yet she now, at age 66, is renowned as an author, a speaker, a doctor of animal studies, a college professor, an activist, a consultant to the livestock industry, and an engineer.

Satoshi_TajiriLooking at the male side, there is Satoshi Tajiri, who grew up with Asperger’s syndrome (one of the mildest forms of autism), and as a young adult created the Pokemon universe.

My grandson Owen was between 15 and 16 months old when he was diagnosed.  He and his parents then lived in a county of New York state that was very energetic with early intervention for kids with autism.  He received various therapies – speech, occupational, physical – both at home and at a special preschool – from therapists who were very caring and professional.  This continued for over several months, until the family moved to another county.  There, they found another preschool program for Owen that has continued all of the above therapies, added a couple of new ones, and given him a new classroom setting for learning more social skills, building on what was started in the first location.  Every time I see Owen now, he has advanced in his speech, socializing, cognition, motor skills, and so on.  I cannot say enough about what early intervention has done for Owen.

There are a number of groups and organizations now that advocate for people with autism, and that disseminate information.  One of them is Autism Speaks (you can find them at  Every year on April 2, to kick off April as Autism Awareness Month, Autism Speaks sponsors “Light It Up Blue,” a worldwide initiative to draw people’s attention to the facts about autism.  This post is my little contribution to the overall event – my little attempt to “light it up blue” for my neck of the woods.


Posted by: suekenney | October 2, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: E is for Ellipsis

Ellipsis (plural, ellipses) has two meanings.  The older meaning is that of omitting a word implied by a previous clause.  For instance, you might say, “The seniors sold fifteen magazine subscriptions, but the juniors only ten.”  The words “sold” (after “juniors”) and “subscriptions” (after “ten”) are implied by the previous clause.  Likewise you could say, “The Yankees lost ten games; the Mets lost only five.”  Again, the word “games” is implied after the word “five,” as in the previous clause.


Ellipsis (Photo credit: mag3737)

This form of ellipsis is similar to, but not to be confused with, an eclipsis.  An eclipsis is the deliberate omission of essential grammatical elements to create a poetic or artful effect.  For example:  “This sentence no verb!”  The verb “has” is obviously omitted, but there is no previous clause to refer to.  The omission of “has” serves to highlight its very absence.

The other, more modern meaning for ellipsis is the use of three periods to indicate an word or phrase omitted from a quotation.  For instance, if you wanted only part of a line from Shakespeare, you could say, “What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! … in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!”  The three dots of the ellipsis show that you’ve left out “how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel!”  An ellipsis such as this can indicate the omission of one word or of several sentences.

Ellipses are also used in fiction writing, with various intended effects:  to show hesitation, to indicate a deliberate pause, to heighten suspense, and so on.  In general, if you’re writing for an audience, keep the use of ellipses to a minimum; they’re useful, but too much of a good thing can damage the effect you want to elicit.  In works of non-fiction, where ellipses are used primarily to indicate an omission from a quotation, there are varying schools of thought on how best to use the ellipsis and what punctuation to use with it.  Check style manuals appropriate to your intended audience.

For a more erudite and detailed explanation of ellipses, check out the article referenced below.

Posted by: suekenney | August 28, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: D is for Diction

No, I didn’t forget a few letters there – I really do mean diction, not dictionary.  My faithful Funk & Wagnalls defines it as “the use, choice, and arrangement of words in writing and speaking.”  There’s a second definition: “the manner of uttering speech sounds; enunciation.”  Most sources that I looked at were of the opinion that the second definition does not properly define diction, and should be reserved defining enunciation or articulation.  I don’t want to start any arguments here (well, not too many, anyway), so I’ll just stick with Definition #1 and let the extremists argue over #2.

what are word for?

what are word for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Diction is closely related to syntax.  Funk & Wagnalls defines that as “the arrangement and interrelationship of words in phrases and sentences.”  Another source quoted David Smith as saying it is “the orderly arrangement of words into sentences to express ideas.”  Diction, then, refers to the words you choose; syntax refers to how you arrange them in the sentence:  “the standard word order and sentence structure.”

So what’s the big deal here?  What does word choice matter?  Hey, it matters a LOT.  Or to put it a bit differently, “It is of tremendous import.”  See, that’s diction in action right there.  “It matters a lot” and “it is of tremendous import” are saying the same thing, but using different words.  These differences will evoke different moods, appeal to different audiences, convey varying nuances of meaning.  “It matters a lot” is understandable to just about everyone and is what I would call casual language.  “It is of tremendous import” is still understandable, but the formality level just went up a notch or two.  I would use the first one in a letter to a friend, but probably not in a college thesis.  The second one would be more likely to show up in a college thesis or some other equally formal presentation.

Advertisers are very much aware of their diction, although they might not use that exact word.  Different words will appeal more to different demographics.  For instance, to draw in most 20-somethings, you wouldn’t use highly formal language (unless these 20-somethings are all working on their doctorates), nor would you make copious references to enjoying retirement or grandchildren.  Physicists and chemists will not necessarily be drawn in by dreamy, esoteric language or philosophical discussions.  (And yes, I am well aware that there are plenty of exceptions to these very general assumptions.  One of my favorite biochemists is also fond of lyrical prose as in, say, Tolkien.)  Nor would you win over any 5-year-olds by speaking of quarks or geopolitics or the latest addition to the OED.

So be aware of your audience.  Fit your diction, your choice of words, to whomever is listening or reading.  Hey, and don’t be afraid to expand your vocabulary – you never know when words like serendipitous or submaxillary or picaresque might be just the right words for the moment.

Posted by: suekenney | August 12, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: C is for Clause

No, no, not Claus as in Santa Claus – CLAUSE.  It’s a “unit of grammatical organization next below the sentence in rank and in traditional grammar said to consist of a subject and predicate,” according to one dictionary I checked.  That’s the key: always a subject and predicate, or verb.  There are two types, dependent and independent.  As you can easily guess, a dependent clause cannot stand on its own as a sentence, and an independent clause can. Every true or complete sentence has at least one independent clause.

I say “true or complete sentence” because writers will often use sentence fragments instead of complete sentences, generally as a way to either emphasize something or to break up some sort of action or narrative for various effects.

A sentence can also have more than one independent clause, thus making it a compound sentence, and any number of dependent clauses, making it either a complex sentence, if there’s only one independent clause, or compound-complex, if there are multiple independent clauses.

Dependent clauses are commonly introduced by what are called subordinating conjunctions:  words like when, while, because, after, provided (that), etc Some subordinating conjunctions can also function as prepositions, such as after or before. The key is to see if the word is followed by only an object, making it a preposition, or by a subject and verb, making it a clause.

Some examples are in order.

John married Isabel last July.  (John = subject, married = verb, so this is an independent clause.

Before John married Isabel in July.   (John = subject, married = verb as above, so it’s a clause, but they are preceded by the subordinating conjunction before, thus making it a dependent clause)

Before the wedding.  (Here before has to be a preposition because it’s followed only by wedding and its modifier, but no verb, so it’s a prepositional phrase.)

Before John married Isabel last July, he moved into a new apartment.  (Getting more complicated here.  We’ve got John = subject, married = verb, but we also have he = subject, moved = verb.  Both parts are clauses, but since John married is preceded by before, a subordinating conjunction, it’s a dependent clause.  Dependent clause + independent clause = complex sentence.)

John and Isabel moved into a new apartment after they were married, and their friends gave them a housewarming party.  (John/Isabel = compound subject, moved = verb; they= subject, were married = verb; friends = subject, gave = verb.  Since they were married is preceded by the subordinating conjunction after, that is a dependent clause.  So we have independent clause + dependent clause + independent clause = compound-complex sentence.)

So the main thing to remember with clauses of either sort is that they have subjects and verbs.

Another key to whether a clause is dependent or independent, when you can’t quite remember all those lists of subordinating conjunctions, is to see how the clause looks when standing alone.  An independent clause finishes a thought; it sounds complete.  But a dependent clause tends to leave you hanging: further information is needed to complete the thought.

John married Isabel.  (A complete thought – end of story.)

Before John married Isabel.  (You find yourself wondering, “Well, what happened before John married Isabel?”  You need more information to complete the thought.)

So, that’s CLAUSE in a nutshell.  When I was teaching English grammar several years ago (see? dependent clause!), I might spend days or weeks trying to cram all the nuances of clauses into my poor students’ aching heads.  Here you’ve only had about 580 words and maybe 15 minutes of reading time – and no tests!

Posted by: suekenney | August 5, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: B is for Battle of Hastings

Say what?  Battle of Hastings?  How on earth does that relate to a dictionary of editorial and literary terms?

Battle of Hastings, as portrayed by Philip Jam...

Battle of Hastings, as portrayed by Philip James de Loutherbourg: this work of art has been engraved by W. Bromley and published in Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England (1804). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, let me tell you.  First, a very quick background on the Battle of Hastings.  In the year 1066, Duke William II of Normandy brought his armies to England to claim the throne he said was rightfully his.  Harold II, the Anglo-Saxon king of England, wasn’t about to give up the throne without a fight.  But in that fight, in October of 1066, fought near Hastings, Harold lost, and William won.

This set up a major shift in England.  Instead of the Anglo-Saxon culture being at the top of the heap in England, William imported French language, culture, government, etc.  While Anglo-Saxon, or what we now call Old English, was a language mostly concerned with simple, agrarian concepts, Duke William’s Norman French dealt with somewhat more complex concepts and became, for some centuries, the language of the the ruling classes, the courts, and business.

Words like “apple,” “axe,” “chicken,” “house,” “husband,” and “land” are all from Old English.  Norman French gave us words such as “liberty,” “majesty,” “mutton,” “chivalry,” and “accuse.”  Some estimate that the Norman invasion brought into the English language as many as 10,000 new words, many of which we still use today.

But a vastly expanded vocabulary is not the only reason that the Battle of Hastings is included in an editorial dictionary, although I would certainly consider vocabulary very important.  The grammar changed as well.  Most Anglo-Saxon plurals were formed in the Germanic way of adding the suffix -en.  After the Normans took over, plurals eventually became more commonly formed in the French way, by adding -s.

But even beyond plurals, Old English or Anglo-Saxon was full of inflection (inflexion for you Brits in the audience):  there were five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), two grammatical numbers (singular and plural), and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) for nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and determiners.  Some pronouns also had dual forms for groups of two people.  Verbs came in nine main conjugations, seven strong (what we would now call irregular) and two weak (what we would now call regular).  To some extent, the order of the words in a sentence was variable, since the case endings clearly indicated how a word was meant to be used regardless of its place in the sentence.

The advent of Norman French helped to simplify Old English grammar.  Cases now number only three (nominative, objective, and possessive, which mostly occur in pronouns); there is no longer specific gender for most nouns; the dual form disappeared; a far greater number of strong-conjugated verbs gave place to primarily weak-conjugated verbs; word order in sentences became much more rigid.

So if not for the Battle of Hastings and the major influence of Norman French on Old English, editors these days might very well be correcting someone’s misuse of the dative for the accusative case of foot, or making sure the dual form of you was properly placed, or decrying the usage of too many weak verbs.  But now we worry about people using it’s when they should have used its, or having a misplaced antecedent, or the like.  It’s all in your perspective.


Posted by: suekenney | July 8, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: A is for Active Voice

The English language has a grammatical aspect called voice.  Every sentence is either in active voice or passive voice.  Most sentences in English are written in the active voice.  In these sentences, the subject of the sentence is either the doer of the action of the verb, or the topic, in the case of linking verbs.  For instance:

Margie sat on the elegant chaise longue.   (Margie is doing the action of sitting.)

Margie is the most endearing physicist I’ve ever met.  (Margie is the topic of the linking verb is.)

Passive voice switches the focus of the sentence to what would be the object of the sentence in active voice.  In passive voice, the subject becomes the recipient of the action.

The chaise longue was made in the new factory in Newburyport.  (Chaise longue receives the action of making.)

A rococo chaise longue

A rococo chaise longue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Passive voice can be easily recognized by looking at the verb:  it is always a form of the verb be plus the past participle of another verb.  “Am amused,” “was focused,” “will be done,” “has been formed,” “had been started,” and so on.

Another thing to note in passive voice sentences:  the doer of the action is not always mentioned.  For instance, in the sample sentence for passive voice, we don’t know who in particular made the chaise longue; just that it was made in Newburyport, in a new factory.

Generally, you can switch active voice to passive, as long as there is an object to the sentence, and passive to active.  Here are some examples:

Margie lifted the heavy suitcase into the trunk of her car.  (Active – the subject is doing the action)

The heavy suitcase was lifted by Margie into the trunk of her car.  (Passive – the subject is receiving the action)

Margie filled the suitcase with sturdy, warm clothes.  (Active – the subject is doing the action)

The suitcase was filled with sturdy, warm clothes.  (Passive – the subject is the receiver of the action – the doer of the action is not mentioned)

As I said at the beginning, most sentences in English are in the active voice.  Active voice helps the sentences move along more smoothly and quickly; it adds a little bit of pep to your writing.  Active voice is more vivid, more direct.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should always avoid the passive voice.  If you want to focus on the recipient of the action, or for some reason don’t care to mention who specifically is doing the action, then use passive voice.  Just don’t do it very often.

Just for fun, I wrote four sentences or clauses in my main text in passive voice:  can you find all four?  (Don’t count the sample sentences.  If you find more than four, you get an extra gold star!)

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