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!)

Posted by: suekenney | April 2, 2013

World Autism Awareness Day 2013

Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you know about autism?  Do you know that it’s not just one condition, but a whole broad spectrum of conditions?  Do you know that the CDC estimates 1 out of every 88 children is on the autism spectrum (ASD)?  Do you know that when they divide it along gender lines, they estimate ASD affects 1 in every 54 boys, but only 1 in every 252 girls?   Do you know that this affects more children than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, or Down syndrome – combined?

Do you know that every person with autism is unique?  Do you know that many have exceptional visual, musical, and academic skills, while about 40% have intellectual disability (IQ less than 70)?  Do you know that about 25% of persons on the spectrum are nonverbal but can learn to communicate via other means?  Do you know that some individuals with autism justly take pride in their abilities and different perspective on the world, while others are significantly disabled and cannot live independently?

Do you know that there is no link between childhood vaccines and the increased prevalence of autism?  Do you know that an autistic child has as much right as any other child, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, to have access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether in mainstream or special education classrooms?

Do you know that it is very important to receive as early a diagnosis as possible, so that steps can begin immediately to deal with potential problems?  Do you know that every child needs to be screened for developmental milestones from birth to at least 36 months?  Do you know that screening for autism should include hearing and lead exposure tests and an autism-specific screening tool such as the M-CHAT, and be administered by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, and that genetic testing and screening for related medical issues may also be recommended?

 And there is so much more to know!  Probably all of us know at least one person who has autism.  I personally know three, that I am aware of.  All three show different symptoms.  One is a toddler and beginning to make great strides in his development.  One is a teenager, functioning as well as any other teenager.  One is in his early twenties, of exceptional intelligence and musical skill, and working on his masters degree.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the main things to remember about people with autism is that most of them are able to function just fine, thank you – they just see the world very differently than the rest of us.  This can often be an advantage:  look at Temple Grandin, who holds a PhD and is a professor of animal science.  Because of her autistic perspective, she was able to conceive a number of revolutionary ways to improve the cattle industry in the US.

Look at Dawn Prince-Hughes, another holder of a PhD, hers in primate anthropology.  Her autistic perspective led her to work closely with gorillas, and has given her new insights into gorilla behavior.

Look at Satoshi Tajiri.  His Asperger’s Syndrome (one of the higher-functioning conditions on the spectrum) led him to an early childhood obsession with insects, and then to arcade games.  This led to his creation of the Pokemon universe.

Look at the names of some other people throughout history, who have attracted speculation that they might have had ASD:  Albert Einstein, Amedeus Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, Michelangelo.

A diagnosis of autism is not a death sentence.  It doesn’t mean that the child or adult with autism is an imbecile, or a vegetable, or a second-class citizen.  I said earlier that early intervention is extremely important:  not because I think that autism is a disease that needs to be “cured,” but because communication is so key to all we do, and autistic folks have to learn how to communicate with us so-called “neurotypicals.”  (Seriously, have you ever found anyone who really was “typical”?  That’s like defining “normal.”)  They must learn to communicate with us; we must learn to communicate with them.  It must come from both sides to be full, honest communication.

(Note:  Most of the information contained in this post was taken from;; and  Wikipedia was also helpful.)

Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

With a Triumphal Grin?

Really, this is about words and grammar.

This past Sunday, March 24, I was doing my morning devotions and belatedly picked up on the fact that it was Palm Sunday (at least in the Western tradition).  This is the day that Christians celebrate Jesus Christ riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week before the Crucifixion.  Many of us call that the Triumphal Entry.


English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mind – as it is wont to do – started wandering around this concept of a triumphal entry:  what was it exactly?  why triumphal and not triumphant?  was there a difference between triumphal and triumphant?

Checking my concordance, I found that the phrase “triumphal entry” is not in the Bible.  According to the Wikipedia article I read, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem  probably wasn’t referred to as a triumphal entry until the 13th century or so.  The term “triumphal entry” actually refers to the ancient Roman practice of celebrating their generals’ successes with a triumph: a parade through the streets of Rome, a special sacrifice, and various other honors and benefits.

Now, I don’t intend to get into all the whys and wherefores of Jesus being given a triumph when He entered Jerusalem.    This is about words, not theology.  The adjective “triumphal,” then, refers to celebrating or commemorating a victory or triumph, or having the nature of a triumph in the Roman sense.  The word, according to, based on the Random House Dictionary, was recorded as first being used around 1400-1450.

Triumphant is very similar, but there is a shade of difference.  It’s a slightly younger word, having been first recorded as being used around 1485-1495.  In fact, it was early used as a replacement or equivalent of triumphal.  But over the centuries it has come to refer more to the actual victory than to the celebration thereof.  So triumphant means successful or victorious, or exulting in that success or victory.  As I said, “same but different.”

Not an earthshaking issue, for sure.  But of interest to grammar nerds such as I (yeah, I figured I’d better say that one correctly).  And enough to let me know that my title is not topnotch in terms of diction – I should grin triumphantly, not triumphally.

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