Subjunctive as a Way of Life!

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By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

We’ve written about the subjunctive a couple of times (Subjunctive Uses Were, Not Was and I Wish I Was Wrong, But I’m Not), so this is a more philosophical post on the topic.

The subjunctive is used when we wish things were different from the way they actually are, and based on what I see in life, that seems to be how we live our lives–wishing things were different.

It’s December 30, meaning that New Year’s Day has not arrived yet, but the stores are brimming with candy and decorations for Valentine’s Day. A local grocery store even has candy out for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter!

I know that retailers need to plan ahead and get merchandise ready to sell, but we, as a society, seem obsessed with whatever is next, as if whatever is now is not good enough.

The reason Christmas is only a six-week obsession is that Thanksgiving slows down the train a little, but it’s depressing to me to start thinking about spring already. Winter just started. Sure, maybe people don’t like the weather as much as I do, but still, we don’t have to subjunctive our lives away!

(Image from

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Managing Expectations

Managing expectations is one of the business terms that is effectively a trendy way of saying something in an indirect manner.

I thought of the term today when the general manager the team with the longest consecutive streak of losing seasons in professional sports history, the Pittsburgh Pirates, talked about how the trade value for the best relief pitcher isn’t as great now as it would have been during the season. They didn’t use the term managing expectations, but the mighty Buccos seem to have been saying: Sure, we’re going to try to trade Joel Hanrahan (the pitcher in question), but don’t expect much.

In other words, they were managing expectations.

The term is used regularly in the business world, when results might not match expected results. (We need to manage customer expectations.) It might also be used by managers when dealing with workers. (We need to manage employee expectations about raises this year.)

This Dilbert cartoon exemplifies the term as well as anything:

managing expectations image--Dilbert cartoon

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This Vote Should Be Unanimous: It’s Electoral, not Electorial!

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

Estimated electoral college votes as of September 21, 2012; image from

We’re in the heart of election season, which means many things, one of the most annoying of which is how many people are going to say electorial instead of electoral.

You’ll hear it from your friends. You’ll hear it by television pundits (not pundints, by the way!). You’ll probably even hear it from one of the candidates.

There is no “i” in electoral or electoral college.

Now, of course, if you’re one of those people who believes that a mistake repeated often enough is no mistake–it’s new acceptable usage–then you might think electorial is a word. (Think, where electorial has a definition of electoral.)

P.S. Blue is my favorite color!

(Image from

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Positive Language about Tropical Storm Isaac

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

Being a meteorologist and writer, I sometimes confuse myself, so let’s be clear: This is a language-related weather post, not a weather-related language post!

Do They Want Hurricanes to Strengthen?

Am I the only one who is disturbed by how often meteorologists (degree in meteorology) and weather presenters (“I’m not a meteorologist, but I play on tv”) make it sound as if they want tropical storms and hurricanes to strengthen?

I watched a Weather Channel update a couple of days ago on Tropical Storm Isaac, which could become Hurricane Isaac, and I heard several references that made it sound as if it would be a good thing for the storm to strengthen.

  • The upper-levels were not conducive to the storm developing.
  • Dry air being pulled into the storm was going to slow development.
  • Interaction with Cuba would slow its development to hurricane strength.
  • The broad circulation was preventing a rapid intensification.
  • The westward track was making it less likely to move up the East Coast.

Based on those statements, you might conclude that it would be good for the storm to strengthen and slam into the East Coast. The statements were all phrased in the negative (negative for the storm), but they all sounded like positive points to me, except for the regions that were going to be affected by the more westward movement.

Storm’s Perspective

Most people don’t want to see death and destruction from storms, of course, but it is worth nothing that there are a few ego-driven meteorologists who would much rather be correct about a forecast even if it means more destruction than be wrong about a forecast and have it be less destructive. That’s too bad, but it’s also not the point here.

The point is that since meteorologists dictate the tone of the discussion, they do it from the perspective that they care about (the perspective of the storm) instead of the perspective that is most important to the audience (the potential effects of the storm). For the record, I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of it myself.

Regardless, it’s not terribly effective communication.

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Simple, Direct Language Is Always the Best Choice!

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

I know it’s been a while, but we’re still here!

And what better way to come back from a break than by focusing on the most important way to improve communication: Keep it simple and direct.

Seriously, communication that is riddled with extra words, unnecessarily complicated language, and indirect thoughts (which seems to be every work email being sent today!) is muddled, boring, and difficult to comprehend.

On the other hand, every communication that is stripped of unnecessary words, simplified, and direct is a pleasure to read and easy to understand.

For more information, please see a writing tip that I wrote for my day job: Plain Language Is Not Boring Language.

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I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday morning

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

I’m happy to report that I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on Wednesday, joining host Joy Cardin and listeners to discuss language pet peeves. Joy’s show is on the Ideas Network, a 19-station network serving Wisconsin and spilling into neighboring states, such as Minnesota and Illinois.

There is a live streaming option from the link above, and I’ll post the archive link when available.

Speaking of archives, this is the second time that I’ve joined Joy, with the first time being a few years ago after the book first came out. If you’re interested, you can listen to that interview on this archived stream.

It’s a good discussion, as might be expected from an NPR audience.

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“Stretchered” Off the Ice?

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

Although it’s often difficult to be (because of the unnecessary violence often intended to injure opponents), I’m a fan of hockey.

The hockey act that resulted in the ridiculous language example I’m about to cite is an unfortunate example of what could be a great sport; however, let us, for the moment, only look at the language use in question: Marian Hossa Was Stretchered Off The Ice After This Brutal Hit From Raffi Torres.

Stretcher is a verb? The word now means “the act of moving someone (presumably into an ambulance) while on a stretcher.”

Call; even they don’t have that verbification (what I called the process of turning nouns into verbs in my book) yet. Call the descriptivists who think that, as long as the meaning is understood, it’s legitimate usage. We have a new verb!

Let’s do a little conjugation of the verb stretcher, at least of the present tense:

  • I stretcher
  • You stretcher
  • He/she/it stretchers
  • We stretcher
  • They stretcher

You get the idea.

If you want a new word, then simply turn a noun into a verb and you have one. You verbed it.

We certainly wish Marian Hossa the best and hope that hockey takes serious steps to remove the unnecessary violence from the game.

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