Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Spelling bee generates buzz

The 79th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee got under way Wednesday, with its first prime-time, major-network debut slated for 8:00 Thursday evening. With all the hoopla surrounding this year's highly anticipated bee, my thoughts turned, quite naturally, to spelling. Does millennium have one or two l's? I wondered. Do I remember my high-school French well enough to have confidence with connoisseur? And, when push comes to shove, could I really face the terror of spelling a word like appoggiatura before a national audience? (This last is the winning word from last year's bee, and refers to an embellishing tone, or "grace note," in music.)

I ask two favors of any readers who come across this post. First, please excuse the egregious pun in the title of the post. Second (and much more important): why not pick up a dictionary today, and look up some of your favorite words, to commemorate this great event in the history of the national bee? You'll be glad you did.

[6/1/06: Here's a link to an excellent blog post, on, regarding the pedagogical value of spelling bees.]

I use good grammar alot

In keeping with the previous implicit theme of fusing two words into one, I'd like to comment briefly on 'alot.' This one, like 'alright,' is fairly common, but it, perhaps more so than the other, prevails chiefly in what might be termed 'substandard' writing. Burchfield notes this orthographical gaffe as a particularly American tendency, which, he asserts, appears primarily in our "informal correspondence" (i.e., letters, perhaps?). A grammar conscious friend of mine briefly attended a local technical college, but withdrew after three weeks under the grievance that "everyone at Tech spells 'a lot' as one word!" Yes: that would be disheartening.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

All right, let's start with 'alright'

Of all the expressions I regularly come across in the writing of amateur or student writers, all right produces perhaps the most surprising results. Growing up, I had always tacitly assumed that almost all reasonably educated people knew how to render this phrase. The growing popularity of the Internet, though, as well as further life experience (for example, with amateur and undergraduate writers), has given me ample evidence to the contrary.

In his New Fowler's Modern English Usage, R. W. Burchfield claims, "The use of all right, or inability to see that there is anything wrong with alright, reveals one's background, upbringing, education, etc., perhaps as much as any word in the language" (43). Burchfield was writing in 1996; in 2006, in the United States at least, I would assert that the social and educational distinction is beginning to break down. But, as Burchfield notes, alright is "hardly ever [used] by writers of standing," and that statement definitely still applies, whether you're writing in England or America. So if you aspire to a future as a well reputed writer--or just want to employ decent usage--stick with all right.

English usage

Welcome to English usage with Thomas McAllister. As a Phi Beta Kappa English graduate of a prestigious midwestern university, and certified grammar hound, I consider myself well qualified to expound on the subject; but, to a certain extent, I hope to avoid doing so here. I've established this blog not only as my own linguistic soapbox, but also, ideally, as a forum for those interested in grammar and usage to put forth their views. So post comments; and when you post them, please don't hesitate also to suggest topics for future postings ("What's the difference between 'continual' and 'continuous?'" "Does 'fortuitous' imply luck, or just chance?" "Is it OK to say 'between you and I'?", etc.) Thank you for visiting my blog, and I hope you'll refer to it when faced with future grammatical conundrums.