Metrolingua

Wanting to know lots of languages has diluted my ability to get better
I have a problem that a lot of people don't face because they're usually focused on one thing or just a few things, or they're boring and don't do much other than what they need to. My problem is language-oriented, which is apt for this blog, since the theme is supposed to be language, and is the reason why it was created (though I ended up writing about other topics, which caused me to get dropped from lists and publicly questioned, though this was before social media exploded).

My problem is that I want to understand everything I read or see, and I can't. For instance, I started studying Swedish after I saw shows and movies and listened to lots of happy, shallow Swedish dance music that was created for the world stage. I wanted to find out more about the artists and actors, so I searched online for information. The best was in Swedish, so I attempted to study it, and barely succeeded. I cannot converse and barely understand anyone. It's frustrating. Then I tried reading Swedish sites, learned tips, etc., but I barely made any progress.

I also love French and really just want to read anything in it and try to understand some shows, such as Maigret. I'm such a fan of Bruno Cre?mer that I ordered his memoir, Un Certain Jeune Homme, from the UK, and when I got it, I could barely understand it. So I put it to the side and after I took an online French course and learned about the imparfait tense, I could understand it better. But what about the news in French, and websites, and videos, and more? I still have trouble.

And then there's Spanish. I studied that a while ago and have been teaching mostly Spanish speakers English for several years, and while I don't need the language to teach, I'd like to understand what they're saying to each other. And I teach in an area where there are many Spanish-speaking stores, so I could easily practice it there. I also see Spanish speakers all around Chicago and would like to get involved. But that's a lot to learn to be able to converse.

Then there's Japanese, which is probably my "best" language, though it is very difficult to read and I still don't understand everything I see on TV, so I try to practice reading and listening often, though don't know enough to ace it.

And there's German and Portuguese and Italian, all which I've studied and was intense about, but nothing enough to put me in the "capable" category.

So I've been overwhelmed by opportunities and interest to learn those languages but am not brilliant enough, nor do I have a photogenic memory to remember all the vocabulary and grammar and meaning of it all. My mind is struggling between desire to do it all and frustration because I'm not a super-language-human. I've met some people who know a few languages, and obviously I'm envious that they have that ability. What's odd is that people think I'm good at language, but I think it's because they haven't attempted to learn anything, other than what was required in school.

Then an ESL student told the class about a video she saw about learning languages (pasted below).



Chris Lonsdale says people can learn any language in six months. He said he learned Mandarin that way, and at first I was skeptical, but I saw a video of him giving advice to Chinese people about learning a language, and he sounds fluent to me! He even has slides in Chinese!



He seems so confident and effectively communicative. Even though I have to watch his video again to really learn the concepts (though I briefly wrote some down), one thing I realized is that I have to think about *why* I want to learn those languages, and zero in on that aspect, because I will never be totally fluent and capable in any language, other than English. He says that it's important to make language learning relevant, and since I'm not planning on living abroad again, I don't need those languages for survival, so that's not my motivation. In order to make a language relevant to me and to thus have motivation, I need to make it relate to my personal goals.

I hadn't thought about my language goals. I just wanted to somehow absorb it and proceed like a blob and have a kind of download into my brain. That is not possible, unless I'm a Borg or some character in a sci-fi movie. I can't approach language learning like a blob and assume I'll learn through osmosis or mere exposure. I need to figure out why I'm doing it.

Right now, here are some vague goals, which need to be refined and pursued more intensely:

Swedish: I want to read about the actors and singers in Swedish. And I want to go to Sweden, though they speak English and there's not a lot of pressure to be perfect. Spanish: I want to talk with people in Chicago. French: I want to be able to read the book I bought. And I want to go to France, where I'll have to be able to use it. Portuguese: I want to be able to read about Brazil. I've been there before and did okay, but I've forgotten it all.

Japanese and German are more general, because I want to be able to know them well enough to use them in those countries. So if I narrow down my goal, I want to learn them well enough to be able to talk with people and function on a trip there.

Maybe I'll feel more motivated as I define my goals more. I would much rather be super-smart and dive right in, understanding everything to be able to fully function in all kinds of languages, but that's impossible.

Author : Margaret Larkin

People who have high-level jobs should be able to write
I recently got a shocking email: it was actually well-written, had no grammatical errors, and seemed literate, as the person chose to write complex sentences that utilized correct punctuation as well. This is not an isolated incident, because I've gotten emails over the years from various high-level people who know how to write, or who have the resources to check their writing. But the recent email stood out because before that, people at the same workplace who are supposedly well-educated (they have the degrees to claim authority) would consistently send out emails full of run-ons, comma splices, incorrect verb use, and other issues that resembled emails from people who either lack formal education or are just learning how to write. To verify my opinion and to avoid being considered as too judgmental or insensitive, I showed a professional writer one such email from a highly paid, highly placed individual, and the pro agreed: the email was poorly written and lacked the essentials that anyone who's legitimately gone through high school should know.

A while ago, I worked for someone who was very smart and highly educated, but because English was not their first language, they had some issues with their writing. But they did the right thing: they made sure their writing was checked before being sent out, which I'm guessing helped them to keep their high-level job for several years, make good money, and even get a promotion. It probably also helped their reputation because other people could see that not only did they have the degrees, but they could professionally express themself (not a word, but I don't want to be specific about gender or other info) in a way that matched their prominent job.

If people have the money, they should hire people to fix their writing, even simple emails, even if it's in a ghost-writing capacity. And if people are working in education, they should definitely be able to write. It is ridiculous that students are told to attain skills, but the supervisors of those institutions cannot create coherent sentences. And it's especially appalling when administrators are hired who don't have the sense or capacity to communicate correctly.

In some institutions, high-level employees may be super-strong in science and engineering but weak in the written word. They bring in millions of dollars and lead development of innovative products. Their weak writing shouldn't bar them from such opportunities, but they should make sure they get help.

And I'm not talking about typos. Sometimes we spell something wrong or add an extra comma where there shouldn't be one. Those are minor, human mistakes. What I'm talking about is obvious literary negligence that belies a person's high rank, and the person doesn't care enough to recognize the deficiency or is too cheap or arrogant to get someone to help.
Author : Margaret Larkin

For the first time in several years, I\'ve had a good holiday season
I saw a great article about the #joinin community, which is when people share their struggles on Twitter during Christmas. I was going to post my thoughts on Twitter with that hashtag, but I realized it would've been too long, and I didn't do one of those serial tweets because I doubt people would follow along. So here I am, about to post something that I've told some folks offline, but want to tell people about online as well.

For many years, and I mean more than a decade (though I'm not sure exactly how many years, but long enough to make 2018 a notable year, and hopefully a departure from what I've experienced before), the holidays were awful or barely tolerable. Not just one or two holidays, but various ones throughout the year, including a big birthday I celebrated that was nothing like I'd envisioned back when I witnessed others celebrate theirs exuberantly. There are many reasons why the holidays were not stellar or what I'd experienced earlier in my life, and if I know you offline, I'll tell you. I'm not sure I want to share all the details here because it might be too personal, and the Internet has a lot more creeps online than years ago when I started (which is going to be the topic of another post).

Holidays were strained or sad, or I had to work at jobs that barely acknowledged us, at companies that were too broke to even pay extra (though they liked rewarding their executives and laying people off in the process). Even if holidays were not lonely, I detached myself from them and barely tolerated attending gatherings or didn't do anything special at all. I assumed that was how it was going to be, thus I'd have to adjust to the situation.

But things started changing in late 2017. I noticed I had more opportunities to celebrate the holiday season, but I was still in my detached phase, assuming the spike was an aberration. But this year, not only did those events recur, but I was invited to others as well. So when the season began, I welcomed it and just enjoyed what I saw as a bounty of invites that flowed in. And it's not necessarily that I had the actual holidays free, because I've had to work all of them, including the days around them. My work situation is not like other people where we get paid holidays off or where the places are closed (though some places I work are closed), and working the holidays isn't actually a disappointment like it is for other people.

A lot of people would think this occurrence is no big deal because they already have built-in family obligations that are pleasant, and/or already know a lot of social people who are used to reaching out during the season. I have met several people who have never known an unpleasant or disappointing holiday or birthday because they have events to go to or a large enough family to absorb them. Or if they're not close to family, they have a web of friends who they see. So they're probably wondering why someone would celebrate a positive holiday season and note it online.

But having a more positive holiday experience is very meaningful, and it's also proof that just because you might be struggling around this time of year, every year, it doesn't mean it will last forever. Or if you've lost such positivity over the years, as I did, it doesn't mean it's gone forever. It might take years, as it did for me, or you might be lucky...you might experience a temporary setback that is remedied with a move or with other changes in your life that result in a more upward trend. Amazingly, even though we're between two years as I post this, my active season probably won't end until early February. And then I can truly look forward to more good things happening in 2019.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Spam conversation
A while ago (not too long ago but long enough that I don't remember the exact date...maybe a few months ago), I was at an event (I remember where but don't want to be specific in case the person sees this and knows it's them...because it definitely is) and was talking to someone who seemed interesting. They had come to the event alone and I was surprised that they were so talkative, because usually people seem more shy when they go to something alone. Maybe they spoke more to me because I was volunteering and was in a more central location, which meant that people could easily walk up and ask where the restroom was or just chat a bit before they moved on. But this person really took the time to talk, and since I like talking to people (because I'm merely a fake introvert), I went along. We talked about the suburb they live in and other things that I can't remember.

And it's not unintentional that I pretty much wiped the specifics of the conversation from my mind, because it ended up as spam. Spam is usually encountered via email and social media, when someone hacks your account or when a sleazy person or group gets your email and bombards you with unwanted messages. Well spam conversation is similar. It's where a person is talking to you for a purpose that has nothing to do with you but what you can do for them--more blatantly, to sell you something.

In my case, that person was talking to me because they wanted me to sign up for their services (again, I won't be specific, but trust me, I remember what it is, that it's a service that requires clients). The person was with a reputable company and it wasn't a scam, as spam email often is, but it really blindsided me and annoyed me to the point that I abruptly stopped the conversation. When they continued to try to convince me to at least meet with them to discuss stuff, I bluntly said I'm not interested, and felt like I had been duped. Of course, they gave me their card (which I think I still have as a spam-conversation souvenir) even after I said I wasn't interested.

Basically, people who go to a benign function and use it to get more sales seem like they're there to use people, not to enjoy the function. And having a friendly conversation that masks their true intention--to get a sale--is manipulative and deceptive. So I'm calling that spam, and I'm surprised that I didn't see it coming, probably because the person didn't seem like a salesperson. But that's their skill, I suppose, and why they can afford to live in the nice burbs (assuming that they have a nice house there).
Author : Margaret Larkin

I just had a school cafeteria experience
I wasn't going to write about this publicly, and texted a few people about it, but since they haven't responded, I'll write about it here, because walking around is not enough to process the school cafeteria experience that I just had.

I just started teaching somewhere where I probably know a few people...literally. And they're mere coworkers, not friends (unlike at Daley College, where I would say I work with people who[m] I consider work friends, some of whom I've hung out with outside school...but that's for another, shortly-forthcoming post).

So at this new place where I've taught and will teach again in the new year, I assumed going to the holiday event would be enjoyable. I don't know a ton of people, but I figured I'd meet new people or at least see one of the few I know. I walked into a large room with lots of people eating, standing in line, sitting at tables, and I looked around for one of those known people. Nada. I couldn't see them nor any of the people I'd briefly met since I started. So I got some food and looked for an opening at a table to join an already-established group. I approached a table with four chairs, two of which were occupied. I asked the pair if I could sit there, since I don't know anyone. They looked at me quizzically, then muttered an affirmative. I sheepishly sat down and a bright purple light was shining in my direction, and I dared not move the chair to an unlit spot at the table lest those folks thought I was usurping their cloistered coworker space, so I used that as an excuse to say goodbye, and they barely even nodded in acknowledgement.

I looked around the room and didn't see many available spaces, so I sat at an empty table, near someone else who was sitting alone at another table. Being the social person that I am, I thought of asking the person if I could join them, but they looked too engrossed in eating, and I suspected a repeat of what I'd already experienced across the room, so I sat at the empty table alone, at the corner, figuring that people would fill in the seats next to me. People came in and went, looking at me then walking away. As I was looking towards the entrance for the few people I knew, I noticed a few people came to my table, but sat at the opposite end. I figured I wouldn't get the group experience I was expecting (and not to be naive, but I figured since we all worked at the same place and it was a holiday gathering, that concept would spill over into casual interactions among the crowd), so I just ate and texted a few people about my plight. With no responses from the recipients, I finished eating my meal and walked towards the Big Boss of the place and told them (I'm not specifying gender) that I enjoy teaching there and answered their question about what I taught...thus the first conversation I'd had at the event. I didn't want to leave without a bottle of water, so as I was waiting for the bartender to give me one, I saw a person I'd met a while ago, and said hello. I thought we'd talk about the email they'd sent out that I'd responded to, but they quickly ducked behind a partition and instead of risking standing alone once again, I left.

As I was walking through downtown, I thought this is what people mean when they share their school cafeteria experiences: they sit alone, not part of a group, and no one attempts to befriend them or allows them to sit with them. Usually such people are shunned and they feel awful through those difficult years. My difficulty lasted less than an hour, and I feel better now that I've extricated myself away from there, but for those other people, their ostracism lingers.

And what's ironic about my cafeteria experience is that it took place at a school where some people probably grew up as outsiders. I figured since we're all adults, it would be no big deal to be with people I didn't know, but it ended up being an experience a number of them probably had but hadn't processed it enough to reach out to another solitary table-sitter.
Author : Margaret Larkin

After more than a decade, I did Nanowrimo again
I did Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) a few times, way back in 2002, 2004, 2005, and I think partly in 2006 (though I'm pretty sure I decided not to finish once I barely got through the month), and I really thought I was done with the whole thing, that I would never attempt it again, and would probably not write fiction again. Weirdly, doing all that fiction writing so many years ago led to non-fiction paid writing, including ghost writing, so it worked out professionally. Then I got into audio, then teaching and other stuff, so I thought fiction was gone from my life forever. At one point, when I started the fake blog (which I'm still doing), I started thinking about "what-ifs" so much to the point that I started writing an actual novel again. I was progressing okay, very motivated but not consistent, when someone at a writing group mentioned Nanowrimo. No way, I said, I'm not doing that, it's too intense and crazy, but at the end of October, I signed up, and started writing furiously on Nov 1. I almost quit after a few days because I realized my schedule was too packed to fit lots of writing in, but after reading some articles online about quitting, I decided not to. So I spent pretty much any free time I had, even if it was at 5 AM before work, writing and writing and writing. Halfway through I was dried out and thought I couldn't proceed. But some helpful people at the Chiwrimo group suggested I not only focus on plot but on developing the characters more, and I found myself writing a lot of interior thoughts and voila, after furiously writing all month, I actually finished a few days early.

I was so wiped out, I was numb. What remained was still a strong desire to write, even if it was just at the fake blog. So I've been doing that. But let me reflect on how this Nano was different than what I experienced early in the century:

1 - I'm way more real now. When I did it in the early years, I was a wannabe. Yes, I'm admitting publicly that I was a phony fiction writer. Even though I did Nano a few times, wrote a lot of fiction in those days even outside of November, took classes, formed a writing group and the Metrofiction website, I was of form and no substance. I wanted to make it, get my book done, find an agent and market, and live the writer's life. Then I got so discouraged going down that phony path, I gave it up and worked in the real world and was a writer, but the practical sort (which is fine with me). This year, I was very into the story and how the characters interacted and developed, and really enjoyed the process. I was frazzled, but the writing was really a part of me and I didn't skip to some impossible future in my head but just enjoyed being creative and working ideas out in the moment. So I can honestly say that I'm not a phony wannabe anymore; I'm a writer who may get published or who may not, but either way I'm still into the story and want to continue working it out. (And I really am a writer and am even in the useless Writers Guild, but I'm not a published fiction writer.)

2 - I didn't feel sorry for myself this time around. If you've read earlier posts on this blog (and I shouldn't mention that because it's embarrassing to see how I used to write here), you'll notice that I did a lot of whining. I whined way more in my journal and in my head, but I was such a sorry sap. And it carried over into Nano when I did it those few times. This time, I didn't feel sorry for myself at all, I just wrote and wrote and went for the goal. No time to ponder, just wrote as much as I could and was very productive. I didn't think about being published or being invited to cool events like those famous authors are (who are introverted and would rather be alone, which is mystifying, but that's for another post), I just was in the moment, which left no room for emotions except from my main character who really went through a lot. If I ever can finish writing the book and edit it effectively, you'll find out what I'm talking about. She starts out one way and ends up another way, and if I were a better writer I'd be able to convey that, but who cares...at least I'm trying. See? I've changed as well. She occupies my mind and her world has become an extension of mine, and I'm not crazy, just have a new companion around who I want to write about.

3 - Nanowrimo is huge now. When I did it years ago, it was an alternative group and corner of the Internet that a lot of people didn't know about. I think I found out about it via blogs, but because social media wasn't around, it didn't explode and wasn't the institution it is now. Now they have lots of money, sponsors and deals, professional authors giving pep talks, groups all over the world, a sophisticated website, a more layered financial and social structure, and a lot more. Back then I felt like we were in a small town, at least those of us outside the San Francisco area, where Nano was established. It's sort of like being in Macao before it was handed back to China: it was a quiet place in the corner of Asia, not the wild development that it is now.

4 - I don't want to do it again. I don't know why I did it 3.5 times back in the day, but now that I've done it again, I really can't handle the experience once more. I might change my mind next year because it's a crazy all-consuming pursuit that puts you on a wild ride of intensity, and my life might need that at that moment, but it really took up all my free time. I didn't even have time to blog here or fake blog elsewhere. I didn't even write in my journal. Any time I had to write was devoted to Nano, and I don't know if I want to lack the breathing space again.


Author : Margaret Larkin

If you\'re in the people business, like people
There are many jobs that don't involve people much, or at all, yet I see people who should be working in those industries working with people instead, and I think it's not a good fit.

Recently I met someone who I thought would be a people-oriented person since they (I won't say "he" or "she" because I don't want people to try to figure out who I'm talking about) have written lots of books to help people, talk about meeting various people, and are in different media communicating with people. They even travel around the country to talk to people while promoting their books, so I figured since they were in my area, I'd go see them.

Since they've been promoting themselves as a people-helper, I felt like I could talk to them freely, but I noticed they seemed sort of uncomfortable that I had tried to converse with them. When I saw them again, other people were attempting to chat, but they weren't encouraged to elaborate. By the end of the experience, the supposed people-person was busy doing required tasks and pretty much shut the door on any spontaneity or one-to-one human interaction.

It's just one example, but I've met other people like that in a people-oriented communication industry, where it's good to give lectures and network, or teachers, who need to interact with students as a group or individually. Why are they working with people? There are plenty of jobs where they can plant themselves in front of a computer or in a lab, where it would be detrimental to talk to or even think about other human beings, because it would impede progress. But there they are, making a living while being squeamish about human interaction, wincing when an individual has questions or wants to talk with them further about a topic or basically socialize. People who are not into people don't like small talk or words that have no function other than to connect people. They only like to talk to people about things that are relevant to their job or purpose. Otherwise, they're drained and even complain about it. Newsflash: get another career and leave those jobs to people who really want to interact.

Just off the top of my head, there are a couple of guys who I've worked with who have people-oriented jobs, and they really like people. One guy teaches all day and night, does a lot of community and organizational work, has a family, and is pretty busy. Yet he always makes time for people. He could lead a meeting of about 100 people, and after lecturing and back-and-forth discussions and challenges from the group, he'll make the time to meet with anyone who walks up to him. Even after teaching a four-hour class, he'll meet with students who need extra help, talk with me and other co-workers, and even take phone calls from various people. He's energized by people and has a passion and love for them.

Contrast that with the person I met recently, and the difference is stark. The person was only there to talk to the group, and seemed squeamish when people approached them. They looked drained and uncomfortable, thus were really only playing the role of a speaker. "Only watch, don't come any closer," was the vibe the person gave off. I can imagine them retreating to wherever they live with relief that the dreaded people interaction was over, and they can continue to write about how much they care and want to share. Whatever.

Another guy who exemplifies true appreciation of people spent many years in the hospitality industry. He had to talk to people for his job, but even after it was over, he'd continue talking to people wherever they were, really engaging and asking how they were doing. Like the other guy, he wasn't drained but energized by people. Like the other guy, he was in an industry that fit his personality. I'm sure if he did work in the introverted world that I'm in, he would greatly suffer. So like the other guy, he found a good fit.

So please, if you're squeamish about people, don't work with them. And if you've written a book, don't do a book tour or lectures. Or maybe you shouldn't get a book published because in today's environment, writers have to promote themselves and if they really make it big, have to get their appearance broadcast on Book TV. I would love to write a book and be asked to talk about it in front of people. I'm not scared; I've been teaching for years and have done workshops. No big deal. Plus, when people walk up to me to chat or ask questions, no problem. I'm not drained by them but welcome them, and feel excited to interact. Save such space and opportunities for people like me and other people-oriented folks because that's what we enjoy a lot more than pretending to be introverts to survive the computer-oriented world that we live in. The world that you'd probably be happier in.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Fiction and fake blogging
Wow, I'm really into writing, though you wouldn't guess it if you looked at the time that has passed between my last post and now. So here's what's happening: because so much work I do is technical and functional and straight-language oriented, I've had the urge to write fiction again.

When I started this blog years ago, I was writing fiction and failed miserably at it (in terms of being disciplined and producing quality content, in addition to suffering through the isolation of the craft). However, it led to paid writing, so it worked out in a way. I've definitely been writing for work and promotional purposes (I finished an article that will be posted within a few weeks...stay tuned), but my "fun" exploratory writing was pushed to the side as I met deadlines and tried to not get headaches from proofreading and copy editing so much.

But a few weeks ago, after not being able to sleep and trying to push down any creative urges to write fiction because it's a kind of quagmire-black hole of never-ending revisions and dashed efforts, I started. And I'm doing it pretty consistently. I have no idea if it will lead to anything, but this time around, I'm just really enjoying the process and feel zero angst about it. Of course, I have a dream, but if it doesn't come to fruition, so be it. I just hope I don't stay in the writing cave, eventually leading to dissatisfaction as my only companion.

But that's not all...in addition to that writing, plus work-writing, plus writing here, I've been writing a fake blog. I have mentioned before that I had a secret blog, but since it was secret, I didn't say where it was or what it was about. I had to shut that blog down due to ownership of the site changing (servers actually), and I didn't trust the new overlords, so I went to an even more obscure blogging site that other people from the changed site have moved to as well. I totally scrapped the previous secret non-fictional content and started over with a totally new one...written by a person who is very different than me. Amazingly, even though I've told people offline that I have it, no one has found it.

And that's another thing that's changed about my writing pursuits: I am writing the fake blog because I want to, and I have no idea if random people online have found it, or if no one has, and I don't care. At times I'll leave it dormant for a while, then do a fresh post when I see something that can be absorbed in the blog or when I feel like real life is overwhelmingly ordinary and I need to write something about a life I have never lived and never will live. It's a kind of escape from mediocrity and responsibilities, and it's a way to expand my mind in ways that can't be exercised elsewhere.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I saw Jay Leno
I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Springfield, Illinois, taking an air-conditioning break from the oppressively hot, humid, sunny weather. Actually, the break wasn't organic because we (my husband and I...and that's the correct form btw, instead of people saying "and I" when they mean "and me") had gone to the Governor's Mansion with backpacks and were told that we had to leave them in the car. Problem was, we took the train to Springfield, so there was no car to go to.

So we walked back in the baking sun through downtown Springfield to the hotel where we were staying to drop off our backpacks, then sat in the lobby before braving the harsh weather (yes, oppressively sunny, muggy weather can feel harsh).

We looked out the window and saw a tall man walking towards the hotel. "That looks like Jay Leno," I said, but it couldn't be. The tall, gray-haired man was wearing worn jeans and a loose denim shirt. He looked like he'd been toiling outside in the heat, and was lumbering towards the hotel entrance. But the chin and eyes...it was him.
"Hello Mr. Leno," my husband said.
"Hello, how are you?" Leno said.
"Welcome to Illinois," I added (because saying "Welcome to Springfield" would've been presumptuous since I don't live there and am not a native).

He nodded in our direction and walked towards the front desk. After that, I didn't know what he did because I didn't follow him, and I didn't even look towards the front desk. I also didn't take a picture of him, because 1) he didn't hang out with us or even bother to pause, and 2) he wasn't in official performance mode. Taking a candid picture would've been disrespectful and creepy.

But what was he doing in Springfield, a small city in central Illinois? We looked it up, and found out that he was doing a stand-up gig that night. Wait a minute...he is super-rich and famous...does he *need* to do that? And why is he playing smaller venues (his next stop was Peoria)?

I'm still thinking about it because usually famous people go to major, big cities and stay in fancy hotels, and record their shows to make even more money. Or they move on from their early work to do movies and the like, and don't do piddly stuff again.

But Jay Leno is working as if he's still trying to break into the big time, playing smaller cities in the heartland of the USA.

This is noteworthy because he doesn't have to do it, yet chooses to. He also doesn't seem stuck-up or pretentious, like we hear other celebrities are. I've heard of actors getting angry when people don't recognize them when being waited on in stores. I've even dealt with people who were upset that I said "Ms." instead of "Dr." because they had a PhD in education or another non-medical field.

I guess he's known for being nice, and in the brief encounter I had with him, he seemed that way. Plus we were in Springfield, Illinois, which is surrounded by lots of trees and probably has 10 people on the street during the day and not much traffic. And he decided to work there, just because. Now I'm wondering how he did in Peoria (and thinking of the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?") because if he didn't succeed there, will he be able to succeed anywhere? Haha...obviously, it doesn't matter because he's already succeeded to the point that if he were to stop now, he'd be able to live well and still get invited to cool parties and events all over.

Actually, his story can be instructive because he's doing what he loves, and he's not worried about status or only hanging out with the big people. He's willing to go anywhere in the USA and work on his craft and entertain audiences of "regular folks," not just those who live on the coasts who arrive to the theater in fancy cars.

On the other hand, there are people like me who'd love to achieve even a sliver of success doing something creative and/or fun and/or fulfilling, or getting a break from someone higher up the ladder. For a lot of us, that is impossible, so we can just look at Jay Leno and say, "If he can pursue his passion, then those of us toiling in obscurity can as well."
Author : Margaret Larkin

That vs which confusion
I'm pretty clear about when to use "that" vs "which," but I often come across stuff (to be intentionally vague) that often has "which" when it should have "that." So I strike out the word and replace it, though sometimes I don't want to be a killjoy, so I leave it in, especially if the screed is several pages long and I want to vary the style. I'm not a style editor, though someone tried to make me operate in that manner, but I feel that if I keep correcting every misuse, it'll seem sort of crazy and monotone. So yes, I purposely am incorrect sometimes for the sake of keeping the peace and offering some diversity in a sea of hyper-functional sentences and concepts.

Anyway, there are a lot of resources online that explain the difference between "that" and "which." Basically, "which" is used with a clause, a subset that explains the main subject of the sentence. "Which" is a "nonrestrictive modifying clause...that adds extra or nonessential information to a sentence. The meaning of the sentence would not change if the clause were to be omitted." In fact, usually people use "which" with the sentence I just quoted from the University of Illinois; they would say "which adds extra..." instead of the correct "that." So here's an example of correct "which" usage:
The ramshackle house, which is down the block, is scheduled for demolition next week.
Essentially, the "which" section could be taken away and it wouldn't affect the integrity of the sentence. It's like an added comment to further describe the house, which is why the U of I calls it an "adjective clause."

Then there's the kind of sentence that I usually see, even by people who have lots of publishing experience with impressive titles that they display proudly on their business cards:
The house which is down the block is slated for demolition.
It should be:
The house that is down the block is slated for demolition.
In that case, "down the block" is an important piece of information, thus "that" is used, and the segment isn't set up to be separate, which is achieved with commas around a "which" clause. The U of I calls "that" a "restrictive modifying clause" because it's essential.

Actually, those definitions weren't invented by the U of I, but I like their explanation and the fact that their page isn't loaded down with ads that slow down my computer, which is common with popular grammar sites.

So, moving forward, I hope people use "that" and "which" correctly. It's not like the world is going to end, but still.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Even highly paid people commit comma splices
I have previously written about my disgust with comma splices. My first post, "I am tired of seeing 'however' with a comma," led to another post about comma splices: "Stop using comma splices." Since then, I've encountered numerous comma splices, even from supposedly educated management types where I teach, and instructors who have a master's and even a PhD. I will not post those examples because they're contained in emails, and I don't want to get fired or create enemies over mere punctuation, so I will use a more global example that I saw in the Washington Post. The writer of the article, Abha Bhattarai, is one of journalism's elite, so I assume she knows what a comma splice is and has avoided them in the numerous articles she's written for the world's leading publications. So this is not about her. At least I hope it's not.

It's who is quoted in the article. I had to read the sentence again to make sure that the presumingly highly paid professional actually used a comma splice, but here it is:
?We have hundreds of full-time roles available, however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.?

I'm assuming the company spokeswoman is culpable because that statement was probably sent to the EJ (elite journalist) in an email. However, what if she told the EJ that via phone or video chat? Then it was transcribed as a comma splice, so the EJ is guilty. But I doubt it because the EJ writes in the article that "she said in a statement." Usually when people say things in a statement, it's via email or press release. So I'm going to go with that: the highly paid professional communicator used a comma splice, doing what most people do with "however" by not using a semicolon.

So the sentence should be:
?We have hundreds of full-time roles available; however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.?

or, to be a bit more choppy:
?We have hundreds of full-time roles available. However, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.?

I will investigate via Twitter. I will ask the EJ if the statement was sent to her in that form, or if she wrote it down that way. If she responds (which I doubt, but hey, no harm in trying), I will post the result here.
Author : Margaret Larkin

It\'s hard to move beyond 8 Sidor
Hehe...if you're not studying Swedish, don't know about it, or are not aware of the available resources, you probably are wondering what this post is about, because only Swedish-related people know what the 8 Sidor site is. I thought it would be a minor part of my Swedish journey (which is barely progressing, making me worried that I will never grasp it), but I'm having a hard time moving on from it.

I say this because 8 Sidor is for people who need to read simpler Swedish for various reasons, need to read larger letters, or have to listen to it instead of read it. But the main point is that the articles are short and way more simply written than other newspapers. I started reading it because I was studying Swedish and needed more exposure to the language. My goal was to progress to more difficult reading; even just a tabloid such as Expressen is too difficult for me, though I sometimes attempt to read the Editor-in-Chief's blog. I'm interested in media, but it's weird and challenging to read about it not only in another language, but one that I'm horrible at. The most recent blog post I slogged through was about the new Editor-in-Chief of Kvällsposten, which I think is Expressen's southern Swedish relative.

But I'm really stuck on 8 Sidor. It's so simple and straightforward, it makes me feel safe. If I venture into other sources, I get really worried, and even if I look up words, I don't understand the more complex sentence structure. For instance, I was able to read an article about the Italian bridge collapse without stressing or sweating. The sentences are choppy:
Minst 35 människor dog i olyckan. Men det kan vara fler som har dött. [At least 35 people died in the accident. But more may have died.]
It's simple, with no dependent clauses or wordplay, which is fine with me. Who needs New York Times-type of prose, when we can feel good about our accomplishment. I've been to 8 Sidor so often, it's become a literary (or literacy) friend. Thanks 8 Sidor!
Author : Margaret Larkin

Merely being born on the South Side doesn\'t make you a Southsider
Greetings from the South Side...more specifically, Hyde Park, which is a neighborhood that people mention instead of saying the "South Side." What I mean by that is this: certain kinds of people will say they're from the South Side, then specifically mention Hyde Park when asked (as I said in my previous post, which this is a continuation of). But then there are other kinds of people (whom I won't define to avoid stereotypes, so you just have to experience it for yourself) who will skip the "South Side" part and just say that they're from Hyde Park. Example:
Me: Where do you live?
Person: Hyde Park.
[Me skipping over any follow-up questions because everyone knows Hyde Park and don't/doesn't think it's that "other" South Side]

Then there's another kind of person who was probably born and raised in the area, before it became more upscale and relatively yuppified compared to other areas of the South Side (there are nice areas, but fewer yuppie-type places than the North Side):
Me: Where do you live?
Person: the South Side.
Me: Are you from there originally?
Person: Oh yeah, I grew up in Hyde Park and still live there.
Me: It's become a lot nicer.
Person: Which is a good thing.

That is the kind of conversation I just had with a true South Sider. Not only was he born on the South Side, but he still lives here and is happy about it. Which is my point: he wasn't just *born* on the South Side, but he stayed, which makes him a South Sider.

This is in contrast with other people who say they're from the South Side but moved out right after they were born, or moved early enough to avoid going to the schools; i.e., their family moved to the suburbs or other areas of the city with access to better schools, better infrastructure, better services, etc., or their parents got a job far away. I know that there are some good schools on the South Side, but for several people it seemed like a no-brainer to move to a more low-maintenance place, where they didn't have to hope their kids would get into a magnet school, charter school, or pay lots of money for a private school. Many people move to the burbs to get decent schools for their taxes and less perceived headaches than urban life.

And I'm not talking about people who got older, past school age, then moved out. Those people have their own lives to lead, and maybe they don't want to stay on the South Side or circumstances changed and they can't live there anymore. I'm talking about people whose lives were barely a blip on the South Side radar before their families yanked them out. It's not like they left the South Side as children or babies, then kept going back. These people left and didn't look back. They were gone. Yet they'll say they're from the South Side. Nope.

A mildly related example is from an interview with WFMT host Carl Grapentine (who is one of the few people on the planet who has lived the dream and has gotten paid for what he loves, has met lots of cool people, used his talents, etc; yes, I'm envious and wishful). At one point the interviewer calls him a "Chicago native." Grapentine is from Evergreen Park, which is not Chicago. But who cares--the interviewer meant the area, so that's okay. But even Grapentine seems to dispute the "native" label because he and his family moved to Michigan when he was six. Thus he barely lived here as a boy. And in the interview, it's obvious he is really into Michigan; he grew up there, went to college there, continued to work there even while he was working in Chicago, and is retiring there. He might have spent a good chunk of his life in Chicago, but he's not a native.

Even though it doesn't totally exemplify my theory, it demonstrates how the "native" label is thrown around. And back to the South Side "native" claim that people make: being born in a neighborhood does not equal citizenship. I have a student from Mexico, but he was born in the U.S. He is an American citizen, even though he grew up in Mexico. It's not the same as merely being born on the South Side; you are not a citizen of the South Side just because you were born in Gresham or wherever.

Interview with Grapentine below, who is one of the luckiest people on earth...I would trade any "native" label for such an awesome life he's had.


Author : Margaret Larkin

If you\'re from the burbs, you\'re not from the South Side
Sometimes I talk to people about where they're from, and some will say "the South Side." So of course I assume they're from the South Side--literally. People don't refer to neighborhoods on the South Side like they do the North Side (a trend that evolved as real estate took off and more yuppies, hipsters, bros, trixies, etc. moved in and marketing certain areas became more important). So this is how a typical conversation will go with a so-called "South Sider":

Me: Are you from Chicago originally?
SSS (supposed south sider): Yeah.
Me: Where?
SSS: The South Side.
Me (thinking about streets in the 50s, 80s, even 110s): Oh, where? I've been teaching down there for a while.
SSS: Oak Lawn/Evergreen Park/Burbank/Palos/Tinley/etc.
Me: Oh, you mean the southern suburbs.
SSS: Well, I guess so.

Um, no, there's no guessing...they really *are* suburbs; they have their own territory, schools, police, fire, parks, etc. The South Side is very different from the suburbs, even if the burbs border it. When you cross the city line, you can already feel the relative stability and the different system. There's usually not as much chaos nor as much lurking below. This is not to knock the South Side, and there are some suburbs that are quite gritty, but they're not urban gritty. There's more space in the suburbs and birds and stars at night. Those are hard to spot in the city.

I grew up in a burb (technically a city) just north of Chicago's northern border, and I *never* said I was from the "North Side." I said where I was actually from...no big deal. And since the South Side doesn't have the best reputation, I'm surprised that people claim they're from there. Is it because it shows that they're tough in some way, not soft dough that's kneaded in comfort and trees? Have they ever been to the South Side? Maybe they ventured to Beverly or Hyde Park or Bridgeport, some of the few South Side areas that have neighborhood names, as opposed to most of the South Side where people just give coordinates, such as "I stay at 67th and Kostner," which really is the southwest side (because there's the general South Side, which is then divided up into near, southeast, southwest, and other areas that people deny are the South Side but really are).

Actually, I should've done some more research to find out why people claim they're from the South Side but really aren't. One person explained that their burb had a similar zip code as Chicago, thus the intended misleading statement. But really, it sounds wannabe to me. Meanwhile, there are lots of northern, northwest suburban folks who would never say they're from the North Side. But they do say they're from "Chicago," which is hardly the case, unless that's a way to explain to people in other states or countries where they're generally from. But drill down and you'll discover they barely know the city anyway.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Stop using comma splices
I teach English as a Second Language, and naturally, I often see students use comma splices. That is totally understandable because writing in another language is difficult; I totally messed up pretty much every sentence I wrote in Swedish class, and I'm currently having trouble writing even super-simple sentences in my online French class (I'll blog about that at another time).

So anyone who is learning English is excused. This is for the native speakers who presumably got enough schooling to know enough grammar. (And this is also a continuation of my previous post about "However.")

I don't know why so many people use comma splices. I can understand if someone has trouble applying rules, etc., and maybe writing isn't their strong suit, but even very educated people use them.

And I'm not talking about people who are writing English creatively. Sometimes people text or write in a certain way to convey a feeling, or to sound casual. I myself (shocker) have used comma splices to express myself in a less-constrained way. But I know the rules, so I can break them to vary my writing style. And other people can break them, too. But there are those people who are not purposely doing anything; they are just messing up, and their writing has to be corrected. (See, I just successfully avoided some comma splices by using a semicolon after the first independent clause and a conjunction to connect the second and third.)

I could link to many articles or blog posts that I've read where there were numerous comma splices, but I wasn't nerdy enough to keep a list of them all (or even some of them). But that's fine, because I'm not the only one who's annoyed; in addition to the several grammarians who are complaining online, there's a nerdy guy who gets paid to write such commentary at the illustrious Financial Times, saying he's also annoyed with the situation, and mentions British Airways as one of the offenders.

Basically, here is a type of comma splice that I often see:
Please take a number, someone will be with you shortly.

"Please take a number" is a complete sentence. "Someone will be with you shortly" is another complete sentence. They each can stand alone, so they cannot be separated by a mere comma.

That is an example of businesses that are speaking to customers. So perhaps using a semicolon would seem stuffy:
Please take a number; someone will be with you shortly.

One way to get around it and still be friendly and creative would be to use a dash (which I use when I want to be in the ballpark of correctness, but not so stiff):
Please take a number--someone will be with you shortly.

Another way, which someone (a reader) recommended, is to combine them:
Please take a number and someone will be with you shortly.

But using a comma just seems wrong, and perpetuates the problem we have (at least what we uptight language folks see as a problem). It is especially egregious in academic papers, which I see if the writers haven't gotten a professional to look over their work.

Are texting and quick social media causing the decline? I can understand people who use writing to communicate with their friends or whatever, but professionals with degrees or people who make a living from communicating shouldn't violate the rule. Or they should get someone else to check their work.

But my concern will eventually seem anachronistic, because there is no governing body for English that puts forth linguistic decrees, and the language will inevitably change over time...Oxford comma, anyone?
Author : Margaret Larkin

I am sick of millennials
Wait, maybe I should title this post: "I am tired of hearing about millennials all the time" or "I am sick of the obsession with millennials" because that's what this really is about: our culture's obsession and fascination, and even disgust, with millennials. I've been thinking about this for a while, and have even told people in that age group what I think. So let me be clear: I am not against millennials (who I will refer to as "that age group" or "M's" because the "millennial" label is way overused), but I am sick of people salivating over them.

There are so many examples...where should I begin? How about all the whining we encounter about them. As someone who has probably experienced age discrimination when applying to jobs (but can't prove it), I am disgusted when I read articles online lamenting the horrible work ethic that these supposedly entitled people have. If those in power are so horrified by their attitude, why hire them? If you feel you have to constantly figure out ways to entertain them and motivate them, why hire them? Are the M's really that bad, or are you people in power hiring the wrong people? Newsflash: there are many people in that glorified and reviled generation, so maybe your screening process is awful. Maybe you're one of those people who is so enamored with what you perceive as their tech savviness (yes, I created a noun out of a legitimate adjective) that you choose whoever seems the cutest and most "current" to the point that you don't look beyond the gadgets that they're playing with.

Or better yet, why don't you just look past the age of a person and hire people who would be good for the organization. I know, it's shocking to suggest that people not worship M's, but seriously, if you're going to complain that much, just be open-minded. But I'm not here to bash the M's or their opportunities, because they're doing what anyone would: applying for jobs and enjoying the fruits of their labor (or just the fruits of being in the right age group).

I would love to link to a company that I saw online, which I unsuccessfully applied to (luckily, since something way better and more prestigious came along, where age does not matter), but I obviously can't, because what I'm about to say is not complimentary: the company posted lots of pictures of the employees having fun and working together, which attracted me to it. After I experienced the rejection (for a vague reason, but as I said, I got something much better), I went back to the website. Then it dawned on me: the gray-haired owners *only* hired M's, and I wondered if they wanted to be surrounded by young, attractive, energetic people so the owners would be surrounded by eye candy all day. I wouldn't put it past them, because the obsession that I often see in blogs and other media is so shallow. I even know of large, successful companies that openly prefer to hire recent grads or those who are younger than Christmas cakes. There are a few "older" people there, because someone has to know what's going on, but when I pass by a building and see thousands of M's walk out, I wonder if the eye-candy motivation is present, or if they simply think "older" people don't understand tech or much of anything else that they perceive as important.

Another newsflash: guess who got online way before Fakebook and other entities spoiled it? It wasn't your precious M's. Who got educated, hustled, made due with changing times, and have plenty of years of proof of victories and overcoming obstacles? Yup, not recent grads or almost-recent grads. Yet we are inundated with information and advice and woes of dealing with such a spoiled generation.

If they're so spoiled, who do you think raised them? Who do you think didn't make them do chores, didn't make them get part-time jobs, didn't force them to apply to jobs on their own, allowed them to be boomerangs, bought them fancy phones that are more powerful than computers have been? And better yet, who do you think invented all the technology that has saturated our culture, separating people from one another, creating walls, promulgating misconceptions? It wasn't your beloved M's. That generation is a product of what the older folks created. They are simply living in the environment that was set up by others, so I don't assign them much guilt (I say "much" because at a certain age anybody from any generation should be able to eventually mature).

When the "millennial" label first emerged, and at the dawn of the non-stop analysis of them, I told folks that I think the baby boomers are envious, because for years people talked about BB's, wrote about them, the media shone its light on them, often turning it on themselves because they were the media, and they had plenty of opportunities to wax poetic about how wonderful and change-agentish (a noun that I purposely adjectified) they were. After all, they protested the Vietnam War, grew up in suburbia, duck-and-covered, rebelled against their staid parents, listened to thoughtful and daring music, and were being rewarded for all their hard work with good jobs, sanitized memories, and human potentiality. Then...the millennials. Uh oh, they're a large generation, they use technology, they post on social media. Who is this group, and why do they have control now? Waaa, the BB's cried, and they proceeded to work against the M's, causing people to deride them and praise them, yet fear them. They were coming up in the world...such a mysterious bunch, pushing buttons and smiling into screens on their phones. Why aren't they paying attention to us, the war protesters and popular-culture warriors? Now the M's were getting all the glory...where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, it left the rest of us with BB's who control the market and look away from non-M's. Somehow, they don't believe that it is possible for "older" people to...understand strategy, technology, complicated English, complex thoughts. One time, someone was commenting on my technical knowledge and activity, and said, "Well that's how people in your generation are," implying that I am part of the M generation. When I told the person I was not, that I was actually the same age as them, they were stunned.

But now that the doors have been opened to the M's, they are also running the market, and probably want to hire their own. That's expected, since that's what the culture has established. Back when the economy was more stable and wasn't so top-heavy, it was loyalty and hard work that could open and maintain doors. Now it's flash and misconceptions, promoted in the bubble that the M-obsessed populace echoes as it continues to keep discussing and praising and wondering about their precious bunch.

Even if I talk to someone of that generation, they'll preface a statement with "Well, as a millennial..." or "I'm not a typical millennial because..." which I find really self-absorbing. I'm not saying the person is arrogant or spoiled; I'm saying they're self-absorbed because instead of referring to him-or-herself as an individual, they're lumping in with the rest of their generation, because everybody talks about them. If people didn't always talk about them, it probably wouldn't occur to them that they are part of a group, and would speak not as a label, but as a human, which is really what American society is about. Our culture is about rugged individualism, not collective identification that looks twee in a marketing campaign.

Thanks to the taste-makers and powers-that-be, we have moved away from American ideals of what we actually fought for (as we approach Independence Day) and instead are grouping people together to pursue mediocrity, conformity, and control.

So if you're a millennial, don't buy into the hype. Just do what you're doing, and don't worry about what other people think. Not that you should be rude or anything, but don't believe the hype. Don't react to labels you hear, complaints of being less than what you really are. You're just a person who has different influences and societal conditions, and you have a right to pursue your dreams. You may have paid a lot for an education, studied hard to get good grades and improve your prospects, and been hit with an economy that hasn't responded in the same way previous generations experienced. Schools have promised you a future, but that was also a marketing ploy, and what you're encountered is not what they held out in front of you. So go a better way, and don't pay attention to the whiners on the sidelines.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I am tired of seeing "however" with a comma
How many times do I read an article or blog post or email or whatever, and I see the word "however" punctuated incorrectly? Enough to finally do a post about it, after years of tolerating the mistake! And yes, I just created a fragment on purpose...it was a deliberate style decision.

But back to the important topic at hand: many people, educated and not, do not understand the role of "however" in a sentence. I know people who are sticklers about language, and they use "however" in such a way because they're quickly texting and want to loosen the rules. That's acceptable, and I've probably done that myself. I'm not talking about those people who know the rules enough to break them; I'm talking about people who don't even know the rule, and think it's acceptable to not use a semicolon or to start a new sentence. In fact, that previous sentence is an example of what I'm talking about: I was joining two independent clauses, thus needed a semicolon, not a comma, which is what a lot of people use even when "however" isn't in the picture.

People usually throw independent clauses together with a comma like it's no big deal (btw--an independent clause has a subject, verb, object, complement...basically, it's a complete sentence, not a fragment, not a dependent clause that serves an introductory purpose, etc.).

So back to "however"...here's an example of how people usually treat it:

I want to go to the store, however I have to work.

That is a comma splice! The comma is separating two independent clauses. It should be:

I want to go to the store; however, I have to work.

or

I want to go to the store. However, I have to work.

Someone just told me that they hate it when people start sentences with "however." However, that's correct, unless it's a fragment. And that sentence I just typed is correct. This is not correct:

Someone just told me that they don't like sentences that start with "however," however it's fine to do that even though it's not stylistically preferable.

So when is it okay to use "however" with a comma? When it's a side comment...example: (I just created another fragment for emphasis, on purpose, in case you wanted to point it out.)

She wanted to organize a trip for 50 people. What she was planning, however, was not feasible.

Commas around "however"?! That's correct, because it's an aside, a break, instead of starting the sentence with "however" or continuing the previous sentence with "but." For instance, I could write the previous two sentences like this:
She wanted to organize a trip for 50 people, but what she was planning was not feasible.

Those are two independent clauses being separated by a conjunction (with a comma before that, because independent clauses require it).

I can understand why students may not know these rules, but professional writers or people who call themselves "experts" and are writing articles or newsletters to promote themselves really should know better. If they don't know, they should have someone check what they're submitting to stem the flow of bad punctuation.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Is McDonald\'s okay?
I always assume large, multinational corporations have a lot of money, but apparently McDonald's doesn't seem to be able to afford a proofreader for something as simple as a temporary sign. I was walking by the torn-down Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's and saw this sign: do you see the mistake?


Answer: "its only a short time away," which should be "it's [as in "it is"] only a short time away." It's incredible that people from a company where the CEO has a compensation package of over $15 million can't afford to peel off less than $100 to hire someone to proofread their signage. Yes, I make mistakes at work, and even here (about which comments have been made), but I'm usually writing well over three sentences, which is all this sign has. It probably would've taken 15 minutes to check this sign before it went to the printer, yet they didn't bother to do such work. 

So I guess McD's still needs some help, even though their profits went up. I wonder if I'm the only one who noticed this.

Author : Margaret Larkin

My first Swedish translation
As I've said before, I'm studying Swedish. My Swedish is honestly awful because I haven't followed my own advice which I usually give my ESL students and which I myself followed when I was studying Japanese: memorize a sample sentence for the grammar point you are learning. And there are other reasons, too, such as not watching many videos, not putting a lot of time into it, etc.

But that's not what this post is about, even though I could write many words about why my Swedish is so horrible. This is to announce to the world that I managed to translate a simple Swedish article because our teacher gave us such an assignment for homework (and another aside: Colloquial Swedish, which we're using in class, is not an appropriate book for total beginners like me who have no clue what's going on. It progresses too quickly and there aren't enough chances to practice grammar, etc. I really think I have to take the class again. But what's great about the book is that they offer free audio--enjoy!)

The teacher told us about Ikea's super-rich and alleged cheapskate founder, who died a couple months ago. At that time, she told us to read an article about him at the excellent site 8 Sidor. Basically, that wonderful site has simplified news stories that you can read and also listen to. I love it! (NHK has a similar one for Japanese news, btw.)

So we read it, and instead of translating some clunky sentences and offering a stilted translation (which we had to do for class to create a close approximation of the original), I decided to attempt to make it smoother. So here's the result...I know he died back in January, but I'm posting it now because I've overcome my hesitation to share it with the world and I now had time to look it over.

From 8 Sidor's Ikeas grundare är död:

Ikea's Founder is Dead

News has spread throughout the world that the famous business owner, Ingvar Kamprad, has died. He was 91.

His company, Ikea, is known for inexpensive furniture that we buy in flat packages. Then we put it together in our home.

Today Ikea has more than 300 stores in 43 countries. 150,000 people work there.

Ingvar Kamprad was known for caring a lot about costs, including having factories in countries with low wages.

Ikea made Kamprad one of the richest people in the world. He liked to show that he lived a simple life, despite all his money. But to avoid paying taxes in Sweden, he lived in Switzerland for many years.

Over the years, Ingvar Kamprad got a lot of flak, including because he liked Nazism when he was young. He had said that he regretted it.

During the last few years, Ingvar Kamprad lived in Älmhult in Småland. That was where he started Ikea years ago in 1943.

Author : Margaret Larkin

A number of
This is interesting timing because, as I said in my last post, I wanted to discuss the issue of what seems like a collective noun, "a number of," and whether it should be "is" or "are." And this week, someone was writing something at work, and he asked me if he should say "a number of is or are." After we had a brief conversation about it, I told him it should be "a number is," but now I realized I was wrong (but maybe it was right for the context? I don't remember what the sentence was; it made sense at the time).

I encounter "number of" many times in my work (usually "the number of") and saw "a number of" recently in something I had to copy edit. I hesitated when I saw that because it's very tempting to use "is" due to focusing on the first part of the sentence, which is "a number." But the Oxford Living Dictionary says it's supposed to be are: "A number of people are waiting for the bus." But that makes sense to me, too, because "people" is close to "are" and it sounds right.

But it's not enough for something to just "sound right" when writing or editing, because it's more formal than speaking, and we can usually break the rules in spoken English.

According to Editage, "Do not be misled by the indefinite article a in that expression: the expression is always used to indicate more than one of something and therefore takes a plural noun and a plural verb."

They also discuss "the number of," and now that I'm thinking of it, I see it way more often, which pretty much everyone says should be singular, such as "the number of plants in each pot was 25." In that case I've been right, and I'm glad my instincts were correct.

After much thought and online searching, I think I found the best explanation for this phrase at ESL Library: "a number of means many...it is serving the same role in the sentence as a quantifier such as 'many,' 'a lot of,' 'lots of,' 'hundreds of,' etc."

So from now on, I won't think twice about making "a number of" plural! I feel like I've read the equivalent of a booklet on that topic!
Author : Margaret Larkin

A variety of is or are?
I've been proofreading and copy editing and just analyzing English for years, but sometimes I get stuck on collective nouns. For instance, I recently saw "A variety of methods was used." That seems correct because the focus on the sentence is "a variety." Just in case, though, I did a search online, and the conflicting information is worrisome. Many articles and books have "was used," so it seems legitimate. But when I did a search for "were used," there are many articles using that as well. So what's the correct usage?

Well, if I were to use "variety" related to the articles and books I found, I would say "a variety of articles and books show" instead of "a variety of articles and books shows" because I want to emphasize the plurality of "articles and books" instead of "variety," which is singular. I guess that falls in to the "proximity agreement" concept, because I'm "relying on the noun that is closest to the verb to determine whether the verb is singular or plural."

I ended up keeping "A variety of methods was used" because I felt that the emphasis was on "variety." But if it said "A variety of methods were used," I probably would've kept that as well, because it "sounds right" and a lot of people online seem to agree. Many sources say that if it's preceded by "the," then "variety of" would be singular. But if it's "a," then it's not.

So am I wrong? I don't think so, because I still think the emphasis is on "variety," plus "of..." is a preposition, and it seems like prepositions create subsets of the main subject. But according to language nerds discussing this stuff online, I'm wrong because it's "a." And what doesn't help is that the Oxford learner dictionary seems to contradict itself; they say (ha ha, I'm breaking the grammar rule here; I should say "it says") "There is a wide variety of..." but later on they say "A plural verb is needed after a/an (large, wide, etc.) variety of...A variety of reasons were given."

I like Grammar Girl's explanation; it seems more forgiving: "Some people get tripped up when a prepositional phrase comes after a collective noun that is the subject of a sentence. For example, if you're talking about 'a large group of students,' 'group' is the collective noun and the subject of the sentence; however, it's easy to get distracted by the prepositional phrase 'of students' because it sounds plural. The thing to remember is that the verb takes its cue from the subject of the sentence--'a large group'--and not from the prepositional phrase that modifies the subject. In cases like this, just ignore the prepositional phrase 'of students' and take your cue from the real subject: 'a large group'.?

So according to GG, I'm correct. Plus American English (which I'm a native speaker of [of which I'm a native speaker]) uses the singular, while Brits use plural. And just to make sure, I asked a writing group that I sometimes meet with what they think, and all of them agree with what I did.

Thus I think I made the right decision, though I'm still struggling with "a number of," which I'll discuss in another post.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I\'m studying Swedish
I've told people offline, but I feel like I should proclaim this publicly since I've declared my love for languages here for over a decade (though I went off topic at times and didn't post much for a while), and I'm committed at this point.

What got me interested in Swedish and Sweden was watching Annika Bengtzon and thinking, "Wow, they're so restrained and cool and sophisticated," and I was impressed with the understated style of acting that we really don't see in the U.S. because so many actors are dramatic or exaggerated. 

Then I watched the Swedish version of Wallander, which had a similar style, delivered with humility (which is also not typical of U.S. shows--the lead actors are usually brazen and arrogant, and it's all about them). 

I was curious about the actors, but couldn't find much information in English. Example: The Guardian has Krister Henriksson's "only British press interview" about why he left Wallander, and there weren't a lot of English articles online about Malin Crépin, the wonderful, stylish actress who plays Annika Bengtzon. And when it came to actor Leif Andrée, who played her intense, stressed-out editor, forget it: a super-brief Wikipedia page, and the rest in Swedish, which of course I didn't understand at all.

So to find out more about this seemingly stable, refineddeveloped country, I decided to try to learn the language well enough to read about it (and read about those actors I like). I first tried Duolingo, which people have complimented but which didn't seem very helpful. I usually used the app on my phone, and got through a number of lessons. It would congratulate me on ridiculous achievements, telling me that I was x-percent "fluent." Such fakery wasn't encouraging because I know what fluent means, and it was like they were trying to "motivate" me into using their app more, like superficial cheerleaders on the sidelines. 

Another problem I had with Duolingo was that a number of their sample sentences were nonsensical, like "the cow likes the dog's toy" or "the cat doesn't want to dance tonight." Ok, those aren't exactly accurate examples, but the sample sentences were often phrases that we wouldn't need to know in real life, and pretty much no one would use unless they were making goofy poetry. So why were they giving them to us? Why not have sentences that said, "Where is the post office?" and other sentences that we'd actually need (though many people have said Swedish people's English is so good, you don't need Swedish over there).

Also, at least on the phone app, there were no grammatical explanations. So I'd try to do the exercises by intuition, but I really didn't learn much about the language structure. It just seemed like I was going through the motions to get through the exercises, like consuming empty calories that are briefly satisfying but don't lead anywhere.

Even though I wasn't thrilled with the app, I guess I learned enough to understand the headline of a Swedish article about the suicide of Johanna Sällström, who played Wallander's daughter (because I was doing a search about why they changed actresses, and it was hard to get sufficient info in English): Krister Henriksson: "Jag älskade Johanna djupt". I made progress! But then I went back to the ridiculous drills at Duolingo, and decided to move on.

After the split (though I don't want to drop Duolingo forever), I read stuff online, got a grammar book, watched online videos, etc. But I still wasn't satisfied, so I looked for a class, and lo and behold, there was one starting within a couple of weeks at the Swedish American Museum

I am the only person in the class who has nothing to do with Sweden or Swedish people. Other people have Swedish heritage, work for a Swedish company, or are married to Swedes. When it came to my turn to tell the class why I was studying it, I said, "I watched Swedish mysteries and want to know more." They laughed. But I still have that reason, in addition to wanting to go there at some point (though I apparently won't need Swedish anyway). 

One student in the class has really good pronunciation and comprehension, and it's because he studies consistently, listens to/watches Swedish news...and uses Duolingo. He said it's really helped him. So maybe I don't "get it"?

An unintended consequence of studying Swedish consistently is the rush in my head of English and German, which have collided into each other and are getting in the way of my Swedish acquisition. There are many similarities with both languages, which seems attractive, but the killer is the pronunciation. Very difficult and not phonetically written.

Because English and German have been swirling in my head when I try to produce sentences in class or try to comprehend words, I've been pulled in the German direction, to the point that I cracked open a German reading strategy book that I used years ago in one of the worst language classes I've ever taken (the teacher basically never spoke German and didn't want to teach it either, just talked about politics and her own personal gripes that I couldn't care less about). So now I'm trying to read bits of Japanese, French, and Spanish (all which I used to translate), learn Swedish as a total beginner, and reconnect with German, because...I don't know. I guess the Swedish activated a desire to recover knowledge of the German I once had, and to reconnect with a language that is way more difficult than Swedish, but is much easier to pronounce. Now I just need to partition my brain so that I'm not going through German to get to Swedish, though I keep saying in class "that's like German" when she explains a grammar point, which could seem pretentious.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Guest post: Describing October
Elliot Abrams, Chief Forecaster and meteorologist at AccuWeather, sent me this essay about the month of October. Thus this is a guest post, since it was written by him:

October colors scream for attention as summer's emerald draperies are splashed with auburn, set ablaze with firethorn, streaked with burnished copper, then saturated in chocolate just before Halloween.

If March is the chameleon month, October is its cousin. One day is bright and crisp, brimming with fresh vitality; the next is under a dreary roof of slate framed by steel wool curtains...a lint-filter sky.

Nature takes its full palette of pastels, earth tones and half shades and thrown them together in a tapestry simultaneously chaotic and yet invitingly familiar. Autumn is our annual sunset, the rich colors and interweaving of light providing our last look at the year, with the winter night temporarily postponed but imminently inevitable.

October's loud colors are matched by its noisy winds. The brittle leaves crackle in the breeze, a sure giveaway it's autumn on those increasingly rare warm south wind nights. The leaves lodge in the lawns, shove into shrubs and burrow into the bushes; the nachos style crunchiness amplifies the sound of footsteps.

Brash noise and sullen solitude. Bold bright colors and dim dreariness. Tossed trees with spiced scenery.  How they match life's many moods and tastes. For here in one month is captured the diversity of the entire annual cycle of earthly life. Yet for all of its richness and variety, few of its scenes and sounds will last out the year.

But, when winter's scouts retreat north for reinforcements, an eerie still is left behind.  The quiet is punctuated by the quick tick of a bouncing acorn. The scene of vivid crispness is hidden by a haze that smears the colors. The waning sun is too feeble to stir the grimy soup; fog lingers through damp mornings. Later, the haze tints muted sunbeams on bittersweet warm afternoons. You can just barely feel the hint of bygone summer, but the lengthening shadows and eager evening dusk say warm times are headed for history.

As the sun wearies of its heated climb through summer skies, the woodlands are tossed into an autumn salad bar. The leaner diet of light and the fingers of frost lace the chervil and sage greens of summer with oregano, pumpkin spice and cinnamon. The ocean of summer green now has islands of amber and auburn amidst currents of crimson, the mixing colors changing each day.  

Fall days can bring wondrous variety:

We can have windy days. In the nooks and crannies around buildings on a dry day you see dust, paper scraps and leaf fragments whipped into whirlpools, the tiny pieces sucked in and thrown out as the vortex vanishes.

Out in the countryside, cumulus cloud shadows race along the ground, racing along the ridges and vaulting the valleys. The trees, still in leaf. have their twigs twisted and their branches bent. In the fields and weedlots, unseen waves rustle the tassels and taller grass blades, the surface rippling like waves on a lake. 

Other days represent just the opposite: foggy calm mornings and hazy quiet mellow afternoons. Tiny spider mites weave threads and fragile strands that drift in the slightest puff of wind. The leaves detach from their summer homes to form a carpet of brown crinkle on the forest floor. Acorns snap to ground. You can still feel a hint of summer in the afternoon air; the long shadows of late afternoon and the early dusk make us sense somehow the summer party is over.

Only later do we find ourselves skewered on the rotisseri of reality, sucked in by the shop-vac of autumn's summer remnants, raked over by nature's leaf blower, the rototiller of northerly winds. The annual chilly eraser transforms the artful tapestry of October to the gray canvas of late fall and winter. 

by Elliot Abrams
Sr. VP
AccuWeather Inc
Twitter: @accuelliot
Author : Margaret Larkin

Pullman factory before the restoration/rehab

I am a fan of Pullman, which is on the far South Side of Chicago. Everyone should go there, as I've said before.

I also said that I would take the factory tour, and I did. There will only be a few more tours before they close it for restoration. First of all, the tour guide (who's lived there for almost 50 years) did a great job explaining not only elements of the building and the company, but the area's history and the more subtle issues that have arisen, such as the possibility of Section-8 housing, which means dollars for the developer (and alderman?) but headaches for the residents. Right now the neighborhood has a great, relaxing vibe that makes it a jewel within the city limits, and the people who live there want to keep it that way.

What I saw of the factory will not be the same next year, not just because of the restoration but because I reckon they're going to do a lot of publicity to get visitors down there. The place deserves it, but in the meantime, if you want to see the pre-hyped version, go there now.

Entrance to the factory site on 111th street.
I was also lucky to see huge remnants of Acme Steel, which will eventually be moved to a more permanent historic preservation site (I forgot what they said--I'll update if I find out).

Pullman building in back, Acme realia in front.

 from Acme Steel
Rebuilt administration building in background.

Though these Acme items might stay.



Steel industry art.
Unfortunately and tragically, a literally insane homeless man who was off his meds set fire to the Pullman factory because he said voices told him to. So the current tower and building are essentially reconstructed, and will continue down that path. So it's not really a restoration but a creation that visitors will see in the future. 

Rebuilt after the evil arson.
Here's a melted bell that the insane arsonist left behind.


But some original brick and a tiny part of the original factory remain.



I'm guessing future visitors post-rehab won't be able to wonder in such a space anymore.





As I was walking along a former carriage path that used to wind its way beside a lake...


I thought, "I'm coming back." 



While the factory is being revitalized, I could just hang out at the Pullman cafe.


Author : Margaret Larkin

Go to Pullman
A while ago, I was on the Metra train going to and from University Park, and I passed by the Pullman stop. It looked historical and interesting, not like the West Pullman shootings we often hear about in the news. Ever since then, I was curious about the area, and I finally got a chance to go there recently. What I discovered was a quaint neighborhood of restored row houses (retaining the requisite Pullman colors)...



trees...



and friendly people who said "hello." I don't think I've been anywhere in the city where people voluntarily greet strangers, and it shows how much pride they have in their neighborhood. It's more a location than a major tourist attraction, though I plan on going on the factory tour before they close it down for restoration (they're going to move the visitors center to the factory's tower, which is also being restored). I have a hunch that when they make major changes, there will be a lot more visitors. The day I went, there were only a few of us, and we were from the city. So I think I've seen the area pre-rush because it's become part of the national park system, and I reckon they're going to do a lot of publicity to get more people down there. I was lucky to see it "unspoiled" and pretty much empty, which allowed me to enjoy it a lot more (instead of having to compete with crowds to get a glimpse of the historic houses and surrounding nature).

There's an art installation at the Market Hall, whose remains are sort of sad but hopeful.


There are also grander homes thrown in, such as this place, similar (or the same?) to where I think the former police chief lives...


and this house, which is one of the larger ones in the hood. 


Towards the center of the area is the worn (but undergoing restoration) Hotel Florence, where the Rich and Important stayed way back in the day.



But nothing is happening at the Annex (where workers and some visitors stayed); it sits unused northeast of the hotel.



There is so much to appreciate there. It's not fireworks and spectacle, but it's really incredible to see such a historical area be preserved and celebrated. It's easy to get there, too: just west of the expressway or on the Metra Electric line. Hopefully the upcoming hype won't affect its charm.

Author : Margaret Larkin