GrammarTip March 16, 2011 -- Irish Eyes and Hyphens

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This Week's Aside
Irish Eyes 
young girl smiling
Sing along with us:


When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.

Click here for the complete lyrics to sing at your Irish pub today.

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Word of the Week


corned beef and cabbagePronunciation: korn
Function: transitive verb
Etymology:  Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German and Old Norse korn grain, Latin granum
Date: 1560
Definition: to preserve or season with salt in grains; to cure or preserve in brine containing preservatives and often seasonings


"Heading for the Pickled Onion tomorrow for their corned beef and cabbage. Well, actually, my friends might get that. I go for the stew and a Guinness." - your author

Definition source: Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary

Wikipedia supplement:

"The word corn derives from Old English, which is used to describe any small hard particles or grains. In the case of 'corned beef,' the word refers to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef."

Weekly GrammarTip

Do you over-hyphenate?

Psychiatrist and patient who says "Yes I Do!"Don't ordinarily hyphenate adjectival combinations of adverb + adjective or adverb + participle unless the adverb does not end in ly and can be misread as an adjective.

Now--if that sounds like just a bunch of silly grammarese to you, let us put it simply: Don't hyphenate stuff like "fully involved" or "partially hidden treasure" -- if you do, people in the know who read your ad, proposal, white paper, cover letter, or contract will relegate it to the bottom of the stack and give preference to your competitors who make fewer mistakes. That's just a fact. Read on and find out if you're making other similar mistakes.

Since the function of adverbs is to modify adjectives and verbs, and since participles are merely forms of verbs that can act as adjectives, the combination of adverb + adjective or adverb + participle is just a simple case of one word modifying another, and ordinarily no hyphen is needed to show the relationship.

An appropriately-red bridal gown and a completely-confused groom are errors in American English; there should be no hyphens. (The British often do hyphenate such compounds, however.) Some writers are misled by three-part compounds, such as a badly run-down neighborhood, and insert a superfluous hyphen after the adverb: a badly-run-down neighborhood. In this example there should be no hyphen between badly and run-down (which is correctly hyphenated as a participle + adverb adjectival combination). We will discuss such modified compounds in detail next week.

Note that a scholarly-looking water skier is not an error. Scholarly, leisurely, and a few other adjectives end in ly, which is the standard ending for adverbs, but they are still adjectives, and the combination of adjective + participle, as in scholarly-looking, should be hyphenated.

Adverbs that do not end in ly and can be mistaken for adjectives

An ill-clothed baby is not an error, even though ill is an adverb and the combination is adverb + participle. The reason for the hyphen is that ill can be misread as an adjective, meaning sick and directly modifying baby rather than the participle clothed. The hyphen links ill to clothed.

It is rare that the omission of such a linking hyphen causes real ambiguity. Even so, we naturally avert confusion in speech--we almost invariably run together such combinations as ill-clothed when they precede the word they modify and often when they follow the word as well, but we are likely to pronounce combinations with ly adverbs, such as badly clothed, as two distinct words. We should do the same in writing, running together certain combinations with a hyphen. Sometimes the ear is the best judge when a hyphen is desirable, but there are some general principles and also some common conventions for specific words used in compounds.

There are many adverbs that do not end in ly and can also be adjectives, among them half, well, better, best, fast, slow, little, and long. The eight listed and some others should routinely be followed by a hyphen when they are used in adverb + participle compounds that come before the modified word: half-asleep audience, well-dressed student, better-clothed editor, best-written book, fast-moving boats, slow-moving traffic, little-used brain, long-awaited retirement.

Not all these compounds need hyphens when they follow the modified word, but some do: The parent was well dressed, The editor was better clothed, His brain was little used, and The speech was long awaited; but The audience was half-asleep, The traffic was fast-moving, The van was slow-moving, and probably The book was best-written, though the last example is an odd one that would be unlikely to occur.

Usage varies on fine points of punctuation, though, and the ear is often the best judge. Half is particularly variable. In one of the examples in the preceding paragraph, The audience was half-asleep, the hyphen seems desirable, perhaps because without the hyphen one might think the sentence meant that half those in the audience were asleep and half were awake. But often it does not: The man was half dead, The door was half open, The meal was half finished. It is also tricky when it is used to modify verbs, usually requiring a hyphen before transitive verbs but not before intransitive verbs: He half-turned the knob, but He half turned and looked out the window.

If you're having fun with all this by now, you may be a true grammarian. If you are half-asleep, however, all this may be beneath you and you would just as soon turn your rocket-science white paper over to some really good technicians of words to make it perfectly acceptable to that famous journal you're aiming for. We understand.

Next week, it gets even more exciting: Adverbs that do not end in ly but cannot be mistaken for adjectives. Examples: too loving parent, very comprehensive report, almost forgivable sin, seldom simple rules, and more!



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Word Challenge
Everybody's Irish on March 17!

green top hat, clover, cane

Our great-grandmother was half Irish and proud of it, and half 'Scotch' and, um, fond of it. When her Irish eyes were smiling, it was because we didn't get our words confused. Try these words and see if your Irish eyes have something to smile about tomorrow.

1. Hibernian: (a) a leprechaun who sleeps through the winter; (b) a recruit enlisted in England in 1920-21 for service in the Royal Irish Constabulary; (c) of, relating to, or characteristic of Ireland or the Irish; (d) an Irish accent.

2. hooker: (a) a one-masted fishing boat used on the English and Irish coasts; (b) a shallow handheld Irish drum; (c) an Irish game resembling field hockey played between two teams of 15 players each; (d) hot sugared coffee and Irish whiskey topped with whipped cream.

3. Irish coffee: (a) whiskey distilled from a mash made up of not less than 80 percent Irish corn; (b) hot sugared coffee and Irish whiskey topped with whipped cream; (c) whiskey illicitly distilled in Ireland; (d) whiskey distilled in Scotland especially from malted barley.

4. poteen: (a) a police officer in the Republic of Ireland; (b) chiefly Irish: an untidy slovenly person; (c) whiskey illicitly distilled in Ireland; (d) a member of a secret 19th century Irish and Irish-American organization dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.

5. uilleann pipes: (a) a dance of Irish origin marked by quick running steps; (b) a primitive wind instrument consisting of a series of short vertical pipes of graduated length bound together with the mouthpieces in an even row; (c) an Irish bagpipe with air supplied by a bellows held under and worked by the elbow; (d) the central component in the distillery apparatus used to make Irish whiskey.

6. Blarney stone: (a) the most famous cornerstone of the capitol building in Dublin, held to bestow skill in flattery on those who kiss it; (b) any smooth stone carried in one's pocket for luck; (c) Molly Stone's famous younger brother; (d) a stone in Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland, held to bestow skill in flattery on those who kiss it.

7. gallowglass: (a) an armed Irish foot soldier; (b) an Irish-American soldier serving in the western United States after the Civil War; (c) a viewing platform at a gallows; (d) an Irish adherent of Charles I of England.

8. hurling: (a) the playing or singing of a funeral dirge on the bagpipes in Scotland and Ireland; (b) an Irish game resembling field hockey played between two teams of 15 players each; (c) a game in which two teams of four players each slide hurling stones over a stretch of ice toward a target circle; (d) the display of the Irish coat of arms.

9. druid: (a) one of an ancient Celtic priesthood appearing in Irish and Welsh sagas and Christian legends as soldiers and horsemen; (b) one of an ancient Celtic priesthood appearing in Irish and Welsh sagas and Christian legends as sailors and fishermen; (c) one who initiates another into a mystery cult; (d) one of an ancient Celtic priesthood appearing in Irish and Welsh sagas and Christian legends as magicians and wizards.

10. "Top o' the marning to you!": (a) "Here's back at ya!" (b) "And the rest o' the day to you!" (c) "Thank y'kindly!" (d) "Here's looking at you, kid!" 

Click here for the answers to today's Word Challenge!