New Old Name, Identical Unique Personality

As of one hour ago, I officially have a new name. Well, more accurately, I officially have my old name back. I left my ex-husband over seven years ago, but until about two years ago, I didn’t want to go back to my maiden name. My acquired surname was too cool. I liked it for its linguistic complexity and meaning, and I liked it for its difficulty of pronunciation and spelling. But then one day I decided I was over it. Nothing happened, I simply changed my mind. Then I spent a few years thinking about what name I could adopt instead, but that responsibility proved to be too much. Too many options. You can literally change your name to anything you want. Did you know that? Analysis paralysis set in. Eventually, I gave up and decided to take the boring route of going back to my maiden name. And so after waiting months for fingerprints and background checks and court dates, I’ve gone back to who I once was.  Continue reading →

Say What? Edition 8: When Native Speakers Sound Like They Aren’t

My roommate my first year in Russia told me that English was an easy language to start speaking and make yourself decently understood but near impossible to master because of all the idioms, nuance, unexpected pronunciations, and multiple ways of saying everything. No matter how long you speak it, you’re always going to encounter something a native speaker says or writes that baffles you. Russian is the opposite. It has a dense grammar with lots of irregularities that tongue ties you for a long, long time after beginning, but once you’ve got it, you just fly into proficiency. Today, I thought I’d focus on a few of the intricacies of English grammar that I’ve come across recently that I think wouldn’t be so obvious to fluent, non-native speakers or to native speakers, for that matter.

Continue reading →

Say What? Edition 7: More Than Words

No, this post is not an ode to that old Extreme song, although it’s still a great one! The post is a little bit about “code switching,” I started hearing about everywhere a few years ago. Code switching refers to the verbal portion of the many personas we all have. The words we choose, the way we say them, the tone of voice, affected accents, and sometimes even the language itself. It was weird to me that suddenly code switching was a phenomena because it’s something I’ve recognized myself doing, often consciously, forever. More on that later in a minute. But this post is also about much more than code switching. It’s about all sorts of language choices and language differences that help us relate in specific ways to the world around us and reveal a lot about us.

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Haven’t we all been adapting our speech since we were children? I know I have. I spoke one way at home with my family and one way at home with my friends. I spoke another way with my teachers and even another with people at church. Later, I had various sets of speaking mannerisms for work relationships: waitress talk, teacher talk, tour guide talk, boss talk. In my “performance” jobs (teacher, tour guide) my code switch was so strong that I felt quite self-conscious of people who knew other the other versions of myself hearing me in that role. While the degree to which I code switch now is less—for example, I’m now an adult who lives on her own, so I don’t feel I need to bend to my parents’ rules of acceptable speech nearly as much any more when I’m around them—I’m more conscious of it when I do engage in it. For example, sometimes I realize my speech is too casual with my manager orI feel like I’m crossing some line, so I’ll stop using certain words and will hold back expressing certain ideas.  Continue reading →

Struggles of the Wannabe Grammar Police

On my neighborhood Nextdoor site, I recently saw a post about a lost dog that was found. In response, one person wrote, “Glad this tale/tail has a happy ending.” I started to roll my eyes at her seemingly unnecessary decision to clarify that she was making a pun, but then I stopped. The truth is, I can easily put myself inside her mind. I’m constantly making calculations in my head about whether I should speak “correctly” or speak like most people around me do.  Continue reading →

A Not-So-Little Pat on the Back

This post is a brag because this is my blog and I’ll brag if I want to. Also, I post plenty of embarrassing or unflattering content about myself, so I don’t think anyone can fault me for publicly praising my accomplishments.

I am now a Senior Technical Writer at LogRhythm. I started less than two years ago having no “technical” technical writing experience, although I have a 16-year career related to controlled writing, editing, and language use in general, including creating IT certification courses. The first six months at this company were really rough for me. About 10 percent of that was my own sour puss attitude at the company I loved shutting down and being completely ungrateful for the amazing opportunity I walked into, but, honestly, 90 percent of it was the massive learning curve. Almost everyone I work with agrees that this is the most complicated product they have ever worked on. Not only was I going from a job in which I had total control over the development of a product that was firmly in my area of expertise to one in which I was in a reactionary position, dependent on the goals and management of others, but I also simply couldn’t understand the product. This was tough. I hate feeling useless and not being able to take initiative. Most jobs I’ve had required a one-month or so learning curve before I could show up to work confident in what I was doing and my ability to handle anything that came my way. This one was every bit of six months and still, 21 months later, plenty of issues come my way that I haven’t the foggiest idea how to start dealing with and that I feel quite intimidated by. Continue reading →

Say What? Edition 5: What Not To Say

Don’t say donzerlyThe Christmas season, which thankfully is over, always reminds me of my first neologism. While I never flubbed these lyrics from what is probably the most sung song in the country, I did spend a good portion of my childhood wondering what wilkenspire was, as in “Later on wilkenspire. As we dream by the fire.”

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Don’t say in order to.  Or should you? In my day job, I often have to decide whether to use “to” or “in order to.” The more succinct version generally suffices, but I sometimes opt for the longer because somehow it seems to provide clarity, though I could never articulate exactly why or how. Then I stumbled across this on the Write the Docs Slack.

I need John to answer the question. (He has to do it. No one else can.)
I need John in order to answer the question. (I need something from him so that I can answer the question myself.)

Ah, sweet relief. Continue reading →

Boulder 911, or How I Was Almost Caught in a Shootout

2016 had an interesting end for me. I was on my way to work on the morning of Friday the 30th, waiting to make a left turn from one main road in Boulder onto another. As I sat in the left turn lane, a police vehicle came screaming up the inbound traffic lanes to my left, zig-zagged through the intersection to get back into the lanes going his direction, and then vanished around a turn at the next intersection. Actual crime is almost a novelty in Boulder, but even so, it was early and my mind was already checked out for the holiday weekend, so I forgot about the cop even before I got the green arrow.

When I turned left, I got into the right lane and drove along, nearing a gas station on my passenger side. Just as I reached the entrance, that same cop came tearing down the opposing lanes once again, lights flashing and siren blaring, but this time, instead of driving past, he sucked me right into his dramatic morning. He pulled a hard turn directly in front of me, back end of his SUV swinging wide, and slammed to a stop perpendicular to the road, blocking both lanes going my direction. He jumped out of the car with an assault rifle and ran into the gas station lot. Just then, three other police cars screeched in from different directions and all the officers jumped out, weapons drawn. They were pointing them at a man on the ground in front of a van. Continue reading →