Category Archives: word useage

How do you spell that one again?

One of my massive readerbase (grin) sent me this question;

“Lonelyness or loneliness, I have seen both versions used, but to be honest lonelyness looks wrong to my eyes, is there a preferred way of spelling, or a rule that must be follwed?”

Well accordingt to Google there are 130,000 mentions of LONELYNESS and over 9 million for LONELINESS, so I guess that if we’re going by popular useage then LONELINESS is the way to go, I’m not sure that spelling it LONELYNESS is wrong, per se, and there might be some rule that needs to be followed.

HAPPYNESS has almost 2 million mentions on Google, though from close attention most of those seem attributed to the Will Smith movie, though I do see people using HAPPYNESS as opposed to HAPPINESS, which has 60 million references, and appears to be common useage.

AHA, here we go

Words ending in y before a consonant usually change the y to i before a suffix.

So words like happy, beauty, mystery and so on get the Y changed to an I, so therefore, LONELINESS is grammatically correct and LONELYNESS is not.

And I too will admit that LONELYNESS looks wrong to my eyes and the advertising for The Pursuit of Happyness made me cringe, much like Inglourious Basterds which sent my inner grammar nazi into a frenzy.


Persons of interest

One of my readers (Hi Chris) sent me an email regarding the use of’people as opposed to persons. I have been doing some research and my first skim tells me that it is mainly a personal choice, however on some further deeper reading it appears that opinion is divided on what is the proper usage.

Some deride persons as being outdated and old fashioned, others say that it is the logical plural use of the word person.

Often people is used as the logical plural of person and this is wrong, as the two words derive from different latin roots and do not mean the same thing; the former from populum, referring to the people in the sense of the populace, the latter from persona, “an actor’s mask; a character in a play” and which in the English form person, came to refer to an individual human being.

The proper plural of person is persons, however it appears that writers from the time of Chaucer onwards have been using people as a plural for person, not only to mean in the general sense of a mass of uncountable individuals, but also in a specific sense where numbers were countable.

This persisted until around Victorian times, when for some reason the Victorians rebelled agaisnt this and decided that the plural of person is persons when a specific, countable number of individuals is meant, but that people should be used when the number is large or indefinite.

However modern style guides, those pesky creatures, disagree; as they can point to any number of examples where they can use people as the plural of person in both situations.

Persons seems to survive mainly in a legal context, you often hear the Police wanting to talk to “persons of interest” or “so and and so was killed by person or persons unknown“. Persons seems to be a very formal and somewhat clunky word in this modern time. So this is why it seems to have fallen out of favour, with people replacing it.

The popularity of people is increasing as persons falls into disuse, though from the outset even though people is the singular collective term, it seems to have always been used to describe plural as well. It’s a very versatile word and depending on the context can mean one group, or it can mean a whole collective of groups.

This particular usage of people has become second nature to most and so the singular form of people as in “this people is lonely” seems just as clunky and outdated as persons.

The use of peoples as the plural of people has in the past been derided as an uncouth word, but it has gained popularity of late and is now considered a legitimate use of the word e.g:  “the peoples of this land are many and diverse“.

I hope that helps Chris in some small way, thanks for the interesting idea, much appreciated.

An owed too my spellchequer

(found via a mailing list I am on)

Eye have a spelling check her
That came with my pea sea:
It marks in plane four my revue
Miss steaks eye due knot sea.

Aye strike a key oar type a word
And weight for it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write;
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long:

And eye can put the ere or rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Its own lee be cause u have Ben their
That u no watt eye am go in thru;

An witch of u can b sew sure
U won’t all so bee use zing it 2?
Eye ran this poem threw spell check

As eye am shore your pleased to no;
Its let her perfect awl the weigh
My check her tolled me sew.

(If it will come fort u, Yours ken dew it to! “No misspellings found. OK”)

You and I aint no Movie stars, what we are is what we are…

(With apologies to Alice Cooper there)

I borrowed from Alice because it was cogent to what an avid reader (yes one of the three of you) asked me, it seems that all through school they often had trouble with deciding if You and I was right or if it was You and Me.

I was always taught that there was an easy way to decide which one to use, think of this sentence.

You and I need to have a talk.

Am I correct in saying You and I, or should it be You and me?

This appears to confuse a lot of people, not just my loyal reader *grin*

The easy way I was taught was that you drop the word you, then you try the sentence using I and me one at a time, for example:

  • I need to have a talk
  • Me need to have a talk

It’s obvious from that that the proper one to use in this case is I, so I was correct with you and I

You can use this method all the time, take this example:

She’s not going to be happy with you and I.

Drop the word you then try the sentence with I and me again:

  • She’s not going to be happy with I.
  • She’s not going to be happy with me.

From this you can see that the second one makes much more sense and is actually good grammar.

So my original sentence should have been

She’s not going to be happy with you and me.

I hope that makes it easier for people to remember.

As a matter of politeness it has always been considered far more courteous when using phrases such as you and me, you and I or even them and us, to put the reference to yourself last.

Which is why it is Miss Manners approved to go:

  • She’ll talk to you and me later.

instead of:

  • She’ll talk to me and you later.

Informally I don’t think that will bring the wrath of the grammar nazis down on your shoulders, but when you’re using it in a formal setting, it would be nice to make Miss Manners proud.

I have not been lollygagging, certainly not.

My apologies for my absence, but I have been up to my eyebrows in University assignments, I just finished the final one for this semester, so now all I have to worry about is exams next month.

Simple, surely.

It would have gone much smoother if I had not, in the delightful words of the Online Etymology Dictionary which by the way is MY go to place when I am looking for the antecedents of a word or phrase, been dilly-dallying, or even shilly-shallying around.

Shilly-shally “vacillate,” 1703, earlier shill I, shall I (1700), fanciful reduplication of shall I? (cf. wishy-washy, dilly-dally, etc.).

Dilly-dally;  “Dilly-dally is from 1741, a reduplication of dally. c.1300, possibly from Anglo-Fr. dalier “to amuse oneself,” of uncertain origin.”

But to accuse me of lollygagging, certainly not.

Lollygag; “dawdle, dally,” 1862, lallygag, Amer.Eng., perhaps from dial. lolly “tongue” + gag “deceive, trick.”

So I shall dilly-dally, shilly-shally and lollygag my way out of here.

Where you put your hyphen counts.

Consider this sentence.

“A black-wife beater”

“A black wife-beater”

Your misplaced hyphen has just created two very entirely different meanings.

The first one would make you raise your eyebrows

The second one just makes you question the persons fashion sense.

I hope your point ISN’T mute.

I’ve come across this particular error a lot lately, especially and unfortunately in a quite a few of my text/work books for University, which just goes to show that relying solely on a spellchecker is NOT a good idea.

The correct phrase is ‘it’s a MOOT point’  which means that though the point may be up for discussion, circumstances render it not worth while discussing or cogent to the matter at hand.

“Moot” is a very old word related to “meeting,” specifically a meeting where serious matters are discussed. Oddly enough, a moot point can be a point worth discussing at a meeting (or in court)-an unresolved question-or it can be the opposite: a point already settled and not worth discussing further. At any rate, “mute point” is simply wrong, as is the less common “mood point.” (taken from

I can’t say that I have come across anyone using the term “mood point” which is probably a good thing as the mere mention sets my teeth on edge.

Let us hope that the trend towards using “mute point” even in jest does not continue, “moot” is a lovely old word, full of a rich history and meaning.

And today I find that something I always thought was correct was in fact wrong, for years I was under the impression that a group of Owls was called a Moot, today I am sadly disambiguated, a group of Owls is called a Parliament. I am sadly disappointed, a Moot sounds much more distinguished than that rabble we call Parliament.