The Teacup or the Stick

May 30, 2008

Tea is a great motivator because it can be either the reward for finishing a task, or the reward for starting it. For example, you can tell yourself, “When I’m finished winding these spools, I’ll sit down with a cup of tea.” I prefer to say, “I’ll have a cup of tea while I take care of these spools.” Once I have put the reward in motion–put the kettle on, that is–I can’t back out. Resolve stated, tea in hand, I would feel silly just plopping down in front of the computer. Isn’t it just as as easy to wind spools as futz around on the computer while I’m drinking a cup of tea?

I became allergic to coffee about 6 years ago, but it was never something I drank regularly. As a caffeine delivery system it was just too harsh for me. Black tea generally has about 1/3 the caffeine of coffee.

I can drink tea while winding spools, threading, sleying, or drafting–anything I can take my hands away from long enough to reach for my cup. I’m careful, but I know the day will come when I knock my tea over on some yarn. Perish the thought. I do try to keep my tea in a separate part of the room from any yarn activities. It serves the further purpose of making me get up to stretch my back and arms.

But never mind that. The real reason you are reading this post is because it will guide you to a wonderful website!

Common Errors in English

I found it when I was checking out my idiom for the title. “The carrot or the stick” sounded right, but I wasn’t sure.  As Mr. Brians puts it,

The debate has been confused from time to time by imagining one stick from which the carrot is dangled and another kept in reserve as a whip; but I imagine that the original image in the minds of those who developed this expression was a donkey or mule laden with cargo rather than being ridden, with its master alternately holding a carrot in front of the animal’s nose (by hand, not on a stick) and threatening it with a switch. Two sticks are too many to make for a neat expression.

My first thought when I looked over his list of errors was, “I am so glad I am not a literature professor!” You know he must have found all these while he was reading student essays. Some of my favorites are missing (that/who), but what a list!

I’m not the old guard. I have a particular dislike for popular pet-peevish grammar and punctuation books. Yes, I have my preferences, and some of them are uppity (“different than” makes my skin crawl, though many sources allow it) but the blood of the language crusader has never thrummed in my veins. I do not pencil corrections in books. I like to think I stand with the more easy-going linguists. Everyone has a right to his own like, verbal peccadillos.


Written language is a bit different, and some of these misuses are so bad they’re funny. What surprises me is how illogical they can be. When a common saying remains in use but loses its original referent, that seems okay to me, because the referent has usually been replaced in people’s minds with a more up-to-date picture. (Or maybe the saying remains beautiful simply for the curiosity it inspires when you pick it up and look at it more closely: a language fossil.) But when a pithy metaphor becomes actual nonsense. . .

I like it that Mr. Brians doesn’t object to the carrot on the stick because it is a newer image, but because the extra stick clutters the expression: no longer simply x or y, but x and y, or y–where x is carrot and y is stick.

I laughed, I cringed, and . . . I found a few of my own mistakes. The Ukraine. Dove/dived (I still like dove). Careen/career (I thought careening could mean careering, too). Farther/further. Access (stubborn about that one too. I’m pro verb).

I also like it that he admits there’s no right choice sometimes:

“Macabre” is a French-derived word which in its original language has the final “ruh” sound lightly pronounced. Those who know this are likely to scorn those who pronounce the word “muh-COB.” But this latter pronunciation is very popular and blessed by some American dictionaries, and those who prefer it sometimes view the French-derived pronunciation as pretentious. It’s up to you whether you want to risk being considered ignorant or snooty.

To wind this up, I would like to propose (what I think may be) a meme. If you’re reading this and enjoy thinking about these sorta things, you’re tagged.

What expression or lyric did you mishear or misunderstand as a child?

I was about eleven before I realized there was more to this nonsense song than met the ear:

Mairsey dotes and dozy dotes
and little lambs e-divey.
Kiddle e-divey do,
Woudn’t you?


5 Responses to “The Teacup or the Stick”

  1. Cally Says:

    You’ve got me. I was so prone to misinterpreting phrases and lyrics as a child – I wonder if that is a contributing factor to my enthusiasm for language? The ‘real thing’ can be sadly drab compared with the vivid images I used to conjure from simple children’s songs…

    Row, row, row your boat
    gently down the stream,
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
    lightly spotted cream.

  2. Cally Says:

    I realise that I said “as a child”, but I am not sure I am very different now – I just don’t sing my personal lyrics as loudly as I used to.

  3. Jane Says:

    Good morning, Trapunto :>

    Love wordplay, although I’m guilty of mixing my tenses, leaving dangling bits, and using tacky alliterations that would rival Spiro Agnew. A book I used to have and really liked was “The Transitive Vampire.” You might like it, too. Less stuffy than “Eats Shoots and Leaves.”

    Oh those lyrics! A great old internet site called was started because of misheard lyrics — ‘kiss this guy’ being a line that many people have heard Jimmy Hendrix sing. . . Their updated site is not as fun as the old one used to be, but if you poke around you can still find some really fun ones.

    My own all time biggie growing up Catholic was, “Hail Mary, full of grapes.” Hey! It went with ‘the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’ Made sense to me!

    Speaking of fruit, which reminds me of vegetables, which leads me to carrot — what’s on your loom? Is it dressed, is it naked? Enquiring minds want to know. . .

    Weave like and Egyptian,

  4. Jane Says:

    Oh and did I also say that I’m great at overlooking typos — my own that is?

  5. Loved the Error site! The only editing our local weekly paper uses is the computer spell check. It would drive you crazy to read it.
    I learned to say “wove” when referring to the past tense of “to weave”. The local folks say “weaved”. The dictionary says both are correct, but it grates in my ears.

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