Monday, May 30, 2011

I Mean Every Word...

I should preface this column by assuring you that I am no expert when it comes to writing. Probably you know this but just wanted you to know that I know it too.

There are, however, a few things in our current-day writing of the English language that disturb me to no end. I am referring to some of the misuses of words and punctuation.

For example, take “it’s” and “its.” I have seen these words traded out and misused numerous times. “It’s” is the contraction for “it is” or “it has,” while “its” is the possessive form. If you wonder whether or not to use “it’s,” remember one point and you’ll never make this mistake again: “It’s” always means “it is or “it has” and nothing else. If neither of the two foregoing passes the test, then use “its.” Notice the following two sentences: “It’s time to go.” “Its time has come.”

Two other words often misused are “your” and you’re.” I received in the mail recently an invitation from a church that read, “Your Invited…” They should have printed, “You’re Invited,” because “you’re” is the contraction for “you are.” They could have said, “Your Invitation…” and have been correct. Remember that anytime you write “you are,” you can use “you’re.” “You’re certain to have your day in court” is a proper use of both “you’re” and “your.”

Sometimes, confusion emerges with the terms, “there,” “they’re,” and “their.” “There” can be used as in, “There they are” or “They are going there.” You could say, “They’re going there,” because “they’re” is the contraction for “they are.” “Their(s)” shows ownership. This is their car, meaning the car is theirs. This sentence uses all three: “They’re near to their car because it’s right there.”

Something that has changed with the advent of computers is this: It is no longer acceptable to use two spaces following a period. When I was in high school, we were taught to double-space between sentences. No longer is that the case. Use only one space. Computers have numerous fonts that can be utilized and with some, the spacing varies. Also, newspapers and magazines save a lot of space by not using the double-space. Much space on any document can be lost by using the double-space after each sentence. So if you were taught to double-space between sentences, throw that concept out with the bathwater. By the way, “bathwater” was two separate words in the days of yore.

The “comma” often is misused. When to use a comma and when not to use one is tough because it is still in “changing” mode. In the old days, we were taught to write, “red, white and blue.” Now “they” are telling us to write “red, white, and blue.” This is to distinguish more clearly the three separate colors. Since “red,” stands alone then “white and blue” might inadvertently be blended together. But by using “red, white, and blue,” each color is its on entity.

I am a homespun writer. This means I write the same way I talk. When I began writing guest columns for the Enterprise, I asked Opinions’ Page editor, Thomas Taschinger, if he thought I should go take a college writing course. He said, “Don’t do it. It might mess up your natural homespun writing style.” In other words, he was saying that should I figure out what I was doing and why, that I might end up getting all formal and technical and folks would not read my stuff.

At any rate, the English language is convoluted. It changes daily. I am just trying to hang on and that is why I commented on some of the common misuses of our language.

Now, the ball’s in your court. You’re on your own…

Winston Hamby

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"Bax" And His "Yacks"...

I moved my family back to Beaumont in 1983. We bought a house on Redwood Drive, near what then was French High School.

After we unloaded our stuff, every room in the house--including the garage--was swamped with furniture and boxes filled to their brims. My wife and I got to work unloading and straightening things up.

As the afternoon wore on, Mardell and I grew weary and hungry. About 5 p.m., there was a knock at the door. We mulled over who it could be.

I opened the door and a man was standing there with an armload of hamburgers and sodas. He said, “Hello folks, my name is Gordon Baxter and you are our new across-the-street neighbors.” I invited him in and said, “Are you a Gordon Baxter or are you THE Gordon Baxter?” Turned out he was the one and only Gordon Baxter, well-known radio personality, author, pilot, and outdoorsman. In fact, he was many things to most people.

“Bax” had worked at many of the radio stations in the area at one time or another. We exchanged many stories of the days gone by. I had listened to him on the radio since I was a teenager.

Now he had married Diane and they had a beautiful daughter named Jenny. They had the home on Redwood Drive plus a cabin home up on Village Creek.

Bax liked my ham radio station (KF5D) and came over several times to play with all the equipment.

One of the funniest personal stories I recall about being neighbors with the Baxters is this: One day I went out to get into my car. Across the street was Jenny with a lemonade stand up and running. She was about seven years old and Bax was out there with her.

It seemed that Jenny wasn’t experiencing many sales. In fact, her pitcher of the good juice was still full. So I meandered over and learned that lemonade was ten cents per cup. I said, “Hey Jenny, here’s a dime. Give me a cup of that tasty-looking stuff.” So she did.

One medium sip of that lemonade presented me with more than one dilemma. First I realized that this product was the most horrible mistake that I had ever put into my mouth. Next, I was aware that both Gordon and Jenny were watching my every move, seeking to observe my every reaction to their homemade fountain drink. I knew there was nothing else I could do but to turn the cup up and chug-a-lug all of it.

Involuntarily, my eyes closed for a few seconds and when I managed to open them, Jenny and Bax were still watching my every reaction. There was nothing else to do but say, “Jenny, here’s another dime. Give me another cup.” You see, I wasn’t worried about hurting Bax’s feelings. He could take it. But Jenny’s eyes were hoping so much that I would like whatever it was I was drinking. I think it must have been one-half water and one-half lemon juice and no sugar. She poured me a second cup. I turned it up and guzzled away. However, this time my body began to quiver. I could feel my face drawing up into fine wrinkles. I turned away from Jenny so she could not witness my convulsions.

Bax walked me to the street as I was leaving for work. When we got out of Jenny’s hearing, he said, “Neighbor, that was a noble thing you did, but whatever you do, don’t regurgitate in my ditch.”

I told him not to worry and went on my way.

But you know those wrinkles I mentioned? I can still see them when I look into a mirror.

Winston Hamby