Archive for August, 2012

Some Things to Avoid in an Essay

August 28, 2012

New data in conclusion

A clever or pithy quotation can provide your conclusion with a nice kick, but data belongs in the body of your essay.

In conclusion

This expression is always redundant in a written essay because the reader can see that the paper is coming to an end.  Ditto, in closing and finally.  In a spoken address, however, such expressions are admissible.  They can even single blesséd relief when an ill-received palaverous speech is presented to a bored and restroom-ready audience.

As previously stated

You are padding your paper and then bragging about it—a double Bozo no-no.


Only use the expression most when you can support your assertion with data that confirms that the phenomenon to which you are referring occurs with a frequency of at least 50.1%.   If you write in your paper that most Americans hate broccoli, then you must provide polling data from the American Association of Vegetable Eaters that backs up your claim.  It is otherwise preferable to say that many people dislike the highly nutritious flower head.  Even if only three percent of Americans actually detest the vegetable, nine million broccoli-haters are still a lot of people.

Some Commonly abused expressions

Try to instead of try and

This solecism is so commonly uttered in English that it has practically become the standard usage in all but the most refined settings.  When writing an essay, however, it is still necessary to use the expression try to do something instead of try and do something.  But I expect the linguistic police to throw in the towel on this one some time during the next half century or so.

By and large instead of buy in large

By and large means generally.  However, the expression buy in large is correct when followed by the word quantities.

Cut and dried instead of cut and dry

I once heard Executive Assistant District Attorney Mike Cutter use this common faux pas on the long-running NBC drama Law and OrderCut and dried means done according to a set and planned procedure. When I lived in Mount Baldy and firewood was my only source of heat, my neighbors warned me that if I burned green wood—wood that had not been allowed at least one year to dry out after being cleaved from its roots—I risked clogging my chimney with creosote and burning down the entire neighborhood.

For all intents and purposes instead of for all intensive purposes

For all intents and purposes means effectively, practically, or essentially.  I used to have a boss who would routinely use the common blunder for all intensive purposes during staff meetings.  I wisely rejected the near-overwhelming temptation to correct him on several occasions.

Whether they are correctly utilized or not or not, the following phrases do not strengthen your argument:

It is widely known that…
The population agrees that…
The fact is that…
It is common knowledge that…

So save your instructor some time, energy, and red ink by excising them before you turn in your final draft.

It is widely known that drunk driving is dangerous.
The population agrees that America is the greatest country ever.
The fact is that there are seven days in a week.
It is common knowledge that Donatello is the coolest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

by Richard W. Bray

Things that Matter

August 20, 2012

images (4)

Pack a lunch
And fix her face
Today your little girl’s
Gonna join the race
She’s got a bag
That’s half her size
Time to swallow tears
And kiss goodbye

Got no choice
But to let her go
It’s a mighty pain
No one else could know
One last hug
Wish her well
Things that matter
Hurt like hell

Tempers shattered
All your light
Now the golden glow
Is an endless night
She held you up
For half a life
Nothing prepares you
To lose a wife

Got no choice
But to let her go
It’s a mighty pain
No one else could know
One last hug
Wish her well
Things that matter
Hurt like hell

by Richard W. Bray


August 17, 2012

None of my possessions
Could cure my ailing life
Not my sixteen bedrooms
Not my modelpretty wife
I got a fancy car
And drove it far away
Drove right to the edge of
The good ole USA

No matter where I go
Buddy, there I am
Geography can’t help me
Cuz I don’t give a damn
I’m gonna get a shovel
And dig a giant hole
If I don’t find a remedy
To cure my aching soul

Sometimes I wish my daddy
Had beat me as a kid
Then I’d have a reason
For all the things I did
Deep down I feel guilty
Just for sucking wind
Maybe I was born with
Insufficient skin

No matter where I go
Buddy, there I am
Geography can’t help me
Cuz I don’t give a  damn
I’m gonna get a shovel
And dig a giant hole
If I don’t find a remedy
To cure my aching soul

by Richard W. Bray


August 15, 2012

Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul—

—Emily Dickinson



Pain’s not something I should fear
From feel to think there is no line
Pain got me from there to here

I try to keep my feelings near
What else is completely mine?
Pain’s not something I should fear

My troubles aren’t for you to hear
I’m not the type to sit and whine
Pain got me from there to here

Pain is something I hold dear
Bounty from a winding vine
Pain’s not something I should fear

I think I’ll have another beer
I won’t stop till I’m feeling fine
Pain got me from there to here

My shaking hands must be a sign
All night long my teeth will grind
Pain’s not something I should fear
Pain got me from there to here

by Richard W. Bray

Genius Knows Itself: The Wonderful Words of Emily Dickinson

August 11, 2012

Emily Dickinson

There is no professionalism, in the worst sense, here; and it is interesting to note that, although she sought out Higginson’s advice and named herself his “scholar,” she never altered a poem of hers according to any suggestion of his. She had, at one time, perhaps been willing to be published, but, later, she could do without print.

Louise Bogan on the “pleasure” of reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson “from beginning to end” from Twentieth Century Views: Emily Dickinson (141)

I have a notion that genius knows itself; that Dickinson chose her seclusion, knowing she was exceptional and knowing what she needed.

Adrienne Rich from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (160)

Emily Dickinson’s idiosyncratic relationship to words enables her to find the perfect phrase to many thoughts.

At first reading, Miss Dickinson’s word choices can jar the reader’s expectations. Her unconventional grammatical constructions often feel like typos and many of her word choices seem bizarre. But there is much sense in her method; she wrote the poems she wanted to write.

Consider the following lines:

To fight aloud is very brave—
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe—

She’s saying, of course, that active, probing reflection and contemplation are a far greater indication of courage than boisterous displays of belligerence. And the words “very brave” are delivered with verbal irony that cuts deeply into our preferred notions of “gallantry.”

But I am also interested in her choice of the word “who” at the beginning of the third line. Grammatically speaking, the word “to” is the more obvious choice. However, because “who” stands for “all those who would,” the compacted might of this syllable is delivered with considerable heft.

Dickinson’s poem If I Should Die is about the silliness of human cupidity and acquisitiveness contemplated against the backdrop of eternity:

’Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with Daisies lie—

Here’s some more caustic verbal irony: There’s nothing “sweet,” or comforting about this knowledge; it doesn’t render anyone any less dead; it doesn’t tell us that we shall be remembered fondly by loved ones.

(Note: Like many poems by Dickinson, If I Should Die is in common meter, which means it consists of alternating iambic lines of four and three feet. Here’s a quick common meter test: try singing the poem to the tune of Amazing Grace.)

The conventional metaphor about time “marching” conditions us to think of it as an unalterable, deliberate, rhythmic force, which is why the word “gurgle” in line three flusters the reader’s expectations. The poetess is reminding us that time will continue to proceed in a soft, unpredictable, melodious fashion no matter what we do.

Dickinson’s employment of the word “usual” in line six is also compelling.

Adjectives aren’t supposed to modify verbs, that’s an adverb’s job. (Of course, this is putting it rather crudely. A word is not a part of speech, a word acts as a part of speech, and usual usually acts as an adjective.) Curiously, the poem would not have suffered metrically if she had used the word usually because both usual and usually can be pronounced as trochees (two-syllable words with an accented first syllable.) Usually can be enunciated as a two-, three- or four-syllable word. However, using the word usual suggests that beaming is the sun’s quotidian task whereas usually would have implied that beaming was the sun’s normal condition. Great art is the result of such apparently minor distinctions.

The meaning-per-syllable metric is one tool for assessing a poet’s endowment; Emily Dickinson extracts riches from words with an efficacy that the greatest prospectors should envy.

If I Should Die

If I should die,
And you should live—
And time should gurgle on—
And morn should beam—
And noon should burn—
As it has usual done—
If Birds should build as early
And Bees as bustling go—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with Daisies lie—
That Commerce will continue—
And Trades as briskly fly—
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene—
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

by Richard W. Bray

Ain’t Nothin’ Better than a Dog

August 8, 2012

Rusty, Rover, Dusty, Clover, Thumper and Spike
Daphne, Dolly, Dabney, Molly, Jumper and Mike
Lucky, Franklin, Bucky, Jasmine, Happy and Bro
Sonny, Chester, Domino, Dexter, Grady and Moe

At the end of a crazy, hectic day
When you need somebody to play
Ain’t nothin’ better than a dog

Elmo, Gizmo, Ginger, Oso, Dallas and Duke
Winston, Fluffy, Waldo, Duffy, Opal and Luke
Spencer, Sparrow, Stallion, Pharaoh, Ribsy and Red
Parker, Pepper, Pedro, Viper, Apollo and Fred

When you need a faithful family friend
A dog is true and loyal to the end
Ain’t nothin’ better than a dog

Baron, Banjo, Bandit, Bingo, Lily and Zack
Groucho, Kona, Marlowe, Fiona, Lulu and Mac
Corky, Fido, Ollie, Dido, Espresso and Jet
Tobey, Yogi, Kobe, Hoagi, Boney and Babette

You might be thinking you’re real smart
But your brain is always smaller than his heart
Ain’t nothin’ better than a dog

by Richard W. Bray

Thea Saurus

August 5, 2012

Thea Saurus read her first book
When she was only two
Then she perused Ivanhoe
And the Magna Carta, too
She scanned The Life of Johnson
It took about an hour
She finished reading War and Peace
While she took a shower

By the tender age of three,
Miss Saurus earned her PhD
Ontological semiotics is
Her spesh-ee-al-i-TEA
At four she’s Chair of English
At an Ivy college
None question her credentials,
So dazzled by her knowledge

by Richard W. Bray


August 1, 2012

No love without oblivion
No courage without selfishness
No thought without sensation
No compassion without smugness
No meaning without death

It’s nothing you can bargain for
There’s just one dish to choose
You take it or you leave it
Just one way to refuse

by Richard W. Bray