Category Archives: Dr. Language Guy

Beestys and Fowlys


Dr. Language Guy here.

It has come to my attention that many of you face a grammatical dilemma when encountering strange wildlife in your own backyard. Now I know that, if you sight wolves, deer or locusts, you will immediately call out “There is a pack of wolves or a herd of deer or a plague of locusts in my backyard!”  Packs are common to a number of creatures – wolves, hounds and other dogs – as are herds – asses, buffalo, deer, elephants, giraffes, moose and zebras.  Plagues only apply to locusts and politicians.

But what do you say if, for examples, you encounter baboons, sheldrake or wombats? Never fear. Thanks to the Book of Saint Albans of 1486 entitled Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, aided by Wikipedia and abcteach, you will correctly and properly identify any group of animals that cross your path.  The animals will respect you for this attention to detail.

A Troop of Baboons

A Sedge of Bitterns

A Sounding of Boars

A Drove of Bullocks

A Tok of Capercaillie

A Quiver of Cobras

A Covert of Coots

A Bask of Crocodiles

A Murder of Crows

A Trip of Dotterel

A Fling of Dunlins

A Mob of Emus

A Fesnyng of Ferrets

A Bloat of Hippopotamuses

A Clattering of Jackdaws

A Deceit of Lapwings

An Ascension of Larks

A Plump of Moorhens

A Pod of Pelicans

An Ostentation of Peacocks

A Congregation of Plovers

A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes

A Crash of Rhinoceros

A Dopping of Sheldrake

A Walk of Snipes

A Pitying of Turtle Doves

A Wisdom of Wombats


A WTF? of Weird Wildlife


We should start applying such terms to groups of people as well:

A Brace of Bloggers

A Klump of Kardashians

A Really Good Deal of Used Car Salesmen.

Do you have any suggestions?


Once again FOAF has come to the rescue, this time from Facebook:



An incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a diffident meaning – possibly fuelled by a deep-seeded desire to sound more educated, witch results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one.  In academia, such flaunting of common social morays is seen as almost sorted and might result in the offender becoming a piranha, in the Monday world, after all is set and done, such a miner era will often leave normal people unphased.  This is just as well sense people of that elk are unlikely to tow the line irregardless of any attempt to better educate them.  A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acyrologiaphobia, and it is their upmost desire to see English used properly.  Exposure may cause them symptoms that resemble post-dramatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into whole-sale outrage as they go star-craving mad.  Eventually, they will succumb to the stings and arrows of such a barrage, and suffer a complete metal breakdown, leaving them curled up in the feeble position.


Dr. Language Guy Confesses

Dr LG Confesses


Penitent Dr. LG:  Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Reproachful Priest:  How long has it been since your last confession?


Penitent Dr. LG:  Uh… well… it’s been a while.

Reproachful Priest:  That is okay, my son.  Tell me of your sins.


Penitent Dr. LG:

Oh Father my sins are many.  I have tried to serve as a language maven but I have given misguided directions to my followers.  I have instructed them in better writing and diction but I have fallen victim to doubts and uncertainty.  I am beckoned by the siren calls of language change against which I have asked them to resist.  Not only that, these ideas seem to me quite normal and ones that should be incorporated into modern writing in place of their more stylistic but perhaps dated earlier forms.

Reproachful Priest:  ?


Penitent Dr. LG:  Let me give you some examples of my transgressions.  I speak of the Oxford comma, the placement of quotation marks inside punctuation marks, and the split infinitive.

Reproachful Priest:  ??


Penitent Dr. LG:

I’ll start with the Oxford comma.  As you may know, the Oxford comma (also called the Harvard comma or serial comma) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and, or, or nor) in a series of three or more terms.  For example, we may punctuate three items as “A, B, and C” (with the serial comma) or “A, B and C” (without the serial comma).  Long have I railed against the use of the serial comma as unnecessary.  While the Associated Press Stylebook advises against it, many other style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual advocate its use.  How can I disagree with such an auspicious group?1

1 portions excerpted from Wikipedia

Then there is the placement of punctuation marks outside of quotation marks.  I have been told that “periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.”  Yet, fewer and fewer writers do this and I have a hard time explaining why they should.  Isn’t it easier to let the quotation marks set off the quoted or emphasized phrase and then end with the terminating punctuation mark?  Oh I fear these voices.

These same voices tell me that it matters not that I split my infinitives!  Is it any improvement or difference, they say, “to go boldy” than “to boldy go” where no writer has gone before?  The evil voices are winning, Father, they are winning.

Oh and I don’t even want to tell you how I refuse to give up the long-established habit of placing two spaces instead of one between sentences.  I know it’s wasteful of space but I cannot help but believe it gives better readability and I’m here to confess these and many other sins too numerous to mention.

Reproachful Priest:  [After a long pause]  I believe that you are at the wrong confessional, my son.


Penitent Dr. LG:  Well, did I confess to you about how I once thought that Steven Seagal was a good actor?

Reproachful Priest:  I’m listening…

Dr. Language Guy Returneth


The English language is rich, complex and idiosyncratic, filled with nearly a million words.  Yet, most of us – me – constrain ourselves to three to four thousand at most.  Although we should attempt to broaden our base of words, there are some words and phrases that we should just not use.

No, I don’t mean George Carlin’s The Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television.  A number of you drop f-bombs left and right.  Even I do occasionally, just not as effectively.

No, I mean those archaic forms or trite phrases that we don’t ever get right.  Ever.

Whence and Thence

Whence means from what place; from where.  Thence means from that place or therefrom.  Since the ‘from’ is already included, there is no need to add it in a sentence but we invariably do.  If noted authorities like the English legal system and author Jane Austen can’t get these words correct, what chance do we have?

“You shall be taken to the place from whence you came, and then hence to a place of lawful execution, and there you shall be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and afterwards your body shall be buried in a common grave within the precincts of the prison wherein you were last confined before your execution, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

–The formal death sentence of the English legal system

“Away ran the girls, too eager to get in to have time for speech.  They ran from the vestibule into the breakfast-room, from thence to the library …”

–Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

From whence translates literally as ‘from from where’ and from thence as ‘from from that place.’  It’s nonsensical and redundant.  So, unless you are giving a formal death sentence (appropriate in certain circumstances) or speaking in literary circles like Jane Austen’s World, don’t use these words.  You’ll get them wrong.

Whilst and Amongst

Okay, you can use these words.  Whilst means while; amongst means among.  I just prefer while and among.  However, amongst friends, you may use these words whilst writing.

They control their own destiny.

How many times do I have to hear this phrase from ex-jock commentators?  “This team controls its own destiny.”  Even commencement speakers, like Dr. Oz, tell students “to control their destiny.”  Oh, yeah?  Destiny is defined as ‘the seemingly inevitable or necessary succession of events.’  If it’s inevitable, how can you control it?  You can’t.  Maybe you can affect your future but you cannot control your destiny.

It fell between the cracks.

“This legislation fell between the cracks” says some late night political pundit.  The space between the cracks is filled.  Between is defined as ‘in or through the space that separate two things.’  The space that separates two cracks in the floor is the solid area of the floor.  If something falls and is lost, it falls into the cracks, not between them.

Whilst you ponder on these words of wisdom before they fall between the cracks, Dr. Language Guy, in control of his own destiny, returneth from whence he came.

Dr. Language Guy

It is I, Dr. Language Guy.

In words used to describe the late TV journalist Edwin Newman, Dr. Language Guy is “a lone literary warrior fighting the encroaching barbarism of imprecise and fraudulent language.”  Dr. Language Guy is eternally vigilant, steadfastly determined and should not be confused with that unrepentant grouch, Curmudgeon-at-Large, or various other persona that I assume when I get befuddled or the moon is full.

My inspiration for this idea came directly from Dave Berry.  While he would understand the need for more than one person to be on constant alert for poor language and grammar, I need to finish my article before the cease and desist order arrives.

Whenever Dr. Language Guy sees or hears a badly phrased sentence, usually by ex-jock TV commentators or by political contenders, but now more and more by the mainstream (lamestream?) media – spoken and print, his teeth grind, his ears ache, his spine shivers, his loins gird, his hackles rise, his knees wobble: Dr. Language Guy is an anatomical mess.

Here are a few examples that send Dr. Language Guy to the medicine cabinet.

1.  The Federal Reserve plans to reshuffle its portfolio of securities to try and lower long-term rates.   (MSNBC/Associated Press, Nov 2011)

When did we, as confident, determined English-speaking nations (that includes you, Canada), decide that we would collectively “try and do” something instead of “try to” do something?  If we try and lower long-term rates, haven’t we succeeded in lowering them?  Aren’t we just trying to lower them?  Better yet, just lower them and be done with it.

2.  She described the scene of her parents sitting she and her sister down … (daily mail online UK, Dec 27, 2011)

Why is the context of subject and object so hard?  As a subject, it’s I, she, and he whether alone or together.  I sat down.  My sister and I sat down.  As an object, it’s me, her and him.  Her parents sat me down.  Her parents sat her sister and me down.  I believe that writers and speakers feel that I/she/he sounds more impressive than me/her/him.  By the way, I/me comes last.  It’s “between her and me” not “between me and her.”  Aarrgghh!

3.  “Any person could of been these victims.” (posting to WJLA website, Jan 3, 2012)

Yes, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront “coulda been a contender” but the rest of us could have, instead of ”could of,” done better in our grammar.  Double aarrgghh!!

4.  Profiteering off Steve Jobs’ death.  (CBS News 2012)

When did we start profiteering off instead of profiteering from?  When and why did off and out of become preferred to from?

5.  Impacted and conflicted instead of affected

This usage affects me.  It doesn’t impact me and I am affected by it, not conflicted by it.  I know that we often confuse affect (to influence somebody or something) with effect (to succeed in making or doing something) but is this any reason to discard a good word entirely and replace it with, in my opinion, lesser ones?  I didn’t think so.

You will be impacted by a cannonball:  You will be affected by bad grammar.

6.  The misplaced modifying phrase

“Members of the Memory Café at a United Methodist Church work on a puzzle, which aims to help the patients and caregivers suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.”  (from a regional newspaper, July 2012)

I am sorry to read that the caregivers are suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.  They would probably be better caregivers if they were healthier or if the modifying phrase were correctly placed.

In closing, I quote an avid reader – the only one I have – who writes: “Who do we thank for the pitiful state of modern American English?”

To which Dr. Language Guy replies “WHOM do we thank …!”