Office idioms

A couple of years ago, back when I tried to live a corporate life, a coworker and I were discussing how works slows down to a trickle in December. Basically, people are only thinking about the holidays, and it seems that they really don’t give a hoot about work for an entire month. (Has this been your experience, too?)

I asked him what he had been up to lately, workwise, and he said to me, “Oh, I’ve just been pushing commas around.” I thought this was the perfect way to explain the utter boredom that can come from a cubical existence and the need to at least make it look like you’re busy.

As a freelancer, I have a lot fewer opportunities to use “pushing commas around,” but I try to work it in when I can.

Do you use any idioms to explain that December workplace boredom? I would love you hear them!

How to say “turkey” across the globe

courtesy of

It’s that time of year again—a sad day for turkeys, but a gut-busting good time for human carnivores. Happy Thanksgiving, Grammar Party readers. To celebrate the holiday, I’ve collected translations of the word turkey from around the world. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to say, “Hey, could you please pass me the pulyka”?


Albanian: gjeldeti
Croatian: puretina
Czech: krocan
Dutch: kalkoen
Estonian: kalkun
French: dinde
Haitian Creole: kodenn
Hungarian: pulyka
Icelandic: kalkúnn
Indonesian: kalkun
Italian: tacchino
Latvian: tītars
Maltese: dundjan
Norweigian: kalkun
Polish: indyk
Romanian: curcan
Spanish: pavo
Swedish: kalkon

“If I were you” and other subjunctive stumpers

I promise this golden toilet will help you learn subjunctive. Image courtesy of

Lesson: using were in the past subjunctive mood

Subjunctive is difficult even for most native English speakers, mainly because it’s not a tense; it’s a mood. Past, present, future—those are tenses. We use them to tell what happened at a certain point in time. Moods, however, tell how a speaker feels about those events.

Have you ever heard a sentence starting with “If I were you”? That’s subjunctive (past subjunctive, to be exact). And past subjunctive with the word were is what we are going to talk about today.

When to use subjunctive
Before you learn how to use it correctly, you have to know when to use it.
You would use subjunctive when you want to express wishes or desires.

Example: I wish you were here.

You would also use subjunctive to express that conditions are false or unlikely.

Example: If I were rich, I would buy a golden toilet.

Was = a common mistake
Because subjunctive is so confusing, it’s common to hear people say was when they should say were.

Have you heard sentences like this before:

It would be nice if she was on vacation.
If I was her, I would dump that loser.
If he was president, he would order Ice Cream Fridays.

In each of these sentences, was should be were. The first sentence expresses a desire (“It would be nice . . .”), and the second and third sentences express false or unlikely conditions. I can’t be her, so that is a false condition. Also he is unlikely to be president, so that is an unlikely condition.

Key words and phrases
One way to figure out if you should use were instead of was is to listen for key words and phrases. Here are some giveaways that you should use subjunctive and were:

I wish that . . .
It would be nice if . . .
I would like it if . . .
It would be wonderful if . . .
It would be super amazing and totally awesome if . . .

As you can see, the above phrases all express wishes and desires. That’s a big clue that you’re dealing with subjunctive.

Another clue is if there is an if/then construction:

If I were you, then I would eat a million donuts.
If I were her, then I would ride a tricycle.
If I were him, then I would be the best drag queen.

But—there won’t always be a then with this construction. Sometimes, it is just implied, as with this example:

If I were a cat, I would step on my owner’s keyboard to piss her off while she’s trying to work.

You can note, though, that the construction is essentially the same.

Remember . . . if you are expressing wishes or desires or conditions that are false or unlikely, use were instead of was.

This quiz mixes up past tense (was) with subjunctive (were). Use the skills you’ve learned today to determine if the sentence would use was or were. The answers are at the bottom.

  1. If I _______ Mary, I would wear a lot of blue eye shadow.
  2. When I _______ seven years old, I grew a third arm.
  3. It would be fantastic if she _______ a superhero.
  4. I _______ terrible at math, and I still am.
  5. If I _______ a rockstar, my band name would be Dottie and The Ellipses.

Answers: 1. were (false condition) 2. was (past tense) 3. were (wish/desire) 4. was (past tense) 5. were (unlikely condition)

Dangerous typos spell check misses

We’ve all been there. You’re in a rush. The files are piling up on your desk. And you only have ten minutes to tackle your bursting email inbox.

Take the extra thirty seconds to reread your message (or your report or whatever you’re working on). It’s worth it.

We all know spell check misses words like two/to/too and it’s/its. But it gets worse. With a slip of the finger, your writing can go from effective to disastrous.

Take a look at these dangerous typos spell check misses.

a dress when you mean address
Example: Please send his a dress with the order form.

ass when you mean add
Example: Ass the numbers in column A.

bowel when you mean bowl
Example: I want to try a bowel of curry soup at the new Thai place tonight.

ballet when you mean ballot
Example: Next week, millions of citizens will be heading to the ballet box.

blows when you mean glows
Example: Since she got pregnant, she really blows.

busty when you mean busy
Example: Can I take a rain check? I’m really busty today.

cunt when you mean count
Example: Do you have an official cunt of the RSVPs?

damn when you mean dam
Example: There was a three-car pileup near the damn.

dick when you mean deck
Example: This gorgeous condo comes complete with a huge dick.

fat when you mean fast
Example: I am a fat learner.

fart when you mean fast
Example: I am a fart learner.

feel when you mean flee
Example: Thankfully, she was able to feel the predator.

gun when you mean gum
Example: Could you pick me up some gun on your way to the post office?

in piece when you mean in peace
Example: May grandma rest in piece.

previous when you mean precious
Example: My previous boyfriend made me so happy.

pubic when you mean public
Example: Next, the pubic defender gave his closing remarks.

rape when you mean reap
Example: Like the old adage says, “You rape what you sow.”

satan when you mean satin
Example: With your coupon, you can get ten percent off this lovely satan dress!

slut when you mean shut
Example: Teach your children to slut and lock the door.

stalking when you mean talking
Example: I was stalking to John yesterday.

tear when you mean year
Example: They will make changes at the end of the fiscal tear.

Untied States when you mean United States
Example: The Untied States spread the Occupy Wall Street movement to the globe.

whore when you mean where
Example: You want me to leave it whore?

And sometimes typos just sneak through
Huffington Post published a hilarious collection of typos that made it into newspapers. Laugh. Cry. Relish in others’ failure. But take it as a lesson that the extra moments rereading your writing are important.

Parallel Sentence Structure, Or “Getting All Piet Mondrian On Your Writing”

Lesson: improving your writing by using parallelism

In grammar, a series of related words, phrases, or clauses is considered to be parallel when each item in the series has a similar structure. This could mean, for example, nouns listed with other nouns or verbs that have the same ending and tense. Learning to write with a parallel structure will make your writing sound more professional and easy to understand.


The cats, the dogs, some birds, and the rabbits had a party.

Here we have three sets of adjectives and nouns that look similar (the cats, the dogs, and the rabbits) and one that looks different (some birds). To make this sentence parallel, we need to change “some birds” to fit the other adjective and noun sets by making it “the birds.”

Now the sentence looks like:

The cats, the dogs, the birds, and the rabbits had a party.

Similarly, sentences with more than one verb sound better when they are in a parallel structure.

First, here is a sentence with verbs that are not parallel:

Today the snakes filled their day by eating a mouse, throwing up innards, and they contemplated the meaning of life.

Since two out of three verbs have the –ing ending, the sentence would sound better and would be parallel if we changed the last verb to this ending. Also, we need to get rid of the “they” since the other verbs do not have a “they”  in front of them.

Here’s what the corrected sentence would look like:

Today the snakes filled their day by eating a mouse, throwing up innards, and contemplating the meaning of life.

Likewise, if you need to write a bulleted list, such as in a business report or your resume, it’s also wise to keep parallel structure in mind.

Here is an example of a list that is not parallel:

At my last job I:

  • Counted to ten repeatedly
  • Learned how to draw narwhals
  • Sandwiches
  • Fought a demon for the right to his daughter

The third bullet, “sandwiches,” is not parallel because it does not have a verb directly after the bullet to explain what you did with the sandwiches. To make this list parallel, it should look like this:

At my last job I:

  • Counted to ten repeatedly
  • Learned how to draw narwhals
  • Fed sandwiches to the sky
  • Fought a demon for the right to his daughter


Try rewriting these examples to put them in a parallel structure.

1. The squid seems elegant, to be phosphorescent, and low maintenance.

2. An amount of sugar, an amount of spice, and the mud make a nice pie.

3. Last quarter our product:

  • Showed increased profits
  • Enjoyed a high sales volume
  • Was only responsible for only thirty cases of hair loss

4. Running the maze in a quick manner, accurately, and skillfully is the rat’s goal.

5. Our continuing mission is: 1) to explore strange, new worlds; 2) to seek out new life and new civilizations; 3) boldly going where no man has gone before.


1. The squid seems elegant, phosphorescent, and low maintenance.

2. An amount of sugar, an amount of spice, and an amount of mud make a nice pie.

3. Last quarter our product:

  • Showed increased profit
  • Enjoyed a high sales volume
  • Led to only thirty cases of hair loss

4. Running the maze quickly, accurately, and skillfully is the rat’s goal.

5. Our continuing mission is: 1) to explore strange, new worlds; 2) to seek out new life and new civilizations; 3) to boldly go* where no man has gone before.

* Yes, I know I used a split infinitive here. Let’s save that debate for another post, shall we?