Welcome to another issue of the A Way with Words newsletter!
If you weren't listening to the radio this weekend, you now have another chance to hear a discussion of the pronunciation of "eco" in eco-friendly, last-ditch vs. last-stitch, and the classic battle between affect and effect. Here it is:
This week's minicast is a doozy, too. Did you know that some people call a "bell pepper" a "mango"? Yep, it's true! Find out why:
Amelia wrote to ask about punctuating salutations in emails. "I often begin emails with 'Hi' or 'Hello' and then someone's name. … I use a comma after 'Hi' and, again, after the recipient's name. … No one else seems to do this! Instead, I see no comma between 'Hi' and the name. … This is driving me nuts. … Please help!"
Amelia, we're with you! Those kinds of salutations require commas!
There is confusion, however, caused by "dear." When you write "Dear Santa," you don't have to put a comma after "dear" because it's an adjective describing Santa, even though the "dear" is so formalized that it sometimes seems to have lost all meaning.
But for "hi," "hello," "hey," "yoohoo," and a host of other possible greetings, you *do* need the comma.
"Hey, Santa!" is definitely better than "Hey Santa!" He might leave you bales of grass.
Danielle writes to us about the expression "have your cake and eat it, too." She says, "My boyfriend insists that everyone has been saying this phrase incorrectly for decades as it makes no sense to him how you can have your cake and eat it too…but rather one should want to 'eat their cake, and have it too.' […] I insist that it doesn't matter what the word order in the phrase is, because essentially it implies the same thing either way. 'Having your cake and eating it too' or 'eating your cake and having it too.' My question then is, what is the correct way to say it? And why?"
Oh, yes, Danielle, we've heard your boyfriend's argument before. We appreciate his point of view, but we're on your side. It doesn't matter much which comes first. Order only matters if you think one is being done before the other. The two acts are simultaneous, joined by the conjunction "and." You are having and eating at the same time. If they were happening in series, one after the other, then we might phrase it as "eat your cake and THEN have it, too."
Maybe his argument is bound up in thinking that the eating is the more important part of the act. But if you've spent the time to create a beautiful cake, perhaps the having is the more important act and should come first.
Of course, there's the whole other argument about "have" sometimes meaning "eat," but we'll save that for the next time we run out of sheep to count.
Finally, two language columns worth noting:
Colleen Ross of the CBC talks about the kind of pseudo-schizophrenia that is brought on by speaking more than one language:
In the Boston Globe, Jan Freeman talks about "on the cusp." Some British language stylists prefer that "on the cusp" be used only to describe the border between two concepts, but "on the cusp" is popularly used to mean "on the brink."
Best wishes and happy birthday (if it is yours),
Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett