Grammar Moses: Enjoy some Thanksgiving leftovers
I hope you like leftovers!
I write this with the promise of leftovers still a week away.
As you read this, I will be returning from a column-foraging expedition to Tennessee. I hope to bring home some souvenirs.
So please enjoy a couple of old favorites as you try to digest what's left in the fridge.
Put away the apostrophe
If you've read this column for a while, you might remember my bringing up the subject of addressing holiday cards just before Thanksgiving. I apologize if you've lost your taste for leftovers, but if last year's batch of Christmas cards delivered to Casa de Baumann is any indication, this subject bears repeating.
Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are coming up, and you might be inclined to send greeting cards. If you're like many of the people who send them to me, you've already dressed the little ones in red velvet and tinsel for the portrait that will be turned into a photo card.
Before you send it to the printer or fill out that first envelope, some words of caution: Unless you're Irish or French, chances are you don't have an apostrophe in your surname.
If you're addressing a card to Reggie and Gertrude Jones and the nine children in their blended family but don't want to name them all, don't write The Jones' family, The Jones' or The Joneses'.
Or The O'Toole's', for that matter.
An apostrophe implies possession. What you're aiming for is a simple plural.
Address it to either to The Jones family or The Joneses.
But you shouldn't always try to keep up with the Joneses.
To make a name plural, simply add an -es if the name ends with an s, an x or a z. Or if it ends with a "ch" or "sh" sound.
Otherwise, simply add an -s.
To serve man
Though it was first aired two months before my birth, "To Serve Man" remains my favorite episode of "The Twilight Zone."
It's likely because of the satisfying ironic ending that even as a youngster I foresaw.
You remember the one: 7-foot-2 Richard Kiel, who would go on to play the heavy in a couple of James Bond films, plays a Kanamit, a race of alien giants. He visits Earth during a time of great upheaval here -- famine, energy shortages and nuclear proliferation -- and offers the United Nations ways to ease strife with the Kanamits' advanced technology.
He leaves behind a book in his native language that earthly cryptographers set to work deciphering.
We soon learn that the title is "To Serve Man."
Great, everyone thinks, they're here to help.
The humans try the technology, and it works. The Kanamits start arranging visits to their home planet so we can learn more about them.
As our lead character -- the cryptographer -- starts to board the spaceship, one of the code breakers shouts: "Mr. Chambers, don't get on that ship! The rest of the book 'To Serve Man,' it's ... it's a cookbook!"
Huzzah! There is more than one definition of "to serve." In this case, the assumption was that the Kanamits wanted to perform duties for Earthlings. In reality, the book was filled with recipes for how to prepare them for brunch.
I once wrote about the lifesaving qualities of commas. Consider the change in meaning of "Let's eat, Grandma" if you were to remove the comma. Or "Have you eaten, my child?"
Both of these are cases of cannibalism. The "Twilight Zone" episode, however, is not. Cannibalism is specifically intraspecies snacking, and the Kanamits were not Homo sapiens.
• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at
grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.