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The Intelligent Conversationalist
31 Cheat Sheets That Will Show You How to Talk to Anyone About Anything, Anytime
By Imogen Lloyd Webber
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Imogen Lloyd Webber
All rights reserved.
SUBJECT ONE — ENGLISH LANGUAGE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE SUMMARY
The key theme to keep in mind is that unless your spelling and grammar are accurate and your vocabulary is appropriate, you will find it impossible to win any debate. That is to say, if you use arguement, you've lost the argument, end of. Speaking of winning, the word xenon (a chemical element) may save you at Scrabble one day. And a pivot to stop an unseemly disagreement? Try "What's been your funniest ever autocorrect?" We all love it when we can blame technology, not ourselves.
We begin with the basis of communication in North America, the UK, and many places around the world — the English language. Incorrect usage will automatically negate any opinion you opine and indeed possibly lose you the job — or sexual partner — of your dreams. I ran into problems with the big tribute I wrote about Margaret Thatcher when she died. I made a typo, using concurrent instead of consecutive about her three terms in office. I probably didn't lose any sex over the error, but from the comments underneath the piece, possibly jobs and certainly reputation.
This series of Cheat Sheets aims to prevent such minor catastrophes, focusing on the most common and embarrassing errors. Convinced that you never make mistakes such as mine? Take the following pop quiz.
ENGLISH POP QUIZ
1. Definitely or definately?
2. Do you lose or loose your virginity?
3. Fever affects or effects your temperature?
4. Is it "It's a shame" or "Its a shame"?
5. Should it be "to boldly go where no man has gone before" or "to go where no man has gone before"?
6. What does a Brit hear when you say they are "quite pretty"?
7. What do you say to get someone to shut up and listen?
Correct answers: 1. Definitely. 2. Lose. 3. Affect. 4. It's. 5. Star Trek is wrong: The boldly is an offense (to some) against grammar. 6. You think they're fugly. 7. "Surely it's no coincidence that the word listen is an anagram of the word silent."
Perhaps it's worth having a quick skim read of this subject, just in case? Bad puns are pretty much the only excuse for bad spelling, and they're unlikely to further your career or love life unless you're the New York Post's headline writer.
Our first Cheat Sheet examines spelling. Nobody is asking you to be spelling bee champion, and yes, English is an impossibly inconsistent language — urban legend has it that 923 words break the "i before e" rule and only 44 follow it — but to make basic spelling errors in the age of spell-check is unforgivable unless you are one of the 10 to 15 percent of Americans who are dyslexic. We will thus take a look at the most common words that people seem to ignore spell-check on and also homophones, words that are pronounced alike but different in meaning.
Our second Cheat Sheet is an index of common grammatical terms and errors. We're not going to get bogged down on the minutiae here. We'll give you just enough to make sure you don't irritate a pedant you need on side by splitting an infinitive or using an apostrophe in an ill-informed way. We also quickly "remind" you of the difference between verbs, adverbs, and such like.
Cheat Sheet 3 will focus on how, as George Bernard Shaw is widely attributed to have remarked, the United States and Great Britain are "separated by a common language." A portion of the blame can land at the feet of Noah Webster, he of the dictionary fame. Webster was all about asserting America's cultural independence through tweaking the language and believing words should be spelled as they sound. However, we won't be focusing so much on spelling or grammar. Let's be honest: The get/gotten and quotation-mark debates or the use of the phrase "I could care less" when it should be "I couldn't care less" will not destroy Anglo-American relations. Instead we will look at a number of words, especially those involving the police, sex, and alcohol, that have very different meanings to British and American ears. We highlight them to avoid unintended and unfortunate consequences.
The fourth and final Cheat Sheet under the banner of the English language will encompass a list of impressive words and one-liners to drop into any sort of communication and provide some methods to get you out of any oratory holes you may have dug for yourself. Of course, the most important thing to keep in mind is this: Never, ever use like or you know unless Shakespeare would have felt the need to.
English literature, in the form of Cheat Sheets on authors and theater, is covered under culture, for here we are still covering the basics. The subject after this one must therefore be math. Sorry. Money makes the world go round and all that.
If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.
— Doug Larson
CHEAT SHEET 1 — SPELLING
SPELLING DISPUTE INTERPRETATIONS
Affect/Effect An affect is an influence. An effect is a result. So an affect causes an effect. "Twitter affects people's egos in a negative way." "Twitter's effects can also be positive." There are exceptions, it's English; blame the baffling Brits. If in any doubt, Google your phrase BEFORE you press send.
Allude/Elude Allude is to hint. Elude is to escape.
A Lot/Allot It is NEVER alot. A lot means to a large extent. Allot means to allocate something.
Altar/Alter You'll find an altar in a church. You can't alter that.
Anyone/Any one Anyone is referring to any person, often multiple people: "Anyone can buy my book." Any one refers to a single person: "Any one of my friends can buy my book."
Ascent/Assent You have to assent, agree, to climb a mountain, an ascent.
Argument Use arguement and you've lost the argument, end of.
Aural/Oral Aural relates to what you hear, oral to the mouth.
Bachelor You're liable to remain a batchelor if you spell this wrong in a communiqué to your beloved.
Bare/Bear Bare skin involves fur removal. A bear is furry.
Bridal/Bridle A bridle is for horses. The bride may look like a horse, but the bridal party won't be happy if they hear you say that.
Canopy/Canapé You eat canapés under a canopy at a wedding.
Censer/Censor/Sensor A censer is a container for incense. A censor is something Americans don't take too kindly to, as it's against free speech. Triggering a sensor sets alarm bells off.
Columbus Spell it Colombus and it's clear you're not really American, are you?
Coolly It is not cool to omit the second L on this one.
Connecticut The thinking man's Mississippi, as everyone knows to spell-check that. It is not spelled how it is said — Conneticut. It has an extra C.
Chauvinism Use chauvanism and you've lost the argument, which was probably pretty brutal if you're on the topic anyway.
Chord/Cord You use chords in music, cords in sex games.
Definite/Definitely Definitive, finite, decision. You are an ignorant idiot if you use definately.
Desert/Dessert Desert — full of sand. Dessert — full of sugar. If a restaurant gets this wrong, you need to desert it before it gives you food poisoning.
Desperate You write desparate and it's grounds for your spouse to separate from you.
Discreet/Discrete Discreet — what you try to be when you're having an affair. Discrete means distinct.
Elicit/Illicit "She was trying to elicit a response from him when she had an illicit affair."
Gorilla/Guerrilla Gorillas are animals. Humans involved with guerrilla warfare may be acting like animals, but they still receive a different spelling.
Grateful Your spell-check is right, it is not greatful. Be grateful for that. that.
Hangar/Hanger Hangars are for airplanes. Hangers are for evening dresses.
Heroin/Heroine Tragic heroines may end up junkies on heroin.
Eminent/Immanent/Imminent Eminent refers to those who are respected. Immanent is rarer and means inherent. Imminent means threatening.
Independent Don't go independent of the spell-check here. Trust it. It really isn't independant.
Lightning Lightning doesn't strike twice. Spell-check is right, it isn't lightening.
Loose, Lose, Loser You're a loser if you get this wrong. You lose your virginity. As a Desperate Housewife, to spice up your sex life, you may play around with loose handcuffs.
Misspell It is not mispell. It is miss + spell = misspell.
Principal/Principle The school principal will teach you principles to live by.
Retch/Wretch Retching, vomiting, makes you feel wretched.
Site/Sight A site is a location you visit. Sight refers to your sense of vision.
Stationary/Stationery Stationary is what you are most of the time in an NYC cab — stopped. You go to buy envelopes in the stationery section at Staples.
Their/There Their is possessive. It is about ownership: "their penthouse." There refers to a place: "the penthouse over there." "They're" is covered in the grammar (apostrophe) section.
Too/To/Two There's too much on your to do list. Task number two is especially tricky.
Tragedy Tradgedy. That extra D is tragic, especially if you're also using it in the word "privilege."
Wether/Weather/Whether Whether you need an umbrella depends on the weather. A wether is a castrated sheep — vaguely bringing up bestiality in conversation still isn't the done thing, so best avoid.
Whined/Wind/Wined Wind can make you whine if it ruins your hair. You will also whine if the wine is corked.
A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the other one.
— Baltasar Gracián
SOCIAL SURVIVAL STRATEGY
Argument: "Use arguement and you've lost the argument, end of."
You will obviously be utilizing this Cheat Sheet for when you are deploying the written word. Keep in mind that anyone who makes a spelling or grammatical error instantly renders the point they are making pointless. This is how Piers Morgan wins so many of his Twitter fights — he may be in the wrong, but his good grasp of the English language allows him to embarrass his opponents into if not submission, mild humiliation. Triple-check before you post or press send — you can never be too careful.
Crisp Fact: "You use chords in music, cords in sex games."
If you're floundering, counter with a fact about the spelling of a word or the word itself. It'll take the sting out of the situation.
Pivot: "What's been your funniest ever autocorrect?"
Made a mistake? Try blaming autocorrect. People almost always have an amusing anecdote about theirs or an acquaintance's.
Excerpted from The Intelligent Conversationalist by Imogen Lloyd Webber. Copyright © 2016 Imogen Lloyd Webber. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
SUBJECT ONE — ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
Cheat Sheet 1 — Spelling,
Cheat Sheet 2 — Grammar,
Cheat Sheet 3 — Separated by a Common Language — English and American,
Cheat Sheet 4 — Debate,
SUBJECT TWO — MATH AND ECONOMICS,
Cheat Sheet 5 — History of Money,
Cheat Sheet 6 — Economists,
Cheat Sheet 7 — A Quick Guide to the Credit Crunch (c. 2008) and Eurogeddon (Still Going),
Cheat Sheet 8 — American Dreamers — the Good, the Bad, and the Aha!,
SUBJECT THREE — RELIGION,
Cheat Sheet 9 — Religions,
Cheat Sheet 10 — Religious Holidays,
Cheat Sheet 11 — Religion Is No Excuse,
SUBJECT FOUR — HISTORY,
Cheat Sheet 12 — Basic American Beginnings,
Cheat Sheet 13 — Grid of American Presidents,
Cheat Sheet 14 — American Imperialism,
Cheat Sheet 15 — Grid of Kings and Queens of England from 1066,
Cheat Sheet 16 — World War I, World War II, and the Cold War,
Cheat Sheet 17 — Middle Eastern History,
SUBJECT FIVE — POLITICS,
Cheat Sheet 18 — The American Constitution,
Cheat Sheet 19 — American Law,
Cheat Sheet 20 — Political Scandals,
Cheat Sheet 21 — Elections,
SUBJECT SIX — GEOGRAPHY,
Cheat Sheet 22 — Map One: World Map,
Cheat Sheet 23 — Map Two: Nuclear Weapons,
SUBJECT SEVEN — BIOLOGY, AKA SEX AND GENDER,
Cheat Sheet 24 — Life and Death,
Cheat Sheet 25 — Feminism,
Cheat Sheet 26 — Homosexuality,
SUBJECT EIGHT — CULTURE,
Cheat Sheet 27 — Authors You Need to Know About,
Cheat Sheet 28 — Artists You Need to Know About,
Cheat Sheet 29 — Composers You Need to Know About,
Cheat Sheet 30 — Theater,
Cheat Sheet 31 — Awards Season Conversation,
Also by Imogen Lloyd Webber,
About the Author,