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Kiss My Asterisk: A Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar

Kiss My Asterisk: A Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar

by Jenny Baranick


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Grammar has finally let its hair down! Unlike uptight grammar books that overwhelm us with every single grammar rule, Kiss My Asterisk is like a bikini: it’s fun, flirty, and covers only the most important bits. Its lessons, which are 100 percent free of complicated grammar jargon, have been carefully selected to include today’s most common, noticeable errors—the ones that confuse our readers or make them wonder if we are, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader. What is the proper use of an apostrophe? When should an ellipsis be used instead of an em dash? Why do we capitalize President Obama but not “the president”? And why is that question mark placed outside of the end quote?

Author Jenny Baranick is an English professor whose students can’t believe she’s actually that into grammar. Upon experiencing the joys of grammar at an early age, raising grammar awareness became Jenny’s raison d’être. By spreading her remarkably user-friendly and hilarious approach to grammar, she hopes everyone will experience the satisfaction of a properly placed comma, a precisely used semicolon, and a correctly deployed en dash.

Kiss My Asterisk shows grammar as it’s never been seen before: uncomplicated, laugh-out-loud funny, and, dare we say, a little risqué.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510738782
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 01/22/2018
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jenny Baranick: Jenny Baranick teaches English composition, critical thinking, and a remedial English class called Writing Skills at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Consistently shocked at the poor grammar of her students, in January 2010, Jenny started her popular Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares blog. She lives in Great Neck, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Kiss My Asterisk

A Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar

By Jenny Baranick

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Jenny Baranick
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62914-118-3


Know Thyself: Spelling

Spelling can be as elusive as the female orgasm. We spell a word, and we think, "Oooh, I think that's it. Wait ... no. Let me just. Oh there, maybe that's it. No. Oh, I don't know ... I'm exhausted." And then, especially if we're in a hurry, we click send, and off goes that email leaving us with that unsatisfied feeling.

And who can really blame us? Society hasn't exactly promoted healthy spelling exploration. We were raised with spell check. And the English language sticks to its spelling rules, such as i before e except after c, about as strictly as we follow the no cell phones while driving rule. However, until the need for correct spelling becomes as obsolete as chivalry, we must learn how to do it; otherwise, we will appear unprofessional, and people may laugh at us and, in extreme cases, have no idea what word we are trying to spell.

The Misspelling Bee

Let's play a game. Below are ten words misspelled by my students. See if you can figure out what these words are supposed to be.

1. Whorable

2. Thoughs

3. Scariface

4. Nicly

5. Describetion

6. Privage

7. Celeberde

8. Sapose

9. Keith Legure

10. Sicite

Now, this might be cute if these words were misspelled by first or second graders, but these are college students we're talking about here. It's not safe to go out into the real world with such poor spelling skills. Imagine writing an email to a colleague expressing that you feel whorable today. You might be expected to show up to that day's meeting wearing thigh-high boots and a leather miniskirt (and may be asked what you will do for $100).

I know what you're thinking: spell check will come to my rescue. Spell check is great. Use it! Please!!! But don't use it as your only form of protection. Trust me: a few stragglers always get through.

Now, don't worry; I've got some ways for you to make sure your words are spelled correctly. And the bad news is all of these things I am about to suggest take time and energy. No quick fixes here. Just what you wanted to hear, right? The good news, however, is that you won't have to make any more of thoughs whorable scarifaces.

Spelling Strategy 1: Decent Exposure

I just visited my friend, and while I was at her house, her seven-year-old daughter and her friend asked if they could do a dance performance for me. "Sure," I said. This should be cute, I thought to myself, remembering when my sister and I used to make up dances to songs by Wham and The Go-Go's.

Cute isn't quite the word I would use to describe the experience. Let's just say there should have been a pole in the middle of the room. These girls were shaking their hips, splitting their legs, and writhing around on the ground like they were auditioning for Striptease 2:The Prequel.

Of course, it's not their fault: they're only copying what they see Britney Spears and Lady Gaga do on MTV. But this got me thinking: because of the human tendency to emulate what we're exposed to, to counteract the whorable spelling we encounter daily on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, we must make time to expose ourselves to writing that contains good, solid spelling, lest we start absorbing only the misspellings.

We don't have to read Shakespeare or anything fancy. (Actually, reading Shakespeare would screw up our spelling more because we'd be writing walkedst instead of walked.) But, like we take time out of the day to go to the gym to counteract the potato chips and beer and chocolate, we need to make time to read something that has actually been edited. It doesn't have to be fancy literature. Reading an article a day from Men's Health or Vogue will do the trick. There are also plenty of well-written online sources. Even celebrity gossip site TMZ contains correct spelling. And I think I recall my husband telling me that Playboy has some really great articles.

Spelling Strategy 2: Vanity

Have you ever shown up to school or work with your shirt on inside out or backward? I haven't. You know why? Because I spend A LOT of time in front of the mirror checking myself out. That's right; I am terribly vain. Sure, I have to endure my husband constantly yelling at me to get going, and yes, sometimes I have to sneak past my boss because I'm late to work, but at least my tag's never in the front.

Be vain about your writing. Look it over obsessively so you don't make any silly spelling mistakes. For example, I received an essay that had my name spelled as Ms. Break Neck instead of Ms. Baranick. I thought mystudent was trying to be funny, so next to it I wrote, "Just doing my job." When my student got her paper back, though, her face went red. She hadn't meant to write that at all; my last name was auto-corrected, and she failed to catch it. I've also received essays about t-shits and pubicity. (I know pubicity is publicity misspell ed, but I like to think of it as a new word that means people who gain publicity by exposing their pubic region.)

Spelling Strategy 3: Know Thyself

Have you ever watched hour after hour of American Idol auditions? No? Um ... me neither. I just happened to be flipping through the channels one day, and I caught some of it, but I swear I never watch it. But that ONE time I did watch American Idol, I found myself shocked by how little self-awareness most of the people who auditioned had. I mean, they were really, really pitchy, dawgs.

Surely most of us are more self-aware than the contestants who sound like a cat whose tail has just been stepped on. For example, when you aren't sure how to spell a word, don't you feel that uncertainty in your gut? The question is what do most of us do when we get that feeling? Phone a friend for guidance? Grab our pocket dictionary out of our pocket? I am going to venture that we cross our fingers that we spelled it correctly and keep going.

So, here's the big question: If we don't know how to spell a word, how can we even be expected to find it in the dictionary so we can spell it correctly?

Okay, first of all, let's not be unrealistic. Dictionaries are like vitamins and floss; we buy them and then never use them. Even I, an English teacher, a lover of words, have a huge dictionary on my desk, and I never, ever open it. Believe me, it's not because I know how to spell every word in the English language. But, when I don't know how to spell a word, I don't turn to Webster; I turn to Google.

How many times have you Googled something like

Matthew Mac Conaheys abbs?

Then, Google asks, Did you mean: Matthew McConaughey's abs?

You think to yourself, Thanks Google. I would never have known how to spell that crazy last name; he totally should have changed it to something simpler when he got famous like Jennifer Annasstakis did when she became Jennifer Aniston. Now, take me to those abs ...

Google is better than the dictionary for those times when you absolutely have no idea how to spell a word. For example, a colleague called me the other day and asked me how to spell inebriated (true story) after all of her attempts were underlined in red. I gave her the correct spelling, and she said, "Oh, I thought it started with an e." (What was she, inebriated?) She would never have found it under E in the dictionary, but Google would have been able to help her. If she had Google searched enebriated, it would have asked her:

Did you mean: inebriated?

Basically, Google knows what we mean to say better than we do. So, gentlemen, next time you are confused about something your girlfriend says, just type it into Google. It will know what she means. Let's try it: I'm fine. NOTHING'S wrong!

Did you mean: Something is definitely wrong, but I expect you to know what it is?

Another reason not to rely on spell check is because it's also kind of lazy. It's like that restaurant hostess who responds to your request for a glass of water with "I'll get your server for you."

Spell check will happily do its job and check our spelling for us, but what it will not always do is alert us when we spell a word correctly but use the wrong form of it. If, for example, we incorrectly used "affect" instead of "effect," spell check glides right past it without even as much as a red line, shrugs its shoulders, and says to itself, "It's spelled correctly. My job here is done."

So while spell check is off sipping daiquiris in the Bahamas, we need to figure out a way to differentiate between these confusing words. The firststep is to know thine enemies. Now, I'm going to be honest with you: we are surrounded by enemies. There are so many words in the English language that look alike and/or sound alike. The good news is that only a handful of them are lethal. By lethal, I mean that these are the ones we use all the time that really irritate our bosses or turn off prospective employers, the ones that make people snicker at our writing as they think, "Geez, didn't they learn this stuff in the third grade?" They're not complicated words, just a bit tricky. Ladies and gentlemen, meet thine enemies, the Dirty Dozen:

1. Lose/Loose

2. Lay/Lie

3. Affect/Effect

4. Suppose/Supposed

5. Use/Used

6. Accept/Except

7. Weather/Whether

8. Than/Then

9. To/Too/Two

10. There/Their/They're

11. Your/You're

12. Its/It's

Now, let's attack!


Lose: Misplace or not win

Loose: Not tight

What do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, David Letterman, Jesse James, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Jon Gosselin, Ryan Phillippe, Mel Gibson, and Hugh Grant have in common?

They're all men and they're all cheaters.

Well, cheer up, ladies; it's not as bad as you think. A new study shows that the gender cheating gap is closing. Women are reportedly cheating almost as much as men.

Isn't that great news? I love equality!

All this sleeping around really helps me understand a phenomenon that I've been struggling to understand for quite a while. I've always known that mixing up the words lose and loose is a common error. What I could never understand was why we tend to overuse loose. People more often use loose when they should be using lose rather than the other way around.

Now it makes sense. Because everyone is so sexually loose, they are subconsciously expressing it when they write. Don't give yourself away through your writing. When you use the word loose, make sure you mean one of the following things:

Not tight-fitting:

I had to take off my wedding ring because it was too loose.


We loosely adhere to our wedding vows.


Men and women are equally loose.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to let my husband out of his cage for dinner. In this promiscuous climate, I simply can't risk letting him loose.


Lay: To put or place in a horizontal position or position of rest

Lie: To assume a horizontal or prostrate position

When someone says that he or she wants to get laid, do you know what it means? Yes, it means that, but do you know what it says about that person? It says that the person is lazy — that he or she is just going to lie there and not do any of the work.

To understand why it means that, we must first understand the difference between lay and lie.

The difference between lay and lie is like the difference between sadism and masochism: one means doing something to someone (or something) else, while the other means doing it to oneself.

So if we think of it that way, then lay is the sadist — because we use it when we are putting or placing someone or something else down:

Please just lay the leather whip down by the handcuffs.

The leather whip is being placed down.

The reason that people who want to "get laid" are lazy is because laid is the past tense of lay. Therefore, it means they want someone else to do it to them.

Lie, on the other hand, is when one places oneself down:

She told him to lie down on the floor and bark like a dog.

In this case, he reclined himself.

Speaking of sadism, the person who created the past tense of lie must have been a total sadist. Guess what the past tense of lie is? It's lay. How painfully confusing is that! Maybe some examples of the past tense of lay and lie will ease the pain:

(Lay) Yesterday, he laid the leather whip down by the handcuffs.

(Lie) Five minutes ago, she told him to lay down on the floor and bark like a dog.

Or maybe some of you masochists out there like the pain.


Affect: To produce a change in

Effect: Something that is produced, a result or consequence

Before 2002, Ben Affleck was merely an Oscarwinning screenwriter and celebrated actor. However, after he and Jennifer Lopez started dating in 2002, he became something much more interesting: he became a verb. His high-profile relationship with J. Lo was largely regarded as a terrible career and reputation move, which resulted in the Urban Dictionary defining affleck in the following way: to completely screw up, to ruin one's life, to make a really bad decision.

Thus, one might say:

Ben afflecked when he signed on to costar in Gigli with Jennifer Lopez.

While this is an unfortunate association for Mr. Affleck, it's fortunate for us. Remembering that affleck is a verb will help us differentiate between affect and effect because, like affleck, which also starts with aff, affect is a verb. It means to produce a change in.

Gigli temporarily affected Ben Affleck's career success.

How did it affect him? His three roles following Gigli earned him nominations for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor.

Effect, on the other hand, is a noun. It's a thing that is produced — a result or consequence.

Watching Gigli had a profound effect on me.

The effect was that it makes me cringe whenever I think that I will never get those 121 minutes of my life back.


Suppose: To consider something as a possibility

Supposed: Expected or obliged to

The fact that so many of us use suppose when we should, in fact, be using supposed is not surprising in a time when the marriage rate is at an all-time low. What's the connection? Well, this is an error that is clearly made by commitment-phobes.

Suppose without the d is a totally noncommittal word. When we use it, it means that we will consider something, but there's no obligation attached. Supposed, on the other hand, is a word that acknowledges that there is some kind of obligation attached — something that commitment-phobes hate to acknowledge.

Lacks commitment: I suppose I could marry Dan.

Acknowledges commitment: I'm supposed to marry Dan.

The word supposed is like another word that commitment-phobes hate: should. If you admit that you're supposed to do something, then you've acknowledged that you should be doing it. Therefore, a good way to remember to add the d in supposed is to remember that should also ends in a d.

Your commitment phobia is already breaking your mother's heart; don't let it ruin your grammar.


Use: To employ for some purpose

Used: Accustomed to/happened regularly in the past

Like suppose and supposed, the mistake we tend to make with these two words is leaving off the d. Consequently, we write use when we should be writing used. However, it's not commitment-phobes who make this error; it's people who refuse to move on from the past — from their glory days.

You know the type: the middle-aged guys who still tout their high school football careers and the 1980s prom queens whose five-inch bangs are still supported by Aqua Net.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for these people, so when these past dwellers write about their past activities, they subconsciously leave the d off used so it looks like their past is in the present.

Incorrect: I use to be the most popular guy in school, but now I am the Thursday night trivia king at the local bar.

Correct: I used to be the most popular guy in school, but now I am the Thursday night trivia king at the local bar.

(It's a good thing trivia doesn't involve spelling.)


Accept: To receive, agree, or consent to

Except: Excluding, but Your ex is an ass, right?

What did he or she do? Lie? Cheat? Constantly suspect you of cheating? Demand all your free time? Always eat the last of the ice cream? Forget your birthday? Tell you your butt looked fat in those jeans? Love the Meet the Fockers franchise?


Excerpted from Kiss My Asterisk by Jenny Baranick. Copyright © 2014 Jenny Baranick. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Introduction: Confidence Is Sexy vii

Chapter 1 Know Thyself: Spelling 1

Chapter 2 It's Complicated: One Word, Two Words, or Three Words 21

Chapter 3 Quality Control: Words That Don't Make the Grade 29

Chapter 4 Missed Periods: Run-on Sentences 33

Chapter 5 More Than a Feeling: Commas 41

Chapter 6 I Do: Apostrophes 57

Chapter 7 Drumroll, Please: Colons 65

Chapter 8 Goldilocks and the Three Bars: En Dashes, Em Dashes, and Hyphens 71

Chapter 9 The Scarlet Punctuation Mark: The Ellipsis 75

Chapter 10 Mary Ann or Ginger: Punctuation with Quotation Marks 81

Chapter 11 That's Hot: Capitalization 85

Chapter 12 Freudian Slip: Using You 103

Chapter 13 How Old Do You Think I Am?: Numbers 109

Chapter 14 Keepin' It Real: Grammar Myth Busting 115

Chapter 15 Avoid Premature Ejaculation: Email Etiquette 123

Chapter 16 Looks Matter: Formatting Academic Papers, Letters, and Résumés 137

Chapter 17 Textual Healing: Proofreading 147

Answer Key 152

References 165

Index 166

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