December 20, 2009


Los Angeles has a large and growing Latin American population.  Their influence on the city is substantial. Notices in public places are usually in both English and Spanish while business advertisements in Spanish alone are everywhere. Virtually all businesses provide Spanish interpretation upon demand.  

 A couple of months ago, a colleague  invited me to her daughter’s Quinceañera.  In the Latin culture, this is the coming-of-age ceremony for girls, much like the American or Canadian Sweet Sixteen celebration.  The quinceañera (also means the birthday girl) celebrates her quinceaños or fifteenth birthday on this day.

If parents could afford it, a big party is thrown where the entire Quinceañera celebration is similar to a wedding ceremony and consists of two parts.  The morning is spent at church where the quinceañera affirms her faith.  Those of Latin descent are usually Roman Catholics so there is a blessing given by the priest, followed by the presentation of gifts by family elders usually of a religious nature, like a Bible.  In the Latin culture, the girl’s godparents, or padrinos, play a very important role in her life and is also present during the mass and dinner.  

 Click here for a short overview video.

At nighttime, a dance party is held at a restaurant or banquet hall, which is decorated with one or two theme colors of the girl’s choosing.  Prior to the day, the quinceañera selects her ball gown (similar looking to a wedding gown) and her Court of Honor consisting of friends and relatives of the same age group to accompany her during the waltz performance at the dinner party.  The quinceañera herself is escorted by a male companion.

Click here to see a waltz performance.

After the waltz, other traditions are also carried out that night.  Usually, the quinceañera first comes in a pair of flat heel shoes that are then taken off and changed into high heels by her father during the “Shoe Changing Ceremony”.  The mother then assists in the coronation or crowning ceremony and exchanges this with her doll.  This is then followed by the Father-Daughter Dance, where the father and daughter take the first dance.  Other older male family members (e.g. brothers, grandfathers, uncles, godfathers) may also ask to take her around the dance floor.  Then the dance floor is opened up to all guests with the playing of fast songs, characteristic of the Latin culture. 

Click here to see some of the traditions and a father-daughter dance.

Of course, this ceremony may be celebrated on a smaller scale, like at a family’s backyard, depending on the financial well-being of the parents.

If you are ever invited to a Quinceañera make sure you accept it!


A Thanksgiving feast

November 22, 2009

First, I want to apologize for not being able to update my blog as frequently recently; I’ve been swamped with work. Today’s post will also be short but I’ll compensate by writing a longer post next time.  

The American holiday, Thanksgiving, will be celebrated this upcoming weekend so just wanted to talk briefly about it.  Thanksgiving is a big deal for Americans and Thanksgiving dinner is the highlight, comparable to the celebration and dinner eaten during the Lunar New Year by those of Asian descent.  Just like the Lunar New Year for Asians, Thanksgiving is a time when family members gather to give thanks for all that they have.  Even though there are variations, here are some of the more traditional dishes eaten during this day:

I personally prefer pumpkin pie, which is also my favorite Thanksgiving dish, over apple pie!


 One thing that I am thankful for this year is having you as a loyal follower of my blog!  Thank you for your continued support!   

Lastly, to those of you who do celebrate this holiday, Happy Thanksgiving!

Quotation marks (Part II)

October 26, 2009


Do you have the use of quotation marks down pat? 

Okay, as promised, we need to discuss the placement of quotation marks when other punctuation are present.  When commas or periods occur with quotation marks, English speakers in the United States will place the ending comma or period inside the quotes while in the United Kingdom or Canada, logic influences the placement of the comma or period.  Basically, if the punctuation relates to the quoted material, it goes inside. When it is part of the sentence, and not the quoted material, the period or comma goes outside.


Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” (United States)

Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom”. (United Kingdom and Canada)


Be careful!  This is only applicable for the comma and period, not for other ending punctuation like a question mark (?) or exclamation point (!), where the punctuation always go either before or after the quotation marks depending on whether punctuation is also part of the quoted material.


Did Charles Dickens once say, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom”?  (quoted material not part of question)

She asked, “Did you just say that the quote is from Charles Dickens?” (quoted material is part of question)


Now, a more complicated issue is what happens when quoted material is placed within quoted material, for example, when the writing is mentioning what someone is saying and that person is quoting someone else?

When this happens, the author would put double quotes around the speech that his informant said then single quote around what this person said that someone else said:


She said, “Charles Dickens once said, ‘A loving heart is the truest wisdom.’”


Last time, it was mentioned that writers may try to put others’ speech inside quotation marks to distance themselves from the speech or to suggest an alternative meaning to a certain word or phrase.  However, sometimes you may see that words or phrases are placed within quotation marks for emphasis. This should not be done as it would make readers wonder about the true meaning. Instead, one should underline or italicize the word.  On paper, underlining is probably going to be the chosen method while on the computer, italicizing is the better choice.


An advertisement at a retail store may read: “Low” prices  (This suggests that the prices might actually not be that low.)

Instead, underlining or italicizing should be used: Low prices OR Low prices


Last episode mentioned that titles of larger pieces of written work should be underlined or italicized. Here is a list of them:


Journals and magazines


Long musical pieces

Television and radio programs

Famous speeches


Lincoln’s famous speech The Gettysburg Address

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


OK, that wraps up Part II on quotation marks!

Quotation marks (Part I)

October 4, 2009

quotation marks

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve last written about punctuation!  This time I want to talk about the use of quotation marks as they seem to be a rather unique punctuation marker in English as other languages use a different punctuation marker for the situations that one would use quotation marks in English. 

By the way, notice that it is quotation marks with an “s” as they occur in pairs (“ ”) or (‘ ’).  Even though the full name is quotations marks, sometimes people would just call them quotations or quotes for short.  Now, how would English speakers read a sentence with quotations, like the one below?

        Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

They would say “quote” when they reach the first quotation mark, read the quote, and then say “end quote” to give credit to the original author for the quoted material and to differentiate what he said from the rest of the sentence.

There are three main situations when quotation marks are used in writing:

1) The first involves quoting someone from written form or in verbal communication.  When the quote is a sentence or longer, remember to use a comma before starting the quote and capitalizing the first letter of the sentence.  If the quoted information is only a sentence fragment in paraphrased speech, no punctuation is required to separate the information from the rest of the sentence unless it is at the end of the sentence. 

        She said that the book is “interesting and deep.” 


2) The second usage of quotation marks is for notating the titles of the following list of short or minor works:

Short stories






Chapters in books

Articles in newspapers, magazines, or journals

Episodes of TV or radio series


        “Amazing Grace” is one of my favorite songs.

Longer works are underlined (Romeo and Juliet) or italicized (Romeo and Juliet). 


3) The third type of usage allows for single quotation marks.  Although double quotations could be used, sometimes writers prefer to use single quotation marks (‘ ’) to distance what someone said that is irony, slang, or a made-up word or phrase.  Usually, this is a few words or a short phrase. 


One of the headlines in The Los Angeles Times on October 2, 2009, was:

        Alleged Letterman extortionist said he needed to ‘make a large chunk of money’ 

Here the author is quoting and emphasizing what Letterman’s extortionist said.


A BBC headline on October 4, 2009, had:

        Iran ‘co-operation’ draws praise

Here the author is suggesting that maybe the cooperation is not really cooperation.  One would have to read the article to find out.


There are also issues with the mechanics of using quotation marks.  For example, what happens when quoted material is inside other quoted material?  Are there differences in the placement of quotation marks in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States? What does it mean to put something in quotations versus underlining it?  Quotation marks Part II to come!



David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Los Angeles Times


Your Significant Other

September 13, 2009


Recently I’ve been watching back episodes of The Amazing Race and The Amazing Race Asia, a reality game show where teams of two race around the world for the hopes of winning the grand monetary prize.  The two team members of each team already have an established relationship and many of the couples on the show are in a romantic relationship.  This prompted me to introduce out-of-the-ordinary words to describe one’s significant other in this post.

 It is boring to introduce your significant other to others with a “This is my husband…” or “This is my wife…”  How about using more colorful words? dating

Well, let’s start at the beginning. If you have just started a relationship, other than “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, try using the following. 

“He has been my beau for the last three months as we have been dating.” (Beau is used only to describe men, thus, a substitute for boyfriend.)

Or, you could refer to your new special someone as your baby, angel, sweetheart, honey, honeybunch, or darling when talking to a friend, which might give your friend some goose bumpsYou could even use these terms when calling on your special someone.  It will definitely melt his or her heart!  

What happens if your relationship progresses to the next level?  Well, maybe he or she becomes your fiancée (to describe females) or fiancé (to describe males).  Getting engaged before marriage is very common in Western countries.   


Many people nowadays like to talk about their significant other as the word does not carry any gender connotation or indicate whether the two people have gotten married.  Also, the world has become more liberal and accepting of same sex relationships and non-married couples living together. Thus, rather than using the more conventional terms, you could also talk about your soul mate or your companion to mean your life-long partner and tell your friends that he or she is your better half or your one and only.  If the two of you live together, you could refer to your domestic partner.  And if you do tie the knot, he or she becomes your spouse in a more formal sense!  


Well, in modern society we are also more open to break-ups as who could guarantee a life-long relationship, right?  Although, it is definitely sad that divorce rates continue to climb.  If the break-up was civil, there is no big deal about that but if you still have a grudge over a previous relationship, and you see the person again, you could talk about your bad luck at seeing your old flame or a blast from the past to talk about your ex to indicate that the two of you have separated.    

But what if the separation was not intentional?  What if he or she passed away?  To refer to a husband or wife who has passed away, the term is late husband/wife.   

If you are still single and have passed marriage age, beware when entertaining your mom and her friends as they may try to find you a suitor!

Phrase of the day: To let down (Part II)

August 30, 2009

to let down


In the last post, I mentioned that the more obvious definition of “to let down” is to bring something down.  

The less obvious meaning is the more abstract meaning of to disappoint.  It is a transitive verb requiring both a subject and object.  The noun form is letdown.

The movie was a letdown. (Equivalent meaning: The movie was a disappointment.) 


To talk about who has been disappointed, the object must be inserted between let down. If the object is a personal pronoun, it will be in the objective case.  

The movie let me down. (Equivalent meaning: The movie disappointed me.)


Besides the progressive form, the verb let down does not inflect for tense or change for subject-verb agreement. 

His son was afraid of letting him down. (Equivalent meaning: His son was afraid of disappointing him.)

The movie let him down.

The two movies let him down.


To talk about a habitual disappointment, just add “has/have/had” in front:

 He has let me down every time. (Equivalent meaning: He has disappointed me every time.)

They have let me down every time. (Equivalent meaning: They have disappointed me every time.)


You could use let down to talk about the future also:

 I hope you could attend the conference with me this Saturday.  You won’t/will not let me down, right? (Equivalent meaning: You will not disappoint me, right?)

 At this point, you might ask why English speakers use to let down instead of to disappoint or letdown instead of disappointment.  Like all phrasal verbs, to let down is used in informal settings.  Learning how to use it properly will make your speech more personable.  Being able to comprehend it will allow you to communicate with native speakers, who use them all the time!  Besides, letdown only has two syllables while disappointment has four!

Phrase of the Day: To let down (Part I)

August 23, 2009



To learn the meaning of a word or phrase means knowing its many uses, especially the more common ones.  Words like run, get, put, and fall have over 200 definitions in the Oxford dictionary!  The word let is also a very common English word and when partnered with different words generate different meanings.   


In fact, when combined with down, the verb form to let down has two meanings.  (Only the first meaning will be discussed here.  Stay tuned for my next entry for the second meaning.)  The more obvious one is to bring something down like curtains like “Please let down the curtains.”  This is not too difficult to understand as the curtains should then be lowered or move downwards by the listener.  Notice that the object (curtains) is placed behind the verb (let down).


There is a famous German fairy tale about a girl named Rapunzel who was trapped in a tower in the middle of the woods but whose songs attracted a prince.  He called out to her, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” And, when she did, he climbed it to ask her to marry him as her hair was long and strong like a rope.  It is a Cinderella-like story where this line has become popular. 


Stay tuned for the second and more abstract meaning of let down!