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Tag Archives | Grammar

Plain English Campaign announces 2008 Golden Bull winners

I’m not a fan of year-end retrospectives or awards. I know what happened during the past year, I don’t need a reminder. And awards often are just a gimmick to recognize the giver rather than the recipient.

But the Plain English Campaign recently announced its Golden Bull winners for 2008, highlighting the “the year’s ‘best’ examples of gobbledygook.”

Read the list of honorees–all of them are deserving. (And thankfully none of them are clients of mine!)

(Via Grammar & Composition)

Maureen Dowd is a lazy writer

Read a  New York Times’ op-ed writer for a few months and you know what his or her column will say ahead of time.

  • Thomas Friedman: Globalization is good and inevitable.
  • Nicholas Kristof: Life is miserable in developing countries.
  • Bill Kristol: I am wrong about everything.
  • Paul Krugman: George W. Bush is bad.
  • Bob Herbert: There’s nothing a government program can’t fix.

While Maureen Dowd doesn’t hawk an ideology, she seldom makes sense. She just fires out a slew of zingers; sure, some of them hit, but mostly she makes a mess. Every Dowd column I read has me thinking The Times sacked its copyeditors.

But as I’m a Tiny Fey fan (and who outside of Wasilla isn’t these days?), I read Dowd’s cover article on the comedian in this month’s Vanity Fair. As expected, there are several passages that are great examples of how not to write.

  • “Vintage-y Upper West Side apartment”—Tacking a “y” onto the end of a word is the epitome of lazy writing. A minute or two searching a thesaurus probably would have led Dowd to a real word or phrase.
  • “Her [Fey’s] former S.N.L. pal Colin Quinn”—Were Fey and Quinn once, but no longer, friends? Or is Dowd just referring to the fact that they used to work together? If it’s the former, don’t leave your readers hanging, dish the dirt Dowd. If it’s the latter, “pal” is a lousy word choice; we all have colleagues with whom we aren’t friends.
  • “Then she retreated backstage at S.N.L., wore a ski hat, and gained weight writing sharp, funny jokes and eating junk food”—On first read, it sounds as if writing jokes made Fey fat. Writing the fragment as “she gained weight eating junk food while writing sharp, funny jokes” prevents confusion.

“I feel bad” versus “I feel badly”

Often people use the sentence “I feel badly” to convey sympathy.

That’s wrong. Not being compassionate, that is, but rather using the word “badly.” The correct sentence is “I feel bad.” Yes, that sounds incorrect, but that’s because you are used to the grammatically incorrect sentence.

Still unsure? Do you say

  • “I feel sad” or “I feel sadly”
  • “The bottle feels hard” or “The bottle feels hardly”
  • “He feels sexy” or “He feels sexily”

Only use the sentence “I feel badly” when referring to a disability regarding your sense of touch.

Want a more detailed explanation? Read this web page.

Grammar questions answered; Washington, DC, writing events publicized; and job openings posted: the DCPubs Yahoo! Group

The DCPubs Yahoo! Group is a great resource for communications professionals in the Washington, DC, area.

DCPUBS is a list for editors, designers, production folks and other people in the Washington DC area working on publications who want to discuss anything related to editing: sticky style issues; newspaper, technical, and other specialized editing; reference books; production and desktop publishing; marketing and distribution issues; client relations; Internet resources; electronic editing and software; freelance issues; and so on.

Sure that description includes so many areas that DCPubs could be construed as so inclusive as to be useless. That’s not so. I find the group most useful in these three areas:

  • Job postings—A lot of freelance and contract jobs are posted here. Also when people ask me for help finding a full-time communications person, I refer them to DCPubs.
  • Questions—While the style manuals I reviewed on a previous post are great resources, there are times when none of them will contain the information you need (especially if you are writing about emerging technology). But a quick post on DCPubs will get your question answered within minutes.
  • Events—The DC area has an abundance of book stores, writing centers, and other cultural venues, so it’s hard to keep track of all of the writing-related events. Also, several of the regular posters on DCPubs often give lectures and publicize them here.

You need to apply to join, but it takes less than a minute, costs nothing, and has only about a one-day lag time for new members to be accepted.

Also, as the forum is a busy one, if you do join, I recommend subscribing to the daily digest rather then receiving each post individually (unless you are lonely and want more e-mail).

Is it British English or just wrong?

Because I have a fetish for has-beens who cash out, a few months ago I was following David Beckham’s first MLS game on David Beckham took finally the field

The phrase “took finally the field” gave me pause: Did make a rare grammatical mistake? Or was it just another lame attempt by an American sports writer to infuse humor into a piece on Beckham by trying to sound British?

About 30 minutes later, I had my answer. David Beckham took finally the field

It’s better to be wrong than a hack anyway.

Annoying, convoluted, random, oblique names you make (ACRONYM)—some rules on using acronyms

Rule number one: Don’t use acronyms.

The goal of writing, however, is to communicate your ideas. Sometimes an acronym will convey your thoughts to your audience better than the words it represents.

For example, if I wrote “Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation surgery is a popular way for people to correct their vision,” it might give you pause. Now, if I wrote “Laser surgery is a popular way for people to correct their vision,” you are more likely to understand me.

Here then is some guidance for when you do use acronyms (as always, your style manual may provide different guidelines).

  • Use acronyms sparingly—only if it is one people actually use. Don’t create an acronym because you don’t feel like spelling out a few words.
  • Define the acronym on first use, but don’t define an acronym unless it is used again in the document.
  • Don’t capitalize the first letter of every word unless it is a proper noun. For example, use “frequently asked questions (FAQ),” not “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).”
  • After an acronym has been defined, always use it and don’t spell it out again.
  • Some acronyms (such as laser, radar, and AIDS) are so common that they do not need to be defined and, sometimes, do not need to be capitalized. Check the dictionary or your style manual for guidance.
  • Treat the executive summary and appendices as separate documents. So define each acronym anew, but do not bother if it isn’t used again in that section.

Because using “since” as a conjunction can be confusing, use “because” instead

While “since” can be used to denote causation, using the word in such a manner can lead to confusion.

  • Confusing: Since we won the contract, we drank
  • Not confusing: Because we won the contract, we drank.

The first example might be ok if you are referring to the events of the previous evening. But what if the contract was awarded three years ago? A reader might think you’re on one hecukva bender.

To minimize ambiguity, avoid using “since” when you can use “because” instead.

Often writers use “since” as a conjunction as the first word in a sentence because they don’t think it’s ok to start a sentence with “because” (I was taught that rule in elementary school). There’s nothing wrong, however, with doing so.

The post in which I admit my grammatical flaws

In “Do you make these mistakes when you write?” on Copyblogger (a site I mentioned in my last post) Brian Clark highlights seven common mistakes that the masters Strunk and White and some of Copyblogger’s readers have highlighted:

  1. Loose vs. lose
  2. Me, myself, and I
  3. Different than vs. different from
  4. Improper use of the apostrophe (I’ve delved into that subject a few times)
  5. Parallelism
  6. i.e. vs. e.g.
  7. Could of, would of, should of

My main problems concern “lead” vs. “led” and “their” vs. “there.” While I know the differences between them, it requires conscious thought to make sure I get them right. Usually good grammar comes easier to me.

What writing mistakes are you prone to make?