When train tracks or skis are parallel, one of them doesn’t veer off. They stay the same distance apart. When writing, you want your prose to be parallel as well. When it isn’t, your readers will be jarred by the parts that veer off on their own. Here’s an example:
The most frequent causes of snowmobile accidents are mechanical failure, the driver is careless, and the weather conditions might be dangerous.
It’s easy to rewrite this sentence in parallel form, seeing that all the pieces are of the same grammatical form:
The most frequent causes of snowmobile accidents are mechanical failure, careless drivers, and dangerous weather conditions.
Here’s one more:
Roger is overworked and not paid adequately.
This is very easily fixed:
Roger is overworked and underpaid.
When you proofread what you’ve written, check to see that lists are in parallel form. If something grates on your ear, you’ll know how to fix it.
I have been to a lot of places , but I have never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone. I’ve also never been in Cognito, either. I hear no one recognizes you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips thanks to my friends and family. I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I am not too much on physical activity involving heights.
I have also been in Doubt and in Decisive. Those are unsettling places to go, and I try not to visit too often. I’ve been in Toxicated, and I woke up the next day with a headache. I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I seem to go there more often as I’m getting older. One of the most exciting places to be, is in Suspense. It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart.
One place I hope never to be is in Continent.
In most of America, it’s called “take out,” but in the Midwest, especially in Illinois and Indiana, as well as in Detroit and in Washington, DC, it’s called “carry out.”
This information is documented in a map in Josh Katz’s book, Speaking American.
bizarre: a surreal mix of fact and fantasy
Are we surprised? Interestingly, searches for this word peaked on November 9, the day after the presidential election.
Speaking American, Josh Katz’s book about US regional English, is endlessly fascinating to me.
When I was growing up just north of New York City, my family sometimes made a summer visit to my aunt who lived in Massachusetts. As soon as we arrived, she would immediately offer us a tonic (pronounced tawnic). She didn’t necessarily mean tonic water; she was offering us any kind of fizzy, bubbly, non-alcoholic drink we wanted. According to Katz, tonic was the word of choice, particularly around Boston but throughout most of Massachusetts. Today, that word is declining among the younger generation there but is still strong among older people.
About 60% of the country now calls those drinks soda, with that designation particularly strong on the West Coast, in South Florida, and throughout New England (even among the former tonic people in Massachusetts).
Soft drink accounts for 6% around Washington, DC and in Louisiana. Pop is the word across all the northern United States from Washington State through Pennsylvania up to western New York. Coke is your word if you live in New Mexico, all the way through the deep South. Realize that Coke does not necessarily refer to Coca Cola; even 7-Up, Sprite and root beer are Coke. And (for me, this is the kicker) if you live in Georgia across to western South Carolina, your drink of choice is Cocola. Again, you might want Mountain Dew—but that’s just a form of Cocola.
A British Mister? A Mister Misting?
Reading a news article today about current British-American relations, I came across a reference to a “British mister.” My first thought was that it referred to some British bloke (as they might say). Then I wondered if it were someone in government who was in charge of taking care of plants in government offices: watering, trimming, fertilizing, and misting them.
Obviously, the writer intended to write “minister,” but because “mister” is a word and software cannot determine context, “mister” prevailed.
Whether it’s fair or not, we are judged by the way we write. If we don’t proofread meticulously, errors will slip through and there’s a good chance we will be determined to be careless people. This can be detrimental in many areas of our lives.
Proofreading doesn’t take long. I’ve written about this before, but if we proofread silently and at our normal reading speed, we will read what we think we wrote, not what we actually wrote. Reading backwards will pick up very few errors: if you wrote the and meant they, you won’t catch it.
The most effective proofreading method is to read out loud—not as in some dramatic oration but just loudly enough that you can hear your words. It’s also important to read more slowly than your normal speed. If you do both, chances are you will write error-free text.