Monthly Archives: January 2013


These two words are frequently confused and misused.  I often hear people say they are going to hone in on the answer to a question.  However,

HONE means to sharpen:  You hone your skills or you hone the blade of a knife.

HOME (IN) means to close in on:  You home in on the suspect in a crime. 


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No Problem

Don’t you love it when you thank a person for doing something routine for you (e.g., handing you your change, passing you a piece of paper) and the response you get, if you get one at all, is “No problem”?

I know it’s not a problem; it’s your freaking job.  I am so tempted to say, “I didn’t think it would be a problem, but I’m glad you could handle it.”

It truly is all right to answer oh-so-conventionally and just reply, “You’re welcome.”  Or even “Glad to do it.”  Like all of us, you really do have problems, but handing me my change isn’t one of them.

You’re welcome.

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A Strategic Sunset

My head is reeling.  A friend in the corporate world e-mailed me today with this beauty.  He writes that it is an excerpt from an email saying the Microsoft Live Meeting product [don’t worry if you don’t know what that is—neither do I] is being phased out and replaced with something called Lync. Then he adds, “I’m beginning to think I live in an alternate dimension from the rest of the people I work with.”  He does.

<<Good morning — As you are aware, Microsoft has made a strategic decision to position Lync as the core collaboration solution and to ultimately sunset the Live Meeting Service (LMS).>>

I don’t know where to start.  How about at the beginning?

1. Microsoft made a decision.  ALL decisions are “strategic.”  Lose that overused adjective.  And instead of saying “Microsoft has made a decision,” just use the active verb and write, “Microsoft has decided….”

2. Microsoft isn’t “positioning” Lync; it’s going to use it.

3.  What is a “core collaboration solution”?  I’m guessing it means the primary means of collaborating.  That would probably be too direct and clear.

4. “Sunset”!  As a verb!  Really?  This writer means “to discontinue, cancel, stop.”  What is wrong with simple, direct English?

People think they sound “professional” when they spew verbiage like this.  They don’t sound professional; they sound pompous and full of themselves—and ridiculous.

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It Isn’t What It Isn’t

A saying I am deadly tired of is, “It is what it is.”  Of course it is, whatever the hell “it” is.  If it weren’t what it is, it would be something else. Or perhaps it wouldn’t be anything at all.

This is a meaningless, boring cliché.  It’s the lazy person’s way of saying, “This is the way things are.”

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Minds Will Continue to be Wasted

In fact, I was able to find a way to contact the United Negro College Fund and wrote to them about the fact that their motto contains a somewhat embarrassing misplaced modifier.

I got a very nice answer back from a woman who works there, a former high school English teacher, who said the UNCF has received many comments over the years about their motto and that they have spent a lot of time and resources discussing whether to change it, but because it is so widely recognized and is even in the Slogan Hall of Fame [who knew?], they have decided not to amend it.

So it stands. I will tilt at other windmills.


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Is a Mind a Terrible Thing?

A few posts ago I wrote about misplaced modifiers (remember the groom in the silver Ralph Lauren gown?).  One that has bothered me for many years is the motto of the United Negro College Fund:

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

In fact, a mind is not a terrible thing. Modifiers (words providing more information) need to be put next to the word or words they are modifying.  In this case, the terrible thing is wasting a mind.  Therefore, the motto should read, It is a terrible thing to waste a mind.

I have gone to the UNCF website but cannot find a way to contact them.  I guess I will resort to snail mail while the USPS still exists.

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Using Reply All

If you receive an e-mail that has been sent to others, before you answer, think about whether you want only the sender to get your answer or if everyone needs to read it.

Often, business e-mails go to many people using TO: for one person and CC: for everyone else. When sending out a group e-mail, using BCC: often is preferable.  With BCC: only the sender knows who got the e-mail; each recipient knows others were also on the distribution list, but they don’t see anyone else’s address.

I write a weekly business writing tip to hundreds of my corporate contacts and always send it BCC: because I feel it would be wrong of me to disclose all the e-mail addresses to everyone on my distribution list; it’s a question of their privacy.  Also, recipients frequently write back to me, and I know there is no danger of them clicking REPLY ALL and annoying everyone else on the list.

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Who or Whom?

In the same way “I” and “me” are equivalent pronouns, depending on which one is needed (see post a few below), “who” and “whom” are also equivalently weighted, although people throw in “whom” when it’s not needed because they think it is more elegant or classy.  It isn’t.

As “I” is a subject pronoun, so is “who.”  “Me” is an object pronoun, as is “whom.”  How do you know which one to use?  It’s easy:

The winning run was hit by a player (who/whom) I used to know in college.

Here’s what you do:

1. Cover up the whole sentence up to and including the “who/whom.”

2. Read what is left:  I used to know in college.

3. You’ll see a word is missing:  I used to know HIM in college.

4. If the missing word is a subject pronoun (in this case, it would have been HE), you want the subject pronoun WHO.  But in this sentence you need HIM, an object pronoun, so you use the object pronoun WHOM.

5.  That’s  the trick.

For your convenience, here are lists of the subject and object pronouns:

SUBJECT PRONOUNS: I, she, he, we, they, who

OBJECT PRONOUNS: me, her, him, us, them, whom

“It” and “you” can be either subject or object pronouns, so don’t use them in your test.  And often, as in the sample sentence above, you can eliminate WHO or WHOM.  But when you do need one of those pronouns, follow these steps and you’ll always be right.

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And the groom looked lovely in his Ralph Lauren gown

I love misplaced modifiers.  You can’t beat them for the humor they lend to the English language.

In yesterday’s New York Times, the write-up of the featured wedding of the week contained this sentence:

“The bride wept as she walked toward the groom in a silver Ralph Lauren gown….”  Yet the photos showed the groom in a tuxedo.

Here’s the trick about modifiers:  you need to put them right before or after the word about which they are giving more information.  If this had said, “Wearing a silver Ralph Lauren gown, the bride wept as she walked toward the groom,” the laugh would have disappeared, but we’d be certain who was in the dress.  You could also write, “The bride, in a silver Ralph Lauren gown, walked toward the groom.”

As I said, I love misplaced modifiers.


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I or Me?

A while ago I wrote about “myself” and how it is not a substitute for “I” or “me.” Use “myself” at the end of a sentence for emphasis, only when you’ve already mentioned yourself.  For example, “I painted the living room myself.”  You could put a period after “living room,” but the last word emphasizes that no one helped you.

Whether to use “I” or “me” is so easy:

Use “I” when it’s a subject.  “Sarah and I went to the movies last Sunday.”  Just temporarily take the other person out and you’ll always know whether you need “I” or “me.”  You’d never say “Sarah and me (or Me and Sarah!) went to the movies.”  Please, tell me you wouldn’t.

Use “me” when you need an object.  “The package arrived for Sarah and me.”  Take Sarah out and you wouldn’t write, “The package arrived for I.”  Putting Sarah back into the equation changes nothing.

For some reason, people think “I” is a classier or better pronoun that “me.”  It isn’t.  They are equal.  It just depends on whether you need a subject or an object.  Take out the other person temporarily, and you’ll always get this right.


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You’re Fired!

I have one good thing to say about Donald Trump, despite the fact that he is a pompous, arrogant, narcissistic bloviator who, because of his inflated ego, thinks people take him seriously.  I won’t even comment on the dead animal he wears on top of his head.  Or perhaps I just did.

Apparently, he has or had a TV show on which he told people, “You’re fired!”  I never watched it, but this I am told.  I’m sure barking those words gave him great pleasure, but it allows me to say the only good thing I can think of in Donaldland: he used truthful, direct language rather than jargon.

The euphemisms in the corporate world today are “downsizing,” “rightsizing,” engaging in an “RIF,” (reduction in force) and other hideous permutations that are thought to soften the blow when an employee is fired.

They fool no one.  I just wish someone were in a position to tell The Donald, “You’re fired!”

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Fewer or Less?

You hear and read sentences like this all the time:  “Matilda has less dogs than she did last year.”

Matilda can count her dogs.  For items you can count, use FEWER:  “Matilda has fewer dogs than she did last year because she gave three puppies to her nephew.”

Use LESS for things you can’t count:  “Less milk has been sold since the prices increased so drastically.”  You can count glasses of milk; for that you would use FEWER, but for milk in general, use LESS.

You’ll notice that most checkout lines in markets have signs saying “10 ITEMS OR LESS.”  On the rare occasions I’ve seen that sign written correctly, I feel as if I am going to faint (from joy and amazement).

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Words I’d Like to Banish

Michigan’s Lake Superior State University puts out an annual list of words they want to banish. Here’s their website with the 2012 list; you can also find lists from previous years and see what has stuck and which have gone to the verbal graveyard.

These words are a few from the current list:





THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION—I always preach against this in my classes. Here’s the situation: You have told someone to do something that person does not want to do.  To sweeten the deal, you add these saccharine words, even though the other person knows you are standing there with your hands on your hips and are stomping your foot. You’re not fooling anyone.  Thank the other person sincerely:  “I know this is difficult, and I really appreciate your doing this for me.”

To these words I would add my personal list of major annoyances:

FISCAL CLIFF—I swear, if I heard this one more time I was going to find the nearest actual cliff and take a flying leap.

AWESOME—Please, I beg you, find another adjective. It means “to inspire awe.” Surely, not every burger you eat or reality show you watch does this.

CZAR—This just means a bigshot appointed to, usually, a political position.  This person is rarely the equivalent of Peter the Great.

GURU—Every reasonably bright person today is a “guru.” Not really. They are just people who may know a little more about a subject than you do.  But there are subjects you know more about than the so-called gurus do, and that doesn’t make you a guru (unless you are sitting high on a mountain in India).

PRICE POINT—This drives me crazy.  It’s just a fancy way to say “price” and doesn’t mean anything more.  Lose the “point.”

LIKE—It’s like an interjection that like is inserted like every couple of words and like drives your listeners like insane.

STARTING SENTENCES WITH “SO”—So this has reached epidemic proportions.  So I don’t know who started it or why, but it’s everywhere.  So try to catch yourself and avoid doing this.

TO GIFT—Just GIVE.  “Gifting” doesn’t mean more or bigger or better.  When you give a gift, you give.

TO GROW—I believe this began with Paul Hawken’s excellent book, Growing Your Business.  But all it means is “to increase.”  “Grow” has taken over like viral moss and is used when anything is getting bigger or better.  Time to spray the weedkiller.

STRATEGIC—If something is deemed to have any amount of importance, however small, it is labeled “strategic.”  The most common use is “strategic plan.”  Think about it:  every plan involves thinking about what might happen as a result of implementing it.  That involves strategy.  Ergo, every plan is strategic by nature. Another word to put in very cold storage.

Do you have favorite annoying words and phrases you’d like to have disappear?  Send me your candidates.


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Half off of free is……………hmmm. I never was good in math.

Headline on an e-mail I received from a nursery today:

Get 50% off all houseplants and free classes!

If I take a free class, will the nursery pay me?  How does this work?

It would have been so much better had they written, Free classes and 50% off all houseplants.

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It’s Just a Plural









I took this shot through the car window, hence the odd angle.  The sign doesn’t mean the Dodger Dogs that belong to Monday cost a dollar, in which case the apostrophe would be correct.  It means that on Mondays (plural) Dodger Dogs cost a buck.

Some people have an uncontrollable urge to add an apostrophe to words ending in S, when most of those words are going to be simple plurals, not possessives.  I’m just thankful “Dogs” didn’t get an apostrophe as well.

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