Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Here” Ye, “Here” Ye

In the legal world, a push (OK, a gentle shove) is on for lawyers to use plain, everyday English.  Here are some of their old standbys  that use “here,” along with their alternatives.  You don’t have to be a lawyer to benefit from giving up this la-de-dah language.

1. Hereafter, hereby (now)

2. Herein (here)

3. Hereinafter (from now on)

4. Hereinbefore, hereto (until now)

5. Hereupon (immediately after this, right now)

6. Herewith (with this letter)

Don’t make your readers translate English into English.


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Find the Two Errors in This Sentence

Is that the greyhound who lives with the woman that takes in rescue dogs?

The mistakes are in the pronouns:

1.  It should be “the greyhound that….”  That and which are used for objects and animals.

2. It should be “the woman who….”  Who and whom are used for people.

One of these days I’ll tackle that vs. which and who vs. whom for you.

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How to Spell “Fish”

George Bernard Shaw was so frustrated by the vagaries of English spelling that he tried, unsuccessfully, to revise standard orthography: each letter should have only one sound.

The way he saw it, using English spelling to write “fish” could easily be GHOTI:




Got it?


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But/However; And plus

But and however both indicate a change in the direction your sentence is going, so don’t use them in the same sentence:  But Brenda, however, got the job although she isn’t the most qualified.

Choose one or the other:  But Brenda got the job although she isn’t the most qualified or However, Brenda got the job although she isn’t the most qualified.

I often hear and sometimes read sentences beginning with And plus.  Despite what all our English teachers told us many years ago, it is acceptable to begin sentences with And (or other conjunctions), but and and plus are redundant.  Again, choose one or the other.

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Upholstery Words

Here’s a list of what I call upholstery words; they are padding.  I’ll put clear alternatives in parentheses after them:

In order to     (to–those words “in order” never add any meaning)

The above-referenced location     (this location, that location)

Due to the fact that     (because, since)

Subsequent to     (after)

As per your request     (as you requested)

In lieu of    (instead of)

For the purpose of    (to, for)

In view of the foregoing     (therefore, so)

It may be said that, I just want to let you know that    (just say it)

Needless to say, it goes without saying   (skip it)

Executed on July 6, 2012        (just write the date  or say “signed on”)



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To Tell or Not to Tell?

What do you think I should do?  I have a friend who lives in another city.  Often on Facebook I see her posts involving her and another person; her style always goes for “myself,” as in, “Larry and myself went away for the weekend,” or “Larry and myself saw a great movie yesterday.

I guess it doesn’t take much to drive me crazy, but sentences like those do the trick.   I am so tempted to tell her that “myself” is used only for emphasis when you’ve already mentioned yourself:  “I planted those apple trees myself.” I think she sounds ignorant, yet she is a bright, talented person.

A voice in my head says to let it go.  What difference does it make?  But another voice says she is being judged unfairly because of her grammar, and that bothers me.  And yet a third voice tells me I can’t change the world’s grammar.

I doubt she reads my blog.  If she does and if she recognizes herself, my problem is solved.  I would hope it wouldn’t be a friendship breaker. What would you do?

Whoops!  I just realized I’d better not post this to Facebook.

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Words or Not Words?

Here’s a short list of commonly used words that aren’t standard—yet.  Obviously, all words are invented by people, so it may be just a matter of time until these are recognized as standard English.

1. Irregardless.  It’s “regardless,” but if enough people keep using the “ir” form, it just might stick.  Ick.

2. Orientate.  It’s “orient.”  Less is more.

3. Administrate.  “Administer” suffices.

4. More importantly.  Drop that “ly.”  What you’re really saying is, “It is more important….”

5.  Heighth.  It’s “height.”  Thop lithping.

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Malapropisms: The Wrong Word

I love it when I come across sentences that sound close to the intended meaning but still keep the cigar just out of reach. These are called malapropisms, named after Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a 1775 play by Sheridan, The Rivals.

For all intensive purposes, this sentence serves as an example.

Life is tough.  It’s a doggy dog world.

There’s no stigmata today to being divorced.

Ulysses S. Grant was a president and general of great statue.

My blind date was so awful: the guy told one boring antidote after another.

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A Few More Clichés

Since I wrote yesterday’s entry, I was e-mailed a few additions to the list:

Each and every (choose one; it’s redundant)

Cease and desist (ditto)

To be honest with you (wouldn’t you hope so?)

With all due respect (when someone says that, you know the respect isn’t there)

And last night, on “Downton Abbey,” a whopper of an anachronism appeared when one character said to another that his position in the family had required a “learning curve.”  No one said that in the 1920s!

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When first heard, phrases we now consider clichés were fresh and new. But because of their initial popularity and overuse, they became tired and hackneyed.

A list of trite expressions, aka clichés, could go on for pages, but I’ll remind you of just a few I hope not to encounter again.  Are any of these your favorites?

It remains to be seen

Needless to say

As I was saying

As luck would have it

View with alarm

Proud possessor of

Last but not least

From the ridiculous to the sublime

Few and far between

None the worse for wear

Reign supreme

Cut to the chase

Better late than never

In this day and age

Back in the day

To all intents and purposes


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How Many Presidents?

Read the papers and you might think Lincoln and Washington were born so you could get a deal on mattresses and towels.  Monday is, according to which ad you see, Presidents Day, President’s Day or Presidents’ Day.

This is not rocket science, people.  That day belongs to someone, but who is it?  With no apostrophe, we see no ownership. With the apostrophe before the S, the day belongs to only one president (I guess it would be your choice as to which one).  With the apostrophe after the S, both Washington and Lincoln get their due.  That’s the one you want.

Enjoy your new towels.

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Which Spelling Is Correct?

English has quite a few words that are spelled two ways and mean the same thing.  When you look these words up in the dictionary, the convention is to give the preferred spelling first.  Here are some words you can spell two ways:









British people write judgement, while in America we omit that middle e.  Similarly, they write colour, honour, centre and theatre, while Americans prefer color, honor, center and theater.  Language changes in spelling, grammar, meaning and usage, but the changes are rarely so rapid that you can’t keep up.

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Airline Jargon

I love listening to the jargon that airlines spew.  My guess is they use it to sound important and make passengers think they know what they are doing.  Here are a few examples and my translations:

1. If your ticket is still in your possession… (If you still have your ticket…)

2. We will now commence the boarding procedure.  (We’re going to start boarding now.)

3. This will expedite the boarding process.  (This will speed up boarding.)

4. Welcome aboard Verbosity Airlines, servicing Pittsburgh.  (Flying to Pittsburgh—bulls service cows.)

5. Make sure all electronic equipment is in the off position.  (Turn all your electronics off.)

The brilliant George Carlin had a wonderful riff on “airline speak.”  I’m paraphrasing here, but it contained lines like these:

1.  “Our captain today is James Anderson.”  The Captain! Who made this man a captain?  Did I sleep through a military swearing-in?

2. “Be sure to collect all your personal items.”  What else would I have?  A fountain I stole from the park?

3.  “Welcome to New York, where the local time is 5:00 p.m.”  What else would it be?  Bangkok time?

I swear, I will never forgive George for dying.


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Are You Implying or Inferring?

These two words are not interchangeable.

IMPLY means to suggest without overtly stating something:  Heather implied she might go out with Jason if he took better care of his teeth.  (What she might have said was something like, “Jason is really cute and I like him, but his dental regimen needs improvement.”)

INFER means to deduce, to figure out:  Jason inferred that if he brushed his teeth regularly Heather might go out with him.  (Someone might have mentioned to Jason that Heather thought he was cute but was turned off by his scummy teeth.)

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Other Uses for Quotation Marks

You know to use quotation marks around directly quoted speech or writing.  Here are other conventional uses of them:

1. Use quotation marks around titles of movies, songs, short stories, chapter titles with names (not Chapter 10, for example), essays, article names and short poem titles. (You get to decide the cutoff point between short and long poems.)

2. When you use a word in an atypical way, for example:  Tomorrow’s test should be a “killer.”

3. Words referred to as words:  Every time she says “but,” you know something bad is coming.

Book titles, magazine names, newspapers, operas and plays are conventionally set in italics.

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Who’s the Owner?

When two or more people own the same property, only the owner closest to that thing gets an apostrophe:

Green and Johnson’s Hardware; Ed and Liza’s boat

But when multiple people possess separate property, each owner gets an apostrophe:

Bill’s and Harry’s wives; Jane’s, Yolanda’s and Charlotte’s cars

(I know wives are not property, but in this case they belong, so to speak, to their husbands.)

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Solutions to Avoid the Generic “He”

It used to be that the pronoun “he” was used indiscriminately for both men and women. However, since women comprise approximately 51% of the US population, they got all uppity several decades ago and decided there had to be a better solution.

To avoid using the awkward “he and she” and “his and her,” you have two easy solutions:

1. Eliminate the pronoun:  Instead of “Everyone will receive his or her evaluation at the end of the week,” change it to “Everyone will receive an evaluation.”

2. You can also make the subject plural: “All employees will receive their evaluations at the end of the week.”

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Don’t Assume

In our continuing series of solutions to sexist writing (and speaking), avoid assumptions, as in the following sentence:

Overworked dentists frequently neglect their wives and children.

Perhaps fifty years ago you could have gotten by with that sentence, but today many dentists, as well as doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, firefighters and police officers, are female.

Conversely, many nurses and secretaries are male. It works both ways.

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Cut Out Irrelevant Information

When you use “Mr.” you are referring to a man, but the word does not reveal his marital status.  The title “Ms.” (originally without a period because it was not an abbreviation of another word) was coined in the 1960s to be the female equivalent of “Mr.” Until then, women were referred to as “Mrs.” if they were married, widowed or divorced, or “Miss” if they were unmarried females of any age.  Why should women have to let you know their marital status?  It’s irrelevant.

If, however, a woman lets you know she prefers to be called “Miss” or “Mrs.,” do her that courtesy.

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Eliminate Sexist Writing: Choose Inclusive Language

Each year while watching the Academy Awards, I keep hoping to see Oscars given for Best Actor, Male and Best Actor, Female.  Why should we distinguish between actors and actresses? We don’t have teachers and teacherettes, doctors and doctoresses.  Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster have always referred to themselves as actors.  Inclusive language is realistic.  “Actor” is the main job category; “actress” is a sub-category of that.  Not fair.  They do the same job.

Tomorrow, another aspect of sexism in writing.

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Which Husband Should I Keep?

Which of the two following sentences is grammatically correct?

1. My husband loves football more than I.

2. My husband loves football more than me.

The correct answer is both of them; they just say different things:

Sentence #1 says my husband loves football more than I do.

Sentence #2 says he loves football more than he loves me.

Filling in missing words will help you decide which pronoun you need.  Meanwhile, I’m keeping husband #1.

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One Word or Two?

Many words we use today began their lives as two separate words:

Feed back

Teen age

Side walk

Then, along the way to unification, a hyphen appeared between the two parts, e.g., pipe-line.  After many years, the hyphen disappeared due to common usage and the words became one.  (However, as much as I love The New Yorker, its editorial board still insists on hyphenating “teen-age” and “teen-ager.”  Any decade now they will join the 21st century.)

If you are wondering whether something is one word or two, check a current dictionary.  If you find discrepancies, go with one word:




Makeup (used as a noun, not a verb)



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Frequently Misused Verbs

The verbs most often misused are those being used as the past participle.  All that means is the verb used with has, had, have, will have, etc.

Listen and you’ll hear “I have went,” “She has ate,” “We have drank,” and “He has swam.”

Here is a list of verbs you need to use when you use those HAVE verb forms:








COME (Not “I have came”!)







GONE  (Not “We have went”!)








SWUM (Trust me on this:  It’s “She has swum the English Channel.”)





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Cut It Out!

Particularly in business writing, I see people often using more words than necessary, perhaps hoping to sound more “professional” and  intelligent.  However, your readers may likely find this tendency toward verbosity annoying and pompous.  Since you want to win your readers over, it’s a good idea to keep your writing concise and precise.

Here is a list of wordy locutions and their shorter alternatives.  Give the short ones a try; your readers will thank you.

1. At this point in time (now)

2. At that point in time (then)

3. In a timely manner (soon, promptly, shortly)

4. Until such time as (when, until)

5. With regard to (with reference to) (about)

6. In the event that (if)

7. Prior to, in advance of (before)

8. In the month of October (in October)

9. In the amount of (for)

10. Due to the fact that (because)



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In Honor of the Super Bowl

For those of you interested in watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, I beg you not to use the announcers and players as models from whom to take your language cues. Aside from grammatical errors, chances are you will hear clichés flying higher than the ball headed for a field goal.

Listen for these:

He’s got game!

It’s a game of inches!

They are going at it like a couple of heavyweights!

They’re locked in a defensive battle!

The fans are really getting their money’s worth!

They’re feeling each other out!

You’re watching a nip-and-tuck game!

This is a real nail biter!

This game is down to the wire!

They’re fighting tooth and nail!

Print this out and make a check mark every time you hear one of these tired, hackneyed phrases. You may need to sharpen that pencil a few times.

Enjoy the game.

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