Monthly Archives: June 2013

Wet or Whet?

Whistles and appetites frequently come with a word that sounds like “wet.” But do you need the “h”?

“Whistle” is a slightly humorous substitute for “mouth.” If you are thirsty, you want to “wet” your whistle.

“Whet” means “to hone or sharpen,” so you might be offered an appetizer that will “whet” your appetite and make you hungry for more.

WHET Water Bottle

WHET Water Bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Thoughts About Adverbs

Hopefully, actually, basically, amazingly, fundamentally, surprisingly, significantly, essentially—these are all common ways to begin a sentence, and you can throw them out. My favorite story about “actually” is from a friend whose young granddaughter started many sentences with that word.  Her grandmother asked her what “actually” meant, and Nicole thought about it and finally answered, “Actually, I don’t know.”

Adverbs can be redundant. There is no need for a band to blare loudly. Is there any other way to blare?  Do you clench your teeth tightly?  Laugh happily?  Weep sadly?  Are you totally amazed?  Can you be partially amazed?  Isn’t that like being partially pregnant?

When you use an adverb, determine whether it is doing any work. Does it contribute to the meaning of your sentence? If not, cut it out. It’s deadwood.

Adverbs (novel)

Adverbs (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Even More Clichés

While I was on vacation last week, you sent me several good examples of clichés that bug you.  They bug me, too. Here are your suggestions:

 It is what it is

With that said

Pull the trigger

Sense of urgency

Walk it back

Walk it through

Turn the corner

Think outside the box

Here is a one-word cliché that makes me want to scream.  I must hear it and read it a total of 50 times a day—this is not hyperbole:   Starting a sentence with “So.”

“So I went out to dinner last night.  So they were out of chicken.  So what do you think I did?  So I ordered fish instead. So I ate it, but it wasn’t that great.  So where do you think we went after dinner?”

Do you see how you could easily omit every one of those “so”s and no meaning would be compromised?  Try it, I’ll like it.









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The Danger of Using Humor in Writing

I advocate using humor in writing, even in business writing—when it is appropriate. Used judiciously, it can lighten a fraught situation and relax your readers. The problem is that in writing, readers have only your words to go by.

On the telephone, they have your words but can also hear your tone of voice and inflections, which will help to guide them. In person, the people you are addressing not only have your words, tone and inflections but also your facial expressions and body language. Given the whole picture, it is far easier for them to understand when you are being funny.

In writing, something you state with a humorous intent might come across as sarcastic, snarky or downright nasty, even though that was never your plan.  I advise that if you have any doubts about trying to be funny in a particular situation, play it straight and leave the humor for your face-to-face encounters.

And please don’t signal your attempts at humor in writing with LOL or ;- ).  You want to come across as a professional, not as a 12-year-old.

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Two Vocabularies

So frequently I see people write in ways they are unlikely to speak. They will say, “I bought a new car” but will write, “I purchased a new vehicle.” In speech they will “go” someplace, but in writing they prefer to “proceed.”  They say their friend “quit her job,” but in writing she “resigned her position.”

In speech they “use” simple, clear English, but in writing they “utilize” a puffed-up variant.  When we write, our goal should be to use language that leaves no room for questions.  Straightforward English is best. Writing is not the time to prove how clever you are. If you are smart, people already know that. Write so your audience gets the point and doesn’t have to contact you for clarification. Having to do that annoys them, annoys you, and wastes time and money.

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What a Difference a Comma Makes

One use of the comma is that it sets off information that may be interesting but is not necessary for the reader to understand the sentence.  That information set off in commas is called “non-essential.”Here are a few examples:

1. My cousin, Juliet, lives in Seattle.

By using commas around her name, you are telling the reader  you have only one cousin and her name happens to be Juliet. If you remove the commas and her name, your readers will understand that you have only one cousin. If you keep her name but remove the commas, you are telling the reader you have more than this one cousin.  How many more?  We don’t know, but Juliet is not the only one.

2. Let’s eat, Eddie, before we pitch our tents.

As written, this sentence is what is called “direct address.” We are speaking directly to Eddie and saying we want to have a meal before we settle in for the night on our camping trip.  If you take those commas out, suddenly this becomes the cannibal camping trip, and Eddie is getting very, very nervous.

3. (X-rated)  Sam helped his brother, Jack, off his horse.

Speak the sentence without the commas.  See how important commas can be?



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Clarity, please!

Beautiful Downtown Burbank

Beautiful Downtown Burbank (Photo credit: kla4067)

Today I came across this sentence:  “[Name of restaurant] is opening its 17th storefront in Burbank.”  Let me tell you, beautiful downtown Burbank and its environs are not large enough to support 17 outlets of any restaurant, not even McDonald’s.  It would have been more accurate to say that the 17th outpost of this particular restaurant is opening in Burbank.


Simple proofreading, especially proofreading out loud, would have made the problem evident.  It’s a good habit to develop.





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