Monthly Archives: January 2014

According to Hoyle

Edmond Hoyle, who started it all

Edmond Hoyle, who started it all

This expression means, in effect, “the official rules” governing a particular situation. Edmond Hoyle was a real person who, in 1741, wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, whist being a forerunner of bridge. This popular book settled many arguments about the game and has been revised over the centuries to give the rules of many card games. Hoyle’s name has been used ever since to represent the authority of accepted and ethical behavior not only in card games but in many life situations.

Are you playing according to Hoyle today?

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January 31, 2014 · 12:35 PM

Too! Much! Emphasis!

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

So often I see writing in which the author capitalizes words that are merely common nouns, not proper nouns (the official names of people, places or things). Someone explained to me yesterday that he deliberately does this because those common nouns are special to him and he wants to call attention to them. People frequently use boldface and italics for the same reason. As if that isn’t enough, they pepper their prose with exclamation points.

Lewis Thomas, who has several books of fine and fascinating short essays, in a piece called “Notes on Punctuation” compares the epidemic of exclamation points to someone’s small child jumping up and down on the sofa in the middle of the living room, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!”

Thomas’ point, and not of the exclamation variety, is that as writers we need to make our words provide the emphasis. Adding capitalization, boldface, italics and unnecessary punctuation only detracts from our message and annoys the reader. Annoyed readers will move on. You want to lure them in, not chase them away.

In Benjamin Franklin’s day, rules of writing had not been codified. Read his entertaining Autobiography and you will see Words randomly Capitalized. (Annoying, right? But do read it; it’s a wonderful book.) We cut him slack because anything went in his day. Now we try to be more subtle. Proofread your writing for errant capitalization, boldface, italics and exclamation points and then get rid of them. You’ll hold your readers’ interest.

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January 27, 2014 · 11:30 AM

Accentuate the Positive

Instead of writing, “We can’t refund your money until you remit your expenses,” turn that sentence around and make it positive:

“As soon as you remit your expenses, we will refund your money.”

Some of the most appealing and persuasive words in the English language are please, thank you, yesfree, save, new, results, easy, money, now, guarantee, discovery, health, sale, safety, proven and love.

If you use those words, make sure you are using them accurately.  When you make promises, keep them.

 

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So Excited!

According to this caption in today’s Los Angeles Times, the Academy Awards are going to be right where I live: in Sherman Oaks! This will be a first. (Of course, if the caption had begun with “At the Goodnight & Co. facility in Sherman Oaks,” I would just watch the proceedings from Hollywood as usual.)

Love those misplaced modifiers.

2014-01-22 10.27.23

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On All Counts or On All Accounts?

This past week I was asked a question that had me stumped for a while until I explored it. Is the expression “to be 
  right on all counts” or “to be right on all accounts”?
It seems that both are acceptable, but you may find using “counts” to be more euphonious. “Counts” is used more often, but that doesn’t make “accounts” wrong.
 
Of course, if you are boxing referee, you will hope to be right on all counts, and if you are a CPA, you want to be correct on all accounts. 
You may now groan.
 

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To Pull the Wool Over One’s Eyes

I found a used book yesterday: 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions From White Elephants to Song and Dance, by Charles Earle FunkThat is quite a long title for a very thick book that contains interesting explanations of many oddities of the English language. From time to time, I will write about some of them.

“To pull the wool over one’s eyes” apparently originated in England several centuries ago. The expression means to fool or delude another. “Wool” is an allusion to a person’s hair, or perhaps a wig. If you pull the hair or the wig over someone’s eyes, that person will be temporarily blinded and easily fooled, perhaps originally by the wool-puller’s intention of robbing him or perhaps just as a tease.

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Gosh

Silly word, isn’t it? Apparently, it’s been used as a non-profane synonym for God for over 200 years. I can’t help but think of George Carlin’s observation: “Cripes. You know: Cripes, son of Gosh.”

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