Monthly Archives: September 2014

Do You Care Enough? Too Much?

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I love it when people send me examples of bad writing. (It makes my job so much easier.) Here is the latest from V.M., who relishes these goofs as much as I do. She received a brochure last week from “Beyond Caring Home Care Services.”

You know what the owners were trying to convey. They wanted us to know that not only do they care, but they go beyond caring to do many other helpful things. The problem is that according to the common meaning of “beyond caring,” you no longer care. You used to care but now you are past that; you are beyond caring.

It’s possible the brochure was written by someone whose first language wass not English and who was not familiar with this particular expression. If a document was important, I always used to encourage my ESL students to run their writing by someone whose facility with English they could trust, to make sure they were not making inadvertent mistakes.

P.S. Winnie the Pooh should have used a period or a semicolon between those two sentences, not a comma. But I love him, and he admits he is a bear of very little brain.

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Massive Mistakes

Welcome to fall. Seasons are not capitalized except when you specifically refer in a document to, for example, a report of Fall 2014 or the Fall Retreat.

This week I have a treat for you, sent to me by B.B., who took my corporate class a very long time ago. I love it when former participants stay in touch with me, especially when they think of me when finding a goodie like the following. Take it as a warning. PROOFREAD EVERYTHING!

http://www.lifebuzz.com/massive-mistakes/

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Virtual or Actual?

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In the same way “literal” and “figurative” are often used incorrectly, people also confuse the meanings of these two words:

VIRTUAL means in effect or almost: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a virtual horse.”

A virtual horse is one that doesn’t exist. It isn’t actual. It might be a horse in a painting or some other image of a horse, but it isn’t alive (or even dead). It doesn’t exist.

You are certainly familiar with the term “virtual reality.” That means something that seems to be real in every way but is, in fact, an illusion.

On the other hand, if you’re hungry enough to eat an actual horse you’re more likely to satisfy your appetite in France than in many other countries. (But being vegan or vegetarian is also an option you might consider.)

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Home or Hone?

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Here are two frequently confused  words.

To HOME (in), a verb, means to head for home, like a passenger pigeon, or to focus on something:

“Elliot cut short the chatter at the meeting and homed in on the topic everyone had come to discuss.”

To HONE means to sharpen, either literally or figuratively:

“Karen honed her skills as a designer by finding a mentor in the fashion industry.”

“Robin honed her favorite whittling knife before entering the wood-carving competition.”

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Singular or Plural?

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The following words often cause problems with subject-verb agreement: EVERYBODY, EVERYONE, EVERYTHING. However, if you look at the end of each word, you’ll see that each one is singular. Therefore, you’ll need a singular verb to go with one of these words if it is your subject. The same rule applies for the ANY— words and the NO— words. (“No one” is always spelled as two words.)

Everyone in the meetings is coming with a laptop.

Anything you’ve heard about his children is likely to be true.

Nobody at the hotel has heard about the robbery on the second floor.

The rule has always been that the pronoun associated with these words needs to be singular as well: “Everyone attending the meeting needs to bring (his, her, his or her) laptop.” All of those choices are either awkward or exclusionary. For that reason, we most often hear “Everyone needs to bring their laptop.” It’s only a matter of time until that becomes standard English. However, an easy fix is to skip that pronoun entirely and just have the people bring “a laptop. Problem solved.

 

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However Did We Learn to Spell?

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Here are crazy examples that struck me the other day. Look at these two sets of words:

ANGER, DANGER

LAUGHTER, SLAUGHTER

Adding just one letter at the beginning of the first words entirely changes the expected pronunciation of the second.

Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules; I just comment on them.

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Cut It Out

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Here are some commonly used (not utilized!) words you can eliminate in almost every case:

Event: A sales event is a sale.

Facilities: Manufacturing facilities are plants or factories.

Conditions: Stormy weather conditions are storms.

Activity: Rainfall activity is rain.

Basis: Working on a volunteer basis is volunteering.

Operation: A cleanup operation is cleaning up.

You can see these words add no meaning, carry no weight. After you finish writing, go to your Find function and put in these clichéd words. Read each sentence where you find them and see if you can’t eliminate the deadwood. In almost every case you’ll be able to cut it out.

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They’re, Their, There

UnknownWait! Please don’t stop reading. I have a couple of good tips for you to help you remember which form is which.

1. They’re=They are. If you can’t substitute “they are,” you want a different form of this homophone.

They’re arriving an hour early to make sure to get good seats at the concert.

2. Their=Possession. It indicates ownership. The word “heir” is contained within this word, so you can remember that an heir will inherit possessions.

The campers retrieved their food bags from the pine tree and cooked their dinner, hoping not to be threatened by bears.

3. There=Location. It is similar in spelling to “where” and “here,” words that also indicate location.

I love visiting New York, but I haven’t lived there for a very long time.

Be sure to proofread your writing to make sure you have the correct form.

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Non Sequiturs

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Here’s a bit of Latin accepted in everyday English without translation. For the record, a non sequitur means “it does not follow.”

It shouldn’t have to be stated that one thought in your writing should logically follow the preceding idea (but I just stated that). However, we often are struck by words that raise our eyebrows and elicit a “Huh?”

Here’s an example from the New York Times:

“Slim, of medium height and with sharp features, Mr. Smith’s technical skills are combined with strong leadership qualities.”

Surely you are asking yourself what Smith’s technical skills and leadership qualities have to do with his physical description. This is a glaring example of a non sequitur and, as a bonus feature, it is also a misplaced, or dangling, modifier: a grammatical twofer. As the sentences are written, Smith’s technical skills and leadership qualities are slim, of medium height and possess sharp features. Huh?

When you begin a sentence with a description such as the one above, what follows immediately has to be the person or object that possesses those traits. Then your modifier will be undangled.

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To D or not to D?

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A friend sent me this snippet that raised her eyebrows: “There was little advanced warning 79 years ago….”

Advanced warning? Was the warning ahead in development, or did it come in advance of something?

It’s common to see errors in which people use —ed for a suffix or else leave it off, as in “ice tea.” Is the tea made of ice or is it iced?

If you’re debating whether to use the —ed form or to leave that d off, ask yourself some logical questions. The answers should be obvious to you and help you decide which form you want.

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Recur and Recurrence

Pay attention and you’ll frequently see and hear people use “reoccur” and “reoccurrence” to describe something that has happened before. Logically, they are correct: an act has occurred and then has happened again, so you would think it had re[again]occurred. But, in fact, the grammatically correct forms are “recur” and “recurrence.”

If you are guilty of this offense, please avoid engaging in further recurrences. Your readers and listeners will thank you.

 

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