Monthly Archives: July 2015

Some Midweek Typos for You

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Drummond Moir’s Just My Typo keeps me laughing. Here are a few more, these from students.

The bowels are A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes W and Y.
In spring the lambs can be seen gambling in the fields.
Unaware means the clothes we put on first.
The first scene I would like to analize occurs in Heart of Darkness.
Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote Donkey Hote.
A ruminating animal is one that chews its cubs.

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Nouns That Add No Meaning

images Avoid Jargon! Common in the tech industries but definitely found throughout the corporate world, creating nouns from other parts of speech is rampant. The result is jargon. Some refer to this process as “nominalization,” but I resist using that term because it and many other —ization words are unnecessary, often pretentious and silly: incentivization, calendarization, colorization, idolization, utilization, underutilization, overutilization—you get the point.

Speaking of points, “data points” and “price points” abound these days. The word “point” adds no information. “Data” and “price” say it all.

An ad for Daedalus Books in the July 27th New Yorker states: “STILL THE BEST BROWSE IN BARGAIN BOOKS.” I’m going on a browse. Did you find any good books on your browse?

On so-called reality TV makeover shows, you are treated to “the big reveal.” Newscasters make rain into a “rainfall event,” or “shower activity.” And don’t forget an “emergency situation.” Airlines refer to “the boarding process.” Companies speak of “deliverables” and “inputs.”

Noun strings abound: “a hospital employee relations improvement protocol” (a plan to improve hospital employee relations). NASA continues to work on the “International Space Station astronaut living quarters module development project”: (improving the living quarters of ISS astronauts).

A final example before you and I both go crazy: “Underground Mine Worker Safety Protection Procedures”: (Procedures for protecting mine workers). When you write, proofread more than once: check for obvious grammar and punctuation errors, but also proofread specifically for wordiness. If a word adds no meaning, cut it out. Your readers will be grateful.

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More Typos from the Brits

I’m so glad I picked up Drummond Moir’s little compilation, Just My Typo. I hope you’re enjoying these gaffes as much as I am.

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The Queen Herself Graciously Pissed Over the Magnificent Edifice
( The Times of London headline reporting Queen Victoria’s opening of the Menai Bridge)

Successful businesswoman, widower, aged 44, usual trappings, non-smoker with varied interests, seeks affectionate, understanding female to shave the enjoyable things in life. (Yorkshire Post)

Bishops Agree Sex Abuse Rules (Sunday Business Post)

“They have been suggesting that for some time. It’s all rubbish. It’s fiction.” His comments followed claims that the Prince has been secretly Mrs Parker-Bowles for more than a decade, and as often as once a week. (Evening Gazette)

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Subject-Verb Agreement Quiz

Here are five sentences from the book I used in all my business writing seminars, The Bare Essentials, by Norton, Green and Barale.
Before you take the quiz, remember that the only word that adds and makes a subject plural is AND. Decide if the sentences are correct as written or if a problem exists with subject-verb agreement. Explanations follow the sentences.

1. A handful of companies dominate the American cereal industry.
2. Have either of the teams won a series yet?
3. Experience in programming, together with a willingness to work hard and an ability to get along with others, are required.
4. Absolutely everyone, my girlfriend and my mother included, not to mention my closest friends, have advised me not to pursue a musical career.
5. It is not necessarily true that statements made about one identical twin applies with equal validity to the other.

All those sentences are incorrect. Here are the explanations:

1. The subject is “handful,” so the verb has to be “dominates.” “Of companies” is a prepositional phrase; the subject of a sentence is never found in a prepositional phrase</em>, even though most of them contain a noun (and sometime a pronoun) at the end that may look like a subject. But they never are.

2. “Either of the teams” refers to one team or the other but not both. “Of the teams” is a prepositional phrase. The singular subject is the pronoun “either.” The verb must be “Has.”

3. The subject is “Experience,” so the verb must be “is required.” After “Experience,” the sentence is packed with prepositional phrases and none of the nouns in them can be part of the subject.

4. The subject is “everyone.” That is always singular, so the verb has to be “has advised.”

5. The subject is “statements,” a plural, so the verb must be “apply.”

How did you do? Write me if you have questions.

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My All-Time Favorite Typo

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This goes back a long way, but it is a typo I saw with my own eyes in the San Francisco Chronicle (often called the SF Comical because of its frequent typos) in the early 1970s. It was soon reprinted in The New Yorker for readers’ enjoyment.

Here is the back story: In those days, the Chronicle published not only engagement and marriage announcements but also divorce announcements of so-called prominent residents. Also at that time of the Vietnam War, many troop trains were leaving from Oakland, CA. That may seem like a non-sequitur, but stay tuned.

A prominent San Francisco “socialite” at that time, whose parties and adventures were closely monitored by the newspaper, was named Dolly McMasters Johnson. This is what the Chronicle wrote when the Johnsons announced they were divorcing: “Mr. (Iforgethisfirstname) Johnson is suing his wife, Dolly McMasters Johnson, for divorce on grounds of frigidity. [Insert a troop train.]”

I recall the article went on to give personal facts of interest to readers about the unhappy couple, but after that lead, what could be more fascinating?

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Translating Corporate-Speak (aka Jargon)

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Recently, Marilyn Katzman wrote an article in the New York Times about the difficulties she encountered when re-entering the workforce after having been “reorganized,” (you know, “let go”) from her previous position. Flooded with corporate jargon, she finally kept a list of the jargon words and their conversational equivalents. Asked if she was ready for her “bilateral” (I would have thought it referred to a mammogram), she ultimately deduced it meant attending a face-to-face meeting with her boss. Then she wondered if you can still say “boss.”

When asked if she had “bandwidth,” Katzman figured out that all it meant was time to work on a project. Well, of course. She soon realized that “strategy” and “strategic” were extremely useful, adding weight and gravitas to anything to which they were attached. “Strategic planning” was a biggie—but doesn’t all planning involve strategy? She also understood that she was thought to be more intelligent when she threw “transparency” into conversations and emails. Katzman learned that “decks” had nothing to do with levels in a parking garage but rather referred to PowerPoint presentations. You knew that, right? At meetings she would write down examples of this new-to-her corporate jargon: “deliverables” showed up with great frequency, as did “ramping up” and “drilling down.”

Before too long, a colleague informed her of an actual game, “B.S. Bingo,” consisting of cards ruled off into squares. Each square contained one of these supposedly important words, and at meetings people would X off a square when they heard the word in it. When a whole row was marked off, the attendee got to jump up and yell, “B.S!” When I taught in the corporate world, this game hadn’t be produced yet (why didn’t I think of it!), but I would tell my groups about another version of this game I had heard of: except my people were encouraged, when they completed a row, to yell, “Bullshit!” I’m still wondering if anyone ever did it.

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Clarification of a Capitalization Rule

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Sharp-eyed reader DC emailed me, pointing out an assumption I made in Rule #11 of my last post: I assumed you would know that I was referring only to prepositions found in titles. I knew what I meant and assumed you would all be mindreaders. This rule applies only to prepositions in titles—anywhere else (except for the first word of a sentence), they are all lowercase.

I apologize for the confusion I may have caused. I broke my own rule: never assume anything.

As always, feel free to write me with questions, corrections and suggestions. I’m eager to hear from you.

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