Monthly Archives: January 2017

A British Mister

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A British Mister? A Mister Misting?

Reading a news article today about current British-American relations, I came across a reference to a “British mister.” My first thought was that it referred to some British bloke (as they might say). Then I wondered if it were someone in government who was in charge of taking care of plants in government offices: watering, trimming, fertilizing, and misting them.

Obviously, the writer intended to write “minister,” but because “mister” is a word and software cannot determine context, “mister” prevailed.

Whether it’s fair or not, we are judged by the way we write. If we don’t proofread meticulously, errors will slip through and there’s a good chance we will be determined to be careless people. This can be detrimental in many areas of our lives.

Proofreading doesn’t take long. I’ve written about this before, but if we proofread silently and at our normal reading speed, we will read what we think we wrote, not what we actually wrote. Reading backwards will pick up very few errors: if you wrote the and meant they, you won’t catch it.

The most effective proofreading method is to read out loud—not as in some dramatic oration but just loudly enough that you can hear your words. It’s also important to read more slowly than your normal speed. If you do both, chances are you will write error-free text.

 

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What’s a Run-On Sentence?

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It’s been my experience that when people see a very long sentence they immediately decide it’s a run-0n. In fact, you can have one sentence comprising thousands of words (even though no one would possibly want this), and it would not be a run-on, as long as it was structured correctly.

A run-on is a complete sentence, no matter how long or short, that is joined to another complete sentence by two different means:

  1. Jim is tall his brother is shorter. Here you have two complete sentences that have nothing to join them. This is the classic run-on.
  2. Jim is tall, his brother is shorter. Here the two sentences are joined by a comma, making what is known as a comma splice, another form of a run-on.

It’s easy to fix run-ons.

  1. You can put a period between the two sentences: Jim is tall. His brother is shorter. With very short sentences like these, using a period may seem a bit simplistic, but it’s not wrong.
  2. You can also use a semicolon between the two sentences, assuming they are closely related in subject matter: Jim is tall; his brother is shorter.
  3. You can add a connecting word: Jim is tall although his brother is shorter.

We most often write run-ons when we’re in a hurry. If we don’t take time to proofread (audibly—quietly so you can hear your own voice—and slowly), chances are we won’t catch them. But our readers may, and it’s best not to let that happen. It may not be fair, but we are often judged by our writing.

 

 

 

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Choose the Correct Pronouns

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Here’s a sentence like one I used to use in my corporate writing seminars. See if you think the given pronouns are correct:

She and I approve of Martin traveling with them and we.

Did you find any problems? It’s easy to evaluate if you take it one at a time, pronoun by pronoun.

She approves…. So far, so good, right?

I approve…. OK by me. You too?

I approve of Martin traveling with them…. Also fine.

I approve of Martin traveling with we. Ouch.

You can hear that you need us for the final pronoun. (Us is the object of the preposition with. Prepositions are always followed by nouns or object pronouns.) Other than that one change, the rest of the sentence was grammatically correct. So even when a sentence seems overly complicated, if you take it one little piece at a time, you should be able to sort it out and make sure it’s right.

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You Can Do So Much With Words!

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About to be delighted

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed? In addition, bed makers can be debunked, poll workers devoted, and teachers detested.

 

I love language!

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Shakespeare Insult Kit

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Here’s all you need to find the perfect insult. Just follow the instructions below. You don’t need to read across, necessarily. Just take one from each column, wherever you find an appealing word.  Thanks to my friend Lee G. for posting this.

 

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Red-handed

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When we use the expression to be caught red-handed, did you ever think of its origin? It means to be caught in the act of doing something wrong or possibly illegal, with absolute proof of guilt.

Originally, it showed up in Scotland as long ago as the 15th century and literally meant to find someone with blood on his (or, in the case of Lady Macbeth, her) hands. By the mid-19th century, you no longer needed to exhibit bloody hands but merely be caught committing  some offense.

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The Order of Adjectives

unknownMark Forsyth wrote a book called The Elements of Eloquence, which includes this unspoken and largely unwritten rule we all follow but were never taught:

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”

Try moving just one of those adjectives to a different spot and you’ll see and hear how weird the sentence sounds. I find it fascinating that we all pick up the intricacies of our native languages before we even start school, without being taught the grammar. I call it linguistic osmosis.

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The Most Mispronounced Words of 2016, Part 2

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The US Captioning Company listened to newscasters to find the most commonly mispronounced words during 2016. The British Institute of Verbatim Reporters did the same in the UK. Here is the rest of the list:

6.  Nomophobia  Fear of being without one’s cellphone. This was a biggie on both the US and UK lists. Pronounced no mo PHO be uh.

7. Quinoa  A grain from the Andes. Both US and UK broadcasters had great difficulty pronouncing this word. It’s KEEN wah.

8. Redacted  Censored or blacked out on a document. The Brits had trouble pronouncing this (why?). Not so the Americans, probably because of how frequently it was used when referring to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Parts were revealed but others parts were redacted. You saw those heavy black lines. ree DAK tid.

9. Xenophobia  Fear of foreigners, foreign ideas, and of the people who espouse them. This was Dictionary.Com’s 2016 word of the year.  Zeen uh PHO be uh.  It was often mispronounced on both sides of the Atlantic.

10. Zika  A deadly virus transmitted by mosquitos, sexual contact, and passed from mother to child. It reached epidemic proportions in 2016. ZEE kuh.

If you’ve been mispronouncing any of the words on these two lists, don’t feel too bad. If enough other people also mispronounce them, that pronunciation will eventually become standard. All languages change. Sometimes that change is slow, but at times it happens almost overnight. I’m thinking of homogeneous. The dictionary pronunciation is ho mo JEEN ee is. But I hear huh MAH jin us so often that I’m expecting to see it as an approved pronunciation in dictionaries next week.

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The Most Mispronounced Words of 2016, Part 1

 

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A photo representing hygge

 

The US Captioning Company listened to newscasters to find the most commonly mispronounced words during 2016. The British Institute of Verbatim Reporters did the same in the UK. I’ll take this in two parts so as not to overwhelm you.

1. Chaos Complete disorder; utter randomness. It’s pronounced KAY oss. Most American newsreaders were familiar with this word, but it came up a lot in Britain because of Brexit and caused some pronunciation problems. How wonderful to live in a land where chaos is not an everyday occurrence.

2. Cisgender Relating to people whose self-identity is congruent with the gender of their biological sex. This word got a lot of play because of the North Carolina case involving bathroom choice. It did not appear on the British list. Pronounced CIZZ gen dehr.

3. Hygge From Denmark, the concept of creating a cozy atmosphere that promotes wellbeing. It refers to more than comforters and hot chocolate; it also involves having people around you who relate to you warmly. This was on both lists and is pronounced HUE gah. I’m beginning to see this word fairly frequently.

4. Narcos appeared on both the US and UK lists. Refers to drug traffickers; also the name of a Netflix series about Pablo Escobar. Pronounced NARK ohs. Not sure why it would be mispronounced.

5. Hyperbole Exaggerated claims. US broadcasters rarely had trouble pronouncing this word (perhaps because of the prevalence of hyperbole during the presidential campaign). The Brits often mispronounced it, perhaps because their political discourse is more controlled and sedate than ours. Pronounced hy PER bo lee. (I once taught at a school at which my students told me another English teacher there pronounced it HY per bole. That almost killed me.)

More mispronounced words in my next post.

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Proofreading is Crucial (or How Not to Get Laughed At)

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I found this entry in Drummond Moir’s book, Just My Typo:

“On 22 April, 2003, a closed captioning typist for ABC’s World News Tonight informed viewers that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was ‘in the hospital for an enlarged prostitute.’ Later that evening, viewers were advised that Mr. Greenspan was in fact having prostate problems.”

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“Speaking American”: A Book I Love

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I recently bought this book by Josh Katz. The subtitle is “How Y’All, Youse, and You Guys Talk.” It’s a visual guide to American regional English. For years now I’ve been pining for DARE, the Dictionary of American English. The last time I looked it was three volumes and cost close to $400. That price was steep enough that I haven’t checked back.

But along came this book for $25 and I knew I had to have it. What the author did was take everyday objects and illustrate with maps of the United States what those objects are called in various parts of the country.

For instance, take “a sandwich on a long roll with meats and cheeses.” Here in California, I instantly think “sub.” But around Pennsylvania, it’s a “hoagie,” in NYC and on Long Island it’s a “hero,” a little piece of Connecticut says it’s a “wedge” (who knew?), the Upper Midwest and the Illinois/ Indiana area prefer “grinders,”  and most of New England has decided it’s an “Italian sandwich.”

Do you call this type of sandwich something other than one of these regionalisms? If so, tell me what it is and let me know where you live.

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