Tag Archives: clear English

Have You Heard?

So many words in English (and most likely in every language) are so close to other words,  both in spelling and pronunciation. These similarities contribute to phrases that are close, but no cigars will be distributed:

Statue of limitations   You want the legal term statute.

Pass mustard   At the dinner table, fine. But the expression is to pass muster, meaning to pass inspection.

Free reign   No royalty involved. It’s free rein (as in giving your horse freedom to ride however she wants).

Baited breath  I’m squirming. Leave the bait in the boat. It’s bated breath, meaning the people holding their breath are waiting anxiously for something to occur.

Heart-rendering  The expression is heartrending. To rend is to tear.

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Keep It Simple!

Thought for the day:

Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness

A predilection by the intelligentsia to engage in the manifestation of prolix exposition through a buzzword disposition form of communication notwithstanding the availability of more comprehensible, punctiliously applicable, diminutive alternatives.

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And the Prize for the Longest (Unintelligible) Sentence Goes To…

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I don’t have to tell you who spoke the long chunk of words below. The passage is full of fragments, stream of consciousness musings, and run-on sentences. What is a run-on sentence? Not every long sentence constitutes a run-on. You could join countless sentences together with ands and buts and subordinate clauses; it would be torture to read or listen to, but it wouldn’t be a run-on.

A run-on is when you join two or more intact sentences (subject, verb, complete thought) with either (1) commas, sometimes called a comma splice, or (2) no punctuation between them, sometimes called a fused sentence:

(1) You love dogs, some people adore hamsters.   (2) You love dogs some people adore hamsters.

You can fix these sentences by making them separate sentences with end punctuation. Or you can add a conjunction after the comma. You can also separate them with a semicolon.

I’m thinking it might be beneficial to have people pass a literacy test before running for president.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

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How to Write Good

Sent to me by my friend Marilyn, another language maven. Enjoy.

50 Rules for Writing Good

One of the more popular items that circulate through the network of folk faxology is a perverse set of rules along the lines of Thimk, We Never Make Mistakes and (this one runs off the page) PlanAhe…. These injunctions call attention to the very mistakes they seek to enjoin. English teachers, students, scientists and (scientific) writers have been circulating a list of self-contradictory rules of usage for more than a century, and have been collecting and creating them for almost half of one. Whatever you think of these slightly cracked nuggets of rhetorical wisdom, just remember that all generalizations are bad.

  1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
  2. Between you and I, case is important.
  3. A writer must be sure to avoid using sexist pronouns in his writing.
  4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  5. Don’t be a person whom people realize confuses who and whom.
  6. Never use no double negatives.
  7. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. That is something up with which your readers will not put.
  8. When writing, participles must not be dangled.
  9. Be careful to never, under any circumstances, split infinitives.
  10. Hopefully, you won’t float your adverbs.
  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  12. Lay down and die before using a transitive verb without an object.
  13. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  14. The passive voice should be avoided.
  15. About sentence fragments.
  16. Don’t verb nouns.
  17. In letters themes reports and ads use commas to separate items in a series.
  18. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
  19. “Don’t overuse ‘quotation marks.’ “
  20. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (if the truth be told) superfluous.
  21. Contractions won’t, don’t and can’t help your writing voice.
  22. Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  23. Don’t forget to use end punctuation
  24. Its important to use apostrophe’s in the right places.
  25. Don’t abbrev.
  26. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  27. Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
  28. Avoid mispellings.
  29. Check to see if you any words out.
  30. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  31. Avoid annoying, affected, and awkward alliterations, always.
  32. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  33. The bottom line is to bag trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  34. By observing the distinctions between adjectives and adverbs, you will treat your readers real good.
  35. Parallel structure will help you in writing more effective sentences and to express yourself more gracefully.
  36. In my own personal opinion at this point of time, I think that authors, when they are writing, should not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that they don’t really need.
  37. Foreign words and phrases are the reader’s bete noire and are not apropos.
  38. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  39. Always go in search for the correct idiom.
  40. Do not cast statements in the negative form.

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Proofreading for Me, Myself, Personally, and I

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Apparently, Steve Coogan has never seen himself as a paragon of good writing, either.

Have you ever heard another person say or write something similar to the following sentence?  I myself personally am opposed to the senator’s proposal.

I myself personally find that sentence exceedingly painful. It contains a triple redundancy. Get rid of the clutter. Say what you mean. Get in, get out.

Personal and its relative personally are often redundant. Why say you have close personal friends? If they’re close friends, obviously they are people you know well. When you state, “Personally, I enjoy skiing,” that’s the way you feel. Personally adds nothing but redundant clutter.

  • Proofreading involves more than looking for typos. Proofread for spelling errors, grammar and punctuation problems, content, awkward phrasing, redundancies, clichés, parallelism, jargon and slang. If that seems too much to look for on one go-through, proofread more than once, looking for just a few problems (or even one) at a time. Your readers will thank you, and your writing will show you to be a professional.

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Thinking About the Gettysburg Address

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. Latviešu: Abrahams Linkolns, sešpadsmitais ASV prezidents. Српски / Srpski: Абрахам Линколн, шеснаести председник Сједињених Америчких Држава. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address 150 years ago. Contrary to popular belief, he did not write it on the back of an envelope on the train to Gettysburg. In fact, it is not known where he wrote the speech, but he did continue to edit it in the bedroom of the house where he stayed the night before the battlefield was dedicated as the first national military cemetery.

Before Lincoln spoke, he was preceded by a former president of Harvard, Edward Everett, who droned on for two hours and eight minutes. Lincoln, who had been added as a speaker almost as an afterthought, rose to the podium and began. He delivered his speech in less than three minutes.

Ronald C. White, Jr., a visiting professor of history at UCLA and a fellow at the Huntington Library, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (Nov. 17, 2013) explicating why Lincoln’s brief speech is one for the ages. Lincoln did not need two hours to illustrate the greater significance of the cemetery dedication, essentially, as White writes, “no longer defending an old Union but proclaiming a new one.”

The next day the former president of Harvard stated, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the dedication in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

White’s point in closely examining Lincoln’s brief speech is that it should serve as a beacon for today’s writers, both professional and casual. Do not write to impress. Use short words. The Gettysburg Address is only 272 words and, of those, 204 are of one syllable. White encourages his readers to read the Address slowly, as Lincoln delivered it slowly. “Think about the power of the words. Words fiercely mattered to Abraham Lincoln. They ought to matter to us.”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicatewe cannot consecratewe cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Words and Phrases to Shut Down

Because the Federal government is shut down (and I will refrain from irate political comments, difficult as that is for me), I presume no one is at work at the US Dept. of Commerce. Years ago, when Malcolm Baldridge became its director, he banned many words and phrases from department writing. If an employee used one, the computer screen would flash “Don’t Use This Word.” Here is merely a partial list. See if you are inordinately fond of any of them:

I would hope, as I am sure you are aware, bottom line, delighted, enclosed herewith, finalize, great majority, hopefully, needless to say, parameter, prior to [I swear I never see “before” in corporate writing], prioritize, share, therein, to impact, untimely death, effectuated, utilize.

I do understand that various professions have their own lingo: lawyerese, educatorese, psychobabble, engineerese, medicalese, etc. The language these people use helps them communicate with others within the same profession.  I get that. My complaint is when they pollute the outside world, when that world already has perfectly fine words to to convey ideas. It’s a form of dumbing down the language.

Remember Woodsy Owl?  “Give a hoot!  Don’t pollute!”

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