Tag Archives: clear writing

Sensual vs. Sensuous

SENSUAL always connotes sexual lust and attraction. Reserving the honeymoon suite included a sensual couple’s massage.

The renowned 17th century English essayist and poet John Milton (Paradise Lost) coined the word SENSUOUS to distinguish it from “sensual.” It refers to being aware of bodily sensations: e.g., sensuous smells, tastes, tactile feelings. Swimming slowly in tropical waters is a sensuous experience.

The things you can learn from an English teacher!

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Tropical Waters © Judi Birnberg

Tropical Waters © Judi Birnberg

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A Few Confusing D Words

Here are three sets of similar words all starting with D that have different meanings from their near doubles.

DEFINITE and DEFINITIVE: Definite means specific, precise.
The driving teacher gave definite instructions about what her student should expect on the road test.

Definitive means conclusive, final. The algebra problem, complicated as it was, had a definitive solution that few students were able to reach.

DEFUSE and DIFFUSE: Defuse means to make a situation less harmful. The crowd was getting agitated, but the master of ceremonies’ good nature was able to defuse the nerves of the people in the audience.

Diffuse means to disperse or disseminate, to spread over a wide area. The natural gas that had been escaping for months is now more diffuse so that residents can return to their homes.

DISASSEMBLE and DISSEMBLE: Disassemble means to take apart. When she was only six years old, Katie disassembled the clock to see how it worked.

Dissemble means to conceal, perhaps to lie. Katie dissembled about taking the clock apart when her parents found the parts strewn across the floor of her room.

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Romantic Typos

 

© Judi Birnberg

From Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo:

Arthur was seriously burned Saturday afternoon when he came in contact with a high-voltage wife.  (Albuquerque newspaper)

Here the bridal couple stood, facing the floral setting, and exchanged cows. (Modesto, CA paper)

Mr. and Mrs. Garth Robinson request the honor of your presents at the marriage of their daughter Holly to Mr. James Stockman.  (Wedding invitation)

Socrates died from a overdose of wedlock. (Child’s homework)

The bride was accompanied to the altar by tight bridesmaids. (19th century court journal)

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A Few Pet Peeves, Linguistic Variety

Yea! You wrote "espresso! © Judi Birnberg

Yea! You wrote “espresso”!
© Judi Birnberg

Here’s a quick and simple one for you, suggested by a reader. I share her pet peeve: The “word” anyways does not exist. Just use anyway.

I would be so pleased if people looked at etcetera and pronounced it correctly. There is no EK in the word. It begins with ET, which is Latin for and.

Your favorite coffee drink is an espresso, not an expresso.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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Have You Checked Your Sexist Dictionary Lately?

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the role of dictionaries: should the definitions be descriptive (conforming to the way in which words are currently used) or proscriptive (in essence, showing how words should be used, according to current standards)?

The esteemed Oxford Dictionaries, including the New Oxford American Dictionary that comes with every Apple device in North America, was outed as being surprisingly sexist in many of its definitions. Here are a few examples:

shrill |SHril|
noun [ in sing. ]
a shrill sound or cry: the rising shrill of women’s voices.

Why were “women’s voices” used as an example? Does nothing else make high-pitched and piercing sounds? Bird calls? Machinery? Brakes? Avoid stereotypes.

rabid |ˈrabəd, ˈrā-|
adjective
1 having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something: a rabid feminist.

In fact, more sports fans than feminists have been defined as rabid, according to linguistic studies. Have I cautioned you to avoid stereotypes?

psyche 1 |ˈsīkē|
noun
the human soul, mind, or spirit: I will never really fathom the female psyche.

Do you see the smoke coming out of my ears? Observe: more smoke coming:

hysterical
adjective
1 Janet became hysterical: overwrought, overemotional, out of control, frenzied, frantic, wild, feverish, crazed;

It’s always Janet, poor, crazy, unhinged Janet. Have you watched a political debate recently? Did you notice any males who could easily fit this description?

bossy 1 |ˈbôsē, ˈbäs-|
adjective (bossier, bossiest) informal
fond of giving people orders; domineering: she was headlong, bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar.

Note the use of the feminine pronoun.

bossy
adjective informal
we’re hiding from his bossy sister: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, officious, high-handed, authoritarian, dictatorial, controlling; informal high and mighty. ANTONYMS submissive.

The brother couldn’t possibly be bossy; but that sister! She is tyrannical.

And finally:

nag 1 |nag|
verb (nags, nagging, nagged) [ with obj. ]
annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging: she constantly nags her daughter about getting married | [ with infinitive ] : she nagged him to do the housework

People, this is 2016. Who is editing the dictionary? And why am I haranguing you with this subject? I urge you to be diligent about checking your writing for inadvertent, stereotypical sexism.

If you wouldn’t mention that you saw a man lawyer last week, there is no reason to point out that you happened to see a woman lawyer (and NOT a “lady” lawyer—gentility is irrelevant). Both males and females graduate from law school and pass the bar. The same advice holds for all professions that used to be almost exclusively male but have not been for a very long time: medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, etc. And the reverse holds true: men today commonly are nurses, secretaries and flight attendants.

If you wouldn’t mention your male co-worker’s hair color or his clothes, don’t point out your female co-worker by her red hair—or her blue sweater.

Check your pronouns to make sure they’re inclusive. One easy trick to help you avoid the awkward “his or her” or “he or she” is to make your subject plural and use a plural pronoun to refer to that subject, such as “they” or “their,” for example.

Dentists today do much more than fill their patients’ cavities

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If you were to write the following poem and run it through your spellchecking software, not one word would be highlighted. Every word is legitimate—no spelling errors. Yet you would end up looking either stupid, sloppy, or both. Even if no words are marked by your spellchecker, don’t assume everything is OK. It’s so easy to type “and” when you meant to write “any” or “the” when you meant “them,” these,” or any other common “th” word.

My best advice, which you’ve probably heard from me a zillion times before, is to read what you’ve written out loud (quietly is fine) and slowwwwly: one. word. at. a. time. If you read silently at your usual speed, you’ll end up writing what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

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Commas Used With Direct Address

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Direct address is when you use a person’s name or another word to indicate that person (lady, man, dude, jerk, Mom, Dad, pal, dear, darling, etc.). That direct address should be set off with commas:

Hello, Robert.
Sweetheart, I miss you so much.
I’m telling you, Dad, you need to stop working so hard.
Welcome, friend.
Cut it out, idiot!
Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus.

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The OED 2015 Word of the Year

You may be wondering what took the OED so long; to me it seems as if emojis have been around for a very long time. In fact, emojis have supplanted emoticons, those emotions portrayed by punctuation marks, such as ;- ). (That may not come through the way I typed it; apparently, Unicode seeing those punctuation marks strung together automatically translates them into emojis.)

Some facts for you:

Over 80% of smartphone users in Britain use emojis; of those under 25, almost 100% use them. I’m guessing the numbers are similar in America.

Something called the Unicode Consortium processes applications for new emojis. You, too, can enter a request on the Unicode website by writing a detailed proposal. It may take two years for the committee to decide if your emoji is going to fly. Surprisingly (to me), they receive only about 100 proposals a year, so maybe you’ve got a shot.

Linguists seem to agree that emojis are not going away any time soon. In face-to-face conversation, about 70% of communication comes from non-verbal cues such as facial expression, body language, gestures, and intonation. Your spoken words count for approximately only 30%.

Without these non-verbal cues, our words can easily be misinterpreted online. That is where emojis can reinforce your meaning. Bloomberg has found that 8 trillion (!) text messages are sent each year, so that’s a big opportunity for misunderstanding.

But as with everything you write, you need to evaluate whether using emojis is appropriate. Sending a text or email to a business superior? Writing a letter of complaint? It might be a good idea to keep those emojis locked up. Make sure your written words are doing the work you want them to do. Every word counts. Read what you’ve written out loud. Have you been clear? Polite? Forceful? Respectful? Good. Now hold the smiley face. You’ll get plenty of other chances to use it.

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A Common Use of Hyphens

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Without hyphens, what would you make of the following sentences?

1. I saw a man-eating shark.
2. At the conference were 40-odd men and women.
3. Ancient history tells us about gift-bearing Greeks.
4. The college had to limit all-night discussions in the dorms.

Without those hyphens, you would have seen a male person eating a shark. You could very well see a man eating a serving of shark, but eating a shark gives you an entirely different picture.

You may have already attended a conference or two with 40 weird people, but the sentence above tells you there were approximately 40 people there. We do not know if they were all odd.

Gift-bearing Greeks is quite different than a gift bearing Greeks. That would be the Trojan horse.

Finally, the college is not limiting every discussion that takes place in the dorms at night, only discussions that last all night.

When you have one or more words that modify the noun that follows them, use a hyphen between those words that serve as adjectives if without the hyphens the meaning could be misconstrued. However, when the adjectives follow the noun, do not use hyphens. Therefore, you’d have celebrities who are hard to please or hard-to-please celebrities. Your choice.

Again, I don’t make up these rules; I just teach them.

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Book Recommendation: Bird by Bird

If you’re not familiar with the author Anne Lamott, I am here to tell you that I love her writing. She is serious and hilarious simultaneously, not an easy trick to pull off. Of all her books, I love Bird by Bird the most. The subtitle is Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

This is the best book on writing I know. If you’ve ever considered writing for publication or enjoy writing for your own pleasure, this is the book for you. Lamott knows all the obstacles and excuses you are carrying around in your head, and she dispenses with them in her own inimitable manner. At the same time, the book is philosophical—but not in a ponderous, off-putting way. Again, you will laugh.

If you’re curious about the title, when Lamott was a child her younger brother had a book report on birds due the next day and was agonizing about getting it written. Their father, who was himself a writer, patted his son on the head and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Not a bad approach for a book report or for any other task before you that seems formidable. Bird by bird.

© Judi Birnberg

© Judi Birnberg

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A Few Friday Smiles

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From Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo, some unfortunate errors on CVs:

1. I have a graduate degree in unclear physics.

2. I am a rabid typist.

3. I worked for six years as an uninformed security guard.

4. As part of the city’s maintenance crew, I repaired bad roads and defective brides.

5. I have had sex jobs so far.

Enjoy the weekend!

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How Do You Feel: Bad or Badly?

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It depends. If your fingertips are worn to nubs, chances are you feel badly. You have a bad sense of touch.

But if you have a monster headache and a fever of 102˚, you feel bad. Really bad.

Just as people think I is a classier pronoun than me (it isn’t), they often think badly is more elegant than bad. (It isn’t.)

Let’s talk about body odor for a minute. I think it will make this distinction more clear. Would you rather smell bad or smell badly?

If you go camping for two weeks during the hot summer and are never able to find a shower or even a stream to bathe in, chances are when you get home, you will smell really bad. In fact, you may reek.

But let’s say you have a terrible cold and cannot breathe through your nose. Someone blindfolds you and asks you to smell two things: a rose and an ancient, dirty sneaker. You inhale deeply and try to identify each item. In fact, you can’t smell anything. The rose and the sneaker transmit no scent to your nose. You smell badly. Very badly.

If smelling badly defines your sense of smell, feeling badly describes your sense of touch. If you need a bath, you smell bad, and if you experience sadness or illness, you feel bad.

Questions? Let me know.

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Commas Between Adjectives—or Not?

When you write a sentence with more than one adjective modifying a noun, it’s sometimes tricky to determine if you need to separate those adjectives with commas. Here are a couple of sentences to consider:

1. Charlotte wants to meet an honest, reliable, considerate man.

Do all those adjectives refer to the noun “man” in the same way? (Yes.) Could you use “and” to connect them? Charlotte wants to meet an honest and reliable and considerate man. You wouldn’t write that, but it makes sense. And you can move those adjectives around with no change in meaning: Charlotte wants to meet a considerate, reliable, honest man.

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2. Ella wore bright yellow, suede flat shoes.

What happens if you stick an “and” between those adjectives? Ella wore bright and yellow and suede and flat shoes. Weird, right? In this case, you can’t move the adjectives around without a change in meaning (or a very odd wardrobe choice): Ella wore suede, and bright and yellow and flat shoes. “Suede” is the adjective that most closely defines the flats. “Bright” modifies the shade of yellow.

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Punctuating a Bullet-Point List That is All One Sentence

Sometimes you will write a list that contains items that are part of a single sentence, for instance:

Isaac is looking for the ideal car that has

• great fuel economy;

• room for five passengers;

• sporty styling;

• safe handling;

• a comfortable ride.

— Notice that all the items except the last are followed by a semicolon.
— The final item takes a period.
— Don’t put a colon after the last word of the introductory part of the sentence.
— You do not need the word “and” between the last and the penultimate item.
— In addition, don’t capitalize each item, because they are all continuations of the first part of the sentence about Isaac.

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A Few More Unfortunate Typos

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What would I do without Drummond Moir’s book, Just My Typo? Here are a few more goodies.

From The Parting, by Millicent Hemming:
I am certain of one thing. Whatever may come between us—and wherever he may be on earth—Arthur will always remember that I love ham.

From an anonymous short story:
He was disfigured. As long as I can remember, he has had a car on his face.

From The Price of Love, by Rosemary Jeans:
Ted could not raise the cash necessary to purchase a house, and eventually in desperation he had to burrow.

From Life in Barnsthorpe, by Patricia Cox:
Later that same evening after a vain search all around the village, Mary found the dog dead in the garden. She curried the body indoors.

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Out of Order?

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One of the most common phrases I see and hear is “in order to”:

• In order to vote, you have to be registered by a stated date.
• We will take a poll in order to see who the two most popular candidates are.
• We will book our trip next Tuesday in order to get the best airfare.

In all those sentences, the words “in order” are extraneous; they add no information. They are saying the equivalent of “so that,” but that idea is implied by the word “to” alone. When words don’t do any work, chop them out.

You probably should proofread several times: once for obvious typos and grammatical errors, again for punctuation problems, and one more time to make certain your writing is as clear and concise as possible. If you proofread out loud (barely audibly is fine) and very slowly, you will catch many errors you won’t find when you read silently and at your usual speed. Unless we slow down and speak out, we all tend to see what we think we wrote, not what we actually wrote.

People used to think proofreading backwards was helpful; I do not recommend this technique. It will pick up typos, but since you are not understanding the meaning of your writing, you will miss just about everything else.

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Life and Death

Some interesting goofs found in Drummond Moir’s book Just My Typo:

The man blew out his brains after bidding his wife goodbye with a shotgun. (Connecticut newspaper)

Passengers must stay with their luggage at all times or they will be taken away and destroyed. (Sign at Paddington Station, London)

George had charge of the entertainment during the past year. His birth-provoking antics were always the life of the party and he will be greatly missed. (Willard Times, Ohio)

Police in Hawick yesterday called off a search for a 20-year-old man who is believed to have frowned. (The Scotsman)

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Flounder vs. Founder

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Given the endless political campaign and how often I hear and see these two words misused, I thought it was time to reprise them. Here for your consideration are founder and flounder. Both are used here as verbs.

FOUNDER means to sink. For instance, if a candidate starts out with seemingly enormous support and then makes a mistake, that support may evaporate. He or she may go from 83% popularity to 27% popularity. You would say the candidate’s campaign founders.

FLOUNDER means to act confused and struggle mentally. Think of a flounder flopping around on the deck of a boat, flopping from side to side. That behavior suggests a candidate floundering, not answering questions clearly and contradicting previous positions.

OK, let the endless presidential campaign continue. Only one year to go.

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Looking for a Date?

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According to the Wall Street Journal, a Match.com survey showed that people on dating sites give primary importance to a person’s hygiene. Guess what’s second. Grammar!

Grammar and spelling errors in profiles are a huge turnoff for 88% of women and 75% of men.

So if you’re looking for your soulmate online, wash your hair and proofread what you write. If you’re insecure about your writing skills, ask a friend to look over what you write. Hey, maybe that could be a whole new career for me!

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Joint Ownership

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This post isn’t about who owns that crummy bar downtown. It’s about using apostrophes when more than one person owns something (although, we could be talking about that crummy bar). Look at the following sentences:

1. John and Bill’s crummy bar downtown is doing well, despite its location.

Why does only Bill get an apostrophe showing ownership? When two or more people own the same thing, only the last person mentioned gets an apostrophe. That’s the rule.

2. John’s and Bill’s wives are very good friends.

Presumably, John and Bill each has his own wife; they don’t share connubial bliss. Therefore, each man gets his own apostrophe (along with his own wife).

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New Job Titles

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According to an article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times (9/24/15), it’s becoming somewhat trendy for people in the corporate world to invent their own titles. At Google, employees can give themselves any title they like. Who wants to be a regional general manager or a vice president when you can be the Jolly Good Fellow, the person in charge of Google’s meditation and mindfulness program (and remember, I’m just reporting this, not making it up). Google also has a Chief Extraterrestrial Observer: obviously, that’s the guy who founded the Google Earth Engine.

But it’s not just Google or even Silicon Valley. A designer now calls himself the Head of Touchy-Feely Graphics in an effort to avoid using the words “user experience.”

Need a Certified Thanatologist (and how does one become certified in that field)? Contact Gail Rubin, who helps people deal with all aspects of death. Her business card identifies her as “The Doyenne of Death.” Of course.

A hardware engineer named Mike Savini decided that since he specialized in solving computer glitches, he should be called a Bug Specialist. I have to wonder how many requests he gets to deal with ant or rat infestations.

Troika, a marketing company in Los Angeles, has hired Maya Imberman as Head of the Happiness Committee. Eva Scofield, who works for Graze, is a Snack Huntress for her company.

This seems to be a trend because, in part, these titles are good icebreakers and are thought to make employees more engaged with their work. I happen to see them as adding to the already pervasive jargon in the corporate world. What do you think?

I’ve been called a Grammar Guru as well as a Grammar Nazi. Somehow, I never felt the urge to put one of those on a business card. Right about now, I’m guessing many of you are thinking about what your actual titles should be. Feel free to send me the printable ones.

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Yogi, We’re Going to Miss You

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Yogi Berra, New York Yankee catcher with a 19-year career, was (almost) as famous for his turns of phrase as was for his catching. Here are some of his most famous, listed in today’s Los Angeles Times:

• The future ain’t what it used to be.
• When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
• You can observe a lot by watching.
• Never answer an anonymous letter.
• We made too many wrong mistakes.
• It’s deja vu all over again.
• Baseball is 90% physical. The other half is mental.

And when Yogi’s home town, St. Louis, staged a “Yogi Berra Day” in 1949, Berra announced to the crowd, “I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary.”

Whatta guy!

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More Commonly Misused Phrases

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These lists certainly have been popular. I’ve heard from many of you, and you even offered additional suggestions, for which I am very grateful. Here is another crop of malaprops, a word made famous by Richard Sheridan in his play The Rivals (1775), which contains a character named Mrs. Malaprop.

1. Flush out Nope. You mean to flesh out an argument, put some meat on the bones. If you flush it out, you know where it goes.

2. Unlease a hornet’s nest You want to cancel your lease on that hornet’s nest? I understand. But more likely you want to unleash it, to set those hornets free to sting someone else.

3. Electrical votes This is shocking. Better to use electoral votes. Imagine, we’ll be counting electoral votes in only 14 months! And yet the campaign is in full swing. Just shoot me.

4. Upset the apple tart I have personally done this, and it takes all the joy out of dessert. If you upset an apple cart, you are eliminating order and causing chaos.

5. Alcoholics Unanimous Alcoholics Anonymous protects the participants’ privacy.

6. A vast suppository of information  Yes, that has been written. Repository is so much more pleasant, not to mention accurate.

7. Lavatories of innovation  Probably written by the same person who wrote #6. Go with laboratories.

8. You could have knocked me over with a fender Pretty easy to do. To indicate extreme surprise, use a feather.

9. Tow the line I have never tried to tug a line of anything. If you toe the line, you come right up to the edge and follow rules.

10. Very close veins That they may be, and I am sorry for you. But the correct term is varicose, meaning swollen and twisted.

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Grammarphobia Blog and Woe Is I

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You may be familiar with the wonderful blog Grammarphobia (blog@grammarphobia.com). It is written by the author of the extremely, very, enormously wonderful book Woe Is I, Patricia T. O’Conner. Can you tell how much I love this book?

The subtitle is “The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” Not only is the book written in plain English, it is written in clever, entertaining English. O’Connor frequently makes allusions to popular culture, for instance when giving this correct pronunciation:

“Nuclear. Pronounce it NOO-klee-ur (not NOO-kyoo-lur). ‘My business is nuclear energy,’ said Homer.”

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Ten More Commonly Misused Phrases

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Here are some more phrases that sound almost right—but aren’t. Check to see if any belong to you:

  1. For all intensive purposes   It’s for all intents and purposes.
  1. One in the same should be one and the same.
  1. Make due  Nope. You need to make do. Make what you have do what you need.
  1. By in large is by and large.
  1. Do diligence is not something done. You want due diligence.
  1. Peak one’s interest  This has nothing to do with height. It has to do with pique, sharpening your interest.
  1. Shoe in? This has nothing to do with footwear. It’s shoo in, the way you would shoo your cat inside at night.
  1. Extract revenge. Nothing is being removed. You are going to exact revenge.
  1. Doggy-dog world.  You’re describing a highly competitive situation, which is a dog-eat-dog world.

 

  1. Supposably   No such word. You want supposedly.

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Ten Commonly Misused Phrases

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Do you say or write any of these? Many smart people do, but their use can lead to embarrassment. Check out the correct form of each.

1. DEEP-SEEDED This should be “deep-seated,” meaning something that is established, e.g., a deep-seated anxiety.

2. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE It needs to be “served.” If you arrive first, you will be served first. Otherwise, it looks as if you will have to serve everyone who comes after you.

3. I COULD CARE LESS If this is true, you care to some extent. If you “couldn’t” care less, you are saying you don’t care at all.

4. PROSTRATE CANCER “Prostrate” means lying face down. The prostate is a gland males have near the bladder.

5. SNEAK PEAK It’s a sneak “peek,” a secret, quick look. “Peak” means the summit or apex.

6. HONE IN “Hone” means to sharpen. You can hone your writing skills or your carving knives. But you need to “home” in on areas that need improvement; think of heading for home plate.

7. WET YOUR APPETITE “Wet” means to dampen. You need “whet” here, which means to sharpen. Smelling baking brownies probably doesn’t dampen your appetite but instead makes you drool in anticipation of that first bite.

8. EMIGRATED TO “Emigrate” is used with the preposition “from.” You emigrate from one country to another. “Immigrate” means to go somewhere and is used with the preposition “to.” Hordes of people are emigrating from Syria; they are immigrating to Western Europe.

9. BAITED BREATH I get the most revolting picture of someone who has just eaten a worm. That’s bait. The expression you want is “bated” breath. “Bated,” a word practically obsolete these days, is related to “abate,” which means to cease or reduce. If you are in hiding with bated breath, you are trying not to breathe because of danger or pressure.

10. PIECE OF MIND When you yell at someone in anger, you may be giving that person a piece of your mind. But for serenity, you want “peace” of mind.

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More Typos From Abroad

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Or since I’m writing this, perhaps the subject line should be More Typos From a Broad. Either way, here is some midweek entertainment—along with a reminder to proofread everything you write.

Please leave your values at the front desk. (Sign in a Paris elevator)

Before entering this mosque: Please remove your shoes. Please remove your socks. Please remove your hat. Thank you for your co-ordination. (Sign in Istanbul mosque)

Guests are requested to be as quiet a possible in their rooms after 11 pm so as not to disturb the quest in the other room. (Swedish hotel)

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (Name of a hilarious David Sedaris book, title based on a sign he saw in an elevator, educating guests what to do in case of fire)

Come Fartably Numb (Song title on pirated Pink Floyd CD, Hong Kong)

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A Powerful Word

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I saw this idea on Facebook today; it reminded me of an exercise I used to do with my corporate writing groups.

Place the word ONLY anywhere in the following sentence and see how it changes the meaning:

SHE TOLD HIM THAT SHE LOVED HIM.

Only she told him that she loved him. (No one else did.)
She only told him that she loved him. (But she didn’t show him she did.)
She told only him that she loved him. (She didn’t tell that to anyone else.)
She told him only that she loved him. (She didn’t tell him anything else.)
She told him that only she loved him. (No one else loves him.)
She told him that she only loved him. (But she didn’t like or admire him.)
She told him that she loved only him. (She loves no one else.)
She told him that she loved him only. (Again, she loves no one else.)

ONLY is a modifier. That means it gives information about another part of the sentence. Modifiers may be one word or a group of words. They should be placed right next to the word you want to give more information about. If you put modifiers in the wrong place, you are creating, yes, misplaced modifiers. At times that will lead to embarrassing or awkward situations:

Be certain to buy enough yarn to finish your mittens before you start.
Wearing red noses and floppy hats, we laughed at the clown.
For sale: Mixing bowl set for chef with round bottom for efficient beating.

I know you don’t want people to laugh at your writing, so check for misplaced modifiers as part of your proofreading.

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Academic Typos

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A few more from Drummond Moir’s collection of groanworthy errors in Just My Typo:

1. Dickens spent his youth in prison because his father’s celery was cut off.

2. You may be imprisoned if you use mallet and forethought.

3. A triangle which has an angle of 135˚ is called an obscene angle.

4. Rambo was a famous French poet.

5. A ruminating animal is one which chews its cubs.

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Negatives Without Positives

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In English, we have many negative words that have no paired positives. Here are a few of those non-existent positives for you to ponder:

Are you ept, gruntled and couth? Are you ever shevelled, hibited or sipid? I bet you are never plussed, gainly or ert. But perhaps you may feel sipid, sidious or beknownst. My wish for you is that you are always jected, petuous and consolate, and that you will also be cognito and communicado. I think I have given you enough false positives now that this list needs to become cessant.

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Email Reminders

1. Avoid bold, CAPS and italics to give emphasis; they can be distracting. Let your words carry your meaning.

2. Use BCC: when sending to a group; you don’t want to expose others’ email addresses to strangers. By using BCC: you also avoid the likelihood that one of the recipients will click Reply All rather than responding only to you. We all get far too much email as it is.

3. Begin your email with a greeting and end with a closing and your name. Otherwise, your email may be perceived as being rude and clipped.

4. Don’t send a large attachment without first checking with the recipient to see when the best time to send it would be.

5. Avoid assuming your readers know the details of what you are writing about. If they knew, you’d have no need to write.

6. Use your spell- and grammar-check programs, and then proofread to make sure you didn’t leave words out. Spellcheck programs will accept everything you write that is a word, so if you wrote “and” when you meant “any,” only you can fix that.

7. Before writing because you think you haven’t received an expected response, check your Spam folder.

8. Make your Subject line clear and appropriate. Change it when the email discussion shifts.

9. Remember to thank people for any help you receive. Use “please” when making a request.

10. Writing in all caps is shouting. Writing in all lowercase is annoying.

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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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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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End Punctuation for “Wonder” and “Guess”

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More often that not, I see sentences like the following:

I wonder what time Mike will be arriving?

Guess who I met at the basketball game?

“Wonder” and “Guess” sentences are almost always punctuated (incorrectly) as if they were questions. In fact, they are declarative sentences.

In the first sentence, you are not sure what time Mike will arrive. You have a question in your mind: Will he be here at three o’clock? Four o’clock? You just don’t know. But your sentence is not a question. You are merely stating the fact that you’re unsure when to expect Mike.

In the second sentence, you are asking someone to guess whom you met at the game. That person doesn’t know. But you know and, in fact, you are ordering the other person to do something: to guess who the mystery person is. The sentence is a command, not a question.

I suggest that when you write a “wonder” or “guess” sentence, check specifically to make sure you’ve used the correct end punctuation.

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Clichés in the News (and Maybe in Your Own Writing)

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Patrick La Forge of the New York Times has written about clichés frequently found in spoken or written news reports. I’ve seen many of these sneak into business writing. Try to avoid them; find a fresh way to make your point.

Plans are often “afoot.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

If something is “on the brink,” it’s likely “teetering.”

Often, war veterans are “grizzled.”

Gambles? They are “high stake.”

Forays or incursions are all too often “ill fated.”

When you don’t want to publicize something, you are “tightlipped.”

Are you wasting time? You are likely “frittering away” the hours.

And finally, car chases are invariably “high speed,” (except for the one back in the mid-1990s when OJ Simpson made his leisurely way down the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles; now that was news).

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Simple or Simplistic?

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Too often I hear people use “simplistic” when they really mean “simple.” These two words are not synonyms; “simplistic” is not a fancy way of saying “simple.”

“Simple” means easy to understand, not overly complicated.(You knew that.)

“Simplistic” means overly simple, making a complicated situation seem easier than it actually is: “Alleviating the drought would be easy if people would just turn off the water when they brush their teeth.”

Simple, right? Einstein was saying, “Make it simple but not simplistic.”

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More Similar but Different Words

imagesDo any of these confuse you? I hope this list will help.

DEMURE—shy, reserved, modest: The young woman’s dress and demure behavior led one to think she might be a Quaker or Amish. (pronounced duhMYOOR)

DEMUR—the action of showing reluctance or doubts, hesitating or objecting: Francine thought she might accept her boss’ offer, but something about his attitude caused her to demur. (pronounced duhMUR)

PORE (v.)—to read or study carefully, to be absorbed in an activity: Benjamin, an avid golfer, pored over every golf magazine and article he could find.

POUR—what you do with a liquid and/or your feelings: Stephen poured a full glass of Burgundy and then poured out his feelings to his girlfriend.

PEAK—the pointed summit of a mountain; the point of highest activity; the pointed part of a shape, such as the peaks in beaten egg whites: In the baking competition at the top of Pike’s Peak, Sandra found herself in a peak of frenzy while beating 10 egg whites into stiff peaks for her famous French macarons.

PEEK—to look quickly or sneakily: Sandra’s competitors sneaked peeks at her while she whipped those egg whites.

PIQUE—to stimulate curiosity or interest: Sandra’s baking expertise piqued intense interest in all her competitors.

AISLE—a passageway between rows of seats or between shelves in supermarkets or other stores; what the wedding party walks down: A store the size of Costco contains dozens of aisles for food and dry goods. (Has anyone gotten married in an aisle at Costco? Probably.)

ISLE—an island. Robinson Crusoe lived on an isle; England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are called the British Isles.

Remember, all these are words; your spellchecker won’t know if you’ve used the wrong one by accident. It’s up to you to proofread carefully.

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Yet More Typos

All from Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
ONE CAN ARGUE THAT THE PRESIDENT IS USING THE SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS TO BOOST HIS PUBIC PROFILE.

From the Huffington Post:
OLDER ADULTS: You’re sick. If you feel cold, put on a sweater, crap yourself in a blanket or turn up the heat, recommend the physicians.

From the Mobile Press:
GERMANS ARE SO SMALL THAT THERE MAY BE AS MANY AS ONE BILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION OF THEM IN A DROP OF WATER.

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

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Six Frequently Misused Words

See If you’ve been using any of these words incorrectly: 1. Peruse Incorrect: to skim over reading material Correct: to review carefully 2. Compelled Incorrect: to feel as if you need to do something Correct: to be forced to do something 3. Bemused Incorrect: amused Correct: confused 4. Travesty Incorrect: a tragedy or unfortunate event Correct: a parody or mockery 5. Ironic Incorrect: a funny coincidence Correct: not what you’d expect 6. Penultimate Incorrect: the last Correct: next to last

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More Historical Information

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Here are some historical “facts” for your enjoyment, all courtesy of Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir:

Chaucer was the father of English pottery.

The Normans introduced the frugal system.

When Queen Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted “hurrah.” Then her navy went and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

One of the causes of the Revolutionary War was the English put tacks in their tea.

Drake circumcised the world in a small ship.

Hitler’s instrument of terror was the Gespacho.

And now you know.

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More Typos From Around the World

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To lighten your day (all from Just My Typo, complied by Drummond Moir):

Complimentary glass of wine or bear (drinks menu, Nepal)
This crud is from the finest milk (cheese menu, France)
Roguefart (cheese menu from French restaurant in Hong Kong)
Specialist in women and other diseases (doctor’s office, Italy)
To call a broad from France, first dial 00 (Paris guidebook)
Look out! Our new baby is in our car! (Baby on Board sticker, Hong Kong)
French widow in every bedroom (hotel ad)

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More Similar, Often Confused Words

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HONE
means to sharpen. You hone your skills or hone a blade.
HOME as a verb means to aim or move toward a target: The satellite camera homed in on the desert encampment.

IMPLY means to hint at something without specifically stating it:
Felicia’s looks implied that she did not admire my new haircut.
INFER means to deduce, to figure out. I inferred from Felicia’s looks that she didn’t like my new haircut.

FARTHER refers to a greater distance or time: By moving farther from the city, they hoped their money would go farther.
FURTHER is used to express additional efforts beyond those already accomplished: All corporations should set as a goal further increasing customer satisfaction.

FOUNDER as a verb means to fail or degrade: Harry’s efforts to buy a new business foundered because of his credit history.
FLOUNDER is also a verb and means to struggle helplessly, either physically or mentally. Picture a flounder (the fish) flopping around on deck: Elena stammered and floundered when she was given an assignment in which she had no interest.

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Renown or Renowned?

As I do every morning, I scanned the obituaries in the Los Angeles Times (just to make sure my name wasn’t listed) and came across a posting for a doctor who was described as “respected and renown….”

I see this error often enough that I thought I should mention that “renown” is a noun: “This man’s renown was recognized among others in his profession.”

“Renowned” is an adjective: “This man was respected and renowned in his field of medicine.”

Thanks for reading.

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Quotations From William Zinsser on Writing

I wrote about the death of William Zinsser last week and would now like to include a few quotations from his wonderful book, On Writing Well.

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing. One can’t exist without the other.”

“Few people realize how badly they write…. The point is that you have to strip down your writing before you can build it back up.”

“Simplify, simplify.”

Zinsser worked for a newspaper, wrote for prominent magazines, taught in the English Department at Yale, and authored many books. As a writer and teacher, he made an indelible mark. I hope he was happy about that fact; he deserved to be. Do I recommend this book? Is the pope…?

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Are You a Grammar Nerd?

The website Grammarly has a list of 10 signs you might be a grammar nerd. My thanks to Brian B., always on the lookout for something up my linguistic alley.

1. You use standard spelling, capitalization, and punctuation when you text.

2. You have appointed yourself as “honorary proofreader” of your friends’ social media posts.

3. You know how and when to use “affect” and “effect.”

4. You feel compelled to correct poorly written public signs. It isn’t vandalism if you’re correcting it, right?

5. The thought of posting a writing error online mortifies you.

6. You have an opinion about the Oxford comma.

7. You follow Grammarly on Facebook and Twitter.

8. You’re a regular contributor to the #grammar hashtag in social media.

9. The sound of a double negative makes you cringe.

10. You mentally edit all the books and magazines you read.

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Yet More Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes

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If you are sick of these lists of similar words, I apologize. But I have gotten so many emails telling me these words are useful and asking for more, more, more. Maybe a few of these will be helpful to you:

COMPLEMENTARY: completing or enhancing another person or object. The new painting was complementary with Mario’s existing décor.
COMPLIMENTARY: without cost; free. Buy a book and get a complimentary bookmark.

FOR: I’m certain you know how to use this word.
FORE: This can mean “in the front part”: the horse’s fore and rear legs. It’s also what you shout before you hit the golf ball: “Fore!”
Sometimes “fore” is added to the beginnings of words: forefathers (coming before); foreshorten, forebrain, forecourt (in front)

COARSE: rough, unrefined. The man’s speech was coarse, but his hands were smooth and clean.
COURSE: Use this for everything else: an academic class, a course of medicine, a path, and, of course, of course.

STATIONARY: set in place. Museums use a special wax to ensure all their statues and sculpture will remain stationary in case of an earthquake or other disruption.
STATIONERY: paper, usually for writing letters (remember letters?)

MORAL: having to do with understanding of right and wrong. The accent is on the first syllable. In theory, all politicians should have high moral standards.
MORALE: concerning the mental condition of a group or person. The accent is on the second syllable. Politicians’ behavior leads to low morale in the electorate, resulting in poor voter turnout.

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Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes

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Here are some pairs of words that either sound alike or look very similar. Their meanings, however, are quite different. Remember, your spellchecker will see them all as words and doesn’t know the context in which you are using them, so it’s going to be up to you to proofread carefully to make sure you wrote the word you really wanted.

LOSE means to misplace or be defeated. It rhymes with choose.
LOOSE means not tight and rhymes with goose.

ADVICE is always a noun and rhymes with dice.
ADVISE is always a verb and rhymes with prize.

ACCEPT is always a verb and means to take.
EXCEPT is a preposition and means excluding.

CHOOSE means to select and rhymes with booze and whose.
CHOSE is the past tense of choose and rhymes with doze.

AFFECT is a verb and means to influence. (It is occasionally seen as a noun with the emphasis on the first syllable, primarily used in psychology to mean the way people present themselves: The patient showed no emotion and had a flat affect. But chances are great that you will be using affect as a verb, with the stress on the second syllable.)

EFFECT is a noun meaning result. Many people today are using impact instead of effect, but that’s being overused, in my opinion.
(Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about, as in effecting change. But it’s more likely you will be using it as a noun.)

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Cliché Finder

Cliche Finder is a website (www.westegg.com) that has lists of random clichés. Here’s one I stumbled on just now. See if any of these sayings are near and dear to your heart (and there’s another cliché for you):

different strokes for different folks
to have and to hold
forewarned is forearmed
from A to Z
If you’re the last one to leave,turn out the lights.
warms the cockles of your heart (Did you know your heart had cockles?)
find yourself in a hole
turn turtle
no sweat
didn’t like the color of his money

What’s so wrong with clichés? The first time we heard any of them, we might well have thought, “Isn’t that clever!” But by the 20th time, they had become old hat and made us green around the gills because they were hoary with age, well past their pull-by date.

I think I’ve tortured you with enough clichés for one day. As William Safire, the late word maven once wrote, “Avoid clichés like the plague.”

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