I’ve had a book for eons, Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English (but were afraid to raise your hand), by Maxwell Nurnberg. Many of the exercises make you think. Look at these pairs of very similar sentences and answer the questions:
A. Which sounds more conspiratorial?
- We’d like to invite you to dessert with us tomorrow evening.
- We’d like to invite you to desert with us tomorrow evening.
B. Which draft board’s needs were the greatest?
- The medical board accepted men with perforated eardrums.
- The medical board excepted men with perforated eardrums.
C. Which question would an investigator ask about a specific group?
- Were there voices raised in protest?
- Were their voices raised in protest?
D. Which Joe is the eager beaver?
- Joe submitted to many orders.
- Joe submitted too many orders.
E. Which statement is concerned with ethical standards?
- The principles in the case are well known.
- The principals in the case are well known.
Remember, if you write an actual word, even if it’s wrong, your spellchecker won’t pick it up. Proofread meticulously.
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.
I have been to a lot of places , but I have never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone. I’ve also never been in Cognito, either. I hear no one recognizes you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips thanks to my friends and family. I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I am not too much on physical activity involving heights.
I have also been in Doubt and in Decisive. Those are unsettling places to go, and I try not to visit too often. I’ve been in Toxicated, and I woke up the next day with a headache. I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I seem to go there more often as I’m getting older. One of the most exciting places to be, is in Suspense. It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart.
One place I hope never to be is in Continent.
Speaking American, Josh Katz’s book about US regional English, is endlessly fascinating to me.
When I was growing up just north of New York City, my family sometimes made a summer visit to my aunt who lived in Massachusetts. As soon as we arrived, she would immediately offer us a tonic (pronounced tawnic). She didn’t necessarily mean tonic water; she was offering us any kind of fizzy, bubbly, non-alcoholic drink we wanted. According to Katz, tonic was the word of choice, particularly around Boston but throughout most of Massachusetts. Today, that word is declining among the younger generation there but is still strong among older people.
About 60% of the country now calls those drinks soda, with that designation particularly strong on the West Coast, in South Florida, and throughout New England (even among the former tonic people in Massachusetts).
Soft drink accounts for 6% around Washington, DC and in Louisiana. Pop is the word across all the northern United States from Washington State through Pennsylvania up to western New York. Coke is your word if you live in New Mexico, all the way through the deep South. Realize that Coke does not necessarily refer to Coca Cola; even 7-Up, Sprite and root beer are Coke. And (for me, this is the kicker) if you live in Georgia across to western South Carolina, your drink of choice is Cocola. Again, you might want Mountain Dew—but that’s just a form of Cocola.
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.
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.
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.