Tag Archives: proofreading

If You MUST Use a Cliché

At least be certain you are using it correctly. Here are some clichés I’ve seen and heard that weren’t quite right:

Ellen burst the candle with both hands.

Brittany said it’s an error to be human.

Last night Rodney slept like a lark.

Taylor behaved like a bull in a china closet.

Zander is rotten to the cork.

The burglar struck Marlie, and she fell down with a thug.

Ramona never takes planes. She likes to be on terra cotta.

Jeremy sticks to his girlfriend like a leash.

That’s Donald’s whole story in a bombshell.

Obviously, your best bet is to avoid clichés like the plague.

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Punctuation—It Matters

 

© Judi Birnberg

 

 

 

In Just My Typo, edited by Drummond Moir (gotta love his name), he cites a 19th century example of carelessness:

A New Orleans cotton broker sent a telegraph to New York, asking if he should buy cotton at the current prices. He received an answer of “No price too high.” Naturally, he bought as much as he could, only to discover that the answer should have been punctuated as follows: “No. Price too high.”

One tiny dot on paper can make a world of difference.

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Discreet vs. Discrete

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Will she be discreet?

These two words are pronounced identically and are commonly mistaken for each other.

DISCREET means circumspect, prudent, careful. If you are discreet, you will avoid gossiping or criticizing others. You try to avoid embarrassing others. Roger promised he would be discreet after his best friend told him he was thinking of divorcing his fourth wife.

DISCRETE means singular, unconnected, separate. Academy Awards are given in multiple discrete categories.

 

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Editing Goes Beyond Proofreading

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Surely you know how often I urge you to proofread everything you write. Proofreading will turn up careless errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar, as well as typos. Yes, you should still check for all of these, but editing goes beyond that.

Editing makes certain your writing is clear. Are you sure you are conveying the message you intended? Have you assumed your readers know what you know? If so, then why are you writing? You are imparting new information. But you have to be confident you are not confusing your readers, that your information that is new to them is presented logically and cogently.

Editing makes certain your writing is concise. Look for digressions and extraneous words. Get rid of redundancies: last but not least, at this point in time, absolutely complete, true fact, four P.M. in the afternoon, new innovation, blue in color, exactly identical, etc.

I have noticed that when I edit and change wording or move things around, when I then reread what I’ve written I often find I have left a word out or need to remove a word I had inadvertently left in when I revised. This is the time to read your text out loud (quietly, but still audible to you) and one. word. at. a. time. That way you will send your document out without embarrassing glitches. If you read at your normal silent speed, you will very likely speed over them.

Remember, revise comes from the Latin, to see again. 

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Commas With Names

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To my consternation, I have noticed that many people and advertising companies, perhaps the majority, omit a comma when a person’s or team’s name is in the sentence. I’ll add an X where commas belong in the sentences below. Pay particular attention to sentences that directly address a person.

Good for youX Henry!

NoX Sam, you are wrong about who started the argument.

GoX Dodgers!

HiX Darrell.

Good morningX everyone.

SurpriseX Marlena!

In the last example, if you use the comma you are springing a surprise on Marlena. Without the comma, you are ordering someone to surprise Marlena as opposed to surprising someone else.

 

 

 

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Mistakes Are Easy

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How often have you come across writing in which the author wrote lose for loose (or vice versa) or chose for choose (again, v.v.) or quite for quiet (vice versa, yet again)? It’s so easy to write a word that is close to the one you want, and your spellchecker will never highlight it because if it’s a word, it will be accepted. It’s up to you to proofread your writing.

I will torture you once more with my proofreading suggestions:

  1. Read out loud what you have written. No orating, no pontificating. You can read in a very quiet voice, as long as you can hear it come out your mouth and go into your ear. That way you won’t disturb those around you, and you’ll pick up more errors than if you read silently.
  2. Read slowly, one. word. at. a. time. If you read at your normal pace, you will skip over mistakes such as you when you wanted your or and when you meant any.
  3. Proofreading backwards loses the meaning, so it won’t help you if you left a word out.
  4. Trust me.

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What’s a Shebang?

images  I had no idea. Of course, I knew the phrase “the whole shebang,” meaning the totality of an entity. But I never knew a shebang was a specific thing until the other night when I was watching a documentary about a group of archeologists excavating the Civil War site of Ft. Lawton, in Georgia. Those archeologists had to spend some nights on the site and set up their individual shebangs (small and uncomfortable). A shebang is a rustic shelter or primitive hut. Did you know that? Neither did I until I watched this somewhat tedious documentary. But I learned something because I watched the whole shebang.

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How to Punctuate “However”

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Punctuating however depends on where it falls in a sentence.

At the beginning or the end, set it off with a comma:

However, American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever.

American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however.

If however occurs in the middle of a sentence, use commas around both sides of the word (see cartoon above):

American presidential campaigns, however, seem to go on forever.

If it comes between two complete sentences you have a couple of choices:

Use a period and a capital letter: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever. However, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.

Use a semicolon: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever; however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.

What you can’t do is put commas around both sides of however:

American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.  <———- This is a no-no.

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Similar Sentences, Different Outcomes

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?

  1. We’d like to invite you to dessert with us tomorrow evening.
  2. We’d like to invite you to desert with us tomorrow evening.

B. Which draft board’s needs were the greatest?

  1. The medical board accepted men with perforated eardrums.
  2. The medical board excepted men with perforated eardrums.

C. Which question would an investigator ask about a specific group?

  1. Were there voices raised in protest?
  2. Were their voices raised in protest?

D. Which Joe is the eager beaver?

  1. Joe submitted to many orders.
  2. Joe submitted too many orders.

E. Which statement is concerned with ethical standards?

  1. The principles in the case are well known.
  2. 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.

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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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Not Exactly Synonyms

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All words have explicit dictionary meanings—denotations—as well as associated meanings—connotations. Often these connotations are cultural. For example, a color, such as white, may connote purity in one culture and yet be the color of death in another.

It’s important to be certain what connotations words carry. Words you may see as synonyms may have either positive or negative connotations, depending on the context and the culture. For example, the word odor may be seen as positive, negative, or neutral. But if you’re looking for synonyms, check this list and see if some of them might not work for you. When in doubt, look up words in the dictionary to see if a word might have a connotation you weren’t aware of and don’t want. When writing a poem to your love and seeking to focus on how wonderful that person smells, it might be better to stick away from stench and reek.

Odor
Smell
Scent
Tang
Pungency
Whiff
Musk
Stench
Stink
Must
Reek
Aroma
Bouquet
Perfume
Essence
Sachet
Redolence
Spice

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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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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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Redundancies: Don’t Say It Again, Sam

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VIN=Vehicle Identification Number, so just use VIN, not VIN number.
Same idea with PIN.
ATM machine? ATM says it all.
HIV virus? The V tells us it’s a virus.
No need to say something is blue in color, square in shape, absolutely complete, a total disaster or a true fact.
Unless it’s by John Phillip Sousa, no need to say the month of March.
Nine a.m. in the morning? Choose a.m. or morning, not both.

This is my final conclusion.

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Pre- or Pro- scribe?

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Here are two more frequently confused and misused words:

PRESCRIBE means to recommend: I hope my doctor will prescribe something to cure my bronchitis.

PROSCRIBE means to forbid: When you go to the rally, you will have to remain on the lawn and will not be able to enter the proscribed area in front of it.

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Dept. of “Hmmm”

 

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You may be aware that a few nights ago Donald Trump and Mitt Romney dined together at Jean Georges, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Trump Tower in New York City. It could have been an awkward situation, since during the presidential campaign Romney called Trump a fraud and a liar, in addition to other damning epithets.

However, according to the New York Times, “Despite their rocky past, Trump and Romney didn’t show any animosity whatsoever between each other, as servers dressed in neckties and vests carried out their duties.”

I don’t know about you, but I cannot unsee those servers wearing only neckties and vests. Did Jean Georges allow his waiters to forgo pants? That sentence certainly implies the waiters’ outfits were on the scanty side. Imagine the conversation between a thrice-married womanizer and a long-married Mormon—if you can. I can’t.

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Immigrate or Emigrate?

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You often hear and see these two words used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference in their meanings. It depends on whether you are leaving or arriving.

IMMIGRATE is the word to use when referring to people entering a new country: Canada has experienced great interest from people wanting to immigrate to that country from the United States.

EMIGRATE is used to refer to people leaving a country to take up residence elsewhere: Many people are considering emigrating from the United States to Canada .

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Is it Raining Continually or Continuously?

This is a repost from over two-and-a-half years ago—when we had a little rain in Southern California. We are now entering our sixth year of drought (but remember, climate change is, ahem, a hoax). A reader asked me to cover these two words, which I had done in February 2014. Don’t forget to use the search box on my blog to see if I’ve already written about the topic you’re wondering about.

 

Finally, finally, we have had measurable rain in Southern California. Until this storm began last night, we had just a little over an inch of rain this entire season, which began last July. Normal rainfall for this period is 11 inches. We who live here want and need more—a lot more. But do we want it to rain continuously or continually?

It’s easy to get these two words confused. CONTINUOUSLY means without interruption, whereas CONTINUALLY means continuing but sporadically, intermittently. The former would be a problem, as the hillsides are so dry that a deep soaking all at once would lead to the landslides you read about here. On-and-off rain, continual rain, would allow the water to sink in without causing erosion. A way to remember the difference between these two words might be to notice that CONTINUOUS has an S, and that, unfortunately, stands for slides. Think continual rain for us here in this parched land.

Yes, the climate is changing rapidly, a cause of concern for all.

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Peek, Peak, Pique

Peaks in the Mist © Judi Birnberg

Peaks in the Mist
© Judi Birnberg

These three words all sound alike but are often misused.

PEEK means to sneak a glance, usually furtively. Adam peeked in the attic where the Christmas presents were stored.

PEAK is the apex of something: the top of a mountain, a gable on a house, the points on egg whites when they are whipped hard.

PIQUE as a noun is a feeling of annoyance, especially if one’s pride or honor is insulted.

PIQUE as a verb means to stimulate interest: A review of Ian McEwan’s latest book, Nutshell, piqued my interest in reading it. It is an achingly clever novel narrated by a full-term fetus (unnamed, but obviously a modern-day Hamlet, whose mother is Trudy, father is John, and doltish uncle and Trudy’s lover is Claude).

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What Kind of Graduate Are You?

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Latin lesson coming up:

If you are a female graduate, you are an alumna. Plural female graduates are alumnae.

If you’re a male graduate, you are an alumnus. Plural male graduates are alumni. Plural graduates of males and females are also alumni. Sexist, I know.

I must admit it bothers me when I see license plate frames reading UC BERKELEY ALUMNI. Why not make plates with the female and male words for graduates? I am not a plural male graduate from Cal. I am, however, a member of the Cal Alumni Association, a large mixed group, men and women. Go, Bears!

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Beside or Besides?

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When you’re angry or frustrated, are you beside yourself or besides yourself? Here’s the difference:

BESIDES means in addition to.
Besides me, only three people showed up at the meeting.

BESIDE means next to, alongside.
At the meeting, I sat beside a woman I had never met before.

However, the expression beside myself (with frustration, for example) strikes me as odd. Obviously, it’s idiomatic; you can’t physically get next to yourself, no matter how hard you try. But if you are sufficiently frustrated, you might feel as if you have been torn into two people. I’m just guessing here.

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Incredible or Incredulous?

 

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Steve’s looking incredulous.

These two words are often confused.

INCREDIBLE means difficult to believe:
Jumping from a plane at 25,000 feet without using supplementary oxygen and landing alive seems like an incredible feat; yet a man did this not too long ago.

INCREDULOUS means unable or unwilling to believe something:
If I had not seen the video myself, I would have been incredulous if someone had told me a person had jumped from a plane at 25,000 feet and lived.

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Gotta Love Those Misplaced Modifiers

© Judi Birnberg 2016 Pots are Better Than Shoes

© Judi Birnberg 2016
Pots are Better Than Shoes

Misplaced modifiers happen when a word or group of words ends up modifying (giving information about) another word in the sentence. Often, the results are very funny.

I found this in one of my favorite magazines, The Week, which is a digest of articles from around the world. In an article on street food, with an accompanying recipe for Dan Dan Noodles (too complicated for me), Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau, chefs at a Philadelphia restaurant, V Street, declare, “We want the stuff that a little old lady is frying up in her flip-flops….”

Where to begin? First of all, how does the little old lady stand the heat? How does the food stay on her flip-flops? And do we really want to eat food cooked on a shoe and redolent of the odor of the foot that recently occupied that flip-flop?

Hungry?

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The Lie vs. Lay Dilemma

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I’m guessing that within ten years the distinctions between these two words will have disappeared. But until September 2026, you might consider sticking to the following rules.

LIE (we’re not going to deal with the situation in which the truth is ignored) means to lie down, to rest or recline. Every day after lunch, I lie down. I don’t lay down. I lay something down.

LAY means to put or place: Every day when I lie down, I lay my head on my pillow.

That covers the present tense of both verbs. It gets a little sticky when you go into past tenses:

LIE in the past tense is (wait for it) LAY. Yesterday after lunch, I lay down. OMG, in the present tense you lie down, but in the past tense you lay down! Remember, I don’t make these rules up; I just teach them.

It gets even worse: in the past perfect tense, when has, had or have is part of your verb, you need LAIN. (I bet you’ve never written that word in your life—but it’s not too late to start.) Every day after lunch, I always have lain down.

As for the past tenses of LAY, here is what you want: Yesterday I laid my head on my pillow. I always have laid my head on my pillow.

If your head is aching, perhaps you’d like to lay your head on your pillow.

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Simplifying Legalese

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Here is the writing on a T-shirt I bought for my husband, a lawyer. It’s labeled “The Layman’s Glossary of Legal Terms”:

ACQUIT: To wimp out
APPELLATE: Hamster food
ARRAIGN: Stormy weather
ATTORNEY: Major sporting event
BAR ASSOCIATION: Drinking buddies
BONA FIDE: Dog treat
CRIMINAL LAWYER: Redundant
COURT OF APPEALS: Justice for bananas
CRIME OF PASSION: Sloppy kisses
DEBTOR: Less alive
DECEIT: A place to sit down
DISCOVERY: Cable TV channel
EXTRADITION: More math homework
GRACE PERIOD: Just before the meal
HUNG JURY: Overreaction to verdict
IN TOTO: Where Dorothy places trust
INNOCENCE: Fragrant when burned
LEGAL BRIEFS: Always boxers
LEGAL SECRETARY: Old enough to party
LIEN: Not overweight
MIRANDA RULE: Wear fruit on head
ORDER IN THE COURT: A call for takeout
PRO BONO: Cher before the divorce
ROE V. WADE: Tough choice at river
SUPREME COURT: Where Diana Ross plays tennis
TRIAL DATE: More fun than dinner and a movie

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Did Dickens Consider This?

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September 16, 2016 · 3:26 PM

The Many Sounds of OUGH

How does anyone ever learn to spell in English? How many sounds of OUGH are there? The following was written on a mug I saw:

Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.

And don’t forget plough, slough (pronounced sloo) and hiccough.

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What in the World is a Mondegreen?

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Have you ever discovered lyrics that were not what you originally thought you heard? You misinterpret a phrase that sounds very similar to the real deal, but your interpretation gives it a new meaning, one that may raise eyebrows. That, dear readers, is a Mondegreen.

The name was coined in 1954 by author Sylvia Wright, who misheard the lyrics of an old Scottish ballad; she thought these were the words:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

In fact, the last line is And laid him on the green.

Here are some other Mondegreens:

the girl with colitis goes by (the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)

There’s a bathroom on the right (There’s a bad moon on the rise, from “Bad Moon Rising”)

Surely, good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life. A more common reading of the 23rd Psalm includes the line, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

When I was very young, a popular singer named Patti Page recorded a song called “Cross Over the Bridge.” It contains the line, Leave your fickle past behind you, and true romance will find you…. I was just discovering love songs on the radio and had no idea what “fickle” meant. To my ears, Patti Page was singing, Leave your pickle pats behind you….

I still wonder what pickle pats had to do with true romance. And what are pickle pats, anyway? Send me your own Mondegreens. I bet you all have at least one.

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Words to Persuade With

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(To those of you moaning about my ending a sentence with a preposition, I ask if you’d rather read Words With Which to Persuade. It truly is fine to stick a preposition at the end of your sentence if it sounds more natural.)

To persuade your audience, here is a list of words that will entice your readers to your side: youyes, free, guarantee, easy, save, new, safety, benefits, discovery, health, now, sale, proven, money, results, love.

Please be sure when you use these words that you are not blowing smoke. If you are offering benefits, guarantees, or health, mean what you say. If you cannot back up your promises, you will lose all credibility.

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Voila, Wallah, or Viola?

I’ve been busy with visiting children and grandchildren, but I was inspired by this morning’s email from the Grammarphobia blog (so worth your while). The author, Patricia O’Conner, covered the topic you see in my subject line. A reader had contacted her, saying he often saw wallah in print to mean voila. Apparently, no dictionary gives it as an alternative spelling.

Voila is French and essentially means, “There you have it!” It’s pronounced vwaLA. Note the V sound. Wallah is a Hindi word used in India to mean a person concerned with a specific business, such as a chai wallah, one who sells tea. It also can signify a person from a particular place, such as a Mumbai wallah.

I not infrequently see people write Viola! when meaning to write Voila! I guess those people are music lovers.

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How Does This Issue Impact You?

So many issues to contemplate and solve. Issue after issue. Issues are issuing forth from radio, television and every segment of media all day and all night. We are bombarded with issues.

We are constantly being asked how these issues impact us. So many impacts. Impacts here, impacts there, impacts, impacts everywhere.

What I want to know is what happened to problems affecting people. I’m guessing impact has replaced affect, at least in writing, because so many people are unsure whether to use affect or effect.

Either of those can be used instead of impact:

  1. How does this problem affect you? (Affect is a verb.)
  2. What will be the effect of this problem? (Effect is a noun.)

It’s true that affect can be a noun: The patient had a flat affect (no facial expression).

Effect can also be a verb: Every new president hopes to effect changes (meaning bring about). 

However, you can see how rarely each of those words is used in those ways. Try memorizing the overwhelmingly more common uses of affect and effect (see sentences 1 and 2 above) and take them out for a spin every now and then. Don’t get stuck in the Issue and Impact Rut.

 

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How Best to Edit

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                                                           A Jumble of Words © Judi Birnberg

If you edit as you write, stopping frequently to go over what you’ve just put down, you stop your creative flow and get lost in the words, debating with yourself whether one version of a sentence is better than others. In that process, you tend to forget where you were headed. When I say “you,” I mean “me” and everyone else.

You will end up with a better document if you follow this rule: Down and Up. Write it down and then fix it up. Get your ideas out and, ideally, let the document sit if you have the time.

It’s helpful to get distance from your writing. I realize that with today’s pressures you can’t always do that. But at least give yourself perhaps five minutes to do something else and then come back to what you wrote to take another look at it and fix it up.

Can you do that? Let me know.

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Dribble or Drivel?

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Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading the word dribble used to mean “nonsense,” as in So much of political discourse today is dribble.

Dribble is what basketball players do with a ball and what babies do with just about everything that goes into their mouths. If you substitute drivel in the example sentence in the first paragraph, you’ll be using the word correctly.

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Do You Pronounce the T in Often?

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I was recently asked why we sometimes pronounce the T in often but not in listen. I wasn’t sure, so I consulted the grammar guru who writes the invaluable blog  Grammarphobia, Pat O’Conner. She wrote the equally invaluable (and funny) book Woe Is I. You can subscribe to Grammarphobia and get her frequent posts on English language oddities. I highly recommend it.

This is blog post of hers that addressed the meandering T:

<<Q: I just discovered your site and I plan to return often. Oh, that reminds me – it makes me crazy to hear people pronounce the “t” in “often.”

A: The word “often” can be pronounced with a silent “t” (the more common pronunciation) or with an audible “t.” Both are correct, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the version with the audible “t” occurs in educated speech but is considered unacceptable by some.

American Heritage has an interesting usage note after its entry for “often.” During the 15th century, it seems, English speakers stopped pronouncing some sounds within consonant clusters, making the language easier to articulate. Examples include the “d” in “handsome” and “handkerchief,” the “p” in “consumption” and “raspberry,” and the “t” in “chestnut” and “often.”

With the rise of public education and people’s awareness of spelling in the 19th century, according to the dictionary, sounds that had become silent were sometimes restored. This is what happened with the “t” in “often.”

You might be interested in knowing that “often” was originally just “oft,” and “oft” was commonly used as a prefix in word combinations that are archaic and unrecognizable today. Even a word like ‘oftentimes,” which appears in modern dictionaries, seems dated and has musty, quaint overtones. It’s also a term that drives people crazy because of its apparent redundancy. But in fact, the words “oftentime,” “oftentimes,” and “oftime” date back to the early 1400s, and “ofttimes” was first recorded in the 1300s, so they have a venerable history.>>

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Virtually

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“Virtually” means “almost” or “in effect.” Therefore, virtual reality is not quite the real thing. It looks like reality, it may fool some people, but in fact it is a simulation of reality.

This word is often confused with “practically.” Don’t use “practically” in place of “almost.” If I say I “practically won the tennis match,” let’s face it: I lost.

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WHO Was Over the Fence?

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I just came across a blurb for a beautiful cat that had been rescued. Here is a little bit of that cat’s story:

“When she was a wee kitten she was thrown over a fence at a bowling club and abandoned. She was adopted by the elderly man who found her and his wife.”

What a bonanza of a day for that elderly man! He not only found this lovely kitten over the fence of the bowling club—but he found a wife there too!

Word order matters. The second sentence should have read something like, “Along with his wife, the elderly man who found the kitten adopted her.”

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Proofreading Prevents Embarrassment

© Judi Birnberg

A Frigate Bird (please spell it correctly) © Judi Birnberg

The following groanworthy errors are from Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir. It’s all too easy to write a word you know well, a word that is close to the one you meant. We’ve all done this. Careful proofreading will prevent a red face.

As I’ve often nagged you, if you proofread silently at your normal pace you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote. You need to slow down and read out loud. Quietly is fine. The authors of the following sentences obviously neglected to do so:

Doctors now treat their patients with ultra-violent rays.
A polygon is a man who has many wives.
In biology today we digested a frog.
In the Middle Ages, people lived in rough huts with mating on the floor.

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A Misplaced Modifier

 

 

Unknown In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, a little squib (are squibs ever large?) announced that Eddie Redmayne and his wife had had their first child. The next sentence was,”The actor confirmed in January they were expecting their first child at the Golden Globes.”

This, my friends, is a misplaced modifier. They were not expecting this baby at the Golden Globes, as the text states. They were attending the Golden Globes when Redmayne made the announcement. When you use a modifier, put it immediately next to the words it refers to. To fix this sentence all you have to do is write, “The actor confirmed at the Golden Globes in January they were expecting their first child.” Done!

Often, when the modifier is in the wrong place, you may inadvertently cause people to laugh at you: The man chased his neighbor’s dog in orange pajamas and carrying a broom.”

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Have a Seat

 

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I remember many years ago first hearing chair used as a verb and thinking it was odd. But with all language, usage makes the strange familiar. In the olden days, the person heading the committee was a chairman, no matter that person’s sex. Now chairman is used to indicate a male, chair is used for either sex, and chairwoman is frowned upon. Dianne Feinstein is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, even when she stands up.

Theodore Bernstein, author of The Careful Writer and Dos, Don’ts and Maybes of English Usage, thought chair (v.) was a fad and spoofed its use by inventing some parallel words: He imagined people elevatoring themselves to their penthouses, getting dinner-jacketed and going theatering. Fortunately, none of those atrocities caught on, but today you can sit on a chair or guide a committee.

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More Spring Cleaning

© Judi Birnberg Time to Clean

© Judi Birnberg
Time to Clean

Last week I suggested you do some spring cleaning and rid your writing of redundant jargon and clichés. I heard from several of you who added additional suggestions, such as 7 a.m. Monday morning and the month of March. (I used to tell my classes, if it wasn’t by John Phillip Sousa it had to be the month.)

Jeff Wright, a very smart man I was lucky enough to have in one of my seminars, sent me a list he has compiled of his, ahem, favorites. With thanks to Jeff, I present the following:

Completely unique
Ask a question
Emergency situation
Cameo appearance
Filled to capacity
Tough dilemma
Close proximity
Shower activity
Storm system
False pretense
Added bonus
Very critical
Kneel down
Tuna fish
Heat up

I can also add these:

Any qualifier with unique (very, most, really, truly)
True fact
Surrounded on all sides
Exactly identical
New innovation
Disappear from view
Repeat again
Final conclusion
Purple in color
Completely free
Circled around

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Be Precise

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© Judi Birnberg    A Confusing Web of Thoughts

When you write, aim for precision. Vague writing can leave your readers confused or bored—or both:

John’s father said he couldn’t go to the concert Saturday night.

Who can’t go, John or his father?

Instead of writing  The long vacation was scheduled for a warm location, try They booked a two-week vacation in Tahiti.

Before you write, think carefully about your message. Then write it succinctly and specifically. Anticipate what questions your reader might have and then answer those questions in your message. Your goal is to avoid follow-up messages: Who can’t go to the Saturday night concert? Where are they going for their vacation? How long will they be away? 

 

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Last Signs From Japan

I can’t say I’ve saved the best for last, but these are the only two remaining funny signs I haven’t yet posted. So say “Sayonara” to people’s attempts to master English—with perhaps not quite possessing a full understanding of that language. Whatever they have done, it’s better than any attempt at Japanese on my part would have been.

I think the backwards R is a nice touch:

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And here is a bit of trilingualism: native Japanese speakers creating a sign using both French and English. A for effort:

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An Important Distinction

 

images.png    While driving yesterday, I saw a truck on the infamous 405 freeway. The company installs audio and visual components and proudly displayed its name in various places on the truck:

SIMPLISTIC SOLUTIONS

I was in no danger of driving off the freeway since my maximum speed at that point ranged from 5-10 mph. But I did swallow my gum.

Being the crank that I am, I sent the company an e-mail today:

To Simplistic Solutions:

I saw one of your trucks on the 405 yesterday and almost croaked. It appears you do not realize that “simplistic” and “simple” are not synonyms.  You know what “simple” means; “simplistic” means overly simple, too simple—it is most definitely a NEGATIVE.  I am certain that is not the idea you want potential customers to have about your company.

Cheers anyway—

Judi Birnberg

 

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Three More Japanese Signs

Sadly, this hotel looked neither grand nor fine.IMG_1839.jpg

This was the name of the restaurant in our hotel in Hiroshima. I kept waiting for the plates and bowls to get into formation and march snappily out the door.IMG_2043.jpg

Here was a breakfast choice in Dish Parade. Both objects look very similar, although the one on the right might be the flitter. I think it’s the common Asian mistake of substituting an L sound for an R. But neither looks like any pizza or fritter I’ve ever seen. Not a clue.IMG_2224.jpg

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A Quick Return to Japan

Here are two more Japanese signs I saw that made me ponder:

The only thing that goes through my head when I see this is a song. “Imagine you and me, so happy together….” Do you have any idea what the business might be? A dating site?

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This is one of my favorites. When you see this store, you must think ONLY about a suit. NOTHING more. What if I dare to think about a necktie? Or a pair of shoes?

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When to Omit Apostrophes

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© Judi Birnberg

I have written previously about the error of putting apostrophes into words that end in S but are not possessive: My cat’s chase each other through the house at high speed’s. Cats and speeds are merely plurals and do not take apostrophes since no ownership is shown.

Here are three other instances when an apostrophe is not needed:

1. When referring to decades: the 1990s
2. When referring to temperatures: highs in the mid-70s
3. When using abbreviations that are plural: 12 CPAs, two BMWs

Every time you want to use an apostrophe, take a good look and see if it really is in a possessive word or in a contraction. If not, delete it.

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Japan Still Calling

These signs and labels still make me giggle. They were all written by well-meaning people trying to master English, a notoriously complicated language. Our spelling alone is enough to make even native-speakers weep. See an earlier post of mine, How to Spell “Fish”

I presume “flit” was meant to be “filet.” As for the sauce, you and I are both guessing.

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These quotation marks are to reassure you that someone once said those words. I absolutely believe that, don’t you? The ST is likely missing an initial E. Since 1933, people have been enjoying precious coffee moments. I went to Japan thinking that I would find tea everywhere. It’s available but not obvious; however, coffee shops are ubiquitous.

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That serving spoon is to be used to take just one cornflake. But you can go back as many times as you’d like.

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A Common Agreement Problem

© Judi Birnberg

© Judi Birnberg

How often have you seen or heard the following construction?

There’s three reasons to buy your tickets early.

Omit the contraction and you will see you are saying There is three reasons to buy your tickets early. There is three?

To restore agreement to your sentence, you need to write There are three reasons…. Making that into a contraction, however, is awkward: There’re three reasons…. Ick.

Starting sentences with There is or There are (or Here is or Here are) is a weak construction. Better to write Buy your tickets early for three reasons—and then list them.

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Hungry?

This appears to be some kind of fruit juice—named PRETZ? Maybe you’re supposed to eat pretzels with it. This box was about $10; they had to squeeze a lot of pretzes to fill it up.

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Instead of pretzels, you might prefer a little pried seaweed. Fried? Or pried from a rock in the ocean?IMG_2094.jpg

 

You can ask the chef. He’s live!IMG_1858.jpg

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Still Lost in Translation

Some signs I found on my recent trip to Japan. 

“Luggages” is a common mistake speakers of languages other than English make. It’s logical, if ungrammatical, especially if you have more than one suitcase. But remember, “peaple” need their seats. As for the last line, I’m wondering if it was directed at the Koch Brothers.IMG_2237.jpg

Will do!IMG_2239.jpg

 

 

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