© 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.
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.
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.
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.
Good morningX everyone.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Proofreading backwards loses the meaning, so it won’t help you if you left a word out.
- Trust me.
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.
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.