Tag Archives: usage

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 Few More Signs From Japan

Her Majesty, the reigning chicken, is in Nara, Japan. Notice that all the signs are in English. I am still wondering where the King of Chickens is.

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How I loved finding this product. Since it’s a coffee lightener, maybe the advertising company came up with the name by combining cream and powder. Just a guess.

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I never tried this offering at a hotel breakfast buffet. But given the wonderful cleanliness of Japan’s cities and towns, of course their sauces would also be tidy.

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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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A Few Signs in Japan

As a former teacher of ESL, believe me when I tell you I am aware of how difficult it is to learn English, especially when your native language uses characters and you have no cognates to cling to. Here are a few signs I saw in Japan that made me smile. I give their authors A for effort.

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A Few More Japanese Vehicles

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I’m guessing all the passengers were happy, but one was THE happiest and got the bus named after him or her.

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Does the name change depending on the weather? It was a little windy that day.

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Japanese Vehicle Models

Being a word maven, during my recent trip I was very interested in how Japanese use English. You find Toyota, Nissan and Honda cars all over, but except for the Toyota Prius which has the same name in Japan, our Camrys, Maximas and Accords are given different names there. I was unable to take a photograph of a JIXY or a RUNX—they passed by me too quickly—but here are a few others for you to admire.

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I’m guessing the Lone Ranger might have chosen this car:

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Nix the Cooperation

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Thank you for your cooperation.

 

This is a very common closing to a business letter (and it’s also a cliché).

Here is the typical situation: You have asked your readers to do something you know they don’t want to do. They have neither the time nor interest, but you need their help. You give them the order, but to sweeten the deal you then add, Thank you for your cooperation.

Can you see how insincere that sounds? They are going to cooperate only because they have to (or else).

Generally, in business writing you want to get to the point and get out as quickly as possible. However, this situation calls for more words so your readers will understand you know you are imposing on them.

Try something like this:

Jackie, I know you are exceedingly busy this week, and I greatly appreciate your taking the time to help me out with this project. Thanks so much for lending a hand; I’ll do the same for you whenever you need my help.

Five words or a whole paragraph? If you write the paragraph, your co-workers will likely have more respect for you. That’s important.

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Biannual and Biennial

Aren’t these two words confusing? Bi— means two, but which one refers to twice a year and which one means every two years? Here’s the scoop:

BIANNUAL means something that happens twice in one year: We change our clocks biannually.

BIENNIAL means an act that occurs once in every two years: United States congress members are up for re-election biennially.

I think these definitions are ones you just have to memorize. If you can think of a helpful trick, let me know.

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Past vs. Passed

 

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These two words are commonly mistaken for each other or thought to be able to be used interchangably.

PAST refers to a previous time:
History refers to past events.
• I knew Robert in years past, but would not have recognized him today.
• Past behavior is often predictive of future behavior.

PASSED is the past tense of the verb TO PASS and has several meanings:
• It can mean to have skipped your turn: Erica passed her turn at bridge.
• Another meaning, in sports, is to have moved an object from one player to another: The hockey player passed the puck to his teammate.
• It also represents the movement of going by another person: Jessica passed (by) her ex-boyfriend in the hall but pretended not to see him.

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Horde or Hoard?

These two homonyms are often confused, but their meanings are quite different.

HORDE is a crowd, often rowdy or tumultuous. Picture Walmart when it opens on Black Friday.

HOARD is a stash of valuables, often hidden, such as the paintings and artifacts the Nazis confiscated during WWII. You may have read or seen The Monuments Men or The Rape of Europa, both dealing with that subject. You may also be familiar with the television show Hoarders, in which the items collected do not seem particularly valuable except to the person hoarding them. I shudder.

 

 

A hoard of wine bottles?

A hoard of wine bottles?

copyright Judi Birnberg

 

 

 

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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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Fillers

Speakers of all languages pepper their listeners with fillers, those sounds and words that take up little space and allow the speakers to figure out where they’re going. Here are some language-specific fillers:

Britain— spelled er (but pronounced uh)
France—euh
Israel (Hebrew speakers)—ehhh
Holland—uh and um
Germanyah and ahm
Serbia and Croatia—ovay
Turkey—mmmm
Sweden—eh, ah, aaah, m, mm, hmm, ooh, a and oh (very creative, no?)
Norway—e, eh, m, hm

Sometimes fillers are more than just a sound; they are complete words:

English speakerswell, you know, I mean, so
Turkey—shey, shey shey, which means thing
Mandarin Chinese—neige, meaning that
Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong—tsik hai, which means equal
Wichita Indian—kaakiri, meaning something

It seems that um is ubiquitous, found in every language.
My information comes from, um, the book titled Um, written by, um, Michael Erard.

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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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More Spoonerisms

Is this a pird of brey?

Is this a pird of grey?           ©Judi Birnberg

 

A Spoonerism is born when, most commonly, the initial consonants of two words are transposed.

The Reverend William Spooner, for whom this verbal glitch is named, was renowned for many of these slips, several of which I listed in my previous post. In chapel at Oxford, Spooner once called for the singing of the hymn, “Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take.” Got that? Other clerics praised God as a “shoving leopard” and spoken of John the Baptist’s “tearful chidings.”

Chances are we’ve all fallen prey to these slips. I clearly remember speaking of a “grebt of datitude” once at a job interview. The interviewer and I both laughed and, somehow, I did get the job. It’s nice when people are understanding.

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Spoonerisms

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I recently bought a book titled Um. It deals with verbal blunders people make, particularly in their speech. According to the author, Michael Erard, we commit a verbal blunder about once in every 10 words. Who knew?

No doubt you’ve heard of Spoonerisms, named (in 1885) for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, of Oxford University. This man had an alarming propensity for mixing up the initial sounds of words. Until I read this book, I always thought that was the extent of a Spoonerism, but in addition the blooper has to result in a phrase that is inappropriate for the situation.

For example, Spooner was toasting Queen Victoria at a dinner and told the guests, “Give three cheers for our queer old dean!” He also admonished a student: “You have hissed all my mystery lectures. In fact, you have tasted two whole worms, and you must leave Oxford this afternoon by the next town drain.”

Spooner was aware of his tendency to tangle his words. He referred to his “transpositions of thought,” and at the conclusion of a talk he gave to alumni, he said, “And now I suppose I’d better sit down, or I might be saying—er—one of those things.”

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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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Two Common Mispronunciations

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MISCHIEVOUS is pronounced MIS CHIV ISS, not MIS CHEEVE E US.

GRIEVOUS is often misspelled and pronounced GREEVE E US. It’s GREEVE ISS.

Incidentally, looking at the subject line of this post reminds me that some people say and write PRONOUNCIATION and MISPRONOUNCIATION. True, the verb is PRONOUNCE, but for the noun forms, the O before the U is dropped.

Remember, I just teach the rules. I think they’re as crazy as you do.

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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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American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year

The American Dialect Society chose as its 2015 Word of the Year—THEY.

Are you wondering what is behind their choice? This linguistic society has chosen “they” to be a singular, gender-neutral pronoun, as in “They and Mary went to the movies.” It is used when a person does not identify as either male or female or when the gender of a person is unknown.

Schools today are dealing with a somewhat new situation. College application forms used to ask students to identify as either male or female. However, “gender fluidity,” in which some people do not identify solely as one gender or the other but may move between them, has prompted colleges to offer far more choices. Traditionally all-female Smith College has now admitted transgender students. The word “cisgender” has been used to mean chromosomally male or chromosomally female. My spellcheck software just underlined that word as I typed it, but it won’t be long before it is recognized as a “real” word.

Surely, 2015 raised people’s awareness of gender variety, including Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner’s transformation, and the wonderful (in my opinion) series on Amazon, “Transparent.” Facebook now offers 50 different choices for gender identity. Fifty.

Obviously, this new awareness has reached the corporate world as well. I imagine human resource departments are scrambling to accommodate the panoply of forms that human beings inhabit.

©Judi Birnberg

©Judi Birnberg

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A Few More Thoughts About Hyphens

The topic of hyphens can be confusing because different styles prevail for business, news, scientific and academic writing. If your employer uses a stylebook, follow that. Otherwise, the rules I gave last week should see you through. The rules are not always hard and fast. Here are a few more situations you might encounter:

1. If omitting the hyphen could cause confusion, be sure to use it: a small-business owner (without that hyphen, the reader might think the owner is on the short side).

2. When you have a proper noun (such as a person’s name) of two or more words being used as a compound adjective, hyphenate it: a Louis CK-like situation.

3. When two or more hyphenated words modify the same noun, one hyphen can do for both: a publicly-owned and –operated corporation; a Tony- and Grammy-award-winning performance.

I hope all of you, particularly my readers on the East Coast, are safe and warm. Be careful, please.

© Judi Birnberg "There Must Be a Hyphen in There Someplace"

© Judi Birnberg
“There Must Be a Hyphen in There Someplace”

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Adopt or Adapt?

These two words are frequently confused, but the distinction is easy:

ADOPT means to take as one’s own. You adopt a child or take something as it is. You’ve probably also heard the phrase “early adopter”; that’s a person who uses new technology as soon as it is released. That may be you.

ADAPT means to change something to suit your needs. You adapt yourself to living in Boston after having moved there from Australia.

© Judi Birnberg

© Judi Birnberg

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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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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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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 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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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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Real Estate Typos

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But where are the fangs?

In the market for a new home? Read the ads carefully or you might end up with a house that includes the following (from a real estate company in Virgina, as quoted in Drummond Moir’s Just My Typo):

Fresh pain throughout
Heated poo in back yard
Custom inferior paint
Large walking closet
Ceiling fangs in all bedrooms
Huge dick in back for entertaining
Beautiful bitch cabinets

I’ve also seen houses for sale that included “shudders.” Probably on those homes with ceiling fangs.

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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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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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Capitalization Rules

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(Add a question mark and I agree completely.)

Sometimes I get the feeling that many writers think they were, perhaps, Benjamin Franklin or Abigail Adams in an earlier life. Those people lived during the time when words could be capitalized at will. In fact, rules now do exist for when to use them. Here’s a quick refresher:

1. The personal pronoun I, no matter where it occurs in a sentence: My friend and I just ate lunch. I’m no longer hungry because I’ve had a big meal.

2. The first word of a sentence.

3. Names of specific people: Madonna, Captain Kangaroo

4. Names of specific places: Acapulco, the Caspian Sea

5. Names of specific things: the Statue of Liberty, Kennedy High School

6. Days of the week, months of the year, but not the seasons: Tuesday, August, spring

7. Titles of books, movies, TV programs, courses: The Goldfinch, Midnight in Paris, Curb Your Enthusiasm, History 101

8. People’s titles only when the person is named immediately before or after the title: Secretary of State John Kerry (but John Kerry is the secretary of state); Pope Francis I (but Francis I is the pope)

9. Names of specific companies, organizations and departments: Occidental Petroleum, Kiwanis, the Human Resources Department

10. Geographical locations but not geographical directions: the Far East, Southern California, the Midwest (but I drove south on the San Diego Freeway for 50 miles)

11. Prepositions when they are four or more letters long: From, With, Among, in, out, Between

Be very sparing in using capitalization for emphasis. Let your words show the emphasis. As with any form of calling attention to your message (e.g., bold, italics, underlining), when you emphasize everything you end up emphasizing nothing.

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More From “Just My Typo”

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This wonderful little book was compiled by Drummond Moir. Here is today’s offering:

ONE MAN WAS ADMITTED TO HOSPITAL SUFFERING FROM BUNS (Bristol Gazette)

GERMANS ARE SO SMALL THAT THERE MAY BE AS MANY AS ONE BILLION, SEVEN-HUNDRED MILLION OF THEM IN A DROP OF WATER
(Mobile Press)

With its highly evolved social structure of tens of thousands of worker bees commanded by Queen Elizabeth, the honey bee genome could also improve the search for genes linked to social behavior….Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day. (Reuters)

During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the Washington Post was credited with the “most famous newspaper typo” in DC history. The Post intended to report that President Wilson had been “entertaining” his future wife, Mrs. Galt, but instead wrote that he had been “entering” her.

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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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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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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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The —Ize Have It

I got an email today from Williams-Sonoma advertising a new attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer. It was described as a “Handy multitasker that peels, cores, slices and spiralizes in seconds.” I must confess, I am not a spiralizer. I have made spirals, created spirals, but can’t remember the last time I spiralized anything.

To my eye and ear, many —ize verbs are unnecessary. Can’t we create incentives rather than incentivize? Prioritize? Set priorities. Have you ever bought a utilized car?

However, many verbs ending in —ize are so common that I can’t argue with their use: hospitalize, hypnotize, lionize, legalize, minimize, maximize, idealize, and personalize—among many others.

Stepping off my soapbox, I wonder if you can think of any time utilize conveys any meaning that use doesn’t. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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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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Look-Alikes and Sound-Alikes, Part 3

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I am so grateful to you wonderful people who keep sending me suggestions for this topic. Here goes Part 3:

FOUL vs. FOWL: Can you believe a reader caught someone writing about “fowl language”? Those roosters can be so crude!

ELUDE means to get away from, to avoid: It’s hopeless to try to elude a police officer behind you flashing the lights.

ALLUDE means to refer to something without specifically stating it:
Jacob alluded to the fact that his wife hates action movies, although she still goes with him to see the latest smash-em-up.

CONSCIENCE is your sense of right and wrong.

CONSCIOUS means you are awake and alert, able to think.

HEAR is what you do with your ears. It is also used in the phrase, “Hear! Hear!” (I often see this written as “Here! Here!” and I want to yell, “Where? Where?”)

HERE refers to location.

LATER refers to a time after one previously mentioned or understood. It contains the word “late.”

LATTER refers to the second of two or the last of a group mentioned: Larry has been divorced twice, but is on good terms with the latter of his two wives.

PERSONAL means private: Your personal information should not be disseminated on the Internet.

PERSONNEL refers to a group of people who work for an organization: Our personnel are very compatible and freely help each other. It also is used for the office that keeps records for an organization, i.e., the Personnel Office.

Realize that none of these words will trigger a highlight from your spellchecker. It still is up to you to proofread everything, slowly and quietly out loud, to make sure you have typed the word you want. As I frequently mention, if you proofread silently at your normal speed, chances are you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

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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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