Friday, December 16, 2011

We will not be replaced, AP ...

The offer below arrived in my inbox yesterday. I almost stopped reading at the headline.

Anytime I see something about automated editing of any kind (including spelling and grammar checkers), I bristle. These tools may be helpful to a point, but they will never replace the keen eye and mind of a person experienced in editing. And, no, I'm not saying this because I need a job; I'm saying it because it's true.

Take a look. Would you have confidence in this product? (Red markings and bold mine.)

New AP StyleGuard offers automated style checking in Word

Screenshot of AP StyleGuard
Since 1953, we've brought you AP Stylebook.  Now, we offer you an easier way to stay in style automatically with our new product, AP StyleGuard, powered by Equiom Lingustic Labs.

AP StyleGuard, powered by Equiom Linquistic Labs, is a powerful yet easy solution that integrates with Microsoft Word and provides automatic checking of your documents for AP style.  Using defined structure and rules similar to Word's spelling and grammar checking, AP StyleGuard helps ensure the consistency of your writing style.  It saves the time of manually referring to the AP Stylebook and offers recommendations on items you might not have realized are covered by AP style.

No matter what type of writing you do, you can rest assured that AP StyleGuard helps you stay on top of all the current spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage guidelines from the journalist's bible.

So this "spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage" tool wasn't able to help with spelling Linguistic 
correctly in its own ad. Or enforcing the only-one-space-after-a-period rule. And it doesn't claim to help with things like unnecessary repetition -- because, of course, how could it? -- but this piece needed that kind of help, too. The kind of help you can get only from a human being.

It's always good to be reminded that there is no substitute for a real live copy editor. Thank you, AP.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Unstopable" nonsense

As Joe Jackson would say, "You can read it in the Sunday paper ..." Yes, I'm dating myself by both quoting Joe Jackson and admitting that I still read the newspaper, but look at the fodder I get.

The coupon inserts from a couple of weeks ago (the only part of the ads I look at) included this gem:

OK, so where do I begin? The oxymoron? The assignment of a new part of speech? The missing -- no, wait, it's there in one place, so let's make that inconsistent -- hyphenation?

Well, let's start at the beginning. The name of the product: "Unstopables." No, not Unstoppables, which itself isn't even a word but at least makes more sense in the spelling department. (Unstoppable is a word, yes -- an adjective. By adding an "s" it becomes a made-up noun. See more on this below.)

I read "Unstopables" as un-STOPE-ah-bulls, because, as we all know, the double consonant following the vowel makes the vowel short (the AH sound), whereas just the one consonant makes the vowel long (the OH sound). What? You didn't know that? Well, shame on your English teacher.

Anyway, not only does the spelling not make sense, but also the name doesn't make sense. To me, anyway. This is a product that you add to your wash to "boost scent." In other words, to stop odor. But wait — this is called Unstopables. What is it unstoppable at? Boosting scent? Meaning it doesn't stop even after you remove the clothes from the washer? Is that even possible? (Or desirable?)

Whatever. Let's move on. "New & improved." Well, which is it? Is it new? Or is it just the original with some improvements? Can't be both. This is called an oxymoron. Like "controlled chaos" or "rap music."

Next: "Get a fresh too feisty to quit." A fresh. So now fresh is a noun? Oka-a-y...  But a feisty fresh? Come on.

Underneath that: "An in wash scent booster ..." That should be "in-wash" -- and it is hyphenated on the actual product. Inconsistency. Real turn-off.

And to top it off ... why the French? At least this product also includes Spanish, which makes sense since probably the majority of Americans speak Spanish at this point. But French? So many products (especially in the personal-care category) include only the French translation, as if that makes them more desirable. "Oh, so the French use this moisturizer ... it must be really good!" And one of these days, when I learn French, it'll be fun to see how accurate the translation is.

Just what you wanted: A copy editor of multiple languages!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can we have a word? (Or better, TWO words?)

I'm not much into the smushing of two words together to make one.

I suppose there are good semantic reasons for doing so -- sometimes.

And -- say it with me now -- language is always changing.

But. Do we really need foodservice? And caselaw? Would you also then write drinkservice and  statutorylaw?

Now, foodservice is an industry term for those in the business of serving food to others, usually in large numbers, like a restaurant or a corporate cafeteria. So there might be reason to make it its own term. Except, if you kept it two words, what would happen? Would people confuse this kind of food service with any other kind of food service? I don't think so.

And with words like caselaw, it just looks like it's pronounced CASS-eh-law.

Which brings me to the most hotly contested issue among copy editors (or is that copyeditors?). That's right: Mavens in this field have an ongoing debate about how to write copy editor/copy edit/copy editing.

The two-word style is the original, but lately some want to make them each one word, including the foremost publication on the subject: Copyediting, a newsletter that changed its name just a couple of years ago to the one-word style, as well as its spellings of copyedit and copyeditor.

One opponent of this change, Bill Walsh, copy chief at The Washington Post, says copyeditor looks like it would be pronounced cop-yeditor, and I have to say I agree. I tend to treat each differently: copy edit and copy editor, but copyediting. Some would argue that this looks inconsistent, but it makes sense to me.

What doesn't make sense to me:

  • Healthcare
  • Childcare/Daycare
  • Backyard (except as an adjective, e.g., backyard barbecue)
  • Cellphone
  • Homepage (Spelling this as one word makes sense to me, but it still looks odd. Or it looks French -- oh-mah-PAZH.)

So, please, before you start smushing, consult a dictionary. It may be one word, but it may not be. Yet. Let's not rush the smush.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Don't fear the hyphen

So we got a dog recently. And along with dog comes the obligatory trip to Petco, the animal equivalent to the Baby SuperStore: a warehouse full of everything for the new dog owner. Many dollars later, we walked out with collars, leashes, and treats, treats and more treats.

Several days later, we returned to the store for our first training session, where we learned that we need four levels of treats, ranging from everyday kibble to such prime people-food as leftover steak, in order to get our dogs to perform certain tricks and commands. Based on this information, I went home armed with even more new treats, including this bag:

Now, when I first looked at this, I sighed as I recognized another example of the apparently hyphen-phobic marketers out there -- the same ones who sell Tall Kitchen Garbage Bags. My husband and I have joked about this for years: Are they bags for tall kitchen garbage? Or garbage bags for tall kitchens? Or tall bags for kitchen garbage? As written, it's ambiguous and could mean any of those things -- except, of course, that none of those make sense.

But in the case of Small Dog Training Treats, without a hyphen there is true ambiguity about what exactly is contained inside. I thought about this briefly as I picked it off the shelf. "Well, it must be dog-training treats that are small," I thought (and, yes, I include hyphens when I think). "But aren't all dog-training treats small? It couldn't mean dog-training treats for small dogs -- unless they're smaller for their smaller mouths?" I decided it was just another case of redundancy and tossed them in the basket.

When I got home, I opened the package, and in doing so noticed that on the back of the bag was a picture and text indicating that these treats were indeed made for small dogs. We have a large dog, so I was not intending to buy small-dog training treats but rather small dog-training treats. 

So I reached into the bag to see how these treats were different, and the kicker is, they're exactly the same size as all of our other training treats, which don't indicate what size dog they're for. Color me confused.

Anyway, our large dog eats the small-dog treats just as eagerly as she does the others, so it's not a big deal. But please do your part and use the hyphen to eliminate any confusion for your readers. Or, if you yourself are confused by this entire post, just use this as your take-away: Don't try marketing anything tall or small.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rock 'n' roll rules

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
Lay, Lady, Lay
Can't Hardly Wait
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
You Better, You Bet
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

What's wrong with these song titles? They're grammatically incorrect.

What's right about them? They're rock 'n' roll.

In other words, they get a pass on grammar. "I cannot get any satisfaction"? "Lie, lady, lie"? I think not. I mean, rock 'n' roll is all about breaking the rules, right?

Rock on.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Read my FabuBlog!

Along the lines of crispety, crunchety-type advertising nonsense, I give you one of my biggest peeves: taking two words and combining them to make a new, supposedly "WOW" marketing word.

Now, this isn't always a bad thing. If you're a radio station and want to celebrate the month of October by playing commercial-free rock 'n' roll, you could call it Rocktober. That works, right? It still sounds like October, but it gets across what's special about this October.

Or, to use my 8-year-old's example (I love that he gets this stuff), if you owned a car-repair shop and wanted to give your customers a deal on towing during the tenth month of the year, you could call it Oc-TOW-ber. Cute, right?

Know what's not cute? Anytober. It's not only not cute, it's somewhat embarrassing. Talk about lazy creativity.

Another example:

That's right: fruitabulous (don't forget the all-important trademark symbol -- don't want anyone stealing this gem). Because it sounds so close to fabulous? No, it doesn't. It sounds ridiculous.

Other offenders:
JumpTastic -- A place that rents out large inflatable structures for kids to jump in.

Snowmageddon -- Heard and seen often last winter during the several severe snowstorms. (Carmageddon, on the other hand, to describe what was supposed to be the end of the world due to road closings in L.A. last summer, totally works.)

Carbtastic -- I don't remember what product this was used to describe, but it was during the carb-avoiding era, so I guess it doesn't make sense on two levels. Carbs were supposed to be bad, weren't they?

Pugoween -- Can you guess this one? A Halloween party for pugs in costume. Yeah, I know.

There has to be a name for these. Awf-non-puns? RidicuNonRhymes? Welcoming your suggestions ...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Copy editors are nauseous

So why are all copy editors feeling sick to their stomach? They're not; that's not what I'm saying.

If copy editors are nauseous, that means they cause nausea, something with which I'm sure most writers agree. This is the original meaning of nauseous, anyway.

If I wanted to say copy editors feel like throwing up (like, for example, when they see the following typo), I would say they are nauseated. It's the typo that's nauseous.

But, again, these are only the original meanings of the words. They have been misused for so long now that they have swapped definitions. Just another example of our changing language ...

But I love being a purist and a prescriptivist, so I still say it and write it the original way. So, what makes you nauseated? (Besides purist, prescriptivist, nauseous copy editors, that is ...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crispety? How cutesy!

Well, looky here. Not only have the language mavens in Nestle's creative department added two new terms -- crispety and crunchety -- to the English lexicon, but they've also attempted to translate those words into Spanish.

Actually, I know enough Spanish to tell you that their "translations" are the Spanish equivalents of crispy and crunchy. So why bother to create the new words in English?

Do we English-speakers need our candy descriptions shaken up in order to want to buy more of it? Does a crispety, crunchety Butterfinger bar appeal to you more than a crispy, crunchy one?

Not me. Cut a coupla hundred calories off each bar (without changing the taste, of course) and then talk to me; otherwise, don't expect some fancy new words to make a new or bigger sale. Besides, we all know that hardly anyone actually reads the package, right? We want Butterfingers, we look for the bright-yellow bag with big blue letters. It could say Buttfingers and almost no one would notice (with the exception of copy editors -- and maybe some 8-year-old boys, who, as I know from experience, are obsessed with the word butt).

Crispety and Crunchety belong in the Graveyard of Desperate Marketing Terms, along with Baconator, Smell Gooder and Landfill (as a verb). I know there are more. Won't you add your favorites to the list?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To whom it may concern

If you're a tweeter, as I am (but just barely), then you've seen the Twitter banner page. If you're an anal-retentive grammar nerd, as I definitely am, then you've been bothered by said banner page.

Who to follow. This is wrong. Who, in this case, should be Whom. It is the object of the verb follow.

Who is correctly used only in the subjective form, that is, when it's the subject of the sentence, e.g., Who is the best one to follow? Who is the subject of the sentence, similar to he: He is the best one to follow. (No, I'm not being sexist; of course she also works, but I'm using he for a reason, which you'll soon see.)

In the objective form, when it's the object of a preposition or verb, who becomes whom: Whom should I follow? Follow him(Notice how they both end in "m" -- that's the trick I use, and that's why I'm using only the male pronoun here.) You wouldn't say Follow he, so you similarly shouldn't say Follow who? or Who should I follow?. (You could also turn the sentence around to figure out which is right: I should follow him (whom).)

Now, if you're my father-in-law, you simply bellow "WHOM!" whenever you hear who used incorrectly. And you charge a nickel for each offense. Generous person that I am, I'm sparing you -- and Twitter -- that expense.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Because we were driving 70 mph on the highway toward Omaha for a family wedding this past weekend, I was not able to snap a photo of the largest typo I've ever seen. So let me describe it for you. A semi for some kind of company named Robinson had its name emblazoned on the back of the truck in probably 2-foot-high letters as such: ROBINOSN.

No kidding. Now, I can understand a typo in an email or other typed document (although I would hope even a lame spell-checker would catch something like this) -- but on the back of a big friggin' rig?? There's no excuse. And am I to believe no one had noticed it yet? Or the company just doesn't care enough to fix it? Pathetic, either way.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everything from soup to nuts

I've been encountering a lot of ranges lately. Not the kind you cook with or the kind where the deer and the antelope play -- I mean a range used in writing. This is a device used often but not, in my mind, often correctly, or effectively.

For example, a piece I read recently about a website that tracks the use and misuse of media buzzwords said this: The list so far covers everything from "submissive" to "austerity."

When you say "everything from  ..." you should follow it with a true range, something with a clear beginning and end: Everything from A to Z.  The above example gives me no idea what everything in between "submissive" and "austerity" would be, because those are not the end points of any range I can think of.

Here's another example: The physical activities undertaken covered all levels, from walking to military fitness. Now this one I can consider a true range. Walking is generally considered a low level of physical activity, while military fitness is definitely at the high end. So I can visualize everything in between, perhaps jogging, then running, then sprinting, etc.

So be careful with your "everything from ..." statements. If it's not a true range, recast the sentence. And if it's diversity of content that you're trying to highlight, you can recast to something like this: The list covers such varied words as "submissive" and "austerity."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


You are entitled to use entitled when you really mean titled. I mean, it's not exactly wrong, but why add an extra syllable when it's perfectly clear without it? Shorter is sweeter. Plus there's already another meaning for entitled (see my clever first sentence).

So ... you are not reading a book entitled Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (I know -- you really aren't reading that, but my son is and it's the only book in sight at the moment); you are reading a book titled Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective ... or The Zombie Survival Guide, or Kardashian Konfidential, or whatever -- we're all entitled to our guilty pleasures ...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ensure correct word usage

I assure you, if you want to ensure that you don't lose everything in the next (inevitable) natural disaster, you need to insure your house now.

assure = to give confidence to another person

ensure = to make sure or certain

insure = to buy a policy to protect something

See? Nice and easy. So let's not intermingle these, shall we?

Monday, August 15, 2011

"i." before "e." (except when it's "e.g.")

Following up on a previous post, I'm going to attempt to explain the difference between i.e. and e.g.

Because I have sugar on the brain (as usual), I will use that to help me explain.

i.e. = that is
I am a sugar addict, i.e., I cannot go a day without ingesting something sweet after every meal (and sometimes in between).

e.g. = for example
They say that changing your diet, e.g., by reducing the amount of sugar you eat, can make you healthier; I wouldn't know.

So, i.e. further clarifies the statement you've just made, whereas e.g. gives just an example.

If you want to get all Latin about it (but I doubt this will help you remember the difference), i.e. is short for id est, literally that is, and e.g. is short for exempli gratia, which translates as for example (it is NOT, as a certain Get Shorty character would have you believe, an abbreviation for ergo, although that makes for good humor among us word geeks). 

I hope this was helpful. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a York peppermint patty calling my name ...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You'd best use "better"

I like to tell people that I read a newspaper. Yes, a newspaper. The actual paper kind. Like in the old days. Most people look at me like I'm speaking Swahili (I have a lot of young friends who read everything online). Call me crazy, but I still like to sit on the couch on Sunday morning and flip through the pages of the Star Tribune in my own particular order.

First, I discard the ads. Then I pass the sports section to Marc, and the weather section to James. Then ... my weekly dose of celebrity news in Parade magazine.

Yep, I can't read the rest of the paper until I've gotten the oh-so-important dish on what Angelina Jolie is like in real life or whatever happened to the kid who played cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. The rest of the content in Parade, however, is somewhat less interesting.

Take the recent article titled "The Battle of Dogs vs. Cats." First of all, this is a non-debate in my mind because dogs clearly rule. I know many (my husband among them) will disagree with this, but they're just wrong. Second, the article seems like a desperate space-filler to me. How many hundreds of times has this topic been discussed?

But I digress. The real reason I bring this up is that it's a good lesson on when to use a comparative (e.g., better) and when to use the superlative (e.g., best). Here are some of the subheads in the article:

Which Are Better Hunters?
Which Are the Hardest Working?
Which Live the Longest?
Which Are the Fastest?

Well, they got the first one right. They're comparing only two things -- cats and dogs -- so better is the right word. One is better than the other (dogs, of course -- ha ha). If there were more than two things being compared, then you would use the superlative (best). The remaining three subheads use superlatives, but they shouldn't. This is how they should read:

Which Are Harder Working?
Which Live Longer?
Which Are Faster?

So, to ensure that you don't make this grave mistake, remember: the "-er" ending for comparing two things and "-est" for three or more.

Coming soon: Why I used ensure in the above sentence and not insure or assure; why I used e.g. and not i.e. in the fifth paragraph; and why I used titled and not entitled in paragraph four. Wow, I just gave myself three new topics to write about!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blog & Kumquats

What's wrong with this picture?

You might think it's the absence of an apostrophe in Bakers. And that would be a valid thought. An argument can be made for adding an apostrophe, either before or after the s. But an argument can also be made for leaving the apostrophe out.

You already know that Baker's Square would refer to a square belonging to one baker and that Bakers' Square would refer to a square belonging to more than one. It's possible one of those meanings is intended (although I'm not sure because I don't understand the origin of the term Bakers Square--what exactly is the square?).

I think it's more likely, though, that the meaning is a square (as in an area, like a town square) for bakers, not belonging to them. In this case, no apostrophe is needed. You're not talking about possession. It's like Veterans Day or Diners Club--it's a day for veterans, a club for diners. This is called the attributive form.

BUT ... this is not what I found wrong with the sign. (A long digression, I know--consider this a two-fer.) My gripe is the unparallelism of the description of the place. RESTAURANT & PIES. So you're a restaurant and ... pies? Or you sell pies and ... a restaurant? Nuh-uh. Something wrong with FOOD & PIES or RESTAURANT & PIE BAKERY? Nope. So please change your sign accordingly, BS. And, yes, I will accept a free piece of French silk pie as a token of your gratitude!

Stay tuned for more on parallelism ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Don't leave me dangling

Dangling modifiers -- you hear about these most often in jokes about what a copy editor does. "Oh, do you get a lot of satisfaction out of fixing comma splices and dangling modifiers?" (chortle, chortle)

Why, yes, I do, thank you very much.

I think the people who make these comments don't even know exactly what these sins are. (And they are sins, don't kid yourself.) Or they know what they are, but they don't think they're important.

Fools. (See, I can say that because if you're reading this, you obviously care and therefore are not a fool.)

A modifier is dangling if the subject it's modifying is missing, or just implied:

Having eaten dinner, the TV was turned on.

The modifier here is "having eaten dinner" and it's supposed to be modifying the person who has eaten dinner but, because of the passive voice (another severe offense), there is no explicit subject (person) named, so the modifier is left dangling -- or worse, it's modifying TV, which produces this meaning: The TV ate dinner and then was turned on. Hmmm ...

I think it's clear that the sentence should be recast to: Having eaten dinner, the person [or well-trained cat] turned on the TV.

A similar offense is the misplaced modifier: Flying around the room, I saw two moths.

Here, we have an explicit subject, "I," but it's misplaced, making the sentence actually say that the speaker is the one who was flying around the room, not the moths. So I guess this might be the case if Superman is the speaker, but otherwise, you would need to fix it by simply saying: I saw two moths flying around the room.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home your language skills

Wait -- did that say home your language skills? Surely I meant hone your language skills, right?

Right. Hone means to sharpen, make more effective. You probably never see this mistake. But when you go the other way, you see it and hear it a lot: hone in on the target. It's supposed to be home in. Or at least that's how I learned it. Here's what has to say about it:

"The few commentators who have noticed hone in consider it to be a mistake for home in. It may have arisen from home in by the weakening of the \m\ sound to \n\ or may perhaps simply be due to the influence of hone. Though it seems to have established itself in American English (and mention in a British usage book suggests it is used in British English too), your use of it especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. Home in or in figurative use zero in does nicely."

And so here should begin a discussion about prescriptivism vs. descriptivism -- prescriptive dictionaries being those that tell you what's "right," and descriptive those that show you what is being used the most. If a word or phrase is being used a lot, even in what was originally considered an incorrect manner, it will appear in a descriptive dictionary because it's really a record of language as it's being used. It's hard to say what constitutes prescriptivism, since language always is, and needs to be, changing -- so who's to say what's right or wrong? When we declare, "It's in the dictionary, so it's right," we act as if it's the edict of some omniscient being. But if it shows up in the dictionary (as does, my 8-year-old likes to tell me, the word ain't), it's either the original form of the word, the popular form, a brand-new word, or sometimes all of the above.

That's why it's a good idea to read the full definition to get any usage notes that might be included, as the one above. For me, a language purist who seldom follows the crowd, it's still going to be home in. Or, better yet, zero in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Win a free gift from the head honcho!

So, did you really think you were going to win a free gift? Think about that. A free gift? Have you ever gotten a gift that wasn't free? Of course not. And win? Well, you can't very well win something that's given to you -- for free. Right?

Welcome to today's topic: redundancies. And this one is a group effort. Please feel free to add your own, because I know I'm only scratching the surface. OK, here goes:

head honcho: honcho means leader, so ...

Please RSVP: The translation of RSVP is repondez s'il vous plait, the last three words of which mean -- you guessed it -- please.

close proximity: Yep, proximity means close.

my own personal: Thrice redundant?

In addition ... also: As in "In addition to being a language snob, I'm also a chocolate snob (no Hershey's for me, thank you)."

And now the self-explanatory:

PIN number

ATM machine

GPS system

On a somewhat related note, have you ever noticed the redundancy of the sheet of plastic covering a slice of American "cheese"?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Can you spot the errors?

The following was printed on the packaging of the Star Wars fishing rod that my 8-year-old bought at a garage sale (because nothing says fishing like Star Wars, right?).

So ... how many errors can you spot? My count is four, but two are of the same kind and are more subjective than the others. Take a stab and then look below for my corrections (or don't ...).

1. Kid's: Kid's is the possessive form of kid, not the plural, which is needed here: kids. In editing circles this is called the grocer's apostrophe because it's so often seen on signs advertising, for example,  apple's for $2.99/lb. 

The only reason I can come up with for grocers and manufacturers of Star Wars fishing rods believing this is correct is that they think the noun needs to be separated from the "s" ... for, I don't know, easier reading? I mean, are you really that confused when you see the word apples, having to stop and think, "Oh, it's apple but the "s" on the end means more than one apple"? Didn't think so. Please use the apostrophe only when indicating possession (My kid's Star Wars fishing rod is all that) or contraction (My kid's been playing with his Star Wars fishing rod all day -- here the apostrophe replaces the missing letters "ha" from has).

2. help any kid build their angling skills: Kid is singular; their is plural. So they don't match. And they should: "help any kid build his or her angling skills" or "help all kids build their angling skills." This is another battle we editors are fighting: the trend of accepting their as an appropriate possessive pronoun for a singular subject.

3. and 4. "easy to use push button design reel": Don't be afraid of the hyphen, even multiple hyphens: easy-to-use push-button-design reel makes this an easier-to-read sentence. You could also delete design. Plus -- and not being a fisherperson I may be wrong here -- aren't all reels the push-button kind?

How'd you do?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plethora o' peeves

My former-hubby-now-husband (whose father hates the word hubby) alerted me to this list from the 6th Floor, a blog of the New York Times Magazine:

If I may point out my favorites:
  • anxious/eager. See my earlier post on this topic.
  • behaviors/insights. When, and why, did these become plural?
  • chaise lounge. This is INCORRECT. As much as I wish I spoke French, I don't. Yet. But I do know this much: the term is chaise LONGUE and it is pronounced something like this: shez long. It means long chair, not lounge chair, although it's obvious why this confuses people. 
  • closure. You may get closure by confronting that jerky boyfriend who dumped you, but when we have 3 feet of snow, you get school closings and road closings.
  • comprised of. No. It's comprise or composed of. Comprise means to encompass or include, so a zoo comprises animals or it is composed of animals but it is not comprised of animals.
  • deplane/detrain. Um, last time I checked, plane and train are not verbs. Therefore, neither are deplane and detrain. The flight attendants don't say, "Have your planing passes ready before you plane." So why do they say, "Make sure you have all your belongings before you deplane"? Something wrong with exit?
  • disinterested/uninterested. This one I learned from my husband. If you're bored out of your mind in a work meeting, you are uninterested. If you have no stake in the group that's meeting or the business they're conducting, you are disinterested; you're neutral, unbiased.
  • enormity. This has nothing to do with size. That would be enormousness, or better, magnitude. Enormity refers to outrageousness. 
  • farther/furtherFarther indicates actual physical distance: I live much farther away from the equator than I'd like to. Further is for more metaphorical use: I do not want to explain any further why I still live in a place with nine-month-long winters.
  • gift (v.). This is WHAT you give someone, not how you do it. You give it. You give the gift. We do not need a new word for this.
  • intensive purposes. If people who say this would just stop and think about it, they would realize it doesn't make sense. The phrase is "for all intents and purposes." (Which, now that I think of it, is kind of redundant. Why don't we just say "for all intents"?)
  • irregardless. Not a word. You are likely confusing irrespective and regardless, which can be used interchangeably but which should not be merged to form a new nonsense word.
  • literally. Most of the time, I hear this used to mean figuratively, which is its opposite. If you did not actually have molten flesh dropping on the ground in front of you during yesterday's heatwave, you can't say, "My face was literally melting off!"
  • penultimate. It simply means next-to-last. December 30 is the penultimate day of the year.
  • signage. Why do we need this word? How does it differ from signs?
  • towards. This is British usage. Here in the U.S. it's just toward.
  • unique. Yes, something can be unique, which means one of a kind. It cannot, however, be "kind of unique" or "very unique." That's like being kind of pregnant. Either it is or it isn't. 
Please feel free to share your favorites too!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Save the complements

Compliment your new cut with 50% off a color & foil - Only $25

Half off color tint and foil - only $25 ($50 value)

I found the above in my email inbox the other day from a certain daily-deal outfit with a perplexing logo (my Facebook friends know which one I'm talking about).

Two things here: 
1) No, you're not complimenting your new cut — that would be to say, "Gee, new cut, you look great!" Rather, you are complementing your new cut, meaning you are completing or enhancing it. With a color tint. 
2) Isn't color tint redundant?

(Actually, there's one more thing: the hyphen used as a dash. Stay tuned for more on that peeve.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Everyday gripe

I see it every day. Every. Day. Two words. What I see, as in the photo below, is the one-word spelling where it should be the two-word spelling.

Everyday is an adjective. Every day is an adverb. If parts of speech don't mean anything to you, then think of it this way: everyday means ordinary, common, usual. So the sign in the picture is saying "Available ordinary," which is, of course, nonsense. Everyday should come before a noun that it modifies, e.g., I'm not getting out my good china for the in-laws; the everyday dishes are good enough for them.* 

Every day, on the other hand, is what you should use when you're referring to when something happens, like when flu vaccinations are available at the neighborhood pharmacy. They are available every day. (Even in May, it would seem ...)

Practice the proper use of these two terms every day, and you will elevate yourself above the everyday writers out there.

* Just a test to see if any of my in-laws are actually reading this.  :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Don't lay to me

Ready for my biggest pet peeve? Lay vs. lie. Why? Because I don't think it's that hard. I mean, if I can get it, anyone can. Yes, I'm a word geek, but people much smarter than I get this wrong all the time. But let's not make this a judgment about intelligence. (After all, my money-geek friends are probably saying, "I can't believe Anne doesn't get the concept of compound interest!") Let's just try to make this easy for everyone.

I think so many people get this wrong for one of two reasons: 1) they get confused because lay, while having a different meaning from lie, is also the past tense of lie; or 2) they think lay and lie are interchangeable and it's just a matter of how you choose to pronounce it (like EE-ther vs. EYE-ther for the word either).

Whatever the reason, here's the scoop. (And while many rules of English grammar are not black and white, this one is.)

Lay means "to set" and requires a direct object. (Please lay the book on the table.)

Lie means "to recline." (I'm going to lie down for a nap.) 

When you move to past tense, it gets trickier:

Yesterday, I laid the book on the table.

Yesterday, I lay down for a nap.

And you will almost never hear the correct past participle used:

For the last few days, I have laid the book on the table.

For the last few days, I have lain down for a nap.

Ever hear anyone say "lain"? Didn't think so. No matter. YOU can be the first. But, really, for the most part, if you just concentrate on mentally saying "set" or "recline" before you utter either L word, you should be OK. And your word-geek friends will love you for it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hobgoblins, bugaboos and plain old myths

For the last time, YES, you can split an infinitive.

And, yes, you can start a sentence with a conjunction (see what I did there?).

And you also have every right to end a sentence with a preposition. These are not English grammar rules, people. Yes, yes, I know your fifth-grade teacher told you they were, but she was wrong.

Take the split infinitive. Your teacher told you that "To boldly go where no man has gone before" was ungrammatical, right? Wanna know why? Because in Latin (not English, mind you) the word for "to go" (the infinitive form of the verb "go") is "ire" -- one word, impossible to "split" by inserting an adverb. Just because you physically can't split an infinitive in Latin doesn't mean you shouldn't in English. Why this rule transferred over is unknown and doesn't make sense.

So, to really get the most out of your writing, split to your heart's content.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Landfill this

My hubby and I for years have been collecting "nerbs": nouns that have become verbs. Having worked in the corporate world, where nerbs are coined every day, we groaned over usages like "sunset," which acted as not only a nerb but also a euphemism for the demise of a department and, subsequently, employee jobs.

Now, granted, many verbs in our language today were once nouns only (access, for example) and evolved over time by increased usage. And we copy editors are losing the battle against the migration of impact and contact. But some nerbs border on the ridiculous. To wit:

"Landfill less"? While I embrace the concept, I really don't think the slogan is so catchy that it justifies making landfill a verb. Especially when determined by a well-meaning, eco-friendly but likely linguistically inexperienced Dumpster* company. The English language is ever evolving, yes, but that doesn't mean every Tom, Dick, and Harry gets to assign new parts of speech to whatever words he wants. That task should be reserved for us sanctimonious editors.

*Yes, Dumpster is capitalized. It's a trademarked name. Not sure what the generic name would be -- huge, parking-space-hogging container for junk?

Don't be anxious about using "eager"

I was dismayed to see this line in a Facebook post from my favorite health/fitness magazine, which is usually high quality in the mechanics of language department:

"Anxious to get back outside after a long winter? Try these outdoor moves to get you started:"

Why would I be anxious to get back outside after a long winter? Well, sure, there's the mosquito thing, but that's a small price to pay after the winter we've suffered through.

What they surely intended to say is "Eager to get back outside ...?" To be anxious is to have anxiety (see how both words start with anx?).

I might be anxious about exposing my bright-white legs in shorts just yet, but I am definitely eager to get outside.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gooder is NOT better


Gain must have the same ad agency as Applebee's ("Eatin' good in the neighborhood"). Sheesh.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Man, oh, man: Mano a mano

On "Real Time" the other night, Bill Maher said in reference to the Osama bin Laden killing that instead of bombing the entire building, the Navy SEALs took him out "mano a mano." I don't think I've ever heard this phrase used correctly. "Mano a mano" translates as "hand to hand," as in hand-to-hand combat, which according to the information we've been given, was not the case in the bin Laden incident. Maher likely meant "man to man," which would be "hombre a hombre." Spread the word.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Comma sense, people

I see it every day (not "everyday" -- that's another post). Multiple times. Even on billboards and signs in large type. Example: Attention shoppers. Attention shoppers? I'm not shopping for attention; I'm here to buy toothpaste.

Do you see the problem? What I'm lamenting is what I'm not seeing: the comma necessary in direct address. When you write Hello, everybody; Welcome, visitors; or Thank you, Anne,  you need a comma before the name of the person or group you're addressing. (And if you're saying, "Shut up already, Anne" ... well, same rule.)

It won't always result in altered meaning, as in the example above. But it's still necessary.

And by the way, if you're inserting the addressee's name within a full sentence, you need two commas: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." And while you may actually be saying that phrase to yourself right now, please take another look and note the two commas. (And if you don't really give a damn, why are you here?)

Apostrophe catastrophe

What's wrong with this picture?

Yes, the apostrophe. Or, rather, the open single quote mark, which is what this is. An apostrophe is curled the other way, like a comma, only higher.

This kind of mistake is understandable when using a word-processing program; the software automatically inserts an open single quote because, since the character comes after a space, the program assumes it's the beginning of a quote, whereas apostrophes usually come in the middle of a word (like don't). So you have to manually fix it when using an apostrophe at the beginning of a word as a space filler for missing letters, as in 'til.

Perhaps this sign was originally created in Word and then blown up to mammoth size for all the world to see and copy, because if it's on a big red sign, it must be right, right? Wrong.

At least they didn't put apostrophes before the esses in the days of the week. But that's a post for another day.

How not to lose (loose?) your mind

A common mixing up of similar words is lose vs. loose. If you often mix these up, try these hints.
From the Copyediting newsletter’s Tip of the Week email (my additions in red):
As Joyce Cheney, professor of English at Santa Monica College, advises her students:
1.      Loose with its two o's should remind you that there is too much space[,] so something is loose as in a pair of loose (or roomy) pants. Loose also can refer to a handful of coins [think of the o’s as coins] that are unrestrained[,] as in loose change. Similarly, a person may be described as loose if he or she functions with few rules or boundaries.
2.      Lose with only one o should remind you that something is missing[,] as when one loses or becomes unable to find or keep something or fails to achieve, as in to lose a game.
Try to remember just the first part—that loose has room in it, so it requires two o's—and see if that helps. You can even [test yourself] with Cheney's Loose or Lose? quiz.