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 ...