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.