Thursday, April 17, 2014
In case you missed it: Last December The New York Times published an interesting online quiz about dialects. If you grew up in the United States, the quiz can identify the region.
The Takeaway: Try the quiz.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Grammatical parallelism is also called parallel structure, parallel construction, and parallel form. It is the use of equivalent syntax to array equivalent ideas. Parallelism makes writing easier to read; faulty parallelism makes writing harder to read.
An example of faulty parallelism
“In other words, the more English a given region, the less political and ideological flexibility one finds in that area among white voters.” (Source)
A suggested rewrite
In other words, the more English a given region, the more inflexible (politically and ideologically) the white voters.
An example of faulty parallelism
“Get organized in ways that help you better use everything you still have. Organize your refrigerator like a supermarket. Organize your kitchen like a programmer. Organize your clothing by color, like in a clothing store, so it's easy to find what you're looking for.” (Source)
A suggested rewrite
Get organized in ways that help you better use everything you still have: Organize your refrigerator by category, your kitchen by function, and your clothing by color.
The Takeaway: Check your parallel constructions to make sure they really are parallel. This is one of the quickest fixes you can make during a copy-edit. Parallelism will make your copy easier to read. Your readers will notice and appreciate it.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Today we present examples of miscellaneous errors that may confuse your readers.
Using a general verb instead of a specific verb
“...the use of these ubiquitous texting shortcuts is negatively altering their ability to identify and use correct grammar.” (Source)
When you feel that you must add an adverb to a verb, you’re probably using a verb that’s too general. Above, for example, the writer used the general verb alter and probably sensed that she must add an adverb to make it more specific. But it’s still too general. She should have just used a more-specific verb; for example, hinder, hurt, reduce, dull or destroy.
Misuse of preposition
“They (the big corporate contributors) tried this (bribery) to me in Minnesota.” (Source)
The natural preposition here is on: “They tried this on me.”
“emotionally charged social and political implications” (Source)
An implication is a concept; it cannot carry or hold or experience an emotional charge. A person can experience an emotion as a reaction to recognizing an implication. The writer should have decided what emotion she had in mind and should have rewritten the passage. For example, she could have written “frightening social and political implications.”
The Takeaway: Whenever you are writing something for publication – even if it’s “just” a blog – try to have an experienced editor read your copy.
Monday, April 7, 2014
~Gloria Steinem (pictured)
~Robert F. Kennedy
“[American family court] is a system that is corrupt on [its] best day. It is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel [road] late at night. No one can hear your cries and complaints and it is not over until they say it’s over.”
“We live in an age of no poetry—the first such age in all of human history.”
“Stupid ideas spread when people who know better refuse to confront them.”
“I do not believe in God, because I believe in man. Whatever his mistakes, man has for thousands of years past been working to undo the botched job your God has made.”
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
“Dare to be wrong and to dream.”
~Friedrich von Schiller
The Takeaway: Keep an open mind. Or, as Robert Frost put it, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” (BTW, how did you fare on the above quotations?)
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Mixed metaphors can be amusing. However, we writers are usually more interested in informing and persuading our readers than in amusing them. Mixed metaphors may distract our readers and impede information and persuasion. Here are three recent examples of mixed metaphors:
“A new general manager almost always means a new coach. If Miami travels this second road, Philbin’s short run in South Beach is on the hot seat.” (Source) (Boldface added.)
“[Sociological research by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam] runs directly counter to some of the most deeply-held prejudices of liberal modernity, so it’s unusual to see results like these get any positive attention. Even Putnam felt it necessary to sandwich his rigorous results showing a powerful negative effect of ethnic diversity on social cohesion between a pabulum of hand-wringing about long-term benefits of immigration and assimilation, though he has no similarly rigorous results to sustain these claims.” (Source) (Boldface added.)
“Democracy is on the brink of a sea change” (Source) (Boldface added.)The Takeaway: Mixed metaphors can distract your readers. In some cases, they make your prose impossible to understand. Ideally, you should have someone edit your copy, because it is difficult to spot your own mixed metaphors.
Thanks to Paul G. Henning for the pointing out the first example.