Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day: I Could Not Care Less

As an example of people saying the opposite of what they mean, consider the ever-popular phrase, “I could care less...” Either the author has left out a phrase beginning with “but”, or he or she has written a lie. You can imagine, however, the cheery attitudes I uncover when I respond to such a sentence with, “Liar.” For some reason, my co-workers do not care for this response.

In the interests of purging the bile that rises when I hear this phrase, and preserving the generally good relationships I enjoy with my co-workers, I am posting this as fair warning. If you really could not care less that Bob has a new shirt, then say so. If you could care less, then simply express your interest and stop attempting to confuse and frustrate people. Should you be stretching for uber-sarcasm, finish your thought and say, “I could care less about Bob's new shirt, but that would require more effort than it's worth.” Ouch!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reflexive Prounouns and Other Pet Peeves

In all my blather about pronouns, I haven't adequately addressed reflexive pronouns. If you don't understand that sentence, suffice it to say that words like myself, himself, yourself, and herself are pronouns that you use when the subject does, says, or feels something about itself. In preparing to write the post, I came across this grammar rant that does the job quite well. Rather than gild the lily, I'll just leave the link.

That leaves me, however, with very little to post today. I thought I'd throw out some other grammar rants for your entertainment (and possible edification). Enjoy!

David Gagne posts quite a few rants, but this one about non-words struck me as particularly pet-peevish. By that, I mean that I agree with him, particularly that itch is a noun and only a noun. Then again, he'll probably post one about my adding two hyphenated fake words in the same sentence as the link to his post.

Have you not been entertained enough? Then check out the Grammar Rant Thread on Apple Insider. My favorite section was the the improper use of the phrase “illiterate knobcheese”, supplemented by LOLcats. I couldn't make up this level of quality! (In truth, you will find good information and useful examples here, interspersed with enough silliness to keep you interested. But be aware that the thread is rated “R”and is appropriate for adults only.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Subtleties: Because of and Due To

Today I consider the subtle difference between “due to” and “because of”. Let's ignore the habit that many writers have of adding “the fact that” to these phrases. That's simple fluffery and deserves no quarter here. Consider the following:

Mike succeeded because of his dedication.
Mike's success was due to his dedication.
“Because of” modifies verbs, as seen in the first example. That makes it an adverb, for those of you who care about labels. “Due to” acts as an adjective. Why? No one seems to know, or particularly care, from what I could find. Apparently this question was debated a hundred years ago, but no clear winner arose.

Until the dust settles, consider this was to decide which phrase to use: eliminate the phrase and ask why. For the first sentence above, you'd be left with “Mike succeeded.” Why? “Because of his dedication.” You don't need a full sentence to answer the question, just the phrase you removed.

The second sentence would read, “Mike's success was.” Asking why makes no sense, here. Thus, you would use “due to”.

If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that “due to” follows “to be” verbs and act as predicate adjectives. I've tried to find or write an example in which that did not happen but have not found one. You should care because that means that “due to” lives in passive sentences, generally if not strictly. If you've read this blog before, you know how strongly I feel about avoiding the passive voice.

If you can think of or find an example that proves me wrong, please post it in the comments. And I do realize that "fluffery" isn't a word. I was only testing you.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day: Updation Is Not a Word

I was so interested in writing my post yesterday that I forgot to include the reason behind it. I was (rather forcibly) reminded of the nominalization problem by a post that asked which factor was more important for a successful blog, “updation” or promotion. Hence, my scolding.

To verify my nauseous reaction to this question, I researched the “word”. I found a strong consensus that its use stems from someone trying to sound "techy" or knowledgeable about programming rather than from the natural evolution of language. Apparently, the word is spreading because of database and other computer-related uses.

I found many instances of its use in the phrase “insertion, deletion, selection, and updation”.While I sympathize with the desire to make the words sound similar, as it improves flow, I suspect that this arose from an error and proliferated because people assumed that it must be a “real word” if they saw in in an official-looking venue.

Users of this neologism ignore the fact that English already provides a perfectly good noun for updating things. It's “update”. When you update your server, you may need to install an update (not perform updation) for your software. What benefit does lengthening the existing noun offer? None that I can see, except creating another buzz word for writers like me to deplore. Thanks!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wasting Words with -Tion and -Sion

It's been a while since I rode this particular hobby horse, so I thought I'd remind all of you out there in reader-land that most nominalizations require less action and more words in your sentences. Why write,

“Dr. Smith wrote a prescription for tranquilizers”
when you could simply say,
“Dr. Smith prescribed tranquilizers”?
While writing counts as an activity, it draws the reader's attention to the act itself. One presumes that you would write such a sentence to emphasize what was prescribed rather than the fact that the doctor wrote it down. Thus, the second sentences does the job better.

Making a verb into a noun requires that you use another verb to complete a sentence. You will find times when you prefer to use the nominalized verb for emphasis. Saying that you “made an impression” on someone conveys something different than that you “impressed someone”. But for the most part you'll throw away words, and your readers' attention, by using them.

Why “come to a conclusion about” something when you can “conclude”? Would you rather read about a character who “performed an inspection of” peculiar items or one who “inspected” the oddities? Does your strong hero “come to a decision” or would he simply “decide”?

When you uncover nominalizations in your writing, consider what you emphasize by using them. You'll tighten up your writing and better hold the interest of your readers.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Regarding Punctuation and Some Latin

You may be interested in an on-going discussion in the Helium Writer's Workshop about the overuse of commas. It has expanded into a conversation about how and why to punctuate in general. Rather than rehash my feelings on the matter, I'll just leave you the link.

I have a fresh example of the horrors that public forum posting can wreak on weak writers. A woman another writers' board began a paragraph with this:

“ie; articles that do not make sense”.

After I finished reconstructing my skull, its having exploded, I considered what i.e. meant, here. For those of you who are unaware, the abbreviation stands for the the Latin words “id est” and are translated as “that is”. “The bottom line, i.e. our profit margin, has been rising steadily.”

The abbreviation that this poster intended to use was RE: instead. Note the capitalization and the colon. Had she thought about it, she would (perhaps) have seen that writing out “regarding” (and starting her sentence with a capital letter) would have made her rant easier to read and more convincing.

We won't even address the insidious, apparently contagious, proliferation of the ellipsis. I see it taking over normal paragraphs, turning several sentences into loosely-connected garbage. I've been forced to institute a policy of ignoring all posts in which this problem appears. Not only am I unable to trust the opinions of someone who cannot grasp the most basic piece of punctuation, but my newly-reassembled skull needs to set for a few more weeks before I can expose it to that much stress.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Question 'Way Too Obscure

I was thinking, today, about the phrase “way more than”. My internal editor was debating with my lazy typing fingers about whether there should be an apostrophe in front of “way”.

The editor reasoned that it was an abbreviation of the phrase “far and away” and thus would require the apostrophe. The fingers argued that the colloquial use had become so prevalent, and that the setting was so casual, as to obviate the need for it. Needless to say, I felt the need to research the question.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms states that it's a variant of the phrase “by far” that arose in the mid-1800s. That's the whole history that I was able to discover. Four Google searches and hundreds of pointless results later, all I uncovered was one other person asking the question. The response that writer got was that the site author had never heard of such a thing and didn't believe that the phrase was the origin of this use of way.

While I hate to post something as singularly unhelpful as this, I'm hoping that you, darling readers, will have an answer to this question. When you write, for instance, that, “Vinyl sounds way better than compact discs,” do you mean, “The sound you get from vinyl is far and away better than that from CDs”? And, if so, have you heard of folks using an apostrophe before way to indicate that?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Find the Error: A Game for the Whole Family

Today, I offer real examples from articles on a successful directory. Because they are so painful, I offer points for each example, to keep you interested.

“I can't walk into [one of these stores].without feigning a pulse of love for my ex-boyfriend because of that smell.”

What could the problem be with this sentence? Could it be that the author clearly has no idea what “feigning” means? If you answered yes, give yourself one point.

“They took classes and got their endorsements, and anytime the sun is out, you can see them flying down the roads...”

Hmmm, what is wrong with this example? Did the extraneous comma give you pause? Did you miss that because you were focused on the fact that it's a run-on sentence? If you caught both errors, give yourself two points.

“Nobody forced you into it. So don't create dramas now.”

Does your head hurt yet? Yes, the author has bifurcated a perfectly good (read: acceptable in casual communications) sentence. If you still care, give yourself one point.

“They are learning to play duets now, and their both becoming bilingual.”

Oh, the horror! I won't even tell you what's wrong with this example. Let's just leave it at: contraction. Take one point for catching error number four, if you can still take it.

“They do this y [sic] making phone calls, or looking in the newspaper for FSBO's (For sale by owner), or they may get referrals from other offices.“

Don't worry about the typo. That's small potatoes, compared to the added apostrophe in the acronym and the facts that it and the spelled-out version have been reversed and don't match in number. This came from the introductory paragraph. One point if you caught it, and fifteen if you would have quit reading the article there.

I can't take any more, myself. If you got twenty-five to fifty points, you may have been playing a different game. Ten to twenty-four points earns you the title of Retentive Like Me. If you scored five to nine points, pat yourself on the back and have a piece of toast. If you ended up with less than five points, keep reading this blog.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Using Commas in Your Dates

How you write a date depends largely on where you learned to do so. How to punctuate that date, however, does not.

Americans tend to write dates listing the month before the day. Most of the rest of the world inverts those elements. Which way you choose to write a date affects how many commas, if any, are required. Adding the day of the week requires a comma, in any case. “We delivered the package on Friday, April 3rd, 2008.” “They took delivery Friday, 3 April 2008.”

When you write a date out, like the first of March, you need a comma only if you include the year. If you specify the first of March, 2012, you must insert a comma on either side of the year. If you want to indicate the first of March every year, you don't need a comma around the date at all unless the structure of the sentence demands one (as when it is part of or followed by a dependent clause like this sentence).

Should you prefer to start your dates with the month, you will need a comma between the day of that month and the year. As in the previous example, you don't need any commas if you don't name a year. “I will call my parents on April 5th.” “I will call my parents April 5th, 2008.” Both versions are written correctly. The former example simply implies that I will make a phone call every year on that date.

For some reason that I could not discover, when you write the date before the month you don't need any commas at all (again, unless the structure of the sentence demands one). Thus I could write that 5 April 2008 lives on in my memory. You can also skip commas if you list a month or season and the year. “Spring 2008 will prove a strong quarter for research and development.” “By July 2008 we intend to have proven our commitment to research.”

I have trouble remembering that last rule, as reading the sentence aloud seems to require a pause between the month and the year. Does anyone else have a date-writing or comma rule that poses a constant challenge?