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Monday, May 31, 2010

Manage That Gavel FairLY but firmLY!

Those of you who are registered, please remember to vote if your primaries are tomorrow. I hope you are using some of your time today to remember those who have died for our country.

My local newspaper carried an article about the Lieutenant Governor's race in Alabama. One of the candidates was quoted as saying, "I will manage the gavel fair but firmly."

This quotation offers a good opportunity to remind my readers to be careful with parallel structure. If you take one adjective (FIRM) and add an LY to it to create an adverb, then it is necessary to do the same thing with the other adjective. This sentence should be stated as follows:

I will manage the gavel fairly but firmly.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bob Greene Thinks Typos Deserve Serious Attention

Award-winning journalist Bob Greene (a fellow native Ohioan) wrote a piece recently for CNN in which he speculated that "the lowly typo" might have gained more of the attention it deserves if someone had proved that the recent financial market plummet was caused by typing "billion" instead of "million."

Greene pointed out that, in our computer-screen age, "typos--and their cousins misspellings and grammatical errors--have been given a reprieve. What once prompted people to shake their heads in stern disapproval when it appeared on newspaper or magazine pages--a flat-out mistake, caused by lazy typing and indifferent proofreading--produces not as much of a stir when seen on a glowing screen."

I agree wholeheartedly with Bob Greene, who makes the point in his article that, even in today's digital world, accuracy is just as important as speed. Those of you who have taken my workshops know I'm a stickler for good spelling and good grammar. We should all prefer to be remembered for the message we conveyed, not the poor way we wrote it.

One of my personal favorite typo/usage goofs is the one committed by the student newspaper staff at Brigham Young University. In a photo caption, they identified the leaders of the Mormon church as APOSTATES instead of APOSTLES!

I'm sure that elicited some gasps because an APOSTATE is a person who has abandoned religious faith or principles! (See my blog entry "Spell Checker Disaster in Utah" on April 9, 2009.)

NOTE: Welcome to those who attended my workshop this week in Montgomery. I hope you find these postings helpful.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is Your Impatience Running Thin? Huh?

This morning, as I was driving to a water aerobics class, I heard a commentator on NPR Morning Edition make this statement in connection with the frustrating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

BP knows impatience is running thin.

My brain actually heard what the commentator meant (which was that people have BEEN patient but are becoming less so). Then my Grammar Glitch reasoning kicked in. Wait a minute. It is PATIENCE that is running thin. The commentator actually said the exact opposite of what was meant. What was meant was this:

BP knows patience is running thin.

It is unfortunate when incorrect wording distracts the reader or the listener. I didn't hear much of the rest of the story because I was busy thinking about what was said versus what was meant. That's not the goal of good communication.

NOTE: This is an unusual gaffe for NPR. In fact, when I am teaching workshops on business communication, I often suggest that a way to improve good usage and increase effective vocabulary is to listen to quality broadcasts like NPR's Morning Edition.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Do you have the wind "sewed up" yet? Watch your usage!

The writer of a recent letter to the editor in The Birmingham News created a weird mixed metaphor while attempting to quote the Bible. Here is what he wrote:

The Good Book says, "Sew the wind, and you will reap the whirl wind": that is exactly what we have in today's schools.

Whoops! SEW is what you do with a needle and thread. This writer meant SOW, which is how you scatter seed on soil so it will grow.

The correct quotation from Hosea 8:7 is this: "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind...."

There is another WHOOPS in the writer's attempted quotation. WHIRLWIND is one word.

BONUS POINT #1: I will give this writer a huge bonus point, however, for getting the punctuation with the quotation marks and the colon correct. The rule is that colons and semicolons ALWAYS go outside the quotation marks.

Here is how he should have written his comment:

The Good Book says, "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind": that is exactly what we have in today's schools.

This writer, who is a teacher, was defending the principal who shaved off half the eyebrow of a defiant student who was using his eyebrow to display a gang symbol at school.

BONUS POINT #2: A mixed metaphor is a literary image that combines elements of two different images in a confusing way. By using the word SEW (needle and thread image) and combining it with REAP (harvest image), this writer created a mixed metaphor. He meant to create the image of a person sowing seed and then reaping the harvest of what he planted.

NOTE OF WELCOME: Welcome to all of the participants in my Grammar and Usage Brush-up workshop in Montgomery last week. It is because of a question from one of you that I added today's bonus point about quotation mark rules. I will present the three basic rules on quotation mark usage at your second workshop on May 26.

If any other readers would like to have those three basic rules covered in one blog entry, just let me know.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kent State Memories...And a Grammar Glitch

Today is the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, as John Filo's Pulitzer Prize winning photo (copy version at left) reminds us. I had just moved from Ohio to Alabama at that time, and like everyone else, I was stunned that such a thing could happen on a college campus in our country. It was a time of disillusionment with war (Vietnam), and tensions were high on many college campuses. Although I never attended Kent State, it was not far from my home, and many of my high school friends did.

Michael Scott wrote an entry for today in the online version of The Cleveland Plain Dealer titled "Kent State: Coming of Age After May 4, 1970 shootings." It talked about the development of Ohio's third largest university since that fateful, sad day. It now has 38,000 students--nearly double the number in 1970.

In that article, Scott created a really good example of what happens when a writer does not follow through with parallel structure. In this case, the omission of the simple one-letter word "a" managed to turn a fashion school into a science lab. Here is the sentence:

Kent State is home to the state's largest nursing school and a top 10 U. S. fashion school and museum is generally acclaimed as an international leader in liquid crystal research.

Whoops! There are three separate entities here--the nursing school, the fashion school, and the Liquid Crystal Institute. By putting "school and museum" together without another article (a, an, OR the), Scott managed to make it sound as if the fashion school and museum are leaders in liquid crystal research. I'm not sure what "museum" has to do with it, but there is an internationally recognized Liquid Crystal INSTITUTE at Kent State. I think the sentence should read something like this:

Kent State is home to the state's largest nursing school and a top 10 U. S. fashion school as well as an institute that is an international leader in liquid crystal research.

If each item (nursing school, fashion school, institute) has its own article, the reader does not have trouble understanding what goes with what.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

AFFECT? EFFECT? Which is it?

AFFECT and EFFECT are confusing for just about everyone. On Friday evening, April 30, even the headline writer for ABC 33/40 News in Birmingham got caught on this one. As the news anchor reported on the Gulf of Mexico oil leak and the first animals found drenched in oil, the screen caption read as follows:


Whoops! As I have reminded before on this blog, AFFECT is the VERB form of this pesky concept. EFFECT is the word needed for a noun slot. The screen caption should have read as follows:


Here are a couple more examples to help you remember this concept:

Wildlife will certainly be AFFECTED by the oil spill.
The oil spill will certainly AFFECT wildlife.

The oil spill will certainly have an EFFECT on wildlife.

Hope that helps!