November 9th, 2015
JEOPARDY! is about to start its 2015 Tournament of Champions, which I always enjoy watching. The email announcement the program sent out is not, however, a champion as far as good grammar goes. Consider these two sentences:
"When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present them with a check for $250,000, and they will hold on to bragging rights for the following year."
Whoops! Only one contestant wins the tournament. THEY and THEM refer to more than one person, and the prize money is not going to be split. However, what to do with the sticky problem of using HIS or HER or (shudder!) HIS/HER because we don't know if the winner will be male or female. Not an easy problem to solve, but here is my best suggestion:
When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present that champion with a check for $250,000, which comes with bragging rights for the following year.
For another example of an agreement problem, please check out today's Grammar Glitch Central entry on Facebook.
October 22nd, 2015
Regular reader Joe C. sent along this odd caption, which suggests the exact opposite of what it is supposed to convey. More and more small farms in Florida are now using ROBOTS to milk COWS. However, by inserting a hyphen between ROBOT and MILKING, the caption writer created an adjective (ROBOT-MILKING), which describes the cows. The caption should read something like this: ROBOTS NOW MILKING COWS.
Joe also posed a question I have often asked. "Do they even teach the proper use of hyphenated words in journalism classes?"
October 11th, 2015
The following article was shared with me by Angela Dunn who recently edited Donna Roberts' debut novel Frayed. Angela makes some good points about the importance of writing well and the fact that every single one of us, no matter how good a writer, can benefit from having an extra pair (or two) of eyes check our work.
TO HIRE OR NOT TO HIRE: Do I really need an editor or proofreader?
"He who represents himself has a fool for a client." This famous quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, can also apply to an author or journalist who doesn't feel the need to have someone edit his or her work. From novice authors to legends like Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks, it is not only beneficial but a necessity to have at least one good editor/proofreader. Although the author is the ultimate decision maker about writing style, there is always room for improvement. Just like all of us, authors may think they know about a particular topic only to realize they have been mistaken all along about a certain detail.
Many of us have read a book or two where a particular place or thing was not described accurately. I don't mean the routine misspelling of a word or a misplaced colon, but rather a gaffe that bothers the reader even if it really has nothing to do with the story line.Newly published author Donna Roberts knew the importantce of editors and proofreaders and made sure to have several pairs of eyes read and advise on her writing. However, Donna ran into a few instances herself where she thought she knew about a particular subject and had no idea she had misrepresented something until it was pointed out by one of those pairs of eyes.
For example, at one point in the manuscript for Frayed, she had written about two of her characters cooking some very specific and unusual foods. Although Donna enjoys cooking and experiments with different foods, she wrote about cooking okra "stalks" and had no idea that okra is referred to as pods rather than stalks. Thankfully, she had a subject matter expert–someone who has worked for years in high end food service–take a look at the text. She then described the okra accurately. In another situation while writing the book, Donna described characters mixing some alcoholic drinks and referred to Jack Daniels as bourbon. One of her proofreaders pointed out that Jack Daniels is whiskey, and that pointer averted another misrepresentation.
Donna also received editing help with several homophones (words that sound alike but have different meanings, like "flair" and "flare"). These were words that she, like all of us, had often used in conversation but was not sure how to spell out correctly.
Simple mistakes like these that show up in a published book may or may not make a huge difference in sales; however, readers do expect accurate accounts, and authors lose credibility when a detail in the story is not factually accurate–even if that detail does not really affect the plot line of the book.
The bottom line is that all of us make mistakes, even authors who know what they are writing about–or at least think they do. Having good editors and proofreaders check your work for general grammatical errors and for subject matter accuracy is of utmost importance and should never be overlooked, regardless of cost, inconvenience, or delay.
If you'd like to read Donna Roberts' book Frayed, you can find it on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Frayed-Ms-Donna-G-Roberts/dp/150305778X.
September 9th, 2015
July 28th, 2015
One short article about taxes and sewage contains two Glitches.
Here is the first Glitch, which is puzzling because the reporter uses the apostrophe correctly in the first part of the sentence but then uses it incorrectly later in the same sentence:
Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the towns old sewage system.
It is correct to show that the PROGRAMS belong to the AGENCY (agency's programs). Okay, so why would it not be correct to refer to the SEWAGE SYSTEM as belonging to the TOWN (town's old sewage system)? The sentence should read this way:
Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the town's old sewage system.
This same reporter does not know the difference between THERE (location) and THEIR (possessive). Here is the second Glitch:
The USDA told the town in there meeting that they needed an audit to go forward.
Whoops! The meeting belongs to the town, so it should be spelled THEIR.
July 6th, 2015
Some say spelling does not matter in today's world of shortened messaging, but at least one county government thinks spelling is important enough to pay $4,000 plus ten days' labor costs to add adhesive labels with a needed "M" to ten signs with the word COMMISSIONER spelled incorrectly, My thanks to regular reader Joe C. for sharing this article.
April 28th, 2015
It is not just The Birimingham News that is creating Glitches with its headlines. Regular reader Joe C. sent three examples from Florida recently. Here is the first one:
Whoops! DRONE KILLINGS is plural, so the verb used with it should be UP (with no S), not UPS (which is singular). DRONE KILLINGS UP PRESSURE FOR NEW HOSTAGE STRATEGY.
Whoops again! THREATS is plural, so the verb with it should be MAKES (without the S). RISING THREATS MAKE KURDISH OIL LESS ATTRACTIVE.
Whoops once more!
Apparently, those who create those pesky crawls at the bottom of the screen are not immune to this Grammar Glitch either. STRIKES (plural) is the subject here, so the verb should be KILL, not KILLS, which is singular. U.S. DRONE STRIKES ACCIDENTALLY KILL AMERICAN, ITALIAN AL-QAEDA HOSTAGES.
PLEASE NOTE: Aside from the grammar points relating to these news items, this is a sad subject, and we offer condolences to the families involved.
Apparently the subject/verb agreement Glitch is reaching epidemic proportions. Here is an advertisement headline with the reverse problem. It appeared on my screen the other day as I tried to play Words with Friends:
NEW RULE LEAVE DRIVERS SURPRISED
In this one, the subject is RULE, which is singular. Therefore, the verb should be LEAVES, not LEAVE, which is plural. It should read: NEW RULE LEAVES DRIVERS SURPRISED. NOTE: I didn't bother to click and find out what the new rule is.
April 22nd, 2015
Newspaper reporters and columnists can no longer rely on copy editors to polish their usage and grammar. More than one of them has actually thanked Grammar Glitch Central for pointing out an error or two. There should be someone at the newspaper office whose job it is to know good writing standards and apply them while proofreading. These days that is not happening. Reporters write their own copy, do their own proofreading, and click SEND.
Recently, a new problem is cropping up. Even if the reporters get it right, whoever creates the photo captions, headlines, and sidebars is making careless errors that detract from the quality of the reporting. That person ought to have a good command of standard writing skills and a desire to proofread for correctness. In ONE issue of The Birmingham News this past week, the following errors appeared in headlines, captions, and sidebars:
Whoops #1: In an article about the gyrocopter that landed in DC, the Tribune News Service reporter correctly stated that the pilot must stay away from the CAPITOL (the building), but the photographic caption says that "Doug Hughes landed on the grass in front of the United States CAPITAL on Wednesday." CAPITAL refers to the entire city. CAPITOL is the building in front of which Hughes landed.
Whoops #2: Columnist Edward Bowser correctly named the Birmingham Children's THEATRE when he referred to it numerous times in his article about their wonderful program of taking performances to schools. However, the headline for his column is this: "Birmingham Children's THEATER brings magic of stage to schools." Perhaps the incorrect spelling of a proper name is not a big deal, but I'm sure that group consciously chose to use the THEATRE spelling, and it would not have taken the headline creator more than a minute to check the website for the proper spelling–especially since Bowser had handed that person the correct spelling.
Whoops #3: In Mike Oliver's creepy but informative article about Alabama's 58 spider varieties, Mike correctly spelled RECLUSE when he listed the brown recluse as one of the three highly venomous spiders in the state. However, the caption next to the photo of this spider refers to it as the Brown RECLUDE Spider.
Whoops #4: In a sidebar that summarizes the details of an article about Alabama's pro-life legislature and the abortion issue, the first bullet contains this grammatically incorrect sentence: "Women must receive counseling designed to discourage her from having an abortion." WOMEN is plural. Therefore, the correct pronoun would be THEY. The sentence should be worded one of two ways: 1) WOMEN must receive counseling to discourage THEM from having ABORTIONS. or 2) A WOMAN must receive counseling to discourage HER from having an abortion.
Whoops #5: Those who create photo captions should understand where commas should go and, more importantly, where they should not go. One comma "rule" is that, if a title comes before a person's name, it is not necessary to set that name off (like an appositive) with commas. A second "rule" is that a subject should not be separated from a verb by a comma. In this sentence from a caption about a tour of a school campus, the comma between WILLIAMS and LEADS is incorrect: "Here, former Hoover schools Superintendent Connie Williams, leads faculty and parents from Shades Mountain Christian Schoool on a tour…."
It should not be unreasonable to expect a better level of correct usage than this. These are not acceptable errors.
April 2nd, 2015
Although grammar and usage standards are important for good writing, so are common sense and logic. Often, what your mind sends to your fingers is not exactly what you meant to say. That is one more reason why proofreading–with your brain in gear–is so important. You might think your message is clear, but when you go back and proofread, you can see that the wording needs tweaking.
Here are two examples of illogical statements written by people who did not go back and tweak;
Why would the US want to beef up the vulnerability of its satellites? Most likely, what this headline creator meant to suggest was that the US would beef up its SATELLITE SECURITY in order to avoid VULNERABILITY. A quick proofread before hitting "Send" should have caught this.
And a second illogical statement. This one appeared in the AL.com article I mentioned recently–the one with 17 errors in it. Here is the sentence:
The waste is mostly dry, the wetter waste, known as "cake" is scraped out during the 14-day span between the departure and arrival of the new flock.
This is a terrible sentence for several reasons. Let's begin with the logic. How can there be a 14-day span between the departure and arrival of the new flock? What this AL.com reporter is trying to convey is that there is a 14-day span between the departure of the previous flock (the one now on its way to dinner tables) and the arrival of the new flock (which will actually live for only six weeks before meeting the same fate).
So now the logic has been dealt with. Next up, the run-on sentence. THE WASTE IS MOSTLY DRY should stand alone as a separate sentence.
The reporter places a comma after WASTE, suggesting that what comes next is an inserted phrase (KNOWN AS "CAKE"), but he fails to place a second comma after CAKE to indicate the end of the insert.
All three of these things make for a sentence that causes the reader to utter a mental "Huh?" Here is a clearer, smoother version.
The waste is mostly dry. The wetter waste, known as "cake," is scraped out during the 14-day span between the departure of the previous flock and the arrival of the new one.
I hope these details did not ruin anyone's appetite. Happy proofreading.
March 26th, 2015
During business writing workshops, I am often asked about the proper number of spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. There is usually disagreement among the participants. Some say two spaces, absolutely. Others say one is enough.
The simple answer in 2015 is that one space is enough. Unlike typewriters, word processors automatically apportion the correct amount of space between letters and punctuation marks. If you doublespace after the period in something you've keyed in on a word processor, the receiver might have to make adjustments in the copy for your extra space.
In her column in The Birmingham News on Sunday, March 22, 2015, Kelly Kazek, who writes for Al.com from her base in Huntsville, offered a humorous look at this dilemma as well as some good examples of how that doublespace after a period is often viewed:
It makes you look older than carrying an AARP card in your wallet.
People will know you are now old enough to be a Walmart greeter.
Some HR folks use this to screen job applicants.
It is obsolete. No one teaches typing anymore.
Editors have to rekey copy submitted with two spaces after the period.
It is a "travesty" that bugs Kelly Kazek.
If you'd like to read Kelly's complete column, which is as hilarious as it is informative, you can find her on Pinterest at "Odd Travels" or "Real Alabama." Kelly says she writes about "the quirkiness of human nature from a humorous point of view," and this column is a perfect example. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, find her on Facebook, or use this link to read her actual column: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2015/03/for_the_love_of_punctuation_st.html. If you follow this link, you can also read the amazing array of comments.
Speaking of Facebook, please check out my post from March 25, 2015, which chastises Birmingham News reporters for using an apostrophe to form the plural of a word. As of this afternoon, this has been my most popular Facebook post yet at Grammar Glitch Central. That apostrophe error bugs me as much as the extra space after the period bugs Kelly.