Archive for the ‘word usage’ Category
Wednesday, 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.
Monday, March 9th, 2015
When President George Bush signed the legislation extending Daylight Saving Time by four weeks, I wonder if he realized how many people, including school children, would have to leave for work or school in the dark until April rolls around. In my part of Alabama, it was still pitch dark at 6:45 this morning. The days just aren't long enough yet.
That said, I'd like to point out that the official name of this "Spring Forward/Fall Back" ritual we follow every year (except in Arizona and Hawaii) is DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME, not SAVINGS TIME. The word SAVING is singular in this context.
A nod of approval from Grammar Glitch Central to John Oliver who used this correctly on "Last Week Tonight" in his hilarious "How is this still a Thing?" spoof of Daylight Saving Time.
NOTE: I added this update about John Oliver at 6:43 a.m. on March 11, and it is still pitch dark outside as kids in this neighborhood head out to the main road to catch their school buses.
Monday, February 16th, 2015
Here is a sentence I came across in an Associated Press release about FBI Director James Comey's comments on race relations and law enforcement:
"Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was 'a tendency to move onto other things as busy people.'"
Whoops #1: There is a difference in meaning between ONTO and ON TO. ONTO involves motion to the top of something, as in jumping ONTO the top of a picnic table or gluing glitter ONTO a greeting card. ON TO uses ON to suggest going forward, as in moving ON or getting ON and TO to indicate which direction the subject is heading.
Whoops #2: AS BUSY PEOPLE is in the wrong location for the meaning.
This sentence should read as follows:
Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was, among busy people, "a tendency to move on to other things."
Saturday, August 2nd, 2014
A letter to the editor in The Birmingham News last week included an odd, unintended perspective on war. The writer wanted to compare the current Israel/Palestine conflict to issues in the Korean War and made this statement:
In one of the most brilliant military strategies in the annuls of war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed behind enemy lines at Inchon and could have destroyed the North Korean Army and perhaps the Chinese Army.
Whoops! Much as I'd love to see war ANNULLED as a strategy for solving problems, the word this writer wanted is ANNALS (a chronological record of events). ANNUL is a verb (to make or declare invalid).
Personally, I rather like this incorrect usage. I pray regularly for the ANNULMENT of war and would rejoice in seeing the ANNALS of war be nothing but history, never to be repeated. What an idiotic, wasteful, and destructive way to resolve conflict!
Sunday, November 17th, 2013
The Greystone Living review of a recent wine dinner was riddled with Grammar Glitches. Here is the first problem sentence:
"The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and had a great selection of wines for the guest to compliment the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell."
Whoops #1: Logic (and the accompanying photos) show that more than one GUEST attended this event.
Whoops #2: The wines were there to ENHANCE the dishes prepared by the chef, not pop their corks and shout out COMPLIMENTS about the good food. COMPLEMENT, meaning to partner with something in order to enhance it, is the correct choice here.
This sentence should read as follows:
The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and offered the guests a great selection of wines to complement the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell.
Here is the next problem sentence:
"We try and feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone."
Whoops #3: The proper usage here is TRY TO, not TRY AND. It should read this way: We try to feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone.
And finally, this sentence:
"The next dinner will be held on November 5th and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher Proprietor from Fisher Winery."
Whoops #4: When writing a date within a sentence, the ON can be left out. Even though we pronounce FIFTH, it is not necessary to write the TH at the end of the numeral.
Whoops #5: Because PROPRIETOR renames JUELLE FISHER, there should be a comma between FISHER and PROPRIETOR.
Whoops #6: Proper usage is that JUELLE FISHER is the PROPRIETOR OF, not the PROPRIETOR FROM the winery. There is no reason to capitalize PROPRIETOR when it does not come before the person's name.
This sentence should read as follows:
The next dinner will be held November 5 and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher, proprietor of Fisher Winery.
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
I use Grammarly's free grammar checker because I don't want to misplace a comma and end up eating Gramma (as in "Let's eat Gramma!" instead of "Let's eat, Gramma!").
When I teach business writing workshops, I often remind participants to use grammar checkers with “brain in gear.” A grammar checker can point out possible problems in your writing, but if you choose to use one, you must have enough self confidence to recognize when the grammar checker has misinterpreted your meaning. After all, grammar checkers are NOT human, and they don’t catch all the nuances of what we humans write.
That said, I recently reviewed Grammarly.com, which bills itself as “the world’s most accurate online grammar checker.” I tried it out on several pieces of my own writing as well as a newspaper article. It spotted one overlooked typo and offered good suggestions for two overly wordy sentences. It also detected an incorrect indefinite article (A vs. AN). However, it declared EVERY proper noun I used (e.g. TALLASSEE, TUKABAHCHI, and WOODALL) to be a misspelling. Using the Grammarly.com scoring system to rate myself, I ended up with a horrible score, based mostly on properly spelled proper nouns that were declared incorrect.
Grammarly.com failed to spot a missing apostrophe in this sentence from an article about new education standards in Alabama:
“The change is intended to more closely align students education with the ACT, improving high school seniors’ scores….”
SENIORS’ SCORES is correct, with the apostrophe after the S, but STUDENTS EDUCATION should also be possessive (STUDENTS’ EDUCATION). As I write this, I see that the Word grammar checker put a green squiggly line under that one, but overall, I don't think Word's grammar checker is as effective as this one.
Grammarly.com also missed the incorrect plural form in this sentence:
“However, the director of student academic support at Auburn University said low ACT scores tend to be a better indicators of which students won’t perform well in college than high ACT scores are of which students will do well.”
A BETTER INDICATORS (plural) should be simply BETTER INDICATORS without A in front.
I do think Grammarly.com does an excellent job of explaining the errors it spots, and the examples it offers for correction are clear and easy to understand. As someone who writes virtually every day, I would say Grammarly could be a useful tool IF you keep your own brain in gear and view Grammarly as a helper rather than a quick cure for all errors. To try Grammarly.com, you can search "free grammar checker" or go to http://www.grammarly.com.
Friday, May 31st, 2013
Because both PRINCIPLE and PRINCIPAL are legitimate words, a spell checker will not pinpoint your error if you use the wrong one. The good news is that, like CAPITOL and CAPITAL, there is any easy way to remember when to use which one.
PRINCIPLE is a noun that has only one meaning–a basic rule or standard, as of good behavior. Here are some examples of using it correctly:
The judge will not compromise his principles.
She based her decision on principle rather than greed.
Our country operates according to the principles of democracy.
PRINCIPAL has several usual meanings–the head of an elementary or high school (noun), highest in rank or worth (adjective), the main participant (noun), describing the person having a starring role in a production (adjective), the capital or main portion of a financial holding (noun). Here are some examples of using it correctly:
Melissa Jones is the principal at Valley Elementary.
Paul is the principal partner in that firm.
The briefing included all of the principals involved in the transaction.
Smetlana is the principal ballerina with that company.
Our invested principal is no longer earning seven percent interest.
Just remember: PRINCIPLE has only one meaning. Everything else will be PRINCIPAL.
Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Driving back up I-65 from beautiful Gulf Shores on Monday, I spotted a billboard that read simply, "85 Years of Bringing Capital to the Capitol." We passed by so quickly I didn't see whose ad it was, but it makes a great usage point. CAPITAL is money poured into an investment. CAPITOL is the building where a legislature meets–NOT the city that is the seat of government. (A spell checker will not catch it if you confuse these two.)
Here is an easy way to remember the difference and never confuse these two words again:
CAPITOL (with an O) has only one meaning: the building (state or national) where a legislature meets.
Everything else is CAPITAL (with an A):
- money poured into an investment
- an upper case letter (A or B as opposed to a or b)
- calling for the death penalty (capital crime, capital punishment)
- a town or city that is the official location of government for a state or a nation
- excellent or first-rate, usually British (a capital fellow, a capital good time)
If you simply remember that CAPITOL has only one meaning, you will never confuse these two again!
NOTE: The next post will offer an easy tip for choosing PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL correctly.
Thursday, March 7th, 2013
From time to time, one of my readers (who goes by the nickname "Bob the Bookworm") spots and shares useful Grammar Glitches. This week he focused on the funnies and sent me two glitches from "Blondie."
Here is the first one:
After noticing that his neighbor is selling a house bought just six months earlier, Dagwood says to Blondie, "Just once, I'd like to be the first one to get new information about the economy on this block!"
Whoops! Dagwood doesn't want information about the economy on HIS block. He wants to be the first on his block to get information about the economy in general. It should read this way:
"Just once I'd like to be the first one on this block to get new information about the economy!"
Here is the second one:
Dagwood is sitting at the lunch counter and tells his favorite cook about a newspaper article he is reading. "Scientists say they'll be able to replicate a synthetic meat in the laboratory."
Whoops! REPLICATE means to copy or make a duplicate of. SYNTHETIC refers to an artificial version of something natural, like meat. The scientists are not going to copy the synthetic meat. They are going to create a synthetic version of real meat. The sentence should read this way:
"Scientists say they'll be able to CREATE a synthetic meat in the laboratory."
Thanks, Bob! Keep up the good work!
Saturday, February 16th, 2013
As newspapers evolve in these fast-changing times, it appears to me that they are placing less and less emphasis on careful copyediting. Frequent errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage not only detract from the quality of the journalism, they also distract the reader. Too often lately, I read a sentence and then ask myself, "What was that? What is this reporter trying to say?"
Apparently, I am not alone in my frustration with this. My friend Mark, an excellent copyeditor in New York, sent me an email string recently that contained the following dialogue, which occurred after his friend Stephen came across the following sentence in a New York Times article:
More than 2200 flights for Friday had been cancelled, according to the Web site FlightAware, the majority originiting or departing from the areas affected by the storm.
Stephen sent this email to the Executive Editor of The New York Times:
Doesn't the copy desk edit copy anymore? The number 2,200 requires a comma; the American spelling of "canceled" has only one l; and "originiting" requires no comment.
The Executive Editor replied:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We all make errors, but you're absolutely right–three in one sentence is far too many. We'll get this fixed soon.
Stephen then emailed Mark:
In my opinion, three errors in the entire newspaper is far too many.
Mark responded with this:
Well dun, Steven. (Just kidding.) At least he didn't reply, "Your absolutely write…" On "cancelled," it is acceptable, not an outright error, but not the spelling preferred by Merriam-Webster. You and I as copyeditors would strike that second ell.
Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip.
I wonder what Mark and Stephen would think about a recent article (not an isolated example) in The Birmingham News that contained no fewer than SEVEN errors–in one article! In my next post, I will share those errors and their corrections.
In the meantime, I'd like to hear from any readers who have also noticed an increase in copy errors in local newspapers. Examples are always welcome, along with your comments, at Grammar Glitch Central. Mark asked me to encourage you to write to the editor(s) of your newspaper if you see examples of particularly careless writing or editing. He also said (and I agree) that it's good to write in and compliment the writers and editors when you see especially well-written pieces.
If your paper does not make it easy for readers to give feedback (say, with an email address at the end of an article or on the editorial page), contact the paper and ask them to open up for reader comments.
Like Mark, I would like to say, "Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip."