Friday, September 5, 2008

'Kick you in the nuts, boldly'

Hilarious send-up of grammar snobs at The Daily Mash: "Grammar pedants fewer interesting"

I especially enjoy that the article pokes fun at the edict that writers shouldn't split infinitives. An infinitive is the base form of a verb (e.g., "to run" or "to play"). A split infinitive is when a word falls in the middle of an infinitive. For example, "to run" is split when it is "to quickly run."

This is a rule of Latin grammar that was imposed upon English -- and since we don't speak Latin, most contemporary grammarians consider this rule a myth. (It's interesting to note that Latin infinitives weren't two-word combos like English ones, so splitting a Latin infinitive wasn't even possible.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The tyranny nanny

As someone who has had to work at being a good speller, I have a strong appreciation for memory aids. I came across a few misspellings while editing copy the other day and thought I'd post another installment of mnemonic devices:

tyranny: the N's are doubled, making the word similar to nanny, so think of a caretaker who's a real meanie

tenant: this word often appears incorrectly as "tenent"; think of ants moving into your house to be tenants (or don't -- maybe that's too terrible for those of you who have been visited by the carpenter variety)

memento: I think this one trips people up because it's so similar to "moment," which is what a memento memorializes; think of the "me" in "memento" and link the word to your stash of old bowling trophies

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Read the fucking manual

When programmers see message-board postings with questions that could easily have been answered by a few minutes of research on the part of the person posting, they'll sometimes reply with RTF (read the fucking manual).

Perhaps that strikes some people as a tad aggressive. I think it points to a terrific ethic: Take some responsibility for your own learning and show respect for the value of others' time.

And a funny thing happens when you do a bit of hunting around, a bit of reading, a bit of thinking: You internalize what you learn.

Now, we all make mistakes. I have no tolerance for editors who like to play "gotcha" and trot out a writer’s errors in a way that is supposed to inflate the editor's sense of superiority. (Watch closely: Those editors are often the ones who end up making pretty heinous errors themselves.)

But some writers don't bother checking with the style guide or the dictionary before sending their material off to be edited. They'll sniff that these details are beneath their great craft.

This obviously makes life harder on the editors. But here's the other thing: When you discipline yourself to turn in clean copy, you become a stronger writer because you're thinking about how your work should come together in both big-picture and small-picture terms. You develop a command of grammar that heightens your sentences. And you learn enough to avoid embarrassing spelling errors (altar/alter, coulee/coolie) that just might slip by the editing desk on a hectic night.

The writers I edit who routinely turn in clean copy are usually the most interesting folks to read. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How do I compare?

Quick tip on usage conventions: Use "compare with" when you're analyzing differences. Use "compare to" when likening something to something else.

The company's profits were 50 cents per share, compared with 45 cents this time last year.

He compared this cheese to a urinal cake.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The ass in harass

Improve your spelling! Amaze your friends! Time for more fun with mnemonic devices:

anoint: to anoint is to apply an ointment or liquid to something, so think "an oint(ment)" and you'll avoid the misspelling "annoint"

embarrassment: the R's and the S's trip folks up; remember that the embarrassment is extreme enough to accept doubles of both (this is similar to my tip on spelling "accommodate")

harass: this is another word where the number of R's and S's causes confusion; think of "sexual harassment" and the "ass" in "harass" (you'll never forget this one again)