Of mannequins and manikins
Posted by June on January 18, 2021
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Recently I was reading an article about a study on the efficacy of cloth masks for COVID-19 protection. Researchers tested masks by putting them on mannequins, the article reported. Except the illustration that accompanied the article didn’t call them mannequins. In the images, the dummies were referred to multiple times as “manikins.”

I stifled an “aha!” and basked in a moment of smug satisfaction. Then I reined in my typo-slayer triumph. As I’ve learned over the years, it’s always a bad idea to get cocky about a language issue without looking it up first. So I looked up “manikin.”

Merriam-Webster’s set me straight. “Manikin” is not a spelling error. It’s a synonym of “mannequin.” Less frequently, so is “mannikin.”

Often, variant spellings like these result from people accidentally misspelling a word over and over for years. But that may not be the case here. Here's what I learned about the origins of "manikin" and "mannequin" and why both were correct in the article.

John Le Carre's adverb advice missed the mark
Posted by June on January 11, 2021
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David John Moore Cornwell, better known by his pen name John Le Carre, passed away in December. The author of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” leaves behind a legacy of treasures not just for readers but for any writer who would learn from a master. Take, for example, this expert bit of writing wisdom attributed to Le Carre: “I don’t use adjectives if I can possibly get away with it. I don’t use adverbs. I try to make the verb do the work.”

As someone who spends her days fixing bad writing, I can tell you there’s gold in those words, especially the part about adverbs. Novice writers use adverbs hoping they’ll strengthen their writing, but their efforts usually boomerang. For example, which has greater impact? “The spy brutally and cruelly totally gunned down the traitor” or “The spy gunned down the traitor”?

Adverbs often weaken the information you’re trying to strengthen. So whenever you notice one in your writing, try taking it out. If the passage is better, leave it out. If not, put it back in. Make this a habit and you’ll become a better writer. Guaranteed.

But despite Le Carre’s obvious wisdom, there’s a problem with his advice: Le Carre, it seems, didn’t know what adverbs are. Turns out he used them all the time. Here's my column on the point that Le Carre missed about adverbs.

When to use 'healthful' in place of 'healthy'
Posted by June on January 4, 2021
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Traditionalists have long argued that “healthful” means “promoting good health” while “healthy” means “in good health.” So a person can be healthy but a diet or lifestyle cannot. It must be healthful.

If that was ever true, it’s not now.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary:  healthy. adj. 3. healthful

Merriam-Webster’s online. healthy. adj. 3. conducive to health

I think most people would say that “healthy diet” is more popular and more natural-sounding than “healthful diet.” So why do some publications still use “healthful” and, just as interestingly, why do I often change “healthy” to “healthful” when I’m copy editing marketing pieces?

It’s because, in language, you have to pick your battles. And, when you do so, you have to take into account your reader and the context in which you’re writing. Readers who believe “healthful” can’t mean “healthy” notice what they believe to be an error. And errors, real or perceived, are distracting. So you may want to make the safe choice by opting for “healthful.”

Context counts. If I were editing articles for a well-respected major publication, I would choose “healthy diet” instead of “healthful diet.” But much of my editing work is for smaller, less respected, sometimes advertorial publications. Readers might assume, rightly so, that editors and writers of smaller publications are less knowledgeable than wordsmiths working for the big boys. So they might be quicker to assume that a “healthy diet” in one of my publications is the result of ignorance and not a choice.

That's why, often, I cave in to the misinformed sticklers and change all "healthy" to "healthful."


How to Write Book and Movie Titles
Posted by June on December 28, 2020
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Do book and movie titles go in italics or quotation marks? There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just a matter of style. Then I pause to watch their faces light up with joy and relief. But that’s not what happens. The inquisitive expressions don’t fade because they didn't want to hear “Don’t sweat it.” They wanted more specific instruction. So here’s what I tell them.

 Click here to read the rest...News style harkens back to the days when printing presses were like dinosaurs: huge, clunky, and destined for extinction. Most couldn’t make italics. So newspapers put book and movie titles into quotation marks.

<<The actors in “Star Wars” went on to have varying degrees of success.>>
<<Johnny read “War and Peace” in school.>>

Magazine titles they just capitalize, skipping the quote marks.

<<Jane writes for the Time and Newsweek.>>

Book publishers, which have a greater need to print things like tables and charts and excerpts, have had a greater need for flexible printing options, including italics. So, because they can, they skip the quotation marks and just italicize those titles instead.

<<We read The Road.>>

Book publishers also italicize magazine titles, but put article titles and chapter titles in quotation marks.

If, like the people in those grammar seminars, you need a thorough how-to, just consult a style guide. Or you could just pick one way, saying using quotation marks, and stick with it. Either way, there’s no need to worry you're doing it wrong.