April 24, 2017

Beware the 'Apostrophiser'

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The town of Bristol in the United Kingdom has its very own apostrophe vigilante. He goes around at night with a wooden stick, his “Apostrophiser,” and uses it to apply stickers to poorly punctuated signs.

In some cases, the stickers cover up erroneous apostrophes, such as the one in a manicurist sign advertising that they do “nail’s.” Other times, he applies a needed apostrophe to signs advertising “gentlemens outfitters.”

Inspired by this mysterious crusader, I dedicated a recent column to apostrophe basics. Here's everything you need to know to avoid the punctuation vigilante's wrath. 

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April 17, 2017

'Or' in Place of 'And'

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Here's a weird issue that's coming up a lot in my copy editing lately: or in place of and. Here's an example:

Visitors can choose from an array of activities including hiking, biking or snorkeling. 

If find this pretty interesting. The or clearly speaks to the logic of the sentence. You can choose X, Y or Z.  But it's not quite the same. In the structure of our example sentence, options include all three activities. That is, the options include X, Y and Z.

Just one more reason to keep your thinking cap on when you're editing!

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April 10, 2017

Bristol's Apostrophe Vigilante

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An anonymous “grammar vigilante” prowls by night in one UK town, erasing misplaced apostrophes off shop signs and adding apostrophes where needed. As Quartz reports, he's been at it for 13 years! He's even been caught on video, which is linked in the Quartz article about this mysterious punctuation vigilante.

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April 3, 2017

Serial Commas Again

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Following up on last week's post about serial commas, here's a Quartz piece on why people are just so passionate about them. The writer does a better job explaining my take on the court case than I did.

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March 27, 2017

Serial Comma Fans Gone Wild

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The serial comma made headlines recently after a Maine court ruled that state employment laws were unclear due to lack of a serial comma.

A group of delivery drivers were suing their employer for overtime pay. The state doesn't require employers to pay overtime for a number of activities, including "canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution."

Note that there's no comma after "shipment." Without one, the court asserted, it's unclear whether "distribution" is an object of "packing for." The drivers don't do "packing for distribution." They do distribution, but not packing for distribution.

The court saw this as an opportunity to preach its punctuation partisanship. Without the "clarifying virtues of serial commas," the court wrote, there were two possible interpretations of Maine's statute. The court was forced to choose between the two interpretations and, in the end, sided with the drivers.

The court blew it.

That statute is unambiguous. It doesn't need another comma to be clear. It already states that "distribution" is a separate list item and it's not an object of "packing for." How do we know this? Because of the conjunctions.

In English, a conjunction precedes the final item in a list: Red, white and blue. Red, white, purple, green and blue.

Now look at this sentence: "The sandwiches we serve at our restaurant include turkey, tuna and ham and cheese."

That's three sandwiches. We know that "ham and cheese" refers to a single sandwich because there's an "and" before it.

Now look at: "The sandwiches we serve include turkey, tuna, ham and cheese."

We took out "and" before ham and now we have four sandwiches. The only remaining "and" in the sentence indicates that "cheese" is a separate list item.

The Maine statute was a more confusing example of the same dynamic. "Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution" lists nine items. The court thought it was just eight, with "packing for shipment or distribution" as the final item. But without a conjunction like "or" or "and" before "packing," that's not possible.

For a longer explanation, here's a column I wrote about it.

 

 

 

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March 20, 2017

Can You Spot the Errors?

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My recent column contains a little grammar quiz I hope people will enjoy. For the answers, head to the column here. The questions are in a spot-the-error format below. Note: Not every question has an error! Good luck!

1. The water skier water-skis on water skis.

2. The lengthy debate, which went on for hours, lead the council members to reject the measure.

3. Isabelle and Brie braided each others' hair.

4. Neither Joe nor his wife Christine are going to clean the garage.

5. I feel badly about the argument.

6. There have been reports of robbers in the area, so lets be more careful about locking the doors.

8. Jeremy wants to be a FBI agent.

Answers, with explanations, here. 

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March 13, 2017

An Easy Fix for a Faulty Parallel

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Some faulty parallels can be fixed very easily by inserting "and."

For example, if can you spot the faulty parallel in the following sentence you can probably see where an "and" would fix it:

The program addresses the energy needs of a wide range of industries including healthcare, data centers, commercial real estate, warehouses, hotels, heavy and light industry.

Here's more on the subject in a column I wrote.

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March 6, 2017

Some Thoughts on 'Only'

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Do you only work with licensed professionals? Or do you work only with licensed professionals? Perhaps you work with only licensed professionals?

There's a popular myth that says two of these are errors. Happily, the language isn't so rigid. But precision use of "only" could help your reader get your meaning. Here's a column I did recently that should help.

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March 1, 2017

McIntyre's featured word: embouchure

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If you don't check in on John McIntyre from time to time, you miss a lot. Sometimes he features new vocab words that, I'll confess, I've never heard before.

I'll give you a hint about what embouchure means: It involves the lips. But for the full definition, you'll want to go straight to the horse's mouth. Here's McIntyre's post.

 

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February 20, 2017

"Spelling's not for everyone, Mr. Precedent"

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The Los Angeles Times did a piece on some rather high-profile spelling errors coming out of the White House. Enjoy.

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