January 16, 2017

Insurmountable Peeves

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I try to avoid forming opinions on matters that aren't subject to opinion. The key word is "try." Just because I know a usage is acceptable doesn't mean I like it. I have my own unfounded, not-backed-up-by-reality peeves and prejudices. I usually keep mum about them. No point raving about the wrongness of something that's right. Still, some usages irk my inner pedant even though they're correct.

Here's a column I wrote recently naming just a few.

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January 9, 2017

Can You Effect an Affect?

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You probably already know that affect is a verb and effect is a noun. But did you know that sometimes the opposite is true? And did you know that "to effect positive change" uses the E spelling?  If not, here's the scoop.

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January 2, 2017

A Celebration of Swearing

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Last year, a group of linguists, editors and other language buffs started handing out awards for the best obscenity of the year over at the blog Strong Language. As a longtime fan of the C-word, especially when used by a man from the UK to describe another man, I find the whole thing pretty damn amusing.

If you don't, steer clear. If you do, here it is and enjoy.

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December 26, 2016

A Problem with 'No Problem'?

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In recent weeks, three people have asked me about the term "no problem."

I had learned only recently — in the last two years or so — that some people consider "no problem" to be a problem. It seems that a growing number of people consider it a sub-par response to "thank you."

I answered them in a recent column.

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December 19, 2016

I try to avoid forming opinions on matters that aren't subject to opinion, like whether you can use “an” before “historic” and whether you can use “there’s” before “a lot of people here.” But the key word is "try." Just because I know a usage is acceptable doesn't mean I like it. I have my own unfounded, not-backed-up-by-reality peeves and prejudices. I usually keep mum about them. No point raving about the wrongness of something that's right. Still, some correct usages irk my inner pedant. I wrote about them in my most recent column.

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December 12, 2016

Hyphens in Longer Compounds

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Where would you put hyphens in his new fur coat wearing boss? a reader asked me recently.

Like this: his new fur-coat wearing boss?

Or this: his new fur coat-wearing boss?

Or maybe like this: his new fur-coat-wearing boss?

Or maybe three hyphens: his new-fur-coat-wearing boss.

Longer compounds, or "compounds of uncertain scope," leave much up to the writer. The most important thing is to keep an eye on the meaning. Is this boss new? Or just the boss's coat?

Here's how I answered her question.

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December 5, 2016

Got a Problem With 'No Problem'?

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Lately I've been hearing from people who don't like to hear "no problem" after they say "thank you." The problem with "no problem," they say, is that it introduces a problem into a situation where there hadn't really been one before -- as if the thanker had imposed some huge burden on the thankee, which that person endured heroically. But when you put alternatives like "you're welcome" under the same scrutiny, they don't hold up well, either. Here's my recent column on the problem alternatives to "no problem."

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November 28, 2016

How to Choose the Right Past Tense

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A reader wrote to me recently to say his wife claims to have heard TV newscasters use "drugged" as the past tense of "drag." He wanted to know whether I consider this a correct usage. To which I reply: It doesn't matter what I think. The answers are already at your fingertips.

Here's the column I wrote in reply explaining how to find past tense and past participle forms in your dictionary.

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November 21, 2016

Fake News? The Clues Are in the Copy Editing

 

Fake news is becoming a real problem. Websites pushing bad information, sometimes outright lies, as fact may have influenced many voters. How can readers know a news item isn't credible? Often, the clues are in the copy editing. Here's my recent column on editing red flags in bogus news sites.

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November 14, 2016

Singular 'They': It's Still Fine

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A few weeks back, a National Review contributor went on a tear about how awful it is that we use they as a singular pronoun and about how we should all use he when we don't know an individual's sex, as in, "Everyone with a locker should make sure he locks it."

The writer wasn't very nice about it, "Trying to depluralize they is an asinine effort, stemming from a stupid misunderstanding made by stupid people."

A number of us language types pointed out how very, very wrong the piece was. (Here's my two cents). But a particularly delightful contribution came from linguist and Arrant Pedantry blogger Jonathan Owen. Here's what Jonathan had to say.

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