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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February 13, 2017

Begging the Question

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In his recent New York Times column, Charles Blow uses "begs the question" to mean "raises the question."

This begs the question: “Why do you need someone to push you to do the right thing?” Blow wrote.

Many writers and speakers do the same.  But I was surprised to see this in the New York Times. Traditionalists oppose this use, and newspapers usually take traditional positions on matters like these. And, traditionally, "beg the question" does not mean to raise a question. Instead, it's a term from logic that refers to any of several logical fallacies — stuff like answering a question by posing the same question to the questioner. It's a circular logic, of sorts.

As I've reported many times, when many people use a term "wrong" over a long time, the term becomes "right." That's how the ungrammatical "aren't I" surpassed the grammatical "amn't I." "Beg the question" in the meaning of raising a question has been gaining ground and credibility with experts. Still, I'm surprised the copy editors let this one by.

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February 6, 2017

Why Are Some Adjectives Separated By Commas While Others Aren't?

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The handsome, articulate, intelligent man wore a bright green midriff peasant blouse.

Not really. No intelligent person would do that. But I offer up this sentence not as an example of fashion sense or IQ testing. It's an example of a comma situation that confounds many people yet is surprisingly easy to handle.

Did you notice that, in our sentence, there are commas between some adjectives but not others? How is it possible that some adjectives before a noun are separated with commas and some aren't?

Here's the full academic explanation along with an easy trick you can use to get these commas right.

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January 30, 2017

Oxford Comma Spin

There's a cartoon about commas going around on the Internet.

The first panel reads: "With the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin." The illustration shows four people: two men, one bearing a resemblance to John F. Kennedy and the other to Stalin, and two women in G-strings and high heels.

The second panel reads: "Without the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin" above an illustration of just two people: men resembling JKF and Stalin, who themselves are wearing G-strings and high heels.

If you're looking to pick a side in a silly war, you can stop reading now. That's all the ammo you need to join the legions of people who believe that the Oxford comma is king. But if you want a clear picture of why this just isn't so, here's a column I wrote about it.

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January 23, 2017

While we're talking about holidays ...

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If you want to know which holidays are written with an apostrophe, there's no rule to help you. It varies from holiday to holiday, from publisher to publisher, and sometimes even from dictionary to dictionary. I included the major holidays in my book The Best Punctuation Book, Period. If you don't have handy one of the 20 copies I'm sure you've purchased by now (smile), you can always check a style guide or a dictionary (in that order). If you're writing for news media or business, check the alphabetical listings of the Associated Press Stylebook. If you don't find the holiday you're looking for, check Webster's New World College Dictionary, which is one of the dictionaries searchable at www.yourdictionary.com. If you're writing in the style of book publishers, check the Chicago Manual of Style and, if you don't find the answer there, check Chicago's go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, which is at m-w.com.

Here's what you'll find:

New Year, New Year’s, New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (note there's no "Rev.,” no “Dr.” and no comma before “Jr.")

Valentine's Day (note it's singular; if you want to use the "Saint,"  spell it out in AP style (Saint Valentine’s Day) but abbreviate in Chicago style (St. Valentine’s Day)

Presidents Day in AP style; Presidents' Day in Chicago style

Groundhog Day

St. Patrick's Day

April Fools' Day

Mother's Day

Fathers' Day

Veterans Day

Xmas (no hyphen)

 

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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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