June 26, 2017

Want to Correct Someone Else's 'Whom'? Not So Fast

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Knowing how to use “whom” is a lonely business. Sometimes you feel like no one’s on your team — not even the most successful wordsmiths of all time.

Exhibit A: This tweet from J.K. Rowling, in which the kajillion-selling author of the Harry Potter series reports having unsubscribed from another user’s tweets: “Just unfollowed a man whom I thought was smart and funny.”

When I read that, I was overcome with an almost uncontrollable urge to reply that she’d used “whom” wrong, perhaps including a brief primer on how to use it right. The impulse was strong, but I’m pleased to report that I took the road less obnoxious. I said nothing, which isn’t easy for an insufferable know-it-all like me.

Here's what I did instead and how you can avoid the same mistake.

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June 19, 2017

Music to Help Kids with Grammar?

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In case you missed it, NPR did an interesting piece a few weeks ago about the intersections of rhythm and grammar. From the piece:

Gordon has previously published research showing a correlation in children between good rhythm skills and a good grasp of grammar. She found children who can detect rhythmic variations in music have an easier time putting sentences together.

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June 12, 2017

Also Sounds Like 'Peak'

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While we're on the subject of pique and peak, a friendly reminder: peak doesn't belong in the term sneak peek.  If you knew that already, be warned: even people very clear on the wording of sneak peek often get it wrong.  We can only assume that the process of spelling out sneak kicks the brain into some repeat mode in which it takes a cue from the spelling of "sneak" to inform the spelling of word peak, even though you meant peek.

This mistake is so common that a Google search for "sneak peak" -peek turns up nearly 18 million hits — about 30% as many as the correctly spelled sneak peek, which gets 56 million hits. Your takeaway: Be careful. Anyone can make this mistake.

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June 5, 2017

A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

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I edit a lot of articles about travel, and whenever an article mentions ziplining, parasailing, or some other high-thrills adventure, there's a high probability it contains a specific error. See if you can spot it in this example sentence: EcoBlasters offers a choice of three- or four-hour tours on its high-speed, adrenalin-pumping zipline.

Answer: adrenalin is the wrong word, at least according to the style I follow. It should be adrenaline. According to Merriam-Websters, without an E, Adrenalin is a proper name of a pharmaceutical product — "a preparation of levorotatory epinephrine." The stuff your body produces naturally under stressful or intense circumstances, according to this dictionary, is adrenaline.

 

 

 

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May 30, 2017

Cleft Sentences

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When you don't know grammar terminology, a term can be off-putting to the point of being intimidating. Luckily, grammar terms are fun to learn. Here's one from the Oxford English Grammar to add to your mental jargon folder.

Cleft sentence: a sentence that is cleft (split) so as to put the focus on one part of it. The cleft sentence is introduced by 'it,' which is followed by a verb phrase whose main verb is generally 'be.' The focused part comes next, and then the rest of the sentence is introduced by a relative pronoun, relative determiner, or relative adverb. If we take the sentence 'Tom felt a sharp pain after lunch,' two possible cleft sentences formed from it are 'It was Tom who felt a sharp pain after lunch' and 'It was after lunch that Tom felt a sharp pain.'

In other words, structures like "It was he who" or "It was the (noun) that" are cleft sentences.

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May 22, 2017

Adviser or Advisor?

This question is coming up a lot lately: Is the correct spelling "adviser" or "advisor"? Answer: It's both. The Associated Press is a longtime holdout for the E spelling: adviser. And because it's coming up in the news so often lately, we're seeing the "adviser" spelling more than ever. But "advisor" is just as acceptable for anyone not using AP style.

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May 15, 2017

Report to 'Me and John' or 'John and Me'?

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I got an email recently from Amy, whose boss had written a memo that seemed odd to her. One sentence in the memo noted that an employee at the company “will have a dual reporting relationship to both me and John."

This wording struck Amy as a potentially bad call. “Is that correct grammar? I was told that you always put the other person first.”

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May 8, 2017

Your Regularly Scheduled Reminder to Place Periods Inside Quotation Marks

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With each passing day, it gets more acceptable to punctuate sentences like this:

Steve said his necktie was "way ugly".

But acceptability in punctuation isn't the same as acceptability in usage. Unlike words and idioms, punctuation isn't an organic, naturally evolving thing. It's a constructed set of rules. So whereas using the word "friend" as a verb becomes correct when enough people do so, punctuation rules aren't crowdsourced.

American punctuation rules on where to put a period or comma relative to a closing quotation mark have not changed. Unlike in British punctuation, a period or comma always comes before a closing quotation mark. A colon or semicolon always comes after. And a question mark or exclamation point can come before if it applies to the stuff inside the quote, or after it if applies to the whole sentence. Here are correct examples of each.

Steve said his necktie was "way ugly."

The word "totally," as has been mentioned, is overused in this article.

Here's what to do when you encounter a sign that reads "Do not enter": do not enter.

They explained the terms "shooting the pier"; the explanation was confusing.

You sometimes see the company name written "Yahoo!"

That guy is what I call a total "yahoo"!

Alfred E. Neuman's catchphrase is "What, me worry?"

Is it true he called you "dude"?

Is Bart Simpson's catchphrase still "Ay, caramba!"?

 

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May 1, 2017

Mistakes, I've Made a Few

 

In a recent column, I wrote: "You need either commas or the coordinating conjunction 'and' between the adjectives. Without neither, you have ..."

Several people wrote in to ask whether I shouldn't have used "either" because "without" already supplied to proper negation to the clause. Why, yes. Yes, I should have. Here's the full column.

 

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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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