Here’s a great article about the language used in the New York Times. The Times has to strike a tricky balance between satisfying its readers urge for high-brow language and using words that means no one understands what the writers are trying to say. Sometimes, they go a bit too far.
Archive for Great reads
If, like me, you appreciate a good English usage guide almost as much as a good novel, you’ll like this article from Harper’s Magazine.
The author recommends H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage. I’ve also enjoyed Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words and The Mother Tongue, as well as Bill Walsh’s excellent Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style.
For some reason, none of these books captured the public attention that was given to Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves, though I think they’re all more technically accurate and satisfying for a real language curmudgeon.
I’m a firm believer in simplicity in writing. Using 5-syllable words when 2-syllable words would do may make you *feel* smart, but it doesn’t make you look smart. One of my standard tasks as an editor is combing through language looking for ways to make meaning clearer — and simplicity in language helps without exception.
Here’s a recent blog post from my former colleagues at The Internet Marketing Center that explains another reason why simple language is best — unfamilar, complicated-sounding words can actually scare your readers.
Check the article out here.
As an editor, I am firmly opposed to using a five-syllable word when there’s a perfectly good one- or two-syllable one that says exactly what you mean, especially when it can make your meaning less clear.
So I offer my enthusiastic congratulations to the Local Government Association, a group that represents city councils in the UK, for their recent banning of 100 “non-words” that have recently cropped up in bureaucratic correspondence, but that baffle the general population — the very people these local councils are meant to serve.
Here’s an article from The Guardian that explains the move, and contains these insightful words from the association’s chairman:
Why do we have to have ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?
Here’s a list of the top ten terms – with plain-English translations — from The Telegraph. My favourite?
Predictors of Beaconicity: Signs that a council may win an award
Of course. Who wouldn’t have understood that?
The other day, a client asked me whether the expression “cast doubt” should be “casted doubt” if used in the past tense.
The answer is no, since cast is an irregular verb — the past tense is also “cast.”
But I did a quick Google search to see what’s happening to this expression online, and “casted doubt” comes up about 2,000 times. Hmmm…
I did find one very useful document in the process of this diversion: a guide to tense produced by the University of Ottawa. It contains a nice list of irregular verbs.
Of course, that sent me off on a whole new diversion: looking for concrete and definitive proof that “boughten” is not a word — because I hate it.
That brought me to this very interesting post.
And at this point, I think I’d best get myself off of Google or I could be lost for days.
I don’t like Microsoft.
But I am rather fond of their “Disagreeably Facetious Type Glossary.”
I particularly like this bit:
BOWLS are strokes that enclose a white space, like those that make the o and O. The two parts in the g are also bowls. Where a curve partially encloses a space it is also sometimes called a bowl, as in C. But it shouldn’t be. In a B you have two bowls. In the C you have a curved stroke and a COUNTER. The lower space in a Baskerville g is a counter. The upper is also.
The rest of this witty guide is definitely worth a read. Enjoy!
The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.
This is what Allan M. Siegal, former standards editor at The New York Times had to say about a New York subway sign that drew attention for its use of the ever-confusing semicolon.
The sign (instructing riders not to leave their newspapers littering the subway) read:
“Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”
I love that I’m not the only one in this big world that gets so excited about a simple piece of punctuation.
Here’s the traditional “my first post” post. As I get used to this blogging thing, the content will get more exciting, I promise.
For now, I’ll just recommend my favorite site for copy editors: The Slot, created by Bill Walsh (author of such excellent reads as Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style ). It’s brilliant, hilarious, and — if you’re a word geek like me — sometimes controversial. Enjoy!