One of the most widely committed grammar errors is using lay for lie. This confusion is nearly universal. Writers and speakers everywhere get it wrong. All the time. Popular songs through the years haven’t helped, either. Think of Bob Dylan’s “Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed,” and Eric Clapton’s “Lay down, Sally, and rest you in my arms.” And let’s not forget Simon and Garfunkel’s huge hit “The Boxer,” which laments of “running scared, laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go.” Unfortunately, the lays in these examples are all wrong. Now we have an entire generation or two of adults who think that “lay” or “laid” are the only correct forms of the verb, and that “lie” refers to the claims of presidential candidates and Olympic swimmers.
Is there are difference between the roles of a copyeditor, a copywriter, and a proofreader? Or are they simply different words for the same thing?
Let’s begin with definitions. A copyeditor takes text (or copy) that someone else has written and ensures it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. I’ve heard it rumored that business owners place a high premium on effective communication. If they write anything for current and prospective customers and clients—flyers, website text, correspondence, and so forth—they should care about stuff like that. If they don’t know why they should care, have them contact me and I’ll be happy to explain it over a cup of coffee.
Yesterday while watching the Olympics I heard the announcer say that a colleague would be joining him to “commentate” during an upcoming event. Is commentate a word? Or is it just another sportscaster-created back-formation, a jargon word that needlessly turns commentator into a verb? I wasn’t sure, so I had to look it up. (Aren’t you glad some people worry about these things so you don’t have to?) Here’s what I discovered.
Speakers of English tend to shorten or truncate longer words, both in writing and speaking. That’s the way we are; it’s normal. We call such truncated words clippings. Sometimes we drop the initial syllable or syllables. Examples are airplane → plane; hamburger → burger; and telephone → phone. When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular → pop; public → pub; and technician → tech. Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenza → flu; and refrigerator → frig. Wait. Frig? Get me a cold one from the frig? Hmmm. More on that one below.
When it comes to writing clipped words, how do we spell them? Here’s the general principle: We most often spell a clipped word as it sounds, not necessarily as a sliced off version of the longer original. Occasionally, therefore, the spelling will be a little different. Here are three common examples: favorite, microphone, and refrigerator. Continue reading “Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten”
An unpolitical reflection on a most appropriate term.
I’ve always counted it both a privilege and a duty to exercise my constitutional right to vote, and this November will be my eleventh presidential election. While I have typically voted for my party’s official candidate, I have been known to diverge from party affiliations when it seemed appropriate. Often the choice seemed a no-brainer: one candidate clearly stood for my cherished ideals—which, in my mind, were American ideals.
The choice in my first election, in 1976, was . . . well, let me say, a little difficult. There was Jimmy Carter, the affable peanut farmer from Georgia and upstart candidate of the Democratic Party, and there was the staid and dependable but uninspiring incumbent, Gerald Ford, the unfortunate soul who inherited the job two years before after the unprecedented mid-term resignation of his embattled predecessor, Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon. Mr. Carter—truly a nice man—lasted one term and thankfully gave way to his successor, who in my exceedingly humble opinion was one of our nation’s greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan.Continue reading “My Choice for President? It’s a Hobson’s Choice.”
A front-page headline in the local newspaper this morning reads, “U.S. Men’s Basketball Team Romp Past China.” Kudos to the U.S. men’s team for romping away in your first game of these Olympics, steamrolling easily over the Chinese team 119-62. But thanks, local newspaper, for reminding us that subject-verb agreement in number is not always so easy.
Nouns that denote an aggregate of individuals or things are called collective nouns and are grammatically singular, which means they take the singular form of the verb. Common examples include flock, herd, group, family, and team. We would say, “The flock of geese is flying overhead”; “The green group challenges the blue group to a sales contest”; “The family that prays together stays together”; and “The U.S. Team Romps Past China.”
There are exceptions and nuances to this rule. For example, when the group is spoken of as a collection of individuals, the plural form of the verb is used, as in, “When the basketball team plays next, I hope they win.”In the first part of the sentence, team is a collective noun, therefore we use the singular form plays. In the second part, the emphasis is placed on the individuals, and therefore we hope they (the individuals who comprise the team) win (the plural form of the verb). This sounds complicated, but it’s something we all get correct without thinking about it.
Suffice it to say that collective nouns are singular nouns and, as such, take singular forms of the verb.
Better lists make better personal and professional documents and website content.
Often the best way to convey lots of information with maximum clarity in minimum space is through vertical lists. Vertical lists work well for brochures, flyers, and reports; website content; PowerPoint presentations; handouts for your class; and resumes and cover letters. Done well, vertical lists will help your readers quickly and easily comprehend the important information you want them to know.
But “done well” is easier said than done, and constructing vertical lists that are clear, concise, and consistent can be tricky. So here are some tips for avoiding common list-making errors and for creating bang-up vertical lists that will add zip and polish to your next project. Continue reading “Making a List and Checking It Twice”