Does the Sportscaster Commentate?

Is that acceptable English usage?

Track RacersYesterday 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,[1] 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.

Continue reading “Does the Sportscaster Commentate?”

Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten

Impress your friends and amaze your family.

microphone-1074362_1280
My name is … Mick?

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 airplaneplane; hamburgerburger; and telephone → phone.[1] When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular pop; publicpub; and techniciantech.[2] Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenzaflu; and refrigeratorfrig. 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”

Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

Is it, The Team “Romp” or “Romps”?

Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgA 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.

And may the best team win.

© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

 

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Making a List and Checking It Twice

Better lists make better personal and professional documents and website content.

Bulleted listOften 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”

How I Do My Job as a Copyeditor

Answering commonly (un)asked questions about copyediting.

home-office-336377_960_720A copyeditor’s job is to take an author’s written document and ensure that it is clear, concise, coherent, and correct. I often say that a good copyeditor will make an author’s piece shine a little brighter (and in some cases a lot brighter). A copyeditor’s job is not to “proofread” a document, which is a separate step in the publication process normally handled by a different person after all the copyediting and revising have been completed. Copyeditors will certainly catch many of the errors proofreaders catch—typos, missing or incorrect punctuation, misspellings, and so forth—but that isn’t their primary job.

Here are the three basic steps I typically take in copyediting a piece of writing for a client:

1. Provide the author with a cost estimate based on reviewing—and possibly editing a sample of—a portion of the material the author sends me via email (e.g., book manuscript, article, essay, letter, thesis, website content, etc.). The estimate will be based on two things: the number of words and the amount of copyediting involved, whether basic or heavy. The rule of thumb in the industry is that 250 words of text equals one manuscript page. So, for example, a 60,000-word document equals 240 manuscript pages,[1] and that goes into the cost-estimate formula. Continue reading “How I Do My Job as a Copyeditor”

Some Fourth of July Thoughts

Happy Independence Day!

Flag (American)How to write it: According to commonly accepted style conventions for formal English, official secular and religious holidays are written out and capitalized. Therefore we have Fourth of July, July Fourth, the Fourth, or Independence Day (note the four e’s and no a in Independence). Of course, informally we can (and I do) write it 4th of July or any way that others will understand.

Fascinating coincidence: Our second and third presidents (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), who were both instrumental in the American Revolution and the founding of our country, died on the same day—July 4, 1826—the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Freedom, like anything else, has a cost. It is not free. It requires sacrifice, vigilance, and a courageous commitment to do what is right, even if what is right isn’t popular.

Happy 240th, America! Have a safe ‘n’ sane Fourth, everyone!

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If You Write for Your Business or Organization, Consider This

Really? Oh, yeah!

pexels-photo-mediumProspective customers, clients, and patrons judge your business or organization by the impression you make in print and web-based materials. It may not be a conscious thing, but they do. Whether you’re part of an information-heavy business with lots of written text or you make your living by the sweat of your brow—people with a good grasp of English will be more impressed with the public image you present if your text is carefully polished, easy to read, and error free. This is true for the yard care specialist or auto shop owner who creates simple advertising flyers, and it is true for the proprietor or professional who produces multiple pages of text, whether for a website or in hard copy.

If you are trying to build your client base or nurture existing clients, you have something important to say. A good copyeditor can help you say it more effectively. So what does a copyeditor do? In short, he or she takes text (i.e., copy) that someone else has written and ensures that it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. But not everyone is convinced they need this service. Continue reading “If You Write for Your Business or Organization, Consider This”

Between You and I, We’ve Got a Problem!

Do you make this common grammar error?

Got a Problem
Subject-object confusion.

Today I want to talk about me. No, I don’t mean me, Dean, I mean the objective pronoun me versus the nominative pronoun I. One of the most common errors in speech and writing is to use I where me should be. 

Here’s the general rule in the simplest terms: Use I as the subject of a sentence or clause and me as the object of a sentence or clause.

Let me give some examples of the incorrect use of these pronouns:

  • “People gave my wife and I four toasters for wedding presents.” (incorrect)
  • “One of the best things to happen to Gary and I is that we became best friends.” (incorrect)

Here’s why both are incorrect: the pronoun I is virtually always used in the nominative case, as the subject of a sentence or clause, not the object. The objective pronoun is me. Replace I with me in both sentences: 

  • “People gave my wife and me four toasters for wedding presents.” (correct)
  • “One of the best things to happen to Gary and me is that we became best friends.” (correct)

Here’s an easy test to use when you’re not sure:  Continue reading “Between You and I, We’ve Got a Problem!”

What Is a “Meme”?

Are you sure you know?

Lately, everyone seems to be creating memes, sharing memes, talking about memes, and commenting on memes in social media—but what in the world is a meme?

Meme (pronounced meem), a word that first appeared in the 1970s, is derived from the Greek miméme (“same, alike”). It is defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person in a culture.”[1] Meme remained a fairly obscure word until fairly recently, when the internet and social media infused it with new life. According to lexicographer Bryan Garner, a meme is “a humorous video, phrase, illustration, or other symbol or depiction that is suddenly and widely spread by and mimicked or parodied on the Internet.”[2] In popular culture today, however, the scope of its definition has been watered down and stretched thin to mean a digital version of what we used to call a poster or graphic with a caption, often a quotation attributed to a person whose image is a featured part of the graphic.

Meme mocking memesBut note: the thing that makes a meme a true meme, by definition, is that it is rapidly and widely shared via social media (like Facebook) on the internet. Technically, a photo with a caption or quote on it that you post on FB or Instagram is not a meme at all—unless it catches fire and goes viral, circling the globe faster than Superman. Otherwise (sorry to break the news), it’s just an image with writing on it.

Another thing about memes: We need to take them with a grain of salt. More distortions, half-truths, and outright lies are spread by memes on social media today than we can imagine. Don’t be quick to share something that can possibly damage another’s reputation—even if you can verify its accuracy.


[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh ed.

[2] Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), 588.


© 2019 by Dean Christensen. (All rights reserved.)

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Use “Very” Sparingly

Only when necessary.

A quick-and-easy way to tighten our writing and make it flow more smoothly is to cut out the “flab.” Adjectives and adverbs* tend to bloat our writing, weighing it down with unneeded verbiage. Using fewer of them will almost always streamline writing and make it more interesting to read.

One flab word that often adds little to descriptive writing is the adverb very. We use very as an intensifier to give more strength to a verb or adjective. For example, “We got up very early this morning to see the sunrise. It was very beautiful.” Now read the same sentences without the verys: “We got up early this morning to see the sunrise. It was beautiful.” Has anything been lost? Not that I can tell.

My point is not that we should never use very to add strength to our writing, but to be aware of the verys and use fewer of them. Will “the woman ran very fast” tell us more than “the woman ran fast”? Very is a vague, subjective word that gives the reader almost no information. Instead of telling, add strength by showing the reader how fast she ran: “The woman sprinted down the field like a cheetah.”

And don’t forget this handy piece of advice attributed to Mark Twain:

Write Damn Instead of Very

*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.


© 2016 by Dean Christensen.