Do you know how to correctly write college degree titles?
The landing gear is down on another academic year as students and faculty make their final approach toward the graduation runway. Many soon-to-be newly minted grads are now wading into the sometimes turbulent, often murky, and always anxiety-producing waters of job hunting.
So let’s think about how to correctly write academic degree titles on résumés, cover letters, celebration invitations, and LinkedIn profiles. This can be confusing, and in my twenty years in higher education I saw many resumes and applications where the writer apparently didn’t know how to correctly indicate his or her own degree. Stumbling over something so basic may not go over well with prospective employers. It never hurts to get this right. Continue reading “How to Write Academic Degree Titles”
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Momento vs. Memento
When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common spoken mistake; the correct word is memento.
Momento is not a word. At least not in English.
It’s understandable why a lot of people (and I do mean a lot of people) get this one wrong. I can think of two reasons: (1) Momento is a Spanish word that means moment, and (2) it makes sense that the souvenir from your vacation will help you remember a particular moment—thus a momento, right? Sorry, but no. Again, sadly, momento is not a word in English.
Here’s how to keep it straight: a memento is a MEMory aid that helps you reMEMber a person, place, or thing, or comMEMorate something. That should be easy to MEMorize.
Parenthesee vs. Parenthesis
This is kind of a joke, but I have actually heard parenthesee used by more than one person. However, parentheses is the plural of the singular parenthesis, referring to the curved symbol we place around a parenthetical word or phrase. We almost always use those symbols in pairs; thus the plural parentheses is more common. (E.g., “Remember to enclose verbal asides in parentheses in your script.”)
Parenthesee, as the singular form to refer to just one of those curved things, is incorrect; it’s not a word. Nope, nope, nope. The word is parenthesis. (Yes, really!)
Both of these can be found in the chapter “Usage Uncertainties” in my new book, Whatever Happened to English? available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book versions.
Latinate abbreviations (i.e., abbreviations of Latin expressions used in English) can serve as useful tools to enhance our writing. If improperly used, they can detract from our writing and reflect poorly on the writer. Here are some of the most common Latinate abbreviations, their meanings, and notes on their usage. Notice in particular the placement of the periods.
Et cetera, abbreviated etc., means “and so forth” (literally, “and others of the same kind”). Note three things about this abbreviation: (1) It is etc., not ect., and it is not pronounced eck-cetera; (2) It is not “and etc.,” (which would literally be “and and so forth”—that’s redundant); and (3) etc. should be used sparingly in formal writing because it’s a vague term that can make the writer seem lazy—it places the burden on the reader to imagine what specifically the writer is referring to.
Exempligrata, abbreviated e.g., means “for example.” Note three things about its use: (1) it is always followed by a comma: The vendor on the corner is selling flowers for Mother’s Day (e.g., red and yellow roses and white and pink carnations); (2) in formal writing, it should be used in parenthetical statements (as in the previous sentence). In the main text it is better to use words like “such as” or “for example”; (3) be careful not to confuse it with i.e., which means something quite different. Continue reading “Commonly Misused Latinate Abbreviations in American English”
Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for breaking their 108-year World Series championship drought. I’m an LA Dodgers fan, but I appreciate the Cubs’ achievement and give them kudos for it. It was a great Series, in which the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in seven games.
Early in the deciding seventh game two nights ago, announcer Joe Buck used the word irregardless. I heard him and made mental note of it because irregardless is not accepted English usage, something well known to language mavens. I didn’t think any more of it—after all, this was a live, unscripted television broadcast, and even the most scrupulous grammar police can slip up on occasion. But evidently it sorely bothered a lot of folk, who took to social media to complain. Merriam-Webster Online even joined the fray with a supercilious attempt to put word nerds in their place by asserting that irregardless is in fact a word and is in the dictionary. Here’s a line from their article: “Irregardless last night reared its monstrous head, and, bellowing its unspeakable name, caused a nation of terror-stricken waifs to whimper and mewl.” Continue reading “It Was a Great Series Irregardless”
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”
Prospective 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”
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:
*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.
Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.
Thanks for stopping by my website! My overarching goal is to celebrate and affirm standard written and spoken English and consequently promote clearer, more effective interpersonal communication. To that end, I’ve written blog posts and included other resources related to writing, language, grammar, words, usage, punctuation, and even pronunciation. For a few chuckles, check out the “Grammar Funnies” tab.
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