Geode Editorial Services

Another Good One

January 21, 2008
2 Comments

Although, sadly, it’s from a book about how to teach kids better composition and editing skills:

This paradigm shift in your teaching is a slippery slope, and kids will want to jump on.

To be fair, there’s nothing in the book on how to avoid mixed metaphors.


Posted in Grammar, Word Use

Thought for the Day

August 3, 2007
1 Comment

Best thing I’ve read all week, in the NYT review of Becoming Jane:

“In the age of ‘whatever,’ who doesn’t relish receiving a scrupulously considered, grammatically correct answer to a question?”


Posted in Grammar

The Start of the Don’t-Do’s

July 30, 2007
13 Comments

I’m determined to get back in the saddle with this whole style gripe and discussion thing. Back in February, before this site got its feeble launch, Will contributed a hilarious post to Always Double Back about the list of cliches he was determined to purge from all articles that crossed his desk at Esquire. Our readers jumped in on the comments and helped us geek out a little further with other egregious examples. See that post here.

Now, inspired by the list cited in the post below, I’m going to start a list of common usage errors that I run across with disheartening frequency. Here’s a few off the top of my head; please, smarty-pants readers, jump in with ones that I’ve either forgotten or haven’t thought of. One of these days, when I have enough, I’ll pull together the whole list of errors, clumsy phrases, and cliches and spread my manifesto throughout the land so that Americans will stop sounding like such dumb-asses.

Errors of Usage:

comprise: Once and for all, five people comprise the group. The group is not “comprised of” five people!

myriad: It’s an adjective, not a noun. You don’t have “a myriad of” choices, you have myriad choices. I rejected an intern once for getting this wrong in her letter of application.

Update: Sendhil points out below, and Webster’s 11th backs him up, that this apparently is okay to use as a noun, but I still can’t bring myself to agree. The first definition is (noun) ten thousand (but I wouldn’t say “a ten thousand of”). The consensus seems to be that both are correct, but I just can’t accept that–it just looks and sounds wrong to me as a noun. Then again, I once had strong feelings about split infinitives, and now I allow them when the alternative would sound too stilted. Perhaps it will be so with this.

further/farther: Further applies to more abstract concepts (to further one’s career); farther applies to distance. I can’t believe how many people get this wrong.

principle/principal: Again, these are shamefully misused. A principle is something you believe in. A principal is someone to whose office you’re sent when you’ve been caught smoking in the bathroom.

who/whom: Who is the subject, whom is the object. Why is this considered to be such a complicated concept?

impact: This is my mom’s favorite. I will allow that you can have an impact on something, although that veers into lame cliche territory. But if you start talking about impacting stuff, you’d better mean that you’re squashing it into a tiny little cube or something. In my last job, I often had to purge the made-up atrocity “impactful” from various reports and speeches.

that/which: Most common misuse throughout academic writing. “That” introduces dependent clauses and “which” introduces independent clauses. As with who/whom, this stymies people as if it were advanced calculus.

decimate: Latin class! To decimate means to reduce by one in ten–this is often significant, but it’s not the total wipe-out that people mean when they misuse this word.

where/when: Seriously, how could someone mess these up? “Where” refers to places, “when” refers to time. Why, then, do I so often see something like “there was this time where I was so embarrassed”?

who/that: “Who” refers to people, “that” refers to objects. It makes my skin crawl when people refer to their friends that are so much fun.

I’m getting tired of typing now, but there will be much more where this came from. Please contribute your own peeves in the meantime.


Sorry

July 27, 2007
3 Comments

Talk about being lax. But, since Bethie scolded me below for neglecting this site, I’ll pop something up that caught my eye this week. A few weeks back, my former boss directed my attention to an e-newsletter called The Head Butler that gives general information and tips about good music, books, movies, and other things. Yesterday, my daily Butler update contained the editor’s grammatical pet peeves, prompted by the ubiquitous misuse of apostrophes. Honestly, if English is your first language and you passed the fourth grade, these should not stump you. Anyhow, he has most of the usual suspects in there, including my pet since/because and over/more than peeves. Perhaps this would be a good starting point for the official Geode Style Guide.

Click here for the list.


Posted in Grammar, Style Sheet

Ouch.

May 25, 2007
8 Comments

Today’s Times carries a brief review of Pearl Harbor, a “historical novel” by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, and all I can say is that my heart went out to the book’s copy editor the moment I saw the headline: An Assault on Hawaii. On Grammar Too. This book was put out by St. Martin’s Press, a venerable house that I’m sure employs wonderful copy editors. I’m also sure that Mssrs. Gingrich and Forstchen stetted every single red mark on the manuscript. How else could the following be explained?

[Y]ou . . . find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.

This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes. “One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought,” the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, “not to realize they were sallying forth to war.” Evidence notwithstanding, the authors do not mean to insult the fighter pilot’s intelligence — or, presumably, the reader’s.

I can’t imagine that these issues went unnoticed by the good people at St. Martin’s, although I’m sure everyone connected with the book (except, perhaps, for the agent, who probably made a lot of money on this deal) is now writhing in embarrassment and regret. They can comfort themselves, though, with the knowledge that the book’s target audience probably doesn’t know any better.