Commas Do Matter, at Least in Court

The Oxford Comma is the last comma before the final item in a list, for instance: dogs, cats, birds, and fish. The comma before “and fish” is the Oxford Comma.

Now in modern American English, use of the Oxford Comma has been denigrated, meaning that it’s optional in most cases. I personally tend to eliminate it unless doing so would render the sentence harder to understand.

A dairy in Maine will now have to pay $5 million in back overtime wages because of a missing Oxford Comma in a state law, which stipulates that workers are exempt from overtime when in the process of “…marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” products.

The workers argued in their lawsuit that, though they distributed, they did no “packing,” and therefore they were not exempt.

Judge David Barron agreed, writing at the beginning of his 29-page ruling: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

The state has now remedied the law by using semicolons throughout the list.


Most Annoying Word in the English Language

It wouldn’t be my choice, but a poll by Marist College determined that “whatever” is the most annoying word in the American lexicon for the ninth straight year.

grammar-source-answer-to-all-your-English-questionsThe poll was conducted Nov. 6-9 of 1,074 adults with an error factor of 3 percent.

Now, if I were asked to pick the most annoying (and meaningless) word in use by most Americans, I’d say it’s “awesome.” The use of “awesome” appears to be a substitute for people who can’t formulate a sentence around what they really feel.

“How was the movie?” “Awesome.”

“How was dinner?” “Awesome.”

“How was your death?” “Awesome.”

Anyway, you get the idea.

The rest of the list of the top five, in order, consists of “fake news,” “no offense,” “literally,” and “you know what I mean.”

Now, that’s an awesome list, you know?

For What It’s Worth, Here’s How to Twerk

I heard that twerk had been added to the Oxford Dictionary Online and soon found Kornheiser and Wilbon joking about “twerking,” so I figured it was worth 20 seconds of research.

Turns out that it’s a dance, maybe or maybe not associated with Miley Cyrus (who she?). Said dictionary says to twerk  is “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

Nuff said.

Kraft Stirs Controversy and Comedy with Proposed Name ‘Mondelez’

The Kraft Foods Inc. Board of Directors will vote tomorrow on whether to adopt the name Mondelez for a new business unit even after controversy and comedy erupted over the word, which sounds like the slang expression for oral sex in Russian.

Kraft says the word (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ) was coined to indicate "worldwide deliciousness."

Jokes about the name have flooded the media, both online and print.

Michael Mitchell, a Kraft spokesman, however, points out that "the name has to be mispronounced to get that unfortunate meaning."

The biggest gaffe in words to date was probably Chevrolet's introduction of the Nova automobile in Latin America. In Spanish, nova means "doesn't go."

Should Highly Regarded Be Hyphenated?

Someone did a search with the query, "Should highly regarded be hyphenated?" The answer is no, and here's why:

When an adjective is modified by an adverb, as "regarded" is by "highly," you never hyphenate. With compound adjectives, however, you do hyphenate. An example would be "inner-motivated," as in, "She was an inner-motivated artist."

(In contrast, "highly motivated artist" would not be hyphenated because it's not a combination of two adjectives but of an adjective and adverb.)

Buying into ‘Website’ and Holding Firm on ‘E-Mail’

I put together my first cyber-presence back in 1993 in the days before Marc Andreessen had developed the graphical user interface for transmissions on the Internet.

As I, a newspaper journalist, then grew up with emerging cyber alternatives to print, I was taught that World Wide Web (the "www" in so many URLs) and Internet were proper nouns that needed capitalization and the respect that — ahem — comes with being proper nouns. Thus one would build a Web site, retaining the capitalization of Web out of all due respect.

Also, one would send an e-mail, the accepted contraction for electronic mail, replete with the separating/connecting hyphen.

Now, the Associated Press and its 2012 Stylebook have turned tradition on its ear and scuttled the respect historically due all things Web.

Sacre bleu!

The Associated Press Stylebook now endorses website as the proper form for Web site. And it spells email without the hyphen!

Now, the AP manual has its roots in the days of hot metal (linotype) when each letter or space cost a penny or so to forge in metal, so the premium was on making everything shorter and more compact (thus abbreviations like sen. for senator, etc.), but to throw out the capital W in Web — sacrilege!

However, I've made my peace with the AP and will now use website, but I will never remove the hyphen from e-mail no matter how much of a pain in the ass it is to have to hit the hyphen button on a QWERTY keyboard!

Call me e-stubborn.

Or should I write it e-Stubborn out of respect for a dying tradition?

Your Writing Reflects Your Thinking

When reading an important manuscript, every discerning editor should always take note of the usual errors and problems that may be spread throughout the entire composition. Some editors instantly return the copies for revising after discovering screaming grammar errors and content distortions in the initial pages. Most writers get too occupied that they overlook poor grammar and usage, misspellings, typographical errors, improper punctuation, and other problems. These are what stick out to editors.

Most copies and manuscripts are not approved for publishing after submission. Editors require revisions to make sure the compositions are impeccable. Many writers strive to lessen possible problems for revisions. The best approach is to eliminate all potential problems.

Poor grammar is the top problem writers and editors face. Every sentence should be grammatically correct so that the message would be conveyed most effectively. Most editors are strict when it comes to grammar because they assume that all writers are already adept and careful when it comes to such. No editor would ever let poor grammar go without correction. There is an exception to this. If the improper grammar is within a character dialogue or within exact words of genuine quotations, then it should be written as it is.

Here are some others of the most usual problems editors note that prompt them to seek revisions or worse, totally reject a copy:

Continue reading “Your Writing Reflects Your Thinking”

Grammar Wars: Coming Soon to Your Office*

The Wall Street Journal today (June 21, 2012, first day of summer) ran a piece about the generational divide on grammar usage, which after reading I've dubbed "Grammar Wars."

In the piece, "This Embarrasses You and I," Sue Shellenbarger contrasts traditionalist firms, where the King's English is still honored, with places such as RescueTime in Seattle, where "140 characters and sound bytes" are considered the non plus ultra of English communications. The latter firm is staffed mostly by 30somethings (or younger), it seems.

"Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed," says Jason Grimes, 38, vice president of product marketing. (My question: Does succeed merely mean making $$$?)

Now consider the view of Don Silver (age undisclosed), who runs a marketing and crisis-consulting firm in Ft. Lauderdale. He fines new hires 25 cents for every English error he finds in their written work, but he admits, "I am losing the battle."

Do Twitter and the social media spell the end of traditional (read: correct) English usage? Probably, but I won't be around when people can't spell "you" anymore or when "8" is used instead of any "ate" or "eight" sound (e.g., w8 for weight, h8 for hate, etc.).

I believe that great literature, if it's still being written in the cyber future, will always use the King's English, but everything else has a good chance of being a bunch of sounds, symbols, hashtags, grunts, groans and outright misspellings.

Oh, h8ful day.

* If they're not there already.

PS If you cringe at the title to Ms. Shellenbarger's article and can identify the reason, then you're probably on my side.

What to Do With That Final ‘E’?

I had to open my big mouth during a brainstorming session recently at work (I know, I know, no nega-comments during these sessions) when I corrected the moderator's white-board spelling of judgment, in which he had included the e after the g. as the Brits and Aussies do.

Later, the word knowledgeable made its way to the board, so the moderator–fearful of my puritanical addiction to classic American English usage–took the e out.

At least this time, my spelling observation led to a group discussion of what to do with the e in words when you add things at the end. We resolved nothing then, but we agreed that loveable without the e just wouldn't pronounce correctly.

The brainstorming moved on from there, but later I decided to look up the rule for dropping and keeping the e. Here's what I found, as least concerning the addition of suffixes:

1) Drop the e if the suffix begins with a vowel: use+able=usable

2) Retain the e if the suffix begins with a consonant: use+full=useful (where did the second l go?)

Which brings us back to judgment. Ment starts with a consonant, so where's the e?

Maybe British English has it right after all (but of course, ment isn't necessarily a suffix).

Anyway, those two rules should hold sway most of the time. The rest of the time, just pick a different word if you're unsure of the spelling. Single syllable words always work well without a bunch of confusing rules (but you run the risk of sounding and reading like a mental midget is you just use single-syllable words).

Five Common Word and Usage Confusions in English

Blogging, like good copywriting, should always be in a conversational style. There is a need to be personal and to communicate as if the blogger is addressing a close friend. This does not mean grammar errors would be excused and neglected. Many blogs fail to attain and secure the credibility they aim due to the writers’ inability to avoid and correct common grammatical pitfalls. The following common errors, observed often in blogs, also seem to be part and parcel of the modern post-Internet English grammar mindset.

It is obvious that many writers routinely end many sentences with prepositions, improperly use punctuation marks, or dangle modifiers inappropriately. Such grammar and usage mistakes often detract credibility. If you want more people to take your writing seriously, prevent these five common and dumb mistakes in writing. 

First, be mindful of the use of your and you’re. Remember that your is strictly a possessive pronoun, whereas you’re is a contraction of you are. You should not say "Your a beautiful person," or "I want to see you’re pet." Many writers overlook this. The result, many readers are offended as they they're being taken as dumb people. Many writers also fail to command respect and credibility because of the constant appearance of this problem. I can't tell you how many e-mail responses to my "Thank you" come back "Your welcome." Ugh!

Second, avoid being troubled by the use of it’s and its. To avoid  this common mistake, think through the message you intend to say. It’s is a strict contraction of it is or it has, so use it as such. On the other hand, its is a mere possessive pronoun (third person). To help you prevent this mistake, read aloud your sentence and use it is to replace it’s or its. Doing so could help you identify the presence of any problem in your copy. 

Third, do not use there instead of their. Both are pronouns, but they are of different uses, though they may sound the same. There should be used as a reference (as in "Put the book there.") and as a pronoun (as in "There is the object of your desire.") Their is the plural form of possessive pronoun (third person). You say "Their class was suspended," instead of "There class was suspended." This could be very simple, but amazingly, many writers frequently commit the same mistake. 

Fourth, observe the proper use of affect and effect. This could be a little confusing, so it is not surprising that many writers are caught in this web of trouble. Take a moment to reconsider your sentence to make sure you are using the words appropriately and correctly. Affect is used as a verb, while effect is its noun form, generally. To illustrate: "The power interruption would affect the flow of the meeting." "The possible effect of the power interruption is not known to many."

Lastly, observe the dangling principle if you want to make sure your blog is free from any grammar problem. This could also be confusing because use of dangling modifiers surely could be troublesome, to begin with. This mistake damages correct flow of writing and affects overall comprehensibility. To illustrate, take this sentence as example: "After rotting in the attic for days, my sister threw some of the mangoes." The sentence when taken literally could mean the sister rotted for days, instead of the mangoes. To correct this, you should say, "My sister threw some of the mangoes that have already rotten in the attic."