The Difference Between ‘Ambience’ and ‘Ambiance’

I was writing a post for my food blog on a restaurant in Culver City, Calif., when I noticed the editing tool underlining ambience with a squiggly red line, so I thought that maybe I was spelling it wrong.

Concerned, I did some research, and it turns out that the word can be spelled with either the e or the a after the i. With the a, the word is in its French form (meaning it should properly be italicized if used in that spelling), and with the e, the word is Anglicized.

Either way, ambience (or ambiance) refers to the atmosphere or mood in a certain environment.

Touché.

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?

He Wrote/She Wrote: People Track This Stuff?

A study released yesterday purports to find importance in the frequency of the he pronoun versus the she pronoun in American English, the obvious implication being the prevalence of male-focused sexism in writing throughout the ages.

According to this study, the ratio of male to female pronouns (he, she plus variations) stood at 3.5:1 in 1950, the larger number representing male usage, of course, which then swelled to 4.5:1 through the mid-1960s, when the sexual revolution set us all free.

The ratio now stands at 2:1 or less (that being the perhaps-outdated 2005 standard).

Now this is all well and good, but I think what it mainly shows is writers' ignorance of the beauty of using the plural form. They contains both he's and she's, and no one can ascertain the ratio — nor would anyone want to do so.

I cast my vote for plural pronouns — and nouns — when writing generically. The ratio, if there is one, will always be 1:1 when using the plural.

Are You Dumber Than a Sixth Grader?

To answer the question posed in my headline, it would take quite a bit of immersion in texting to plunge below sixth-grade standards, er. reality.

And this is no LOL matter.

A Pennsylvania State University study tested students aged 8 to 12 on their grammar and then surveyed them on their texting habits via cell phones and other devices. No surprise here, but grammar skills deteriorated with text usage among those who responded to the survey.

The study was conducted by the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University and published in New Media & Society.

"They may use a homophone, such as 'gr8' for great, or an initial, like, 'LOL' for laugh out loud," said Drew Cingel, a former undergraduate student in communications at Penn State and currently a doctoral candidate in media at Northwestern University who was involved in the study.

"An example of an omission that tweens use when texting is spelling the word would, w-u-d."

The use of these shortcuts may hinder a child's ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar, Cingel said in a Penn State release.

Now, wud you believe that?

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:

Read more

How Many People You Know Who Are Guilty of ‘Mumpsimus’?

The word mumpsimus refers to the tendency to misuse words even if one is corrected as to their meaning, spelling, pronunciation, or whatever else embodies the mistaken use.

Allegedly, the word comes from the story about an illiterate priest who continued to mispronounce the liturgy even after corrected. When the priest was corrected for reading quod in ore mumpsimus, he replied, "I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus" (from the Eucharist, "which we have taken into the mouth," sumpsimus="we have taken").

Mumpsimus is also now used to denigrate people whom the observer believes are adhering to ideas or beliefs that are erroneous, i.e., a pejorative term.

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).