Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A word that's also a history lesson -- putsch


putsch (pooch) noun A secretly plotted, sudden attempt to overthrow a government.
[From Swiss German Putsch (thrust, blow).]

An infamous example was the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Hitler and his cohorts stormed a beer hall in Munich where a meeting of the Bavariangovernment was taking place. The putsch failed and they were sentenced to prison. This attempt gave Hitler national attention and he decidedto gain power by legal means. It was during this imprisonment that he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

"Another mini-coup, 2003's shopping mall putsch aimed by young officers at Arroyo was yet another reminder of the restive military."
-- Where Has the Hope Gone? The Standard (Hong Kong); Feb 18, 2006.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Collective Nouns: I Give Up

From "Lincoln's language and its legacy" by Adam Gopnik, in this week's New Yorker:

"In the past twenty-five years, and particularly since the publication of Garry Wills’s “Lincoln at Gettysburg” (1992), language and its uses has become a central Lincoln subject."


Since this is in The New Yorker, I'm assuming it must be grammatically correct.

Perhaps the single predicate nominative (a central Lincoln subject) somehow turns "language and its uses" into a single subject. (I just made that up.)

But it sure looks like a mistake to me.

Here's one from the News Sentinel sports section a year ago: "Most of UT's 2005 signees will not get a full summer of extra work as the vast majority is scheduled to enroll in July as UT's second summer sesson begins."

Surely this sentence is referring to the majority of signees as individuals, which would therefore warrant a plural noun.

After earlier GTOTD's about collective nouns, an assistant headmaster at a prestigious school wrote back: "This issue is perhaps the toughest I face. Appreciate your help, but I still don't get it from these examples, and I've never really gotten it. I've seen a million examples of, 'The orchestra is late for the concert,' vs. 'The orchestra are packing up their instruments,' but I've never had a really satisfactory answer."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parallelism : Use parallel structure to express matching ideas

Wrong: "The most important things in soccer are dribbling, passing and to know how to shoot."

The principle of parallelism in writing is simply that parts of a sentence performing the same logical function (i.e., doing the same work) must be of like construction.

So the sentence above should read: "The most important things in soccer are dribbling, passing and shooting." That way all the elements are gerunds, rather than one of them being an infinitive phrase.

This is in section 26 of Harbrace, Parallelism, which includes

26 Use parallel structure as an aid to coherence, and

26a For parallel structure, balance a word with a word, a phrase with a phrase, a clause with a clause, a sentence with a sentence.

There are several other excellent editing rules in this section, along with many useful exercises. Learning this principle is an easy way to pick up a few points in the writing/grammar section of the PSAT or new SAT , as in the following SAT Question of the Day:

As a Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall

was known for his quest to end racial discrimination,

his opposition to the death penalty, and

he supported free speech and civil liberties.

No error

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ramada -- from the Spanish for "branch"


ramada (ruh-MAH-duh) noun An open shelter roofed with branches.
[From Spanish, from rama (branch), from Vulgar Latin rama, from Latin ramus (branch). The word "ramify" branches out from the same root "ramus".]

An anagram of today's word is "armada" (a fleet of warships), another term we've taken from Spanish.

"We are issued orange White House press passes and herded under a ramada near the flight line."
-- Rhonda Bodfield; Reporter-in-waiting Just Waits, And Waits; The Arizona Daily Star; Feb 27, 1999.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How to structure the SAT essay

SAT test days are coming up, and the essay section presents an opportunity to excel for those who are prepared. This is one of three in a series of GTOTD's about the essay.

A while ago my high school alumni bulletin ran a story about its month-long SAT-prep program, directed by math teacher Linda DeBord.

In preparation for the SAT essay section, students compose two to five essays under test conditions, which Mrs. DeBord then assesses and scores.

"Learning to outline and write an essay under pressure was invaluable," said one student. "The corrected essays were also helpful, as we learned from our mistakes."

(This is the same preparation done by West High teachers like Shannon Jackson, who so effectively help their students earn nice AP scores and -- as Isabel Clark attested in the August 2006 Cityview magazine -- do well in college, where almost all the tests are timed essays.)

I asked Mrs. DeBord for some tips, and she kindly replied.

Of course a student should briefly outline the essay before writing. "In the brief 25 minutes, the up-front planning is critical," says Mrs. DeBord, "but the students need to keep a careful eye on the time. I suggest that in the opening paragraph, after they state their thesis, they should mention two examples they will use. The examples should be clear in their relationship in supporting the thesis. The conclusion should restate, in an interesting way (if possible), the thesis and then re-tie in the examples."

So, the structure of the essay goes pretty much --

I. State thesis
II. Preview two supporting examples
III. Elaborate thesis
IV. Flesh out examples
V. Conclusion
a) restate thesis (interesting way)
b) re-tie in the examples

Rolling boxcars on the SAT essay

The essay section of the SAT essay is scored by two readers, each of whom grades on a scale from 1 to 6. So you're aiming for two sixes -- boxcars in dice-throwing terminology.
In the story linked here, Tamar Lewin of The New York Times shows that you don't need to be perfect, or even have perfect spelling, to get a 6.
One kid got a 6 even though he quoted from the musical Cats, which might earn an automatic 1 from some graders. Another did such a good job discussing Elie Wiesel's Night that the graders forgave his misspelling of "hindrance."
West High School English teacher Shannon Jackson, who grades AP essays, says that, indeed, graders are supposed to think of the esays as drafts, because of course that's what they are. So you truly can get a perfect 6 without being perfect.

WHAT PRACTICE MADE? Misspellings are no “hinderance” to a perfect score on the SAT essay. Scorers looked for “clear and consistent mastery” in areas like critical thinking. They found it, apparently, in these essays, whose opening words are shown. Students were asked, “Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Outlining in a hurry on the SAT essay

This is the first of several Grammar Tips of the Day about the SAT essay. Many high school juniors are taking both the SAT and the ACT in the next several weeks.

Our Knox County English teachers do an excellent job of teaching our kids how to do outlines.

This skill has always been a key to success on essay tests, but this is especially highlighted by the essay section of the SAT. In just 25 minutes, kids have to plan their time, think through their arguments and put them on paper. Many test-takers interviewed on TV said they didn't finish in the allotted time.

Harbrace Section 33e: Choose an appropriate method or combination of methods for arranging ideas offers some good tips on listing ideas, outlining and writing essays.

The trick with the new SAT is in doing all this swiftly and effectively. (And, of course, as in all things, penmanship counts!) In those opening moments, the essayist must consider the topic and map out a course of action---making a list of ideas to touch on and a conclusion to be heading toward. This is the time to take a deep breath, look at this list, amend as appropriate, and plan those minutes. If there are 5 minutes to go and you're halfway through your outline (this happens) you must make the remaining points quickly and get to that conclusion.

Of course, the best keys to success are a) knowing what you want to say, b) practicing saying them in alloted periods of time, and c) feigning confidence, so the kids all around you panic. :-)

The Grim Neurology of Teen Drinking

Since this is a blog designed mostly for high schoolers, and for many this is the season of graduation parties, to be followed by going off to college and fraternity rush, click on the title below for a link to a fabulous article by Katy Butler from the New York Times' Health Times section of July 4, 2006, on the Grim Neurology of Teen Drinking.

The article is especially enlightening in its discussion of how alcohol works differently in the bodies and brains of young women than it does in those of young men.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Them's fightin' words -- casus belli


casus belli (KAY-suhs BEL-i, rhymes with bell-eye, BEL-ee) noun plural casus belli
An action or event that causes or is used to justify starting a war. [From New Latin casus belli, from Latin casus (occasion), belli, genitive of bellum (war).]

"Education, both secondary and tertiary, remains a battleground, though the casus belli seems to be more about funding than egalitarianism."
-- Stan Heyl; Class War - The Struggle Goes On; The Independent (London, UK); May 19, 2001.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In honor of Pedro Martinez: "Who's" and "Whose"

Right: "Who's interested in finding out whose books these are?"
Right: "Who's your Daddy?" chanted the crowd at Yankee Stadium when Pedro Martinez, then with the Red Sox, came on in relief.
Right: Whose team won the ACLS?

Like "your" and "you're" and "its and it's," "whose" and "who's" are misused every day, I guess because the apostrophe makes you think "possessive."

Anyway --

"Who's" is a contraction of "who is."
"Whose" is the possessive pronoun.

"You're" is a contraction of "you are."
"Your" is the possessive pronoun.

"It's" is a contraction of "it is."
"Its" is the possessive pronoun.

Click here for a discussion of the expression "Who's Your Daddy?"

Click here for photos of Yankees fans having fun with the expression "Who's your daddy?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Straight from the Sanskrit -- mantra

mantra (MAN-truh) noun
1. A sound, word, or phrase that is repeated in prayer and is believed to have mystical powers.
2. An often repeated word or phrase that is closely associated with something; a slogan, byword, or a watchword.
[From Sanskrit mantra (thought, formula). Ultimately from Indo-European root men- (to think) which is the source of mind, mnemonic, mosaic, music, mentor, money, and mandarin.]

"These tips go beyond the 'test early and often' mantra and will improve your IT organization's testing capabilities."
-- Meridith Levinson; Testing, 1, 2, 3; CIO (Framingham, Massachusetts); Nov 15, 2005.

(Sanskrit is an ancient language of India and Hinduism.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Choose a specific word over a general or vague one

Harbrace Chapter 20: Exactness begins with the heading, "Choose words that are exact, idiomatic and fresh."

Rule 20a (3) reads:
Choose a specific and concrete word rather than a general and abstract one.

General // Specific / More Specific / Even More Specific
food // fast food // pizza // //Papa John's
prose // fiction // short stories // The O Henry Reader
place // city // Knoxville // on Bearden Hill

The two pages under Rule 20a(3) are well worth reviewing, and they will serve any writer well as he or she strives to liven up and hone a story, article or paper.

In a daily newspaper, many stories are written on such tight deadlines that reporters may not have time to fill in many specific facts. Nevertheless, if you are reporting a story, make it a habit to ask for specifics, even when they seem unimportant.

Often your editor will ask these same questions, and it's best to know the answers. An athlete was injured. What injury? Which knee, left or right? A person was driving a car-- what model? year? what color? Someone played in a band. What was the name of the band? Who else was in it? What songs/type of music did they play?

If you're writing a feature or profile, these specifics often lead to revealing or illuminating information or anecdotes.

Gladys Watson -- Harper Lee's English teacher

From Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields:

"The first of her two role models was her high school English teacher, Miss Gladys Watson. Like an apprentice learning the craft of language, Nelle willingly submitted to Miss Watson's instruction. . . .

"English professors at state universities in Alabama were known to remark to some of the more proficient undergraduates, 'You must have taken Miss Watson.'

"Her classes always began with students receiving a blue grammar rules booklet--a sort of early Strunk and White Elements of Style--which Miss Watson had personally selected. It was going to be their Bible, she told them--they should never lose it.
[Could that booklet have been the Guide to Composition, above left, by James Finch Royster of UNC & Stith Thompson of Colorado College, first printed in 1919?
We know of one Alabamian of Lee's generation who used that text in her high school years.
Or it could have been the Century Handbook of Writing by Garland Greever of Indiana University and Easley S. Jones of the University of Illinois, also published in 1919?
Both books are 6 1/2 inches x 5 inches, about 1/2 inch thick, and both are still available on for a pittance.]

"She skewered mistakes on their papers by indicating in the margin the page number in the blue booklet where that particular problem was treated. Then the paper had to be rewritten and handed in with the mistakes corrected. . . .

"Grammar, she explained over and over, was not a pointless academic exercise, but a tool. Knowing the rules was the quickest route to better writing. Grammatical writing also was the key to developing a clear and euphonious style of writing.

"She had her students read their compositions aloud so everyone could hear how good writing had three C's: clarity, coherence, and cadence."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sitting in the catbird seat

(from )

catbird seat (KAT-burd seet) noun A position of power and advantage.

A catbird (named after its catlike call) is known to build a pile of rocks to attract a mate and sit on the highest point around. This expression was often used by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball commentator Red Barber and further popularized by James Thurber in his 1942 New Yorker casual "The Catbird Seat," in which a character often utters trite phrases, including the expression "sitting in the catbird seat".

"So, Stillking Films seems perched in the catbird seat. 'Things are going very well for us at the moment,' David Minkowski says."
-- Steffen Silvis; Stillking is Still King; The Prague Post; (Czech Republic); Apr 5, 2007.

From Thurber's "The Catbird Seat":

. . . In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. "Are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch? Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?"

It was Joey Hart, one of Mr. Martin's two assistants, who had explained what the gibberish meant. "She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions--picked 'em up down South."

Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. . . .

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jargon and legalese to avoid

When we see expressions like the ones below, we are allowed to ask ourselves, "What does this actually mean?" So often, they mean nothing, or where there is meaning, it can be better expressed by some terse Anglo-Saxon word. This may be one reason corporate leaders like to quote plain-speaking coaches---it frees them up from the gobbledygook found in corporate literature.

Jargon/technical terms

proprietary drug
intravenous solutions
logistics capabilities
coordinated manufacturing and distribution efforts
proprietary medicines
vertically integrated
cost-efficient providers
revenue synergies
lower margin products utilization
realigning sales forces
centralized management information systems
profit-enhancing synergies
global platform

definitive agreement
those preceded by
herein set forth
such forward-looking statements
without limitations
cease to conduct
completion of the
so surrendered
as amended
qualified in its entirety

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

John F. McCune 1931-2007

It is with great sorrow that we report that John F. “Jack” McCune, died today.

Mr. McCune taught history, government, and, by example, the characteristics of a true gentleman to many of those who read this blog. After our time, he served as the sixth headmaster St. Albans School and did a remarkable job of guiding that great school to new levels of excellence.

Jack, who was 76 years old, was diagnosed with acute leukemia last November. At that time I sent him greetings from our class, including a set of class notes that included the news that one of us was tackling the daunting task of serving as superintendent of Pittsburgh schools. I know this made him proud.

He wrote the thank you note above in his elegant script. The note included a word that sent me diving for my dictionary. (I know now that it is also the name of a well-known bakery in New Orleans).

lagniappe n., (from a French derivation of the Spanish la napa) a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of purchase; broadly: something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.

The great teachers never stop teaching.

All those he taught have many memories of Mr. McCune's kindness and elegance that so often and so remarkably coaxed respectable discourse out of us teenage Calibans.
If any of wishes to submit his or her memories to St. Albans click here.

Those pesky idioms

The SAT Question of the Day below turns on Harbrace Rule 20b: Choose expressions that are idiomatic.

An idiom is an expression whose meaning is peculiar to the language or differs from the individual meanings of its elements. Be careful to use idiomatic English, not unidiomatic approximations. "She talked down to him" is iodiomatic. "She talked under to him" is not.

Occasionally [as below] the idiomatic use of prepositions may prove difficult. [Check out the list of a dozen common "problem" usages in this section.]

Most ships move through the Suez Canal with their own
power, but large ships must be assisted by a tugboat. No error

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

When to use a comma with "or"

(from Ruge Rules)

The rule: Place a comma before "or" when what follows it means the same as what precedes it.

As in: Please pass the salt, or sodium chloride.

But: Please pass the salt or pepper.

If "or" connects a long series of different items, the above rule is sometimes disregarded.

As in: He said he would accept payment in cash, or pledges, or goods, or services, or, even, promises of political support.

It's more correct as follows: He said he would accept payment in cash or pledges or goods or services, or, even, promises of political support.

You might also use commas in place of all but the last "or."

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mellifluous words for caught red handed: in flagrante delicto


In flagrante delicto (fluh-GRAN-tee di-LIK-to) adverb In the very act of committing the offense; red-handed.[From Medieval Latin meaning, literally, while the crime is blazing.]

"Mr. Big, the dung beetle, for instance, regularly patrols his tunnel to check on Mrs. Big, and if he catches her in flagrante delicto, he throws the interloper out."
-- Richard Conniff; Close Encounters of the Sneaky Kind; Smithsonian (Washington, D.C.); Jul 2003.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

15 Practical Rules of E Mail Etiquette

Dave Barry delightfully reviewed Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe (Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95) in today's New York Times.

The story below makes some of the same points. Several GTOTD recipients will recognize a high school football coach of ours, Dick Johnson, in the last line.

15 Practical Rules of E Mail Etiquette

It’s 11 a.m. on am ordinary day at the office. You notice that little yellow envelope in the bottom corner of your screen that means you’ve got e-mail. You click to see what’s come in. It seems someone in your firm has a problem. With you. He is not happy, and he has e-mailed you and “cc”ed your boss, your co-workers, several other managers---just about everybody but the president of the company. There’s one of those threatening “if/then” sentence near the end, something along the lines of, “…if you are not willing or able to fix this situation, then…”
You’ve been flamed. (“Flaming” is e-mail lingo for venting strong emotion online or sending highly inflammatory messages.) So it’s 11:02 a.m. on that same morning, but now you’re fuming with rage. You’re tempted to bang out a response, hit “reply to all,” and share some ungentle sentiments of your own. But you pause. You resolve to wait until after lunch to frame a considered response, a polite response, one that recognizes not only the unique qualities of e-mail but also its pitfalls.
The fact that most of us are still figuring out the rules of practical etiquette that enable us to use this medium to best advantage. E-mail can be as personal and revealing as a letter or as impersonal as junk mail. It has limitations in conveying emotions—but it can also convey emotions too well. Especially fiery ones! It’s instantaneous and easy—often too easy. What we need is e-mail etiquette. So here goes:

1. Use that subject line. Take a moment to summarize what your message is truly about, as a newspaper headline does. This helps get your message read. (Key words in the title line also help if you have to search for a message later on.) To avoid “Re: Re: Re:-itis” in multiple replies, summarize your response, as in “12:15 better than noon,” rather than “RE: lunch plans.”

2. Pause for a salutation. We are always grateful to be greeted with politeness and humanity. “I like the classic ‘Dear so-and-so,’ just as in a letter,” says Karen Ramsay, a computer network engineer. Short of “Dear,” it’s more and more common to start with your recipient’s name and a dash or comma. This also signals that it is a personal communication and not spam or a broadcast to the group.

3. Include pleasantries. In the elevator, we say, “Good morning.” At a co-worker’s office door we ask a greeting question. These are the lubricants of daily interaction. Some e mails are more formal than others, but the vast majority move between two people who might just as easily be saying hello in the hall. In your e-mail, consider the same pleasantry you might employ in a conversation: Before you launch into your three points of action from the previous meeting, consider saying, “It was good to talk with the group today.” Or if it’s an individual, “It was good to hear about your trip to Cancun.” Or, if it’s an acquaintance you haven’t e-mailed in a while, “Hope you are well.” Why? It makes life more pleasant and your reader more apt to enjoy the message.

4. NO SHOUTING! All-caps in e-mails have the same effect as shouting in conversation. It’s considered rude. Even an all-cap word here and there is iffy, since it takes the reader aback.

5. Proof and spell-check. A poorly written message replete with run-on sentences, omitted punctuation, misused or misspelled words is difficult to read, easy to misunderstand---and reflects poorly on the sender. (And no one will ever tell you if you’ve made an embarrassing gaffe.)

6. Use “cc” sparingly. Copy co-workers or bosses only when there’s a reason to do so. Similarly, don’t use “Reply All” as your default. Resort to “Reply All” only when everyone truly needs to see your response.

7. Beware the negative. E-mail is great for conveying information, instructions, and objective facts. But for some reason slams slam harder in an e-mail. It is rarely a good idea to send anything negative online. If the news is that bad, it should be delivered face to face, or at least by phone, so that your facial expression or the sound of your voice can soothe and explain tough news. “Even if it’s mild criticism,” says Ramsay, “take some extra words to make your tone much gentler than in regular conversation.” Another side to this issue is that everyone is very courageous in e mail, precisely because they don’t have to face the person. A good rule is, “Never say anything in an e-mail you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.”

8. Remember, it’s public. E-mails are forwarded from person to person, often multiple times, with forwarders often forgetting a nugget of “touchy” or classified information that appeared several messages below. Says Karen Ramsay, “I tell my staff, before you send an e-mail, ask yourself if you’d be willing to post it on your office door.” And e-mails can legitimately be perused by employers and are often subpoenaed in legal cases, sometimes going back years.

9. Be careful about humor. Always a two-edged sword, humor can be extremely touchy in e mail. Sarcasm is easily misunderstood and may come across as insulting. If you must make a light comment, it’s often a good idea to use a smiley-face J or emoticon ---to make sure a recipient knows you’re kidding.

10. Never respond in anger. First, if someone has insulted you, it may well be a miscommunication, a lame attempt to be funny, or it might be a response to a hasty e-mail of yours. Pick up the phone and ask, “What was that about?” A double caution is, “Never ‘Reply to All’ in anger. This is a good way to make an enemy for life.

11. Multiple questions. If you ask a series of questions, most responders will answer only the last question asked. If you are posing a series of questions, number them. This is also a good idea for multiple pieces of information. It simply helps the reader order the information. If you are responding to a series of questions, number them in your reply and use a different color to set your replies off from the questions.

12. The shorter the better. Something about a long e-mail can make a reader say, “Oh, no.” Shorter ones are better read and more quickly responded to. If you find yourself responding to an emotional situation with a three-page, single-spaced rehashing of events, consider the possibility that e-mail is not the best medium for working out the situation.

13. Kick the forwarding habit. Everyone gets too much mail already. If you can’t resist broadcasting jokes, inspirational stories and political diatribes, consider saving them for friends and family—and realize that we’ve all seen most of them already.

14. Sign-off: Consider the same pleasantry and sign off as you would use in a letter. “Please let me know if I can be of any assistance. Best regards, Brooks.”

15. Say “please” and “thank you.” Your grandmother was right: “They’re the three most valuable words in the English language: they don’t cost you a thing, and they pay dividends your whole life long.” In e-mail, as in life, a little courtesy goes a long way.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Fab Four Facts: Why Everyone Needs Fact Checkers

A while ago I devoured The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz, a wonderful book with 860 pages of text and another hundred pages of footnotes sourcing virtually every quote.

Generally, the book did as promised and wiped away the sins of Albert Goldman's mean-spirited John Lennon biography, and I was sorry when I reached page 860. I wanted more.

Among hundreds of bit of trivia, I learned that I was wrong in thinking that George had tried out for John Lennon's skiffle band by playing Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock." That was Paul. George played "Raunchy" for his audition. I learned that Paul, in writing his song to comfort Julian Lennon (originally "Hey, Jules") got "Jude" from the mean Rod Steiger character in Oklahoma! And I'm embarrassed to say I never knew it was Ringo who says, "I got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of "Helter Skelter." (The group had implored the lovable Ringo to play as hard as he could to get the wild feeling of that song, not knowing it would cause the Manson gang to go on a murder spree.)

So maybe I shouldn't care about a few errors. But who would read a book like this if he or she didn't care that Jackie DeShannon didn't write "Needles and Pins" for the Searchers, as Spitz offhandedly says she did. (The late U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche wrote that song.)

And then there's the section about George's rising to a new level as a songsmith with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," in which Spitz implies that George wrote "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby." That was Carl Perkins, whose songs the Beatles recorded or performed more of (7) than anyone other than Chuck Berry (9).

I guess a sin of omission falls in a different category. But, on page 499, Spitz quotes Peter Brown saying that George wrote "Something" about his wife, Pattie Boyd, and Eric Clapton wrote "Darling, You Look Wonderful [sic] Tonight" about her. But Spitz fails to mention that Clapton also wrote "Layla" about her. Since Spitz mentions in a note at the bottom of that page that Donovan wrote "Jennifer Juniper" about Pattie's sister Jenny, I say this information is pertinent in placing these sisters in a special Pantheon of Super Muses.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Subordination and coordination

Harbrace Chapter 24 : Subordination and Coordination

Use subordination to relate ideas concisely and effectively.
Use coordination (that is, giving ideas equal structural rank) to give ideas equal emphasis.

24a Use subordination to combine a series of short sentences into longer, more effective units. The idea is to place emphasis on the most important part of the sentence.

Example: I was bored. I went to the movies. I discovered that Johnny Depp makes a funny pirate.

Because I was bored, I went to the movies, where I discovered that Johnny Depp makes a funny pirate.

[Note that, for those who prefer Hemingway-esque shorter sentences, you could put a period after movies and start the next sentence with "There I discovered...."]

24a (1), (2), (3) and (4) offer handy tips on subordinating, such as using adjectives and adjective phrases, adverbs and adverb phrases, appositives and contrasting elements, and subordinate clauses.

24b(3) offers and important caveat: Subordinate and coordinate clauses logically. Avoid making faulty connections between two ideas.

FAULTY Chen was only a substitute pitcher, winning half of his games.
BETTER Although Chen was only a substitute pitcher, he won half his games. [Although establishes the relationship between the ideas.]

This last idea definitely appears in the new PSAT and SAT grammar sections, but if you're not on the lookout for it, you can easily miss it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

With a wink to the scribe: amanuensis

amanuensis -- from the Latin (servus) a manu, a slave with secretarial duties: meaning one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript.

This word often shows up as a euphemism of sorts for a ghost writer -- My Turn at Bat by Ted Williams, as told to John Underwood; Iacocca by Lee Iacocca with Ralph Novak; or Learning to Sing by Clay Aiken and Allison Glock.
The word appears in texts about the Bible in the Middle Ages. For example, God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible refers to the men who in 1605 refined, corrected and improved previous translations of the Bible as "Amanuenses of the words of God." (Note the plural.)
By using this word, a skilled writer is usually implying with a wink that there was a lot more than just dictation and pure secretarial work being done ---as there usually is, even in pure secretarial work!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

If you don't like the edit, write "stet"


stet (stet) verb tr., intr. Let it stand. [From Latin stet (let it stand), from stare (to stand). Ultimately from Indo-European root sta- (to stand) that is also the source of stay, stage, stable, instant, establish, static, and system.]

Stet is used as a direction on a printer's proof or manuscript to indicate that the alterations be undone and the original word or passage be restored.

"I realize that I have silted myself into the debate as a typographical neoconservative and a novitiate Barzunite, having insulted both pop culture and the West, and implied an allegiance to elegance and the author. I don't really want to mean this. Nevertheless, pls stet."
--Janet Burroway; Language, Culture, And the Cop (sic) Editor; The Chronicle of Higher Education (Washington, DC); Nov 7, 1997.

"The charges later were dismissed in Baltimore City and stetted in Howard County."
-- Peter Geier; 'Patricide' Author Sues Sheppard Pratt; The Daily Record (Baltimore, Maryland); Feb 5, 2003.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

From the Hamilton College Writing Center's Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing:

The Fifth Deadly Sin: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
Misplaced and dangling modifiers create illogical, even comical, sentences. We confuse our readers if we fail to connect modifiers (words that describe or limit other words) to the words they modify; be sure to place modifiers next to the words they modify. See the illogic in this example:

Walking back from the village, my wallet was lost. (Does your wallet walk?)
revised: Walking back from the village, I lost my wallet. (Your wallet doesn't walk, but you do.)

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that due to its placement mistakenly refers to the wrong word. The modifier truly is misplaced.

To correct a misplaced modifier, move it next to or near the word it modifies.

A fine athlete and student, the coach honored the captain of the tennis team. (The coach was not the fine athlete and student.)
revised: The coach honored the tennis team's captain, a fine athlete and student.

Limiting modifiers (only, almost, nearly, just) are commonly misplaced. To avoid ambiguity, place them in front of the word they modify.

Marsh's evidence reinforces the view that the artist only intended the images for a local audience.
revised: Marsh's evidence reinforces the view that the artist intended the images only for a local audience.
A dangling modifier is a (usually introductory) word or phrase that the writer intends to use as a modifier of a following word, but the following word is missing. The result is an illogical statement.

To fix a dangling modifier, add the missing word and place the modifier next to it.
Acting on numerous complaints from students, a fox was found near Root. (The fox did not act on the complaint.)
revised: Acting on numerous complaints from students, security found a fox near Root.

After reading the original study, the flaws in Lee's argument are obvious.
revised: Reading the original study reveals obvious flaws in Lee's argument.

Dangling modifiers go hand-in-hand with wordiness and passive voice.

Correct one and you correct them all!