Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy 50th Birthday Elements of Style!

This is a high holy day for grammarians: the 50th birthday of that slender book, The Elements of Style. Let us vow to forever enclose parenthetical expressions between commas, use the active voice, and walk in the ways of Strunk & White's gospel.

From today's New York Times:

By SAM ROBERTS The classic writing guide by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White has just been republished in a 50th-anniversary edition.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A good article about cover letters

The New York Times
JOB MARKET February 15, 2009
Career Couch: A Cover Letter Is Not Expendable
Cover letters are still necessary, and in a competitive market they can give you a serious edge.

Sometimes a period can help a lengthy sentence gain clarity

Sometimes we all write (or have to edit) sentences --- like those legendary, paragraph-long ones in The New Yorker, with interminable interjections inside dashes, that take a few too many twists and turns, that pile "which clauses" upon "who clauses" and end up making readers forget where they began, or what the point was in the first place, if there was one --- that simply go on too long.

Often, you can put a period before a "who clause" and start a new sentence with "he" or "she." Likewise with "in which" and "where" clauses can easily be turned into their own sentences. Sometimes, on inspection, you realize a comma followed by an "and" reads better as a period and a new sentence, with no need for the "and" at all.

Sometimes you realize those long appositive clauses and interjections inside dashes can be taken out and made into nice, clear sentences of their own. Often an adverbial clause floating around the middle of a sentence makes a lot more sense at the beginning.

These "sentence-shortening" skills are essential to writing for the ear (radio, TV and speeches), for children 's publications, and for Ernest Hemingway parodies. (The fish was big. He caught it. It took a long time. His hands hurt.)

Harbrace makes especially good reading on the subjects of sentence Subordination and Coordination (Chapter 24), Emphasis (Chapter 29) and Variety (Chapter 30).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Omit superfluous words, SEC style

(from "A Plain English Handbook," put out by the Security and Exchange Commission to coach financiers on making their stock offerings and other disclosure documents more comprehensible; click here to print your own copy.)

Words are superfluous when they can be replaced with fewer words that means the same thing. Sometimes you can use a simpler word for these phrases:

superfluous . . . simpler
in order to . . . . . to
in the event that . . . . . if
subsequent to . . . . . after
prior to . . . . . before
despite the fact that . . . . . although
because of the fact that . . . . . because or since
in light of . . . . . because or since
owing to the fact that. . . . . because or since

The following summary is intended only to highlight certain information contained elsewhere in this Prospectus.

This summary highlights some information from this Prospectus.

Mischievous -- so spelling and pronounced

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day


"Mischievous" /MiS-chuh-vuhs/ is so spelled.

"Mischievious" is a common misspelling and mispronunciation /mis-CHEE-vee-uhs/ -- e.g.:

o "I could not imagine them driving, getting mouthy, moody or mischievious [read 'mischievous'], let alone going to drinking parties at the homes of friends whose parents were out of town." Eleanor Mallet, "The Tranquility of School Age," Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 25 Feb. 1995.

o "Mayan Indians considered this place hell's fun house, inhabited by mischievious [read 'mischievous'] gods who had to be soothed with heaping food bowls and the occasional human sacrifice." Judith Wynn, "Lodge Guests Settle In Among Tropical Wildlife," Boston Herald, 26 Dec. 2002.

Place prepositional phrases near the words they modify

Harbrace 25a (2) : Place a modifying prepositional phrase to indicate clearly what the phrase modifies

From the News Sentinel:
"...Vineyard Productions previously made a film called 'The Witness' for the Pequot Indian Nation in East Tennessee, so the area was already was on the company's radar when locations were being scouted...."

In the sentence above, the prepositional phrase "in East Tennessee" modifies "film," and not the Pequot Indian Nation, which is, of course, based in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This is a misplaced modifying prepositional phrase.

Examples in Harbrace:
MISPLACED Arne says that he means to leave the country in the first stanza.
BETTER Arne says in the first stanza that he means to leave the country.

MISPLACED Heated arguments had often occurred over technicalities in the middle of a game.
BETTER Heated arguments over technicalities had often occurred in the middle of a game.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Minuscule -- so spelled. Who knew?

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day


So spelled, not "miniscule." The word derives from the word "minus"; it has nothing to do with the prefix "mini-." But the word is commonly misspelled — e.g.:
o "Mouth hanging open, Harry saw that the little square for June thirteenth seemed to have turned into a miniscule [read 'minuscule'] television screen." J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 242 (Am. ed. 1999).
o "Even as some people questioned the practical effect of saving such a miniscule [read 'minuscule'] portion of the state budget, they were mostly willing to forgo cynicism." Kathleen Burge, "Forgoing of Salaries Gets Mixed Reviews," Boston Globe, 2 Jan. 2003, at B5.
o "The deck is a triangle with its center angle flattened, 16 feet long and 5 or 6 feet deep. 'Tiny but useful,' said Schuyler, squeezing between the miniscule [read 'minuscule'] table and one of two chairs." Peter Hotton, "A Skinny Masterpiece Built on a Gorgeous Lot," Chicago Trib., 12 Jan. 2003, at N5.
The counterpart — a rarity — is "majuscule." Today that term is used only in printing, to denote a capital letter.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A comma usually follows introductory words, phrases, and clauses.

Harbrace 12b: A comma usually follows introductory words, phrases, and clauses.

Adverb clause, independent clause.
Introductory phrase, subject + predicate
Introductory word, subject + predicate

(1) Adverb clauses before independent clauses
When you write, you make a sound in the reader's head.
-- Russell Baker

[Rule of thumb: always use a comma with an introductory group of words that has a verb form in it.]

(2) Introductory phrases before independent clauses
Prepositional phrases:
From the deck, I could not see my father, but I could see my mother facing the ship, her eyes searching to pick me out.
-- Jamaica Kincaid

Omit the comma after introductory prepositional phrases when no misreading would result.

[Rule of thumb: use a comma after an introductory phrase of four words or more.]

(3) Introductory transitional expressions, conjunctive adverbs, interjections, and an introductory yes or no.
Furthermore, benefits include maternity leave of eight weeks . . .
Well, move the ball or move the body. -- Allen Jackson
Yes, I bought my tickets yesterday.