All Caps ≠ Importance

Carlotta Capilito

The building reverberated with a stentorian voice.

What is going on?” Grammar Smith was startled in mid-sentence of a report on a particularly nasty case of apostrophe abuse.

“I WANT TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN CHARGE.” The voice was getting closer – and louder.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Grammar asked Sgt. Metaphor.

“Huh?” The sergeant took earplugs out.

“What’s the fuss?”

“Oh, it’s just Carlotta Capilito. She’s here to talk to you about arrangements for the annual Composition Benefit Gala.”

Sgt. Metaphor put the earplugs back in as a tall, stately woman rounded the corner.

“ARE YOU LIEUTENANT GRAMMAR SMITH?”

“Yes.” Grammar was surprised that her hair was actually being blown back. She thought that only happened in comic books.

“I AM CARLOTTA CAPILITO, AND EVERYTHING I SAY IS IMPORTANT. I AM HERE TO DISCUSS THE GALA.”

“Right this way,” Dis Connect had appeared and was showing Carlotta to a meeting room.

Sgt. Metaphor handed Grammar a pair of earplugs, “Here. I also have some Chardonnay on ice for when the meeting’s over.”

Mystified, Grammar took the earplugs and was putting them in when she heard, “Hi, Grammar!! How have you been?! Working on this gala together is going to be great!!”

Pushing Grammar toward the meeting room, Sgt. Metaphor nodded sagely, “Eddie Exclamation is on the committee, too.”


Thanks to Roxie for inspiring this week’s entry. 🤗

The Editor’s Greatest Skill of All

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The other day, I got to thinking about what skills make an editor good. Of course, there are all the obvious ones: excellent grammar and sentence structure, comma wrangling, large vocabulary, audience analysis, strategic thinking, collaboration, and near-obsessive attention to detail.

However, the greatest ability for an editor is to ask the right questions.

Surprised? Most people think that writers are the ones who should be most concerned with questions.

If clarity is the goal of a written item (whether it be a 250-word blog post or a 200-page report), the editor must make sure the way the information is presented is understandable to readers.

If the editor is unsure, the readers won’t get it. When readers are confused, there’s miscommunication which can lead to lost time, inefficiency, and other forms of chaos.

Well written copy doesn’t usually require a lot of editorial questioning. The writer has already asked herself the questions and answered them for the reader. But, as we know, almost all copy needs some massaging since writers have a hard time remembering readers can’t see inside the writers’ heads.

That’s where editors come in. As representatives of readers, they must ask questions to make sure the message is complete and written to get the intended response.

Sometimes this requires fearlessness, especially if the writer is a superior convinced she is the latest incarnation of Shakespeare.

A large dose of tact is also essential. (Take it from someone who learned the hard way.)

So, what are these questions I speak of? Here are a few to have in your arsenal:

  • Is this what you meant? (Insert paraphrase)
  • Why is this important to include?
  • Is there a way to break up this sentence so we don’t lose the reader?
  • Is this the word you meant to use or might this (insert substitute) be clearer?
  • Can you give an example or details of what you mean here?
  • How does this connect to the rest of what you have written?
  • Is this the tone you think will be most effective?

What do you think? Are there other questions editors should ask?

Comma Wars Rage On

Just when you thought you were safely out of the Oxford (serial) comma melee, it comes back to bite with the force of legal precedence.

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute”* is the headline for a recent New York Times article.

Folks on either side of this comma issue are firmly (and vocally) supportive. Most news agencies omit the last comma in a series. Most academic style guides require it to be there.

I’m not an advocate of putting commas in all over the place. (Just because you tend to pause doesn’t mean a comma belongs there.) However, I feel the consistent use of the Oxford comma prevents confusion.  Really, in an age of electronic writing, what’s the reason for leaving it out?

No matter what side you are on, this law needed to be written more clearly.  Here is the piece of legislation:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The argument (successful as it turns out) is that “distribution” is part of the “packing for” phrase.  In my not-so-legal mind, that would require a conjunction to appear after “storing.” On the other hand, putting the comma after “shipment” would have saved everyone a whole bunch of time, effort, and money.

This just goes to prove that commas can have a huge impact on life.


*This link might not work if you’ve gone over your free limit of news stories.

Put the ‘Professional’ in Professional Writer

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***Rant Alert***

Normally, I try not to nitpick grammar when I’m reading.

  • I’ve given up trying to convince people that the past tense of the verb to lead is actually led.
  • The indiscriminate (and incorrect) use of then and than barely fazes me anymore.
  • Commas, well, the fight for their proper use is a lost cause at the best of times.

However, I get really miffed when professional writers (yes, they get paid) consistently make careless errors.

What set me off this time was the misuse of compliment when people meant complement. Seriously? How hard is it to remember that the “e” version is used when you mean something completes something? Otherwise you’re just saying something nice or giving away swag.

There were four stories last week – in such online publications as the New York Post and Forbes – that had it wrong. One story had it incorrect multiple times! Those were just the ones I tripped across.

That was the spark that ignited my latest explosion.

A piece on The Hockey Writers (my underlining) blog said a player was doing well but needed to “flush out his game.” Does that mean get rid of everything the player knows and start again? Or did the “writer” mean the player should flesh out his game? If you’re going to use an idiom, use it correctly.

Speaking of using words correctly, here is an item I came across in a South Carolina daily:

A pedestrian was killed Tuesday night after colliding with a car on U.S. 21 just south of Rock Hill, state troopers said.

Now, the verb “collide” indicates that its subject is in motion toward what it eventually hits.  This gives the unfortunate impression that the pedestrian ran toward the vehicle.

What about this sentence from a long-time sports writer at the New York Post?

The Rangers created numerous glorious opportunities off turnovers in the offensive zone and neutral zone forced by pressure and off quick puck movement off the rush.

Huh? I follow hockey, and I still can’t understand this sentence.

If you’re a professional writer, put  some effort into making your writing correct and clear. Otherwise, for heaven’s sake (not to mention the sanity of thousands of grammar geeks), get yourself a good copy editor!

 

A Fact Is a Fact Is a Fact…

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“Alternative facts” is the latest oxymoron going around Washington, D.C., these days.

There are always lots of oxymorons in our nation’s capital, but this one seems particularly appropriate to my recent item concerning precise wording.

How can a fact be anything other than a fact? The sky is blue. That’s a fact.

Whether it is a happy blue or a sad blue is a matter of conjecture.

If I said the sky is blue today but I didn’t look out my window to verify it was so, then I would be making a supposition. (How many times have you heard a weather reporter say it was a beautiful, sunny day when it was pouring rain, and you screamed, “Look out your d—-d window!”?)

This whole “alternative facts” issue is getting out of hand. Not only do people misunderstand the definition of fact, many are using “alternative facts” interchangeably with “fake news.”

Fake news is a real phenomenon and the result of consumers blindly believing the information they are fed without questioning its source or veracity. It is allowed to grow because people are unlikely to make the effort to think on their own.

I find the accusations that the New York Times is printing “fake news” hilarious. Do you think any news publication’s advertisers would stand for constant fallacies? Accuracy is the foundation of any professional news organization. What the NYT, like any other established news organization, is really doing is putting its own perspective on the news.

People, encouraged by how news is presented, are too willing to take conjecture, supposition, and opinion as fact.

It is a sad state of affairs when consumers of news aren’t thinking critically about the news they receive.

‘Momma Word’ Isn’t Always Right

I’mmother-rocking-baby no Luddite*, but I always try to understand the limitations of the technology I’m working with.

I love word processing software. It is so
helpful. It automatically cleans up my typos. It formats pages for me. It can even give me an outline to organize my material.

The problem is when it becomes too helpful and wants to do it all for me. Luckily I have the training to know when I’ve written a complete sentence Word is convinced is a fragment.  I’m capable of correct, off-the-wall spellings Word is compelled to change to a completely different word.

Honestly, if I see defiantly when definitely is the word the writer means, I’m going to swing my keyboard at somebody’s head!

No, I don’t always want a preformatted space after a paragraph.

And don’t get me started on bullets! I’ve spent far too much time fighting Word’s pre-formatted style. It isn’t what I want, but I’ve got to settle in order to get it done.

It’s like Word is telling me, “Honey, I know what’s best for your writing. You just sit right back and let Momma Word take care of it for you.”

It makes me feel like I’m a teenager struggling against the restriction of what adults “know best.”

The good thing for me is that I am experienced and practiced enough to recognize when I’m right and Word is wrong. I can find ways around it.

What worries me are all those people out there who don’t have the experience or skill to recognize there’s a problem. They let Momma Word take care of it and ignorantly go about their writing clueless to the mistakes they’re making. I think that’s why I’m so worried about artificial intelligence.

For the sake of good writing, go out, buy yourself a dictionary, and use it! Invest in a good grammar and style manual. Use them!

Don’t let Momma Word take your voice away.

* Someone who is resistant to change, especially technological change. 

Precision a Problem? Make It a Game

precision-game

“I’m fine.”

If this is the response you get when you ask someone how they are, do you really have a firm grip on her status?

Said in anger or sarcasm, the meaning may be opposite of what the words would normally make you think. Said unsurely, it could make you unsure of the person’s real status. Even if said confidently, what does “fine” really mean? Is the person healthy, happy, doing okay but not great, mentally stable, or a combination of any of these?

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, there are three entries for “fine” with a total of 16 definitions!

Using precise words helps us avoid miscommunication. The better “mind picture” we can give, the surer the success of what we say or write.

This morning, if someone asked me how I was, I might say, “The gloomy weather is trying to get me down, but it’s not succeeding.”  A week before, it might have been, “I can’t stop smiling.”

One great method for trying to drill down to a precise word, is to play a sort of word chain. Here’s an example:

workspace > desk > L-shaped computer desk with writing area

Here’s another one:

food > snack > crackers > wheat crackers with a slice of cheddar cheese

The further you get in the chain, the more precise the description. Of course, there are times when “desk” or “crackers” will suffice, but you get the drift.

We should strive for precision with verbs, too.

Alfred is trying to get his keys out versus Alfred fumbled for his keys.

The customer seemed angry versus The customer demanded to see the manager about the defective product.

The best time to play this Precision Game is when you’re revising. The better you get at it, the less people will misunderstand what you’re saying.


Technology works great — when you make sure to push all the right buttons. Unfortunately, on those days when I feel like someone poured concrete into my sinuses, those buttons sometimes get neglected. Thus the reason for my absence last week. My apologies for any confusion. ☹