Weekend Wrinkle: Another Adventure Begins

Everyone loves new things – new cars, new clothes, even new semesters.

business writing welcome documentYes, it’s the beginning of another semester, and this year I get the opportunity to teach a course on business communications. I’m really excited about it because it is the perfect platform to proselytize about good writing.

I think it’s great because it lets me relearn concepts I may have forgotten and even investigate some new ones.

One of the icebreakers I ask my students during the first class is, “What is your dream job and why?” I realize that I’m living part of my dream every day. I get to write and share and find new ways to spread the excitement of writing.

I even love the challenge of getting my students to understand and appreciate (if not love) grammar.

If I can pass on just a fraction of my enthusiasm to my students, I will consider my job well done. I’ll have helped send another group of effective communicators into the world of business and, hopefully, to success.

Happy start of the semester, all!


Weekend Wrinkle: Don’t Throw Grammar Stones

Although there are many (too many) times I cringe while reading something poorly written on the Internet, I try to make it a policy not to pick too much on specific people or sites.  The one exception is people who profess themselves as writing experts but who make awful, repeat mistakes.

Hey, I’m not perfect. I know that the minute I throw a grammar stone at someone is the minute I’ll make a stupid error and have a mountain of righteous writers descend upon me.

On the other hand, here are some examples I don’t mind tossing a few pebbles at:

If you're going to talk about writing good headlines, it's a good idea to make your sentences short, clear, and error-free.

If you’re going to talk about writing good headlines, it’s a good idea to make your sentences short, clear, and error free.

This self-professed journalist should not only have corrected the mechanical errors, he should have written intelligible sentences.

This self-professed journalist should not only have corrected the mechanical errors, he should have written intelligible sentences.

Here's a tip: make the first sentence clear and understandable.

Here’s a tip: make the sentences — especially the first one — clear and understandable. (Avoiding sentence fragments is a good idea, too.)

A classic case of why people shouldn't harp too much on other people's mistakes. (Seems like a case of auto correct gone wild.)

A classic case of why people shouldn’t harp too much on other people’s mistakes. (Maybe we can blame it on a case of auto correct gone wild.)

I think I’ll put my “blue pen of shame” away now while I’m ahead.

Weekend Wrinkle: Are Those Real?

dog on fifty dollar billHey, don’t tell anyone, but lots of people are using, well, fake words.

I know! Shocking. But, since English is the linguistic equivalent of Play-Doh, it’s a given that this is bound to happen. It’s even acceptable – sometimes.

Words like denim, boondocks, and albatross are adaptations from other languages that have become part of the English lexicon. Then there are the modern made-up words like blogosphere, hyperlocal, and all the “e” words (email and ezine for example).

Making up words isn’t new. Remember the Jabberwocky? In fact, there’s a new word, sniglet, for a neologism (which means a word that is a made up).

On the other hand, here are a few fake words that we should never use (unless, of course, you’re trying to drive a grammar geek insane or possibly to violence):

  • Alright is really two words, all right.
  • Alot again is two words if you mean many and misspelled if you mean distribute.
  • Conversate? What the heck is that? You either have a conversation or you converse with someone.
  • Nother is another trickster. Most of the time, we mean another or other as in, “We went to another country and experienced a whole other culture.”
  • Hisself and theirself are totally fabricated reflexive pronouns. The correct forms are himself and themselves.
  • Irregardless could possibly get you hurt by roving gangs of militant grammarians if what you really mean is regardless.

Why do some made-up words become acceptable to use and others face the relentless wrath of wordsmiths everywhere? Got me. The gods of the lexicon are a fickle crew.

Weekend Wrinkle: 3 Phrases I Avoid

Some phrases give me a migraine.

headache clipartEnglish is such a mishmash of other languages that many expressions get misused. They muddy our writing and sometimes make us look like buffoons. Often it’s tough to decide whether common use has made them legitimate, so I usually duck the issue altogether and look for alternatives.

Near Miss and Near Hit

I used to think that “near miss” meant that something was actually hit as in “nearly missed.” However, if we think of “near” as an adjective (meaning in close proximity) for the noun “miss,” we can logically see it is a miss, but it was darn close. Same thing goes for “near hit.”

However, there is much contention about this in the grammarsphere. My policy? Avoid these phrases altogether and use something else like “narrow escape” or “barely successful.”

(Apparently, Thesaurus.com thinks these two are synonyms. Arghhh!)

Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Grammar bluebloods will tell you that “nauseous” is used when something causes or evokes sickness. For example, odors, murder scenes, and horrendous misuse of the English language can be nauseous. Purists will tell you that “nauseated” is what I feel when I see butchered writing.

However, common usage is making these two words interchangeable. The solution for me is to say, “This writing makes me feel ill!”

I Could Care Less

This means that people care, but they could make the effort to not care as much. If we mean this is something that doesn’t even enter into our thinking, “I could care less” is just wrong! The correct phrase is, “I couldn’t care less.”

In this case, I avoid using the incorrect phrase and make sure I’m putting in that all-important negative.

To keep myself out of the medicine chest, I will practice avoidance and use another phrase when faced with an “iffy” expression. What’s your strategy?

Weekend Wrinkle: One Word or Two?

At the urging of Mona the dog (head cheerleader), DC the cat (chief scheduler – mealtimes must not be ignored!), and several human friends, we have decided the weekend should start early. As a result, I am moving Weekend Wrinkle to Thursdays.


“I dunno,” Dis Connect scratched his head. “Should it be one word or two?”

“It depends on how you’re using it,” Grammar Smith noted.

The culprit was backyard.

“If you’re talking about the yard in the back of a house, it’s two words: back yard,” Grammar explained. “If you’re using it to describe something else, then it’s one word: backyard grill.

This is a problem many writers seem to have; when should a word actually be two words? This comes into play when we’re using a compound adjective to describe a noun. In that case, the two words should be one.

Everyday is being misused again,” the dispatcher notified Grammar.

She sighed. She was tired of tracking down such blatant mistakes. She couldn’t understand what motivated writers to get this wrong so often.

Writers strive to write something every day. In this instance, “every” is an adjective describing the noun “day.”

Intense tapping on the computer’s keyboard for hours is an everyday occurrence. In this instance, “everyday” is a compound adjective describing the noun “occurrence.”

Grabbing her trench coat and hat, Grammar walked out into the misty back yard to track down an everyday error.

Weekend Wrinkle: A Few of My Favorite Posts

This is my 100th Writing-Insight-Success post, and I thought I’d celebrate by counting down my favorite top 10 posts.

Here they are, building up to the post I like the best:

10) Editors Against Passive Voice

9) Tales of a Deadline Junkie

8) Neglected Adverbs Seek Safe Haven 

7) From Grammar Geek to Grammar Freak

6) Failure, My BFF

5) Hard Copy and History

4) The Power of Emotion: Tapping into the Dream

3) Dissecting the Editor

2) The Case of the Oxford Comma

1) Books – An Impossible Addiction to Kick

Weekend Wrinkle: Punctuation & Road Signs

PunctuationandroadsignsHow many of us can’t seem to use punctuation marks correctly? How many believe they won’t ever get it right?

Now, how many have passed their driver’s test?

Punctuation is a lot easier if you think of the different marks as different road signs. Of course, there are rules to go along with these signs, rules we ignore at our peril. On the other hand, sometimes we don’t always strictly follow the rules. (Take it from a “lead foot.”)

stopsignPeriods [.]are like stop signs. They bring the reader to a complete stop.

Exclamation points [!] are like caution signs.caution

crossroadsQuestion marks [?] are like crossroads signs.

Commas [,] are like yield signs.yieldsign

Semicolons [;] and colons [:] are like four-way stops. allwaystop

detourParentheses [()] are like detour signs.

Dashes [–] are like lane shifts.lanneshift

Okay, so you get the basic idea. It’s not a perfect system, but it’ a good way for me to remember proper punctuation.

Weekend Wrinkle: The Day We Broke Away

Independence: freedom from outside control or support.

I like to read definitions in dictionaries and, since it’s almost July 4, I thought I’d reacquaint myself with the reason for the holiday.

It is important to remember that those brave (or crazy, depending on your viewpoint) colonists sought freedom from the tyrannical rule of a monarch, George III, and a Parliament that refused to allow them representation.

Basically, there was a whole bunch of British citizens who were sick and tired of being treated unfairly and having no say in how they were governed or taxed. Most didn’t want to totally break away from Britain but wanted their rights as citizens to be respected.

Unfortunately, King George III pretty much saw the New World as an income stream and, since he had the greatest fighting force in the world, didn’t care what the colonists thought.

Eventually, American colonists were willing to fight a war for an unprecedented concept. They wanted self-determination; they wanted responsibility for their own lives; they wanted rule by the people.

The Declaration of Independence (we celebrate its adoption) was a remarkable document and a prelude to remarkable political change. Ordinary people didn’t tell their monarchs to take a hike. It just wasn’t done!

But that one document, signed by a group of influential men, told King George III, “You don’t respect us anymore, so we don’t need you or want you in our lives. We’ll make our own decisions, thank you very much.”

It was nothing shy of miraculous that the colonists went on to successfully repel the king’s military attempts to retain control.

It was a pivotal point in history, but we can’t delude ourselves that it was easy. The aftermath of the Revolution was chaotic and could easily have led to a very different outcome.

George Washington could have chosen to become a king (a position he was offered) or to serve more than just two terms as president. The Federalist Papers, which convinced everyone that ratifying the Constitution was a good idea, may never have been written. Lots of events could have been different and could have drastically changed the government we now know.

It is fitting we celebrate breaking the bonds of tyrannical control with loud noises and massive showers of light. We should be joyful. It took great courage to take that step of independence; it takes courage and vigilance to maintain it.

Happy Birthday, America!

Weekend Wrinkle: Some Summer Boredom Survival Tips

“I’m bored!

It seems like five minutes after school ends for the summer, we hear this unceasing chorus.

Adults wonder how kids, with a seemingly endless supply of activities before them, can even think this let alone constantly declare it.

We scour our brains trying to figure out what to do to keep our kids occupied. If we’re clever, we can sneak in some learning when they’re not looking. How can we encourage budding writers without making it seem like torture?

I’ve always been a big reader and fondly remember trips to the library as the highlight of my summer. Of course, today’s kids are much less likely to read. However, libraries offer all kinds of activities that we can tap into. Most of them are free or really inexpensive.

Turning off the TV and reading some books together is an option although maybe not totally workable. I recently read the Percy Jackson series so I could have something to talk about with a younger generation. Unfortunately, no young person I know has read them. But we could have a discussion about how the books differ from the movies.

The big buzz in training these days is “gamification,” but savvy parents have had this figured out for years. Games make learning fun.

How does this apply to building writing skills? Well, a game like “20 Questions” can spark curiosity and analytical skills. Encouraging kids to think of as many words as they can to describe an object or a picture in a set amount of time can increase descriptive skills and vocabulary.

There’s always the ever popular and creativity sparking revolving story where one person starts a story and others in the group pick up and continue the plot line. (This is really effective when sitting around a campfire and the subject is something creepy.)

“Tell me about Frozen. What was it about and why did you like it?”

A question like this, and follow up questions, can help children build organizational and critical thinking skills – things essential to good writing. But, parents, you really need to listen patiently and give children a chance to organize out loud.

These things aren’t going to completely solve the “I’m bored” problem, but they can help build better writing skills in children without them ever realizing what’s happening.

Weekend Wrinkle: Under My Father’s ‘Chestnut Tree’

Dad and I on vacation several  years (decades?) ago.
Dad and I on vacation several years (decades?) ago.

Dads are like trees.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I was thinking about my dad, and this simile popped into my head.

Dads are the runners-up in the honor department. Moms usually get the glory things like breakfast in bed, flowers, dinner at a nice restaurant, cards, candy, and grimy hugs and kisses. Yes, they deserve it.

What do fathers get? Maybe a card and a hideous tie.

When I think of life with my father, I realize he provided a solidness, a steadfastness that I usually took for granted. I didn’t worry about whether we would have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, or clothes on our backs. My dad was out there killing himself, sometimes working three jobs, to make sure we were provided for.

And what did he get for it? A lot of times, especially when I was a teenager, all he got was abuse. It is amazing how quickly my father became a genius when I started living on my own. All those things he taught me have paid off big time: you can’t get anywhere without persistence, you’ll always get caught lying, spend less than you make, always put your best effort into things, and think before you act.

My dad has had a huge effect on me and how I look at the world. His influence manifests itself every time I push through and finish something I’m working on, every time I take another torturous step forward when I want to run away.

He never complained about the sacrifices he made for his family. We forget sometimes that our parents are people, too. How much different life must have been for a twenty-something-year-old man before he had his first child! Not that fatherhood was a bad thing, but it probably terrified him.

No matter what life threw at him, Dad was always strong, at least in front of us. He has always been someone we could lean on.

The funny thing is that I look around at other fathers – my husband, my brother, my son-in-law – and I see the same qualities. Biology is not a requisite for fatherliness. The person who provides love, strength, protection, and guidance is a father in my book.

During a recent conversation, my dad said the one thing he regrets is that he didn’t spend enough time with us. He was always working.

“These days, fathers are much more involved in their children’s lives,” he said. “That’s a really good thing.”

So why are fathers like trees? They provide protection (leaves) and food (nuts or fruit). They are always there to lean on. They stay strong despite the storminess of life. They take a lot of abuse. They do it all without fanfare.

My advice? Go out and hug a tree — oops, I mean “father” — today!