Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category
I have a beef with the Oxford comma.
Just to give you the background, the Oxford comma, in addition to being the title of a Vampire Weekend song, is also called the serial comma. This is where you use a comma before the final item in a list.
For example: My desk is wooden, old, and cluttered.
Notice the comma after the word old. That, my friends, is the Oxford comma. It’s promoted in a lot of writing guides including The Chicago Manual of Style and one of my all-time favorite books – Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
This comma is so important that many writers will harangue for hours about how it’s the single most important thing that makes English readable.
I think it sucks.
I recently found crates of this item for sale at a local flea market.
I know InDesign does have spell-check, so maybe they just missed my earlier post on the one-button fix for better writing.
I can’t stand the phrase “he or she.”
You know what I’m talking about. We used to say “he” or “they” to talk about a person whose gender was unknown, but now this often shows up as “he/she” or “his or her” and no matter what form it takes, it makes me cringe.
Yesterday, I was enjoying my word-nerdery in the reference section at Barnes and Noble (a not uncommon occurrence) when my wife showed me a book – 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces.
I smiled. Then I wondered.
If we all mispronounce the same words the same way, doesn’t that mean that language is evolving and our pronunciation is actually correct? English by popular vote?
Or is our language sacred and we should learn to speak it properly?
That got me thinking about how people look at the rules of English, from sentence structure to spelling to pronunciation. Do we get laws handed down to us, or do we just speak however we want?
This is the first of my posts aimed at business writing. As the first, I thought I’d start with the easiest, quickest thing you can do to improve your communication. This is a trick that’s not just useful for marketing writing, but something you can, and should, use for just about any piece of writing you do from emails to fiction to blogs to (especially) term papers.
So what is this magic thing that can automatically improve your writing?
Even if you’re using this blog to learn English as a foreign language, you probably see the ridiculous grammar of this post’s title. You know that it should be “take a picture of us.”
No big shocker. But so often people make that same mistake when they use the “soandso and …” construction. Apparently, doing things with a friend screws with our grammar.
For instance, “Take a picture of Mike and I” is technically incorrect.
The quick explanation goes thusly:
If you leave Mike out of the sentence, you’re left with “Take a picture of I.” And you wouldn’t say that unless it was on purpose, knowing it sounded silly. So you’re still taking a picture of me (not I), but you’re just adding your buddy into the frame.
So there’s your quick test to see whether something you’re writing is grammatically correct: leave your friends behind and see if the singular pronoun of your choice makes any sense.
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