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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Errors 101: ReadWriteWeb's 12 deadly grammatical errors startups must avoid

There was a great article yesterday that Michelle Turner pointed out on Facebook. This 12 Deadly Grammatical Errors Startups Must Avoid blog gives some of the most common simple errors. My favorites are "its or it's" (1) "you're or your" (6) and "flush out an idea" (9).

It's painful to see brilliant people create blog posts with grammar so confusing that you have to work at reading the post to bring out the meaning. It's worthwhile when you reach the end, but it would be so much more effective if one could easily read the content.

I also take issue with his "this does not apply to non-native English speakers." My experience has been that people who have learned English as a second language are better at English usage, as they pay more attention to the rules. My advice to non-native speakers is to keep using our language and feel free to point out errors made by native speakers, as long as you do it in a non-judgmental way.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The New Yorker lifts me up on the contraception debate, but lets me down on hyphens

I love the New Yorker magazine and its writers. It is the one magazine that I am sure to read every week; it is always written and edited well. That's why the lead article in the March 19 edition, Taking Control, in "The Talk of the Town" surprised me. [Before I digress into grammar, I will say that the editorial was spot-on. My daughter of 27 years is living in our house for a short while, and Ann and I hear the moral outrage from Claire and her friends on a regular basis. I can only hope that this outrage is widespread in the polls and has an impact on Congress and the state legislatures on election day 2012. Those contests may matter more than the presidential race if we want to break the logjam in Washington and roll back the reactionary agenda in the states. I do look forward to the time when contraception and transvaginal ultrasound are not dinner-table conversation.]

Two of my "favorite" errors appeared in this article. It seems that the writer is in the younger generation which has a slightly different perspective on the English language and grammar.

The first error is that the Latin phrase ad hominem is hyphenated. It's not supposed to be, as I noted in a recent blog on foreign phrases and hyphenation. New Yorker editorial review has caught this in the past. Just do a Google search on "ad hominem" and you'll see that this was a deviation from the common practice and editorial guidelines of the magazine.

The second error is that "teenager" is presented as a hyphenated word, "teen-ager." It occurs in the second paragraph before the end of the article, in the phrase "to become pregnant as teen-agers." Every dictionary I searched has this as a compound word, not hyphenated.

Margaret Talbot's content is always wonderful and appreciated; it is only with great fear and trepidation that I question an acclaimed writer. However, I am sure that I am correct. New [incorrect] uses of the English language have been appearing consistently in technical presentations in Silicon Valley. But this is the first time I have seen them spill over into mainstream publications.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to abuse a foreign language with a simple comma, starting with Latin

Large organizations develop their own dialects. One dialect that existed at my previous employer, Adobe, was the use of a hyphen to connect words within Latin phrases. The most common instance of this was ad hoc, which sprung up in hyphenated form, ad-hoc, in many presentations. This problem is more widespread than just one company. If you would like to see this in a Google search, try these searches for "ad-hoc", "ad-hoc mode" or '"ad-hoc"'. [To Adobe's credit, most of the hyphenated use of ad hoc is in the forums, where editorial correctness is not the main issue.] You can see that "everyone is doing it," but, as my mother used to say, that doesn't make it right. The basic rule is that foreign language phrases, such as those below, are used without hyphens. See Grammatically Correct in Google Books for more detail on this. But it makes it clear that one should "note in particular that Latin phrases never take hyphens." The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that "foreign words and phrases familiar to most readers and listed in Webster's should appear in roman (not italics) if used in an English context." The option to hyphen the words does not appear in the manual at all.

A short list of these common Latin phrases are

Wikipedia has a long categorical list of Latin phrases in case you are curious.

Let's respect foreign languages and use their phrases correctly.