Bloody Well Write

January 28, 2009

RIP, Zip

Filed under: grammar,post office,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 9:46 pm
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Postal addresses: They help the mail get to us faster, in a more orderly manner. They make life for the conscientious mailer something nearing hell when they’ve gone missing. And they are the final touch on holiday cards and love letters (do folks still send love letters via snail mail or just text syllable-missing conglomerations on their iPhones?) before the stamp gets crammed in the corner. They seem vital to getting your correspondence where you want it to go. So what are those last five digits at the end of an address, anyway?

The Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) code is the system of postal codes used by the United States Postal Service (USPS). In the early ’80s, four more digits were supposed to be tacked on the end of the ZIP code, determining a more specific location, but those little buggers didn’t become mandatory. Today, postal technology scans the address and determines — with Big-Brother-like precision — the destination’s exact location, so the extra four digits are more of a nicety than anything pressing.

ZIP codes are determined according to geographic location. Each digit represents a location:
First — a certain group of U.S. states (e.g., my work ZIP code starts with 6, so the post office knows that I’m either in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri or Illinois)
Second and third — a region in that group (could be a large city)
Fourth and fifth — a group of delivery addresses within the region

U.S. ZIP code zones

U.S. ZIP code zones

The East Coast has the lowest numbers (e.g., Maine, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have ZIP codes that start with 0). The ZIP codes “grow” across the country: Florida’s ZIP code starts with 3, South Dakota’s with 5, New Mexico’s with 8 and Hawaii’s with 9 (Mahalo nui loa).

Lots of interesting info, huh? Well, here’s the real reason I decided to broach this subject: I see “Zip” everywhere. Folks, it’s ZIP. It’s an acronym, so all three letters need to be uppercase letters. No exceptions when you’re referring to the postal code system — zip, zero, zilch.

One last thing, concerning formatting: Please allow only one space before the ZIP code (e.g., Lawrence, KS 66044). Two spaces is, frankly, a weird typing habit and a waste of space. Waste not, want not, right? Right.

Newman would be so proud.

Happy trails!


January 20, 2009

Maybe Jane can, but Dick might not

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 9:50 pm
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Here are two words that are often used interchangeably, often when they shouldn’t be: may and might. Dick, Jane and Spot will be our trusty grammar assistants for this tricky subject.

Several rules exist to determine which is the correct word for the purpose. Use may when implying some sort of permission: Dick may eat blueberries while sitting at the kitchen table. Use might when implying some sort of undecided situation: Dick might eat blueberries on the white couch (but he’d be demonstrating extraordinarily poor judgment).

Along these lines, the permission factor throws a kink in the works. Sometimes, even though permission to do something has been granted, if the writing is about not doing it, may is the wrong choice.

Let’s say that Dick has permission to eat blueberries on the white couch. Horrible idea, but allowed nonetheless. And Dick (the smarty-patooty) knows that it would be a baaaad thing to do. But he wants to exercise his right to do what he wants to do, and he wants to let it be known that he — not Jane — is making the decision to not eat blueberries on the white couch; no silly rule would or woman could or would stop him. So he types his Facebook status for all his friends to read: I might not eat blueberries on the white couch. Very nicely put, Dick. For if Dick would’ve typed I may not eat blueberries on the white couch, it might be construed that he was not allowed to eat said blueberries on said white friggin’ couch, because Jane is a nit-picking neat freak. And that just isn’t the case. Dick made the decision. Dick’s the smarty-patooty. Dick knows the difference between may and might.

The likelihood of something happening is another clue to the correct word choice. If it may happen, there’s a greater chance of that thing happening: Jane may eat lunch tomorrow. If it might happen, it could come to be, but the chances are against it: Jane might eat Dick’s lame lunch tomorrow.

One last rule: Might is the past tense of may. When referring to the past, use might: Dick might have eaten blueberries on the white couch (but he told Jane that it was Spot snarfing the forbidden fruit on the ridiculous excuse for a sofa).

See Spot nowhere near couch. See Dick chomp blueberries. See Jane see Dick chomping blueberries. See Dick see Jane seeing Dick. See Dick gulp.

Spot may get doggy treats from Jane. Jane might get couch’s blueberry stains out. Dick is so in the doghouse!

Happy trails!


January 14, 2009

The ellipsis: Dot dot dot

Filed under: grammar,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 10:13 pm
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Ah, the dreaded ellipses. Misunderstood and overused, this is the mark that has its ducks — er, dots — all in a row.

How do you make an ellipsis? Keep in mind that it should be treated as a three-letter word, with a space on each side (instead of being crammed between two words). It needs its personal space as much as you do. You can use three periods all in a row, with no spaces between each period; remember, it’s just like a three-letter word. If the ellipsis is at the end of a sentence, it needs a period (just as a three-letter word would), with one space before it and no space between the ellipsis and the period, like this ….

But if you have to use an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, you might just try rewriting the sentence. For dramatic effect in a play or novel, it’s acceptable but still not that great, so use your best judgment. Ask for a second opinion. Seek counsel. Phone a friend. Make that change.

In literary or dramatic writing, the ellipsis can be used to indicate a pause in a character’s speech or thought: Bob said, “I want roasted garlic, sautéed artichokes and … um … well, let’s see … maybe caramelized onions on my pizza.” Overusing the ellipsis in this function can become tiresome to the reader, though, so unless you’re writing the next Great American Novel or Play (or Musical — let’s not be snobbish), use the mark in this fashion sparingly.

In just about any kind of writing, the ellipsis can show an omission of words: Fish don’t … in the kitchen. Beans don’t … on the grill. Not that you would leave those particular words out; the sentences are simply too short for an omission to be worth it. But if you were to quote Abe Lincoln or Jimmy Carter or — on a lark — George W. Bush, and you wanted to eliminate a portion of text without altering the meaning of the quote (which is the responsible and expected thing to do), an ellipsis or two would be completely acceptable.

An important note about this little piece of punctuation: Use sparingly. And I mean sparingly. I mentioned it earlier in this entry, but it’s worth repeating. If a hard copy of your work is going to be produced, try eliminating every ellipsis. It makes for more refined copy and easier reading.

And in headlines? No way, no how. Don’t do it. Rewrite.

OK, so one little sucker has made it through your editing process and you want to insert it into your Word document. How? Well, if you’re on a Mac, you’ve got a handy shortcut: Press the option and semicolon keys at the same time. Presto! Ellipsis inserted. If you’re on a PC, I think the path is Alt+0133. Don’t sue me if that’s wrong. I’m a Mac gal and did light research on the Net for the PC answer, and you know how reliable the Net can be.

Oh, my. I almost typed an ellipsis right there, after “… can be”! Which leads me to add sarcasm as a possible motive to use an ellipsis, as well as demonstrating the proper way to show omission of text for brevity. And I respect written sarcasm as much as the next but, as I mentioned earlier, something going to print doesn’t really need ellipses. Not that you’re going to print this out and laminate it, but still. It’s out there in cyberspace, so forget it. And please don’t comb through previous postings to see if there are any offenders; there very well may be. But I’m living and learning like the rest of you.

An occasional, well-placed ellipsis is fine. Just not in a headline — ever. Yes, worth repeating.

One last thing: I use ellipses like crazy in personal e-mails (hell, in work e-mails, too). But I don’t use ’em in my writing or editing. Seems as if a lot of my girlfriends pepper their e-mails with the little buggers, too, so maybe it’s a girl thing, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Happy trails!


January 7, 2009

You betcha

Filed under: grammar,Jajo — bloodywellwrite @ 10:58 pm
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It’s been brought to my attention that there is some confusion around the office about when to use “yea” instead of “yeah” and vice versa. I threw “yay” into the mix, as well. Total anarchy almost ensued.

Here’s my take on the three Y’s.

Use this if you’re trying to sound like you’re in a courtroom (“Hear ye, hear ye. The yeas have it — free upper-back massages for everyone!”) or if you’re trying your hand at back-in-the-day readings (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall wear supportive shoes”).

This is the lazy — er, offhanded — way of saying “yes.” My mom gave me years of grief for saying “yeah” (“yeow” as she gawkily pronounced it for emphasis), to no avail. I still say it constantly. Doesn’t make it right. I get that. My bad. But unless you’re in the stuffiest of situations, such as suffering through a job interview (and it’s up to you to judge the stuffiness of the interviewer) or giving a political acceptance speech to your constituency (not à la “Is you is or is you ain’t my constituency?”), “yeah” is perfectly acceptable.

This is the exclamatory way to say, “Right on!” “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” “Woohoo!” “Flippin’ genius!” or “Oh, snap!” You get the drift.

As an aside, it’s the nature of the English language to be completely difficult to comprehend. For every rule, there seems to be 18 different exceptions. So goes it for the 3 Y’s.

Think about the “yea” definition I provided. If it’s “The yeas have it,” why is the negative side of that chant “The nays have it”? Why not “The neas have it”? That’s bogus English for you. And I don’t have a reasonable explanation. Irks me to no end. If you happen to know the answer, send it my way.

That’s the end of today’s rant. Yay!

Happy trails!


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