Bloody Well Write

March 27, 2009

Flier? Flyer?

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Those annoying papers that get stuck under your windshield wiper. The free-spirited pilot who likes to go sky sailing on weekends. The wildly painted bus that rumbles down the road. They all are called fliers. Or flyers. Or Flyers.

Well, which is it?

Trusty AP Stylebook guidelines to the rescue! (Please keep in mind that what’s below does not jibe with Merriam-Webster’s definitions; why, I do not know, but I follow AP, so there you go.)

Flier = one who flies (as in an aviator) or a handbill (such as what you find on your windshield when you leave the grocery store)

Flyer = a proper name for certain trains or buses (e.g., American Flyer trains, Washington Flyer bus).

That’s it. Simple. And simple is good.

Happy trails!



March 23, 2009

Got brackets?

Filed under: grammar,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 7:18 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

March Madness is upon us. Everyone’s running around with severe basketball fever, prized brackets in hand, hoping to win that elusive pot of pooled office money.

Brackets. What a strange word. Say it five times, and fast. Clunky, huh? No wonder the madness is limited to a few weeks out of each year. Now, try to apply brackets, as punctuation marks, within a written document. Ugh. Just as in the basketball crapshoot, brackets in grammar are also limited in use. Luckily, there are very few associated rules to memorize.

Brackets are used sparingly when a clarifying word or comment is inserted into a quotation; they also show that you know the original author spelled something incorrectly or used improper grammar:

• My [Steven Tyler’s] get-up-and-go must have got up and went.
• My get-up-and-go must of [sic] got up and went.
• I met Steven Tyler back in the day [1988] in Kansas City; he’s one cool cat.

Sic, by the way, means thus in Latin and should be used sparingly to show that the mistake in the sentence is due to the original writer’s words, not your typo.

You can also use brackets as parentheses inside a parenthetical statement: (If you get my drift [and I think that you do], you see what I mean.)

If you write for a newspaper, you already know that brackets cannot be transmitted over news wires, so you know to either use parentheses or rewrite the material. If you don’t write for the paper and still want to use brackets, please do. Just use ’em sparingly.

And if you’re using the basketball variety of brackets, I have one thing to say: Rock chalk, baby!!!

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk — Go, KU!

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk — Go, KU!

Happy trails!


March 19, 2009

That’s potent!

Filed under: AP Stylebook,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 10:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

I had no idea.

Adrenalin is a trademark for the synthetic or chemically extracted forms of epinephrine, a substance produced by the adrenal glands. (That’s a direct quote from the AP Stylebook, 42nd Edition.)

If you want to simplify matters by avoiding the trademark, use epinephrine hydrochloride or adrenaline instead.

Just goes to show: You learn something new every day.

Happy trails!


March 16, 2009

What’s in a name?

A name is a person’s identity. Screw it up in copy and you’ll earn the ire of said person and any of said person’s true friends. Let’s cover the basics so that you can save yourself some angst and make the person (or animal or company) you’re writing about a happy camper:

• Use the person’s first and last name (and middle if he or she requests it) on first reference. Use the last name only on subsequent mentions.

• When referencing two people with the same last name (say you’re interviewing a married couple — Bob and Bobbie Bobbins), use first and last names on every mention to avoid confusion.

• When referring to young people (i.e., under 18), use their first name on subsequent mentions as long as the story or copy is not ultraserious (i.e., if they didn’t just commit a serious crime).

NOTE: The AP Stylebook has a rule about using first names for those under 15 and last names for those 18 and older; if the child is 16 or 17, AP says to use the surname unless it’s a light-hearted story. Why do 16- and 17-year-olds get this separation? I don’t get it. Maybe because if they commit a serious crime, they are more likely to be tried as an adult since they are so close to being 18. I don’t write for a newspaper, so I think that the “under or over 18” distinction is plenty good enough for other types of writing that don’t deal with this sort of issue. Anyway, I’d be a little leery of using a little kid’s real name (especially the first name) very often — especially if there is a picture attached. There are nutzos out there and anything we can do to make the realization of their intentions more difficult is a good thing.

• Do not add a space between two initials, such as J.R. Ewing (not J. R. Ewing) and B.B. King. Why? Because typesetting can unwittingly cause one initial to stay on the tail end of a line and the other initial to land at the beginning of the next line — and that would look like poop.

• Team names and band names (take this one with a grain of salt and a raspberry margarita if you can) — according to AP, team and band names take plural verbs, even if it sounds weird. It should be The Wichita Wings are playing tonight, The Wichita Wind are not playing tonight, The Cult are an amazing band (with a fantastic lead singer) and The White Stripes rock like mad.

The Cult — Electric (released April 1987)

The Cult — Electric (released April 1987)

NOTE: This rule is a hard one to follow, in my opinion (and I think Bill Walsh would agree with me, since he wrote the following on Page 170 of his book “Lapsing Into a Comma”:

Follow the usual rules of subject-verb agreement when confronted with one of those newfangled singular collective team names that seem to be especially popular in Florida. (Let’s see, we have the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the non-Florida Colorado Avalanche and Utah Jazz, and too many teams to mention in the newer leagues, such as soccer and women’s basketball.)

Wrong: The New Jersey Sludge are 7-0.
Right: The New Jersey Sludge is 7-0.

Yes, it sounds odd, but it sounds even more odd to trash logic in favor of consistency and make all teams plural. … Band names work the same way: The Beatles were great. The Who was great.

What’s my recommendation? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: I follow the AP Stylebook on just about everything, but when a question arises, I defer to Bill Walsh. I suggest that you do the same.

• An animal with a given name is referred to as a he or a she. If you don’t know the name of the dog that bit the mailman, that dog is referred to as an it.

Mom and Dad are uppercase when you’re writing about them as if those were their names: Mom let me bake cookies. Mom, let me bake cookies! The dog ate Dad’s cookie. Lowercase them when they are not name substitutes: I gave my mom a frog. My dad thought it was funny.

• Articles and prepositions with three or fewer letters are typically lowercase in proper names of movies, books, companies and such. This means that, despite what everyone says about lowercasing the t in that or the w in with, words with four or more letters are uppercase: “Gone With the Wind,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Naturally, it wouldn’t be a part of the English language if it didn’t have a few exceptions:

• When the short word begins or ends the name or title: “On the Road,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “That’s What Friends Are For.”

• When confusion would reign: Dexy’s Midnight Runners had a hit with “Come On Eileen.” Lowercase that O and there are some serious questions raised (not that they weren’t raised by every teenager within earshot anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing). No comma in that title just ups the ante for the uppercase O. “Fiddler on the Roof” doesn’t need an uppercase O (or T, for that matter) because it is what it is; there’s no confusion about the meaning.

• Names of people and companies, when they are being written by those very people or companies, can be capitalized whichever way they choose. If a man named Ebenezer wants to capitalize every other letter of his name, EbEnEzEr  — or eBeNeZeR — can go crazy with the shift key. When you’re the one writing about a person or company, however, stick with conventional capitalization. E.E. Cummings is good. e.e. cummings is weird. “Thirtysomething” (besides being an awesome show that taught me what I had to look forward to in my 30s) is fine to start a sentence; don’t lowercase the initial T just because the show’s logo had it that way. If you tried to follow the style of every logo out there, you’d be an amazing typist, for sure. Just stick with what you learned in grade school: If it starts a sentence, it gets a capital letter. Start a sentence with Ebay and you get a gold star for the day. Start a sentence with eBay and you’re catering.

You used grammar correctly! You get a YAY for the Day!

You used grammar correctly!

• Triple-check the spelling of names. As a gal who spent 35 years as an Abderhalden and had to spell both first and last names each and every time to each and every George and Georgette out there, take it from me: Seeing your name in print correctly is about as big a thrill as any. A spelling gaffe just makes the rest of your work seem sloppy.

That’s it for a happy Monday.

Happy trails!


March 10, 2009

Avert the apostrophe catastrophe

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar,Jajo,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 6:47 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

That tiny, seemingly innocuous punctuation mark: The apostrophe is the bane of so many writers’ existence. The rules on its correct use tend to flip-flop depending on which style guide is followed or which side of the bed the writer rolled out of that morning. Of course, all things being equal (!) and my my-way-or-the-highway logic, I suggest following the AP Stylebook on this — and nearly every other — punctuation snafu.

Add an ‘s to form the possessive of most singular and proper nouns, even when they end in a z or an x:

• Bear’s honey
• Jazz’s impact
• Max’s dinner
• Substance’s properties
• Trance’s hold

Exceptions occur when doing so would result in a difficult-to-pronounce s or z sound:

• Xerxes’ statue
• Moses’ journey
• For conscience’ sake (no ending s since the following word starts with an s)
• For appearance’ sake (no ending s since the following word starts with an s)

To form plurals into the possessive case, add ’s to words that do not end in an s and a lone apostrophe to those that do:

Women’s rights
• Data’s fallibility
• Spectators’ applause
• Witnesses’ testimony

To show joint possession, add ’s to the last member of the compound group; to show separate possession, add ’s to each member:

• Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure really happened, dude.
• Bill’s and Ted’s excellent adventures were astoundingly similar. Gnarly.

To show one or more deleted letters or numbers, add an apostrophe: It’s (It is), you’re (you are), they’re (they are), ’tis the season (it is the season), ne’er-do-well (never-do-well), mac ’n’ cheese (yummy), summer of ’67 (1967), the roaring ’20s (1920s). Please use with caution, as puttin’ a lot of ’em in yo’ writin’ can make y’ur writin’ seem like y’ur 8 years ol’, from the back country or from the ’hood (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you get my drift).

To show the plural of a single letter, use an apostrophe: Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Root for the Oakland A’s.

For you detail-crazy font-watchers, pay attention to the shape of the mark itself. There’s a difference between a curly apostrophe () and a straight one (). Although the vast majority of folks wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, the curly (aka “smart”) apostrophe and quotation marks should be reserved for words and quotations: He murmured, “Let’s get some tacos.” Use the straight (aka “dumb”) apostrophe and quotation marks strictly for measurements and dimensions: He’s 6′ 2″.

Caveat lector: See those straight marks? No? In the height of the guy above: He’s 6′ 2″. The foot and inch marks may or may not have shown up correctly on your computer as straight marks. The funny thing is that I wrote this entire article, blabbing about smart quotes, and didn’t realize I had an issue until I was previewing the document before hitting the Publish button. On my screen, none of the so-called smart quotes are true smart quotes; they are not curly, but simply angled. Well, that is a big problem with Internet writing. I asked one of the IT guys I work with about it, and he said that to get straight quotes consistently in an Internet-based document, I would have to jump through all sorts of computer hoops. Something about coding. And coding, my friends, is Greek to me. So — use your imagination. Those suckers are meant to be straight marks, vertical through and through.

Better yet, use those straight marks only in ultratechnical data. Otherwise, the AP Stylebook suggests writing out the dimensions: He is 6 feet 2 inches tall.

Unless you happen to have a crafty IT guy/gal at the ready, the easiest way to have smart quotes flow seamlessly into your copy is to go to the Preferences menu (AutoCorrect) of your word processing or design application and activate the “smart quotation marks” feature; they will be automatically substituted in newly typed text. Triple-check your work if you import text or copy and paste from somewhere else, though, because you may have to replace the dumb quotes manually.

If your smart quotes are not activated, you can find them another way if you snoop around your computer just a bit:

If you’re on a Mac, they are under Insert, Symbol …; just hunt, click, insert and — PRESTO! — straight mark, just as requested.
If you’re on a PC, go buy a Mac. Kidding.* (Since I’m a Mac gal, I’m not sure how to manually change straight quotes to curly on a PC — hey, I don’t lie.) Check your manual, or use the above-mentioned smart quotes feature.

OK, thats it for today. Hope you enjoyed this little romp through the apostrophes.

Happy trails!


*Only kind of.

March 4, 2009

The exclamation point: What the …!

Exclamation points are fun — but they are potent. Just as you would use caution with anything fun but potent, please use these sons of guns sparingly and with care.

The exclamation point expresses a strong degree of surprise, incredulity or other emotion:

• Boo!
• Holy cow! That is one large ball of twine.
• Schnikies — that was a fun party!
• I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair!
• Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy! (OK, so it doesn’t work so well here, but check this out.)
• I won the flippin’ lotto!!! (If this is the case, and you happen to be writing out the statement, by all means, feel free to use more than one exclamation point to get your enthusiasm across. For most cases, however, one will suffice.)

Placement with quotation marks
The exclamation point goes inside the quoted material when it refers to that material: “We’re having smashed potatoes and cheese wheels for dinner and you’re gonna like it!” he exclaimed.

It goes outside the quotation marks when it doesn’t refer to that material: I love reading “The Scarlet Pimpernel”!

Other punctuation
The exclamation point stands alone when it comes to ending sentences. Do not add a comma or period after an exclamation point. No matter what.

Placement in advertising
Don’t do it. Much like the sunburst in lame advertisements, it cheapens your product.

Usage: single vs. multiple
If you’ve ever received an e-mail from me, you’ll know that I use this punctuation mark almost as often as I inhale. It’s a habit I’m trying to break, but I’ve at least kept it out of any kind of serious writing (i.e., what I do for a living). People must have outlets, I say, so exclam away in your e-mails — if it doesn’t offend too many people. Just make sure to limit your !!! to the most casual of instances.

Happy trails!


March 3, 2009

Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma chameleon

Man. If ever a piece of punctuation brought out the über-moxie in people (usually wordsmiths of some sort, but frankly, all sorts of folks fit in this ire-inspiring category), the comma is it. It’s complicated. It follows several rules and then breaks them with a wink and a smile. It’s the top dog in the you’re-crazy-if-you-think-you-can-get-away-with-putting-that-THERE contest.

All sorts of stylebooks and writing guides have their own (slightly different) version of the comma rules. Since journalists tend to follow the AP Stylebook, and since most “ordinary” folks are familiar with journalistic writing (via newspapers and magazines), here’s the skinny on how to use the comma according to AP regulations.

Generally, commas correspond to the pauses we use in our speech to separate ideas and to help avoid ambiguity. Place a comma:

• Before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet) that joins two independent clauses, unless the clauses are short or have no internal punctuation: John would have gone to the store, but he couldn’t find his pants. John would have gone to the store if he had his pants, for he was completely out of strawberry milk, but his car keys were in his pocket, and his boxers were a little too shabby to wear in public.

• Around a nonrestrictive phrase — a phrase that can be deleted w/o changing the meaning of the sentence: The power of any vampire, whether practiced or inexperienced in blood-sucking, depends upon an invitation into the victim’s home.

• To separate members of a coordinate series of words, phrases or clauses if all the elements are not joined by coordinating conjunctions*: To make a proper mud pie, you need water, mud, a bowl and a stick.

*Notice that there is NOT a comma directly before the “and.” This is in accordance with AP Stylebook regulations. If you ask me, though, I think the AP folks are out of their grammatical minds. MLA’s version (comma before the and in a series) is the right and obviously morally correct way to do things, in my not-so-humble and loudly typed opinion; always using the comma before the and clears up every ambiguous instance. But AP rules the proverbial roost, so I enforce the lack of the comma in my work. I’ve even stopped cursing the AP gods under my breath every time I see the situation in copy. Apparently, time is the ultimate healer.

• Before the concluding conjunction in a series if an element in that series includes a conjunction: Sue ordered a greyhound, a whiskey sour, a wheat beer, and a gin and tonic that night. (Some would argue that the second and, joining gin and tonic, should be changed to an ampersand (&). AP, and thus I, argues against it; the ampersand should only be used if it’s officially in the name of something, such as a company (e.g., Johnson & Johnson).

My parting gift to you: One way to tell whether or not you need a comma between adjectives is to consider the weight of each adjective. Try to add an and between the adjectives. If it works and still makes sense, the comma is necessary: a small, red dog = a small and red dog. If it doesn’t, the comma doesn’t belong: He went to a large public school (no comma after large).

And one last thing: Please don’t give me too much grief about the title of this entry. It is quite obvious, I know, but I couldn’t help myself. I grew up, in part, in the ’80s, so please don’t taunt me too much about my silly, nostalgic pun. My inner child will thank you for it.

Happy trails!


Blog at