Bloody Well Write

November 12, 2009

Died vs. was killed

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 10:11 am
Tags: , , ,

OK, so this isn’t the most fun entry to write; it still needs to be addressed, so here goes.

Everyone alive is going to die. That’s just how it is. Not fun, but accurate. However, not everyone alive is going to be killed.

That’s very good news.

The bad news is that those who are killed are the very unfortunate ones who die violently and at the hand of at least one very uncool person. And that is, indubitably, putting it mildly.

Let’s take a look at Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” The storyteller says that he shot the sheriff — but it was self-defense. Self-defense or no, if the sheriff dies due to complications from being shot, that would be considered dying a violent death, in which case anyone writing about it could write, “The sheriff was killed.”

So what about the deputy? Did he (assuming that the deputy’s a male) also die? Did he see the sheriff go down and freaked out so much that he went into cardiac arrest right then and there? If so, he died; he wasn’t killed.

Or is there more to the story? Did he get shot, as well? Did the storyteller shoot the deputy but is now lying about it? Or was there a second shooter? Did anyone check the bullet’s exit wound? Where’s the grassy knoll? If this scenario is valid, then he died, but he was also killed.

As the worst of two evils, killed trumps died.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that John Doe has an incurable disease and passes away from complications of that disease. This means that John has died.

Now let’s say that John has an incurable disease and is walking down the sidewalk to his umpteenth visit with his physician when he gets hit by a car driven by his ex-girlfriend, who just can’t get over him and thinks that he has been stepping out on her (she’s a lunatic, mind you). She thinks that all of John’s visits to the female doctor have been dates, and this ex has had it. So she’s decided to sideswipe John. After all, if she can’t have him, nobody can. So John is hit by the car and dies from his injuries. This means that, yes, John has died, but John has been killed.

I suppose you could argue that certain diseases are violent. I’d probably agree with you and say that just about any way to die is violent; I’m avoiding the whole death thing as best as I can. But it’s up to writers to use distinguishing language that gets across exactly what is meant. Hazy definitions are for weathermen, not writers.

It’s all in the details, folks.

So, to overkill a topic:

Died = nonviolent death
Was Killed = violent death

Happy trails!

SAK

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October 28, 2009

Pet peeve No. 17: honestly, to tell you the truth and other questionable truisms

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 1:15 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Believe you me, I hear — or see in print — those seemingly innocuous little words and phrases, such as honestly, sincerely, frankly, to tell you the truth and believe me, a lot. And when I say a lot, I really mean a lot.

I’m probably guilty of using a few of them in writings. Why? Not sure, really. Perhaps I was trying to emphasize something. To prove that I absolutely knew what I was writing about. To seem über-sincere. To up my word count for ENGL 726.

No matter. I didn’t fool anyone worth fooling. I absolutely didn’t fool my ENGL 726 professor.

The point is, truly (!), that whenever I come across one of those words or phrases these days, I automatically doubt the rest of the story. If it must begin with To tell the truth, what else am I supposed to believe but that everything that has come before is of questionable validity? You’ve been spoon-feeding me a big, fat lie up until this point but, to tell you the truth, the rest of what’s to come is honest-to-goodness true stuff. Yeah, that sounds trustworthy and believable. Hmph.

Honestly, how else am I supposed to react? Those phrases have flim-flam man written all over them.

The idea here is this: Say what you mean to say. Don’t add silly phrases that make you seem insincere; just be sincere. Say what you mean and mean what you say — don’t say that you mean it. Say it, don’t spray it. (Oh, wait a minute. That’s for another entry.)

Happy trails!

SAK

October 7, 2009

Telephone numbers

Jenny, I got your number.

Here’s how the AP Stylebook folks would like to see telephone numbers in print: 123-456-7890.

Ah, hyphens. Hey — at least they dropped the parentheses around the area code. Be happy.

Now, I know this doesn’t jibe with all the designers out there. And you know what? It doesn’t necessarily jibe with me, either. I’m a fan of dots (er, periods). I would rather see this: 123.456.7890.

So I guess what I’m promoting is this:

• If you or your company says that AP rules the proverbial roost and there should be absolutely no deviation, use the hyphens in your phone numbers. (And I’m so completely OK with that, as I do believe that AP has your back nearly every time, grammatically speaking.)

• If, on the other hand, you have a designer itching at the keypad to produce funky (or just non-hyphenated) art with numbers, use periods, stars, squares or whatever else floats that designer’s boat.

Just make it readable. After all, if you’re putting a phone number in print, you probably want people to be able to decipher that number and then call it, correct? Correct.

Happy trails!

SAK

September 24, 2009

National Punctuation Day®

Filed under: grammar,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 12:39 pm
Tags: , ,

Today is Thursday, September 24, 2009 — the sixth annual celebration of National Punctuation Day (NPD). Punctuation ensures that groups of words make more sense and take on more meaning than you can shake a stick at.

Hooray for punctuation!

In 2004, NPD was founded by Jeff Rubin, a former newspaper guy. In 1981, Rubin started The Newsletter Guy, a newsletter publishing firm. Rubin is also a public speaker, addressing effective writing and marketing techniques. I bet that he also addresses the importance of proper punctuation — but that’s just a guess.

Check out the official Web site. It offers some of the standard stuff (e.g., definitions of each punctuation mark, examples of punctuation gone awry, a resources section); most notable, perhaps, is the information concerning the baking contest. Send in two photos of your masterpiece — one of it going into the oven raw and one of it coming out, all warm and yummy — and you may win a bunch of non-edible NPD stuff. How cool is that?! Very, I say.

Doesn't a bake-off seem like a better idea?! (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/3367193003)

Doesn't a bake-off seem like a better idea?! (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/3367193003)

OK, stop messing around here and go bake something with meaning, such as a semicolon or em dash. You know you want to.

Happy trails!

SAK

September 10, 2009

Into vs. in to

Filed under: grammar,spelling — bloodywellwrite @ 1:31 pm
Tags: ,

This one, folks, is a simple concept.

Into
Use into if you are describing something in motion or something completely entranced with something else:

• She walked into the shoe store.
• The kids jumped into the piles of leaves.
• He is turning into a werewolf.
• They were totally into Jim Morrison’s poetry.

The muddy boys are jumping into the lake (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/247066114)

The muddy boys are jumping into the lake (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/247066114)

In to
Use in to if in is used as an adverb and to is used as a preposition connecting the verb to an indirect object.

Think of it this way: If the sentence could technically end after in, then you can add a prepositional phrase (i.e., a non-necessary phrase that starts with a preposition and adds a bit of detail to the sentence) by using to after in (but not changing in to into.

Clear as mud? Here are some examples:

• The concerned citizen turned the wallet in to the police. (It could easily read The concerned citizen turned the wallet in. The prepositional phrase is to the police — interesting additional info but not completely necessary for the completion of the sentence.)
• I will not give in to chocolate cravings.
• He was nervous about handing his assignment in to the instructor.

Pooch gave in to the power of nap time (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nesster/3701101878)

Pooch gave in to the power of nap time (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nesster/3701101878)

See? I told you it was a breeze.

Happy trails!

SAK

August 25, 2009

-ward vs. -wards: toward or towards?

Here’s a dodgy problem.

Which one is correct: Toward or towards? Backward or backwards? Forward or forwards?

OK, so it’s not that dodgy. It’s pretty simple, really. Let’s focus on toward vs. towards and realize that the answer will be valid for all -ward words.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, as well as a host of other dictionaries and Web sites, both versions are technically correct. But one is — how shall I say it? — more technically correct than the other.

Toward, backward, forward, leftward and any other directionally influenced -ward words are used primarily in the United States. Words that add an “s” at the end are primarily British. One guy even did a Google test to see if this is true and found out that, lo and behold, it stands up to a Google search.

For me, the real test is looking it up in the AP Stylebook — the bible of journalists, ad agencies and many writers — and the answer is clear: Toward is the correct term and towards is unacceptable. End of story.

There you have it — unless you want to sound British for some bloody reason, you cheeky bugger.

Happy trails!

SAK

August 20, 2009

Pet peeve No. 39: quality

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 11:06 am
Tags: , , ,

I have two pet peeves for this entry, really.

The first one stems from how I came to decide what to write about today. I was standing in the shower thinking, and I had all these great phrases and sentences and points running through my head. But I was standing in the shower, hair full of shampoo and soapy puff in hand, and there was no way I could easily record these fantastic ideas.

Try to remember them? Oh, sure — easy for you to say, sitting there all dry and all. You know how it goes: Great idea pops into your head, it’s completely developed and ready for a patent, but by the time you’re towel-dried and undies on, your mind is blank. You don’t have a recorder handy in the bathroom, and pen to paper completely is out of the question.

So that’s my pet peeve No. 38: How in tarnation do people expect to get great ideas and keep those great ideas intact until they’re out of the shower? Umph.

Now on to pet peeve No. 39, the point of this entry: quality.

What does that mean? I see it all the time: This is a quality product. That is quality-made. The other is a quality idea.

What kind of quality, pretty please? High quality? Low quality? Supreme quality? So-so quality?

There are those who would argue that I am being too picky and not letting myself read into it what is meant to be read into it. I argue back: I am a writer. And an editor. And a proofreader. My job is to be picky with the language, to make entirely sure that the point is clear (and concise, yes, but clarity rules the writer’s roost).

If the wording isn’t absolutely clear to me, I can guarantee you that there are others out there who would also find it confusing as is. And if I don’t question language that is not quite clear (especially as an editor and proofreader), then who will? The readers, that’s who. And if the readers are questioning the wording, then it’s a little too late for the writer to clarify.

The readers have power — political power, emotional power, purchasing power.

Even if the readers “get” your meaning, there are some who will relate the slightly sloppy writing with the product. Do you really want even a few of your readers to mock your writing (and thus your product, if you are selling something) by thinking, “Hmm. I wonder if the bozo who wrote this copy (snicker) meant “crappy quality” or (tee hee) “subpar quality” (har dee har)”? No. Of course you don’t. So be clear when you’re writing about the quality of something.

It’s crafted of high-quality mahogany.

It’s a low-quality grape.

It’s the best quality that money can buy.

Happy trails!

SAK

August 11, 2009

Preposition overload

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 4:57 pm
Tags: , ,

When I think of prepositions, I think of Schoolhouse Rock and the “busy prepositions.” Yes, I’m revealing my generation, and I’m OK with that.

Prepositions are a group of words that link nouns, pronouns and phrases (prepositional phrases — get it?) to other words. They are usually indicators of time or space. Here is a handy list of the most-used prepositions:

• About
• Above
• Across
• After
• Against
• Along
• Around
• At
• Beneath
• Behind
• Below
* Beside
• Between
• Beyond
• But
• By
• Down
• During
• Far
• For
• From
• In
• Like
• Near
• Of
• Off
• On
• Outside
• Over
• Past
• Since
• Through
• To
• Under
• Until
• Up
• With

Prepositions are great; really, they are. I love ’em so. But they do tend to get overused. “Where are you at?” Argh. This drives me crazy, especially when I find myself saying it. “Where are you?” is plenty of information; the at is completely unneccessary. Same with “Where did you get that from?” The from is not needed. “Where did you get that?” makes sense, doesn’t it? Yes, it does.

And here’s one of my pet peeves: I see writing very often that has layers upon layers of prepositional phrases, all within one sentence; and very often, those prepositional phrases that are right next to each other begin with the same preposition:

• The dog that ate the berries of the tree of Bob is sick. (OK, so that sentence bites for several reasons.)
• Bob buys treats for his dog for a snack.
• The snack on the plate on the counter is for the dog.

First bullet: two of prepositional phrases.
Second bullet: two for prepositional phrases.
Third bullet: two on prepositional phrases.

I am not sure if it’s written somewhere as a grammar rule that a good writer does not use two prepositional phrases in a row — both starting with the same preposition — but it drives me absolutely batty. I change or rewrite every instance that is within my power to alter, and I heartily suggest you do the same.

Serenity now!

Happy trails!

SAK

August 4, 2009

My 2 cents

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , ,

When it comes to money, everyone has an opinion about how to manage it. Let me just add one thought: Let’s leave the fate of dollars and cents — in the written form, anyway — to the folks at the AP Stylebook headquarters.

Feed the pig

Feed the pig

When you don’t have a ton (or even a pound) of cash and you are writing about this lack of funds, spell out the word cents and use numerals for any amount less than a dollar:

• What can I buy for 8 cents?
• He gave me 74 cents back in change.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to rub coins against paper money, use the dollar sign and decimals for any amount equal to or larger than a dollar:

• Bob owes me exactly $1.
• I owe Sue a penny more: $1.01.
• Sue bought me a slurpie that cost $2.35.

As much as I’d like to use that cute cent sign (¢), AP doesn’t approve, so I acquiesce.

Happy trails!

SAK

July 29, 2009

The interrobang: Say what‽

This gorgeous, little punctuation mark is currently making a name for itself in grammar circles and, hopefully, beyond.

“But what the heck is it‽” you exclaim (and rightly so, as it is an unusual beast).

The interrobang shows surprise and question

The interrobang shows surprise and question

Read the entire article.

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