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Month: March 2018

Grammar Quiz #24: Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

Grammar Quiz #24: Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

A participial phrase is said to be “dangling” when the noun it is intended to modify is missing from the sentence. Similarly a modifier is said to be misplaced when it is separated from the word it modifies. Edit the following sentences to eliminate such errors.

1. Looking from my bedroom window, the horses frolicked in the meadow.

2. This bank accepts deposits from elementary school children of any size.

3. The professor made some astounding comments about politics rising from his desk.

4. The landlord told all the tenants he was raising their rent yesterday.

5. Oozing across the floor my mother gazed with dismay at the contents of the broken jars.

Answers and Explanations

In the sentence, “Coming out of the auditorium, a purse was lost,” the modifier is “Coming out of the auditorium,” but the word that follows it, “purse,” cannot be the intended noun. The sentence must be revised to provide a suitable noun for the modifier to refer to. For example, “Coming out the auditorium, Susan lost her purse.”

1.
Original: Looking from my bedroom window, the horses frolicked in the meadow.
Correct : Looking from my bedroom window, I watched the horses frolicking in the meadow.
2.
Original: This bank accepts deposits from elementary school children of any size.
Correct : This bank accepts deposits of any size from elementary school children.
3.
Original: The professor made some astounding comments about politics rising from his desk.
Correct : Rising from his desk, the professor made some astounding comments about politics.
4.
Original: The landlord told all the tenants he was raising their rent yesterday.
Correct : Yesterday the landlord told all the tenants he was raising their rent.
Alterna.: The landlord told all the tenants yesterday that he was raising their rent.
5.
Original: Oozing across the floor my mother gazed with dismay at the contents of the broken jars.
Correct : My mother gazed with dismay at the contents of the broken jars oozing across the floor.

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Betters and Bettors

Betters and Bettors

Is there a connection between better, which is sometimes employed as a noun, among other parts of speech, and the noun bettor? This post explains their etymological origins and lists and defines related words.

Better is primarily an adjective, from Old English bettra (and, previously, betera), meaning “superior.” It can also mean “more advantageous or favorable,” “improved,” or “greater than half” (as in “the better part of an hour”). The adjective better pertains to doing something to a greater degree or with higher quality or can replace more (“She was doing better than twenty miles per hour”) or preferably (“It’s better left where it is”).

As a verb, better means “make more acceptable or complete” or “improve on” (as in “The runner will try to better his personal record in the event”). It also serves as an auxiliary verb, one that supports another verb, as in “You had better get going,” sometimes with the first verb elided.

The noun better means “advantage” (“Don’t let him get the better of you”), “something superior” (“We expected better of her”), or “someone of higher rank or status” (“I was told to respect my betters”).

Better is also a variant of bettor, meaning “someone who makes bets.” The origin of bet, meaning “wager” (as a noun) or “wage” (as a verb), is uncertain, but it could be from abet, meaning “incite” or “urge on.” More likely, however, it is from the obsolete English word beet, meaning “make good” and related to better. Either way, it began as criminal slang; the affirming phrase “You bet” (even more informally, “You betcha”) is also slang, though not of unsavory origins.

Two additional words based on better are betterment, meaning “an act of becoming or making better” or referring to an instance of property improvement, and the adjective bettermost, meaning “superior.” Better, however, generally suffices as a comparative that stands between good (which supplanted the Old English word bot, meaning “advantage”) and the superlative best. (Bot does survive in the phrase “to boot,” meaning “in addition.”)

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Spelling Variations

Spelling Variations

This post discusses several factors responsible for variations in spelling, with examples.

For much of the history of the English language, spelling was more an art than a science; because of lapses in literacy, there was no standard orthography. Even now, well into the twenty-first century, thanks to ignorance and laziness (and some intentional slangy sabotage), misspelling is rampant, so many people are unaware, for example, that alot is not an acceptable synonym for many or that definitely, not defiantly, is what you write when you mean “most assuredly.”

Some valid reasons for alternate spellings exist, however. One annoying but hopelessly entrenched cause of spelling variations can be blamed on American lexicographer and spelling reformer Noah Webster, who advocated diverging from English orthography in favor of a uniquely American (but frustratingly inconsistent) spelling system. Fortunately, many of his suggestions failed to catch on, but others prevailed, so that now we have such international discrepancies as defense/defence, honor/honour, meter/metre, and realize/realise. (See this post for a more detailed discussion with more examples.)

Often, writers in the United States are unclear on the distinction, so that we see, for example, judgement instead of judgment, or grey when gray is correct. This kind of thing can get confusing when, for example, an exception is made for glamour but not glamorous and glamorize, or when woolen is spelled as such but woolly takes a different form because of the adverbial inflectional ending. Another complicating factor is when the British English spellings centre and theatre are employed in signage for venues in the United States.

It’s easy enough, though distracting, for someone raised to read American English to understand written British English, and vice versa. But many international businesses publish materials reflecting both systems to distribute to various global audiences as appropriate, and book publishers have been known to change from one to the other when creating new editions of already published books. (I know this because I’ve been the one responsible for making or checking the changes in both contexts.) However, it’s nearly impossible to catalog (or is it catalogue?) the distinctions (though one can try).

Spelling can also vary based on context. For example, antennae and antennas are both correct, but the appropriate spelling depends on the subject matter (anatomical and technical, respectively), and the plural of appendix can be treated appendixes or appendices. (See this post for more examples.)

Another type of variation is one based on informal usage: Donut as a variation of doughnut and thru as a truncation of through are valid in certain contexts, but careful writers will use the standard spellings in formal writing. The same goes for yes/yeah and no/nope; in each case, the second alternative has its place, but that place is only when slang is appropriate, as in dialogue. And nonstandard spellings like lite and nite are acceptable only for playful proper nouns (as in the name of a product or a venue.)

In addition, spelling sherbet with an extra r (sherbert) may reflect the way the word is often pronounced, but that misspelling is just as egregious as the unholy union of alot and the misuse of defiantly. And spelling the term for a short-sleeved pullover top “tee shirt” ignores the fact that it was named for the shape of the garment when laid out flat and should therefore be styled T-shirt.

Sometimes, older spellings of words persist, as when both analog and analogue or omelet and omelette are variably employed; in such cases (actually, in all cases) let the dictionary be your guide. (See this post for a list of such terms.)

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3 Examples of Interpolated Coordination

3 Examples of Interpolated Coordination

When a phrase provides comparative or correlative information to supplement information appearing in the main clause of a sentence, it must be integrated into the sentence without disrupting the syntax. In each of the following sentences, this integration is flawed. Discussions following the examples explain the problem, and revisions demonstrate the solution.

1. Understanding interrelated impacts may be as important, if not more so, than managing individual risks.

When incorporating interpolated coordination into a sentence, always test the insertion to confirm that the sentence is correctly constructed by temporarily omitting the parenthesis. If the main clause is not syntactically valid, revise the sentence so that it is. Here, “. . . as important . . . than . . .” reveals a flaw. The conjunction as must follow important, and than must be incorporated into the parenthesis: “Understanding interrelated impacts may be as important as, if not more so than, managing individual risks.” (Better yet, replace so with a reiteration of important.)

2. This recognition owes mostly to the waterway’s status as one of, if not the largest creeks hosting Coho salmon in the state.

In this case, the parenthesis has no closing punctuation, but no matter where a second comma is inserted, the sentence does not work, because “if not” must follow, not precede, “the largest creeks,” and the notion must be reiterated within the parenthesis, as shown here: “This recognition owes mostly to the waterway’s status as one of the largest creeks, if not the largest, hosting Coho salmon in the state.”

3. Our team made a trip to discuss and educate the client on the software application and provide insights for its implementation.

This sentence does not work as constructed because, without parenthetical punctuation, the reader reads “Our team made a trip to discuss . . . on the software application. . . .” To resolve the problem, treat “and educate the client on” as an interjection, as shown in this revision: “Our team made a trip to discuss, and educate the client on, the software application and provide insights for its implementation.

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Pleonasms

Pleonasms

This post pertains to varieties of pleonasms, instances of verbal redundancy, which are usually a sign of careless or lazy writing (though some are employed for rhetorical effect).

The word pleonasm stems from the Greek term pleonazein, meaning “to be excessive,” and is related to plenty, plural, and plus.

One type of redundancy is onomastic pleonasm (that’s one of my favorite phrases), in which a word derived from a foreign language referring to a type of geographical feature is redundantly paired with the English equivalent of that word to describe some such feature, as with “Sahara Desert” (proper usage is “the Sahara”) or “Mount Fujiyama” (Fujiyama, or “Mount Fuji”). However, some redundancy is tolerated, as in the case of “the River Avon”/“the Avon River” (though the various rivers so named, like many others, are often referred to without the categorical name: “the Avon”) and “the La Brea Tar Pits.”

Another is acronymic pleonasm, in which an acronym or initialism serves as an adjective for a noun already represented by one of the initials in the abbreviation, as in “ATM machine” or “CAD design.” (A related redundancy is “Please RSVP”; the acronym is an abbreviation of the French phrase “Repondez si’l vous plait,” meaning, “Respond, if you please.”) And speaking of abbreviations, e.g. (or its translation, “for example”) explicitly signals that one or more examples will be listed, so avoid tagging etc. onto the end of a list preceded by the abbreviation or the phrase (though etc. is not redundant to i.e., which means “that is”).

Redundancies often occur in phrases in which the meaning of an adjective is implicit in the noun, as in “new recruit,” “specific example,” and “temporary reprieve” or phrases in which the redundancy follows, rather than precedes, the sufficient word (“add up,” “postpone until later,” “repeat again”). Also, edit phrases in which a stated quality is already implied (“few in number,” “green in color.)”

Forgivable pleonasms include those in which the original meaning of a word has been subverted so that a clarifying adjective is required. For example, until a few decades ago, clocks were analogue, or mechanical. When digital timekeeping devices became the default type, it became necessary to sometimes qualify a description to “analog clock.” Likewise, in law and law enforcement, doublets such as “aid and abet” “breaking and entering,” and “cease and desist,” which are not literally redundant but appear so, persist.

However, writers and speakers should both cease and desist employing such pleonasms as “each and every,” “first and foremost,” and (shudder) “way, shape, or form.” In addition, two words that are usually implicitly pleonastic are currently and different; in “He is currently on vacation,” the present-tense verb renders currently superfluous, and in “They tried a variety of different strategies,” different is extraneous because variety is sufficient to convey distinction. Another word to monitor is completely when it is paired with a verb that implies finality, such as destroyed or eradicated, and avoid qualifying necessary with a qualifier such as absolutely.

Finally, Great Authors have employed pleonasm as a literary device, but unless you are a Great Author, minimize such flourishes as “I saw it with my own eyes.”

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Style Quiz #15: Redundancy

Style Quiz #15: Redundancy

Correct errors of redundancy in the following sentences by removing words that repeat the meaning already expressed by other words in the same sentence.

1. After a few minutes, the hawk was a small speck in the sky.

2. The Medical Examiner was called to the building where a dead corpse had been found.

3. I had to return back to the house to fetch my briefcase.

4. The boss wants us to meet together as soon as possible to address the problem of shrinkage.

5. Buy now and we’ll throw in a printer as an added bonus.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: After a few minutes, the hawk was a small speck in the sky.
Correct : After a few minutes, the hawk was a speck in the sky.

A speck is a small spot.

2.
Original: The Medical Examiner was called to the building where a dead corpse had been found.
Correct : The Medical Examiner was called to the building where a corpse had been found.

The idea of “dead” is included in the word corpse.

3.
Original: I had to return back to the house to fetch my briefcase.
Correct : I had to return to the house to fetch my briefcase.

The verb return includes the sense of “going back” to a place.

4.
Original: The boss wants us to meet together as soon as possible to address the problem of shrinkage.
Correct : The boss wants us to meet as soon as possible to address the problem of shrinkage.

The word together is redundant because to meet means “to assemble a group in one place.”

5.
Original: Buy now and we’ll throw in a printer as an added bonus.
Correct : Buy now and we’ll throw in a printer as a bonus.

A bonus is something extra or added.

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“Stance” and Its Relations

“Stance” and Its Relations

A previous post listed words such as constitute that ultimately stem from the Latin verb stare, meaning “stand.” Here, stance (from the present participle of stare), and words in which stance is the root, as well as terms related to those words, are listed and defined.

A stance is a literal or figurative attitude or posture or a position in which a person stands to prepare to engage in athletic activity. (Stand is from Old English and is distantly related.) Constance (“standing with”), meaning “steadfastness,” is an obsolete term (and a rare female given name), as is its synonym constancy, but the adjectival form constant persists to mean “steadfast” as well as “invariable” or “uniform” as well as “regular.” The adverbial form is constantly, and the antonym is inconstant.

Circumstance (“standing around”) means “condition, detail, event, or fact associated with another,” or pertains to evidence that supports the likelihood of an event (as in the phrase “circumstantial evidence”); circumstances is a euphemism alluding to financial resources (for example, one said to be in straitened circumstances is poor).

Distance (“standing apart”) is the space between two points in space or time, or the quality of being spatially or emotionally remote or intellectually dispassionate; the adjectival form is distant, and distantly is the adverbial form. (Distantness is a rarely used noun referring to the quality of being distant.) One can also describe a far point or area as “the distance,” as in the phrase “looking out into the distance.”

An instance (“standing on”) is an example or an occasion; the word can also be a verb meaning “cite” or “demonstrate”; in legal terminology, it pertains to the pursuit of a lawsuit. Instant means “a very small point at time”; an additional, outdated sense is “the current month,” seen abbreviated in historical correspondence in phrases such as “in your letter of the 15th inst.,” meaning “the letter you sent on the 15th of this month.” As an adjective, instant means “current,” “immediate,” or “urgent” or refers to something ready-made or able to be prepared very quickly and/or very easily; instantly is the adverbial form. The adjective instantaneous means “occurring immediately,” and its adverbial form is instantaneously. The verb instantiate is a synonym for “embody” or “express.”

A substance (“standing under”) is any physical material, but substance also pertains to essence, meaning, and quality. Euphemistically, it refers to property or wealth, as in the phrase “a man of substance.” In reference to addictive or otherwise harmful substances, it is used in the phrases “controlled substance” and “substance abuse.” The adjective substantial has multiple senses, including “essential” or “true,” or “considerable” or “sturdy.” Substantial can also be a noun meaning “something of substance,” and the quality of being substantial is substantiality or substantialness, and the adverbial form is substantially.

Assistance is the act of assisting, or helping, a person or another entity. (Assist literally means “stand by.”) Desistance refers to desisting, or ceasing to assist; the noun is little used, but desist (“stop standing”), though rarely employed otherwise, is widely known from the legal phrase “cease and desist,” which pertains to a demand to stop infringing on a right, such as copyright. Resistance is the act of opposing or an opposing force or a source of opposition, the capacity to resist (“stand again”), or a behavior in which a patient opposes psychological therapy; capitalized, the noun has referred to various organizations that covertly oppose a force occupying a country or other geopolitical territory.

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3 Cases of Using the Wrong Punctuation

3 Cases of Using the Wrong Punctuation

In each of the following sentences, the wrong punctuation has been employed to aid in organization of a sentence. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and a revision demonstrates the solution.

1. Ensure that you have an escape route while driving in traffic, drive at a speed that places your vehicle outside clusters of vehicles.

This sentence suffers from a comma splice—the use of a comma to separate two independent clauses. A more potent punctuation mark should be used instead: “Ensure that you have an escape route while driving in traffic; drive at a speed that places your vehicle outside clusters of vehicles” (Alternatively, a dash could replace the comma, or the content could be divided into two sentences. Or, because the second clause is an extension of the first one, a colon would be appropriate.)

2. An executive in the organization perceives a need for change, a digitalization project, for example, that will help pull the company ahead of its competitors.

When a parenthesis within a parenthesis occurs, use distinct punctuation marks to aid the reader in recognizing the hierarchy of the sentence elements; retain commas for one parenthetical element within another, and employ dashes or parentheses to frame the more significant interjection: “An executive in the organization perceives a need for change—a digitalization project, for example—that will help pull the company ahead of its competitors.”

3. For example, implement processes that generate sources of new learning; encourage systemic thinking in distilling and acting on the environment feedback received; and facilitate effective listening to customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders with the objective of driving continuous improvement.

When one or more items in a list themselves include lists, semicolons serve as supercommas to distinguish the two levels of organization. However, they function only if the sentence ends with the final list item. If a phrase that applies to all list items follows the final list item, as “with the objective of driving continuous improvement” does here, the final semicolon “traps” that phrase so that it appears to apply only to that item.

To avoid this error, revise the sentence to eliminate the use of semicolons: “For example, implement processes that generate sources of new learning as well as those that encourage systemic thinking in distilling and acting on the environment feedback received and facilitate effective listening to customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders with the objective of driving continuous improvement.”

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35 Numerical Prefixes

35 Numerical Prefixes

This post lists prefixes of Greek and/or Latin provenance used in expressions of numerical relationships, with examples.

1. uni-: “one” (unicycle)
2. mono-: “one” (monogamy)
3–4. du-: “two” (duplicate); sometimes duo- (duopoly)
5–6. deuter-: “two” (deuterium); sometimes deutero- (deuterograph)
7. bi-: “two” (bicycle) or “twice” (biannual)
8. di-: “two” (dilemma)
9. tri-: “three” (triangle)
10. quadr-: “four” (quadrant)
11. tetra-: “four” (tetrahedron)
12–13. quin-: “five” (quintet); sometimes quinque- (quinquelateral)
14. penta-: “five” (pentathlon)
15. sex-: “six” (sextuplets)
16. hexa-: “six” (hexagram)
17. sept-: “seven” (septuagenarian)
18. hept-: “seven” (heptarchy)
19–20. oct-: “eight” (octennial); sometimes octo- (octopus)
21. nona-: “nine” (nonary)
22–23. nove-: “nine” (novennial); sometimes novem- (novemdecillion)
24. ennea-: “nine” (enneagram)
25–26. dec-: “ten” (decennial); sometimes decem- (decemvirate)
27. deca-: “ten” (decade)
28. cent-: “hundred” (centipede)
29–30. hect-: “hundred” (hectare); sometimes hecto- (hectoliter)
31–32. mill-: “thousand” (million); sometimes mille- (millennial)
33. kilo-: “thousand” (kilowatt)
34. chili-: “thousand” (chiliad)
35. myri-: “ten thousand” (myriad)

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Punctuation Quiz #26: Punctuation Errors

Punctuation Quiz #26: Punctuation Errors

The following sentences contain errors of punctuation. Revise them as necessary.

1. That’s my dream car in the window I plan to buy it as soon as I have enough money.

2. The boss is really old. He still addresses women clients as Mrs So-and-So.

3. I never expected to see so many glacier’s and pit’s on our trip.

4. Before we get to Phoenix let’s stop at an IHOP for breakfast.

5. All the “hardback books” on the stall are the same price.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: That’s my dream car in the window I plan to buy it as soon as I have enough money.
Correct : That’s my dream car in the window. I plan to buy it as soon as I have enough money.

Error: run-on sentence. The new thought begins with “I.” Another way to correct it would be to put a semi-colon instead of a period between “window” and “I.”

2.
Original: The boss is really old. He still addresses women clients as Mrs So-and-So.
Correct : The boss is really old. He still addresses women clients as Mrs. So-and-So.

U.S. punctuation convention places a period after “Mrs.” and “Ms.”

3.
Original: I never expected to see so many glacier’s and pit’s on our trip.
Correct : I never expected to see so many glaciers and pits on our trip.

No apostrophes are needed; glaciers and pits are simply plural nouns.

4.
Original: Before we get to Phoenix let’s stop at an IHOP for breakfast.
Correct : Before we get to Phoenix, let’s stop at an IHOP for breakfast.

A subordinate clause that begins a sentence is set off with a comma.

5.
Original: All the “hardback books” on the stall are the same price.
Correct : All the hardback books on the stall are the same price.

Using quotations marks for emphasis is an error.

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