July 29th, 2016
Wording Glitches detract from the quality of your message. Here are three somewhat amusing examples. Each writer could have spotted the Glitch by simply reading back through what had been written:
Whoops #1: In referring to a motorcycle crash last week, a Birmingham News reporter stated that two survivors "were airlifted to UAB but survived."
The implication here, with the word BUT, would not enhance the reputation of UAB emergency medicine. This wording suggests the two people survived IN SPITE OF their treatment at UAB! It should read this way: After airlift to UAB, the two survived.
Whoops #2: In an article about student loan issues,a Birmingham News reporter created this sentence:
"Large portions of students at these institutions receive federal aid."
A PORTION is a section or a piece of an individual thing. When used in this sentence, this word makes it sound as if PORTIONS of STUDENTS (which ones? Arms? Legs? Brains?) are receiving federal aid. The sentence should read this way so that the writer is referring to GROUPS of students, not CHUNKS of them!
Large numbers of students at these institutions receive federal aid.
Whoops #3: The Careless Caption Creator at The Birmingham News struck again this week with this interesting description of Bill Clinton who was waving with his wife at the Democratic convention:
"…the former president and husband of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton…"
Although the Clintons have had their difficulties, they are still very much married. This phrasing makes it sound as if Bill Clinton is both a former President and a former husband. Note also that, when referring to the chief executive of the United States, the word "President" should always be capitalized. The phrase should read this way:
…the former President, husband of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton…
July 15th, 2016
The Birmingham News must have been in a hurry to rush its Pokemon stories to press on Wednesday. Their copy on Page A2 is full of errors. The first Glitch is in a headline:
"Games digital popularity also warping real life"
Whoops! #1: Assuming the headline creator means the digital popularity of Pokemon Go (one game), this headline needs an apostrophe before the S in "Games." It should read this way: Game's digital popularity also warping real life."
Whoops #2: Although I am not a Pokemon expert (yet), I do know that the phrase "a Pokemon" refers to one creature and that THEM is a plural pronoun referring to more than one of something, like Pokemon (plural) in general. Consider this sentence"
"Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take them to a gym where they can battle other Pokemon."
Okay, so what pronoun is appropriate for a single captured Pokemon? I'm not sure that has been worked out yet–it? she? he? The best solution, for now, is to avoid the pronoun completely, like this: Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take your captive to a gym for battles with other Pokemon.
Whoops #3: I had to read this sentence a couple times to figure out what the reporter was trying to say. One apostrophe and the correct spelling of THAN would have solved the confusion:
"AR (augmented reality), as its known, is different that virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created."
It should read this way: AR, as it's known, is different than virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created.
Whoops #4: Subject/verb agreement is the crime in this sentence. PERMISSIONS is plural, but the reporter chooses the singular verb MEANS to go with it:
The permissions, according to Engadget, means Niantic has access to your Google drive docs, search history, private Google photos and other items tied to your account."
For grammatically correct agreement, the sentence should read this way: The permissions, according to Engadget, mean Niantic has access to your google drive docs,….
Whoops #5: The reporter of the side story made the correct choice with IT'S (IT + IS) but failed to recognize that the second ITS (correctly possessive) refers to the plural word PEOPLE.
"Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing its personal information and will only have access to a person's Google user ID and password."
The problem here is that the use of ITS makes it sound as if Niantic is not accessing Niantic's personal information, but they are referring to the PEOPLE'S personal information. It should read this way: Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing their personal information and will only have access to people's user IDs and passwords.
Whew! And all those Glitches appeared on ONE page.
May 31st, 2016
One of my readers pointed out recently that distinguishing between lump sum items (laundry, money, salt) and items that can be counted (dirty shirts, dollar bills, grains of salt) is referred to in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes as "countables" and "uncountables." Remembering that phrasing can be a big help when you are not sure whether to use AMOUNT or NUMBER.
Here is an example from a recent news article:
"Investigators were following up what they described as an 'overwhelming' amount of tips, but no one had been arrested."
Whoops! TIPS can be counted (as every restaurant server knows). Therefore, the correct choice is NUMBER, not AMOUNT. The sentence should read this way:
Investigators were following up what they described as an "overwhelming" number of tips, but no one had been arrested.
The same concept is true with FEWER and LESS. Here is another example from a recent news article:
"This will ultimately lead to less Medicaid providers in the state."
Whoops again! PROVIDERS can be counted, so the correct choice should be FEWER:
This will ultimately lead to fewer Medicaid providers in the state."
Vielen Dank, Schorschi!
May 13th, 2016
Regular reader Joe C. sent along this course synopsis from a lifelong learning catalog. "I found it ironic that the man who would be teaching "Poetry: Reading, Creating and Critiquing" would make such a classic grammatical error in his synopsis."
I agree. In the first part of the sentence, WHO refers back to PERSONS (plural), so the first part works–PERSONS WHO ARE ACTIVELY WRITING POETRY, but in the second part, WHO still refers to PERSONS (plural), so the verb ENJOYS (singular with an S) does not work. The sentence should read this way:
This course is intended for persons who are actively writing poetry or who simply enjoy reading poetry for its own sake.
NOTE TO REGULAR READERS: Don't forget to check for frequent Grammar Glitches on Facebook. If you submit a friend request to Grammar Glitch Central on Facebook, you can receive notices of new posts that will help you improve your writing.
March 26th, 2016
For those of you who struggle to use subject/verb agreement correctly in your writing, here are two Birmingham News examples of how it should NOT be done:
#1: From an article about spring break issues with beaches in Alabama:
The comments from the two mayors comes amid social buzz about photos showing garbage strewn on Gulf Shores' beaches and gatherings of college students moving about.
Whoops! The subject of this sentence is COMMENTS (plural), but the writer chose the verb COMES (singular). The sentence should read this way:
The comments from the two mayors come amid social buzz about….
#2: From yet another Birmingham News article on politics:
The success of the Democrats' plans hinge in part on rallying their grass roots to the cause….
Whoops again! The subject of this sentence is SUCCESS (singular), but the writer has chosen the verb HINGE (plural). The sentence should read this way:
The success of the Democrats' plans hinges in part on rallying their grass roots to the cause….
December 23rd, 2015
I read articles in The New Yorker whenever I have a little down time. They are always informative, interesting, and well written. The magazine's editorial staff is meticulous.
I'm often several months behind because the magazine comes every week, so last week I was reading an article in the August 24, 2015, issue about the efforts of Christiana Figueres to persuade us all to take climate change seriously.
On page 30, I was surprised to come across this sentence with a Subject/Verb Agreement Glitch:
"The practical obstacles to realizing any of these scenarios has prompted some experts to observe that, for all intents and purposes, the two-degree limit has already been breached."
Whoops! The subject of the sentence is OBSTACLES (plural), so the verb should be HAVE PROMPTED not HAS PROMPTED (singular).
This is the first time I have ever spotted a Grammar Glitch in The New Yorker. I suspect it will be a long time before I see another one!
NOTE: The Subject/Verb Agreement Glitch is rampant in "lesser" publications–especially headlines in local newspapers. To see three examples, please check my Facebook post for December 23 on the Grammar Glitch Central page.
December 7th, 2015
It is easy to bop a concept twice when you are writing something. We all do it. Common examples include using ALSO and AS WELL together, BOTH of the TWO people, ALL of the TOTAL income, and money earned ANNUALLY PER YEAR. These examples have appeared in previous Grammar Glitch posts.
I came across a new one in an article for The Birmingham News last week. In discussing gas prices, Leada Gore wrote this:
So how low can we go? According to AAA, prices are expected to continue to keep falling into 2016.
Whoops! Only one of the red phrases is needed. Either prices are expected TO CONTINUE FALLING or prices are expected TO KEEP FALLING. Bopping the nail on the head once will do!
The trick of a good writer–even a reporter who is on deadline–is to read back through and spot these redundancies before hitting the SEND button on the copy.
November 9th, 2015
JEOPARDY! is about to start its 2015 Tournament of Champions, which I always enjoy watching. The email announcement the program sent out is not, however, a champion as far as good grammar goes. Consider these two sentences:
"When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present them with a check for $250,000, and they will hold on to bragging rights for the following year."
Whoops! Only one contestant wins the tournament. THEY and THEM refer to more than one person, and the prize money is not going to be split. However, what to do with the sticky problem of using HIS or HER or (shudder!) HIS/HER because we don't know if the winner will be male or female. Not an easy problem to solve, but here is my best suggestion:
When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present that champion with a check for $250,000, which comes with bragging rights for the following year.
For another example of an agreement problem, please check out today's Grammar Glitch Central entry on Facebook.
October 22nd, 2015
Regular reader Joe C. sent along this odd caption, which suggests the exact opposite of what it is supposed to convey. More and more small farms in Florida are now using ROBOTS to milk COWS. However, by inserting a hyphen between ROBOT and MILKING, the caption writer created an adjective (ROBOT-MILKING), which describes the cows. The caption should read something like this: ROBOTS NOW MILKING COWS.
Joe also posed a question I have often asked. "Do they even teach the proper use of hyphenated words in journalism classes?"
October 11th, 2015
The following article was shared with me by Angela Dunn who recently edited Donna Roberts' debut novel Frayed. Angela makes some good points about the importance of writing well and the fact that every single one of us, no matter how good a writer, can benefit from having an extra pair (or two) of eyes check our work.
TO HIRE OR NOT TO HIRE: Do I really need an editor or proofreader?
"He who represents himself has a fool for a client." This famous quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, can also apply to an author or journalist who doesn't feel the need to have someone edit his or her work. From novice authors to legends like Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks, it is not only beneficial but a necessity to have at least one good editor/proofreader. Although the author is the ultimate decision maker about writing style, there is always room for improvement. Just like all of us, authors may think they know about a particular topic only to realize they have been mistaken all along about a certain detail.
Many of us have read a book or two where a particular place or thing was not described accurately. I don't mean the routine misspelling of a word or a misplaced colon, but rather a gaffe that bothers the reader even if it really has nothing to do with the story line.Newly published author Donna Roberts knew the importantce of editors and proofreaders and made sure to have several pairs of eyes read and advise on her writing. However, Donna ran into a few instances herself where she thought she knew about a particular subject and had no idea she had misrepresented something until it was pointed out by one of those pairs of eyes.
For example, at one point in the manuscript for Frayed, she had written about two of her characters cooking some very specific and unusual foods. Although Donna enjoys cooking and experiments with different foods, she wrote about cooking okra "stalks" and had no idea that okra is referred to as pods rather than stalks. Thankfully, she had a subject matter expert–someone who has worked for years in high end food service–take a look at the text. She then described the okra accurately. In another situation while writing the book, Donna described characters mixing some alcoholic drinks and referred to Jack Daniels as bourbon. One of her proofreaders pointed out that Jack Daniels is whiskey, and that pointer averted another misrepresentation.
Donna also received editing help with several homophones (words that sound alike but have different meanings, like "flair" and "flare"). These were words that she, like all of us, had often used in conversation but was not sure how to spell out correctly.
Simple mistakes like these that show up in a published book may or may not make a huge difference in sales; however, readers do expect accurate accounts, and authors lose credibility when a detail in the story is not factually accurate–even if that detail does not really affect the plot line of the book.
The bottom line is that all of us make mistakes, even authors who know what they are writing about–or at least think they do. Having good editors and proofreaders check your work for general grammatical errors and for subject matter accuracy is of utmost importance and should never be overlooked, regardless of cost, inconvenience, or delay.
If you'd like to read Donna Roberts' book Frayed, you can find it on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Frayed-Ms-Donna-G-Roberts/dp/150305778X.