Posts Tagged ‘word usage’

Newspapers Still Need Copy Editors!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Newspaper reporters and columnists can no longer rely on copy editors to polish their usage and grammar. More than one of them has actually thanked Grammar Glitch Central for pointing out an error or two. There should be someone at the newspaper office whose job it is to know good writing standards and apply them while proofreading. These days that is not happening. Reporters write their own copy, do their own proofreading, and click SEND.

Recently, a new problem is cropping up. Even if the reporters get it right, whoever creates the photo captions, headlines, and sidebars is making careless errors that detract from the quality of the reporting. That person ought to have a good command of standard writing skills and a desire to proofread for correctness. In ONE issue of The Birmingham News this past week, the following errors appeared in headlines, captions, and sidebars:

Whoops #1: In an article about the gyrocopter that landed in DC, the Tribune News Service reporter correctly stated that the pilot must stay away from the CAPITOL (the building), but the photographic caption says that "Doug Hughes landed on the grass in front of the United States CAPITAL on Wednesday." CAPITAL refers to the entire city. CAPITOL is the building in front of which Hughes landed.

Whoops #2: Columnist Edward Bowser correctly named the Birmingham Children's THEATRE when he referred to it numerous times in his article about their wonderful program of taking performances to schools. However, the headline for his column is this: "Birmingham Children's THEATER brings magic of stage to schools." Perhaps the incorrect spelling of a proper name is not a big deal, but I'm sure that group consciously chose to use the THEATRE spelling, and it would not have taken the headline creator more than a minute to check the website for the proper spelling–especially since Bowser had handed that person the correct spelling.

Whoops #3: In Mike Oliver's creepy but informative article about Alabama's 58 spider varieties, Mike correctly spelled RECLUSE when he listed the brown recluse as one of the three highly venomous spiders in the state. However, the caption next to the photo of this spider refers to it as the Brown RECLUDE Spider.

Whoops #4: In a sidebar that summarizes the details of an article about Alabama's pro-life legislature and the abortion issue, the first bullet contains this grammatically incorrect sentence: "Women must receive counseling designed to discourage her from having an abortion." WOMEN is plural. Therefore, the correct pronoun would be THEY. The sentence should be worded one of two ways: 1) WOMEN must receive counseling to discourage THEM from having ABORTIONS. or 2) A WOMAN must receive counseling to discourage HER from having an abortion.

Whoops #5: Those who create photo captions should understand where commas should go and, more importantly, where they should not go. One comma "rule" is that, if a title comes before a person's name, it is not necessary to set that name off (like an appositive) with commas. A second "rule" is that a subject should not be separated from a verb by a comma. In this sentence from a caption about a tour of a school campus, the comma between WILLIAMS and LEADS is incorrect: "Here, former Hoover schools Superintendent Connie Williams, leads faculty and parents from Shades Mountain Christian Schoool on a tour…."

It should not be unreasonable to expect a better level of correct usage than this. These are not acceptable errors.

The S in DST stands for SAVING, not SAVINGS.

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Daylight Saving timeWhen President George Bush signed the legislation extending Daylight Saving Time by four weeks, I wonder if he realized how many people, including school children, would have to leave for work or school in the dark until April rolls around. In my part of Alabama, it was still pitch dark at 6:45 this morning. The days just aren't long enough yet.

That said, I'd like to point out that the official name of this "Spring Forward/Fall Back" ritual we follow every year (except in Arizona and Hawaii) is DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME, not SAVINGS TIME. The word SAVING is singular in this context.

A nod of approval from Grammar Glitch Central to John Oliver who used this correctly on "Last Week Tonight" in his hilarious "How is this still a Thing?" spoof of Daylight Saving Time. 

NOTE: I added this update about John Oliver at 6:43 a.m. on March 11, and it is still pitch dark outside as kids in this neighborhood head out to the main road to catch their school buses.


ONTO or ON TO? Use your head about the meaning.

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Here is a sentence I came across in an Associated Press release about FBI Director James Comey's comments on race relations and law enforcement:

"Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was 'a tendency to move onto other things as busy people.'"

Whoops #1: There is a difference in meaning between ONTO and ON TO. ONTO involves motion to the top of something, as in jumping ONTO the top of a picnic table or gluing glitter ONTO a greeting card. ON TO uses ON to suggest going forward, as in moving ON or getting ON and TO to indicate which direction the subject is heading. 

Whoops #2: AS BUSY PEOPLE is in the wrong location for the meaning.

This sentence should read as follows:

Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was, among busy people, "a tendency to move on to other things."


Using NOT ONLY…BUT ALSO correctly.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

bug The first 2015 issue of The Pest Bulletin arrived with my pest control bill this week. In its article about bed bugs (Ugh!), I came across this sentence, which is a classic example of how to muddy your writing by avoiding parallel structure:

"The study found that bed bugs can both transmit to mice the parasite that causes Chagas disease–they can also pick up the disease from infected mice."

BOTH followed by a dash is not the way to word this. AND might work (BOTH TRANSMIT AND…), but it doesn't create the correct relationship. My choice would be the phrases NOT ONLY and BUT ALSO, which work well in this type of situation:

The study found that bed bugs not only can transmit to mice the parasite that causes Chagas disease, but they can also pick up the disease from infected mice.

Sorry for the "Ugh!" factor in this post. If you'd like to see how "whether stripping" not only keeps out cold air but also reduces the number of pests coming into your home, please see my Grammar Glitch Central Facebook page for January 26.


A COLLECTION ARE DISPLAYED? Subject/verb agreement issues once again.

Friday, January 16th, 2015

spoon collection photo glitchRegular Grammar Glitch reader Joe C. shared this "fast fact" about the state of New Jersey and pointed out that the Glitch in this description highlights "the classic disagreement between subject and verb." He commented that many people have trouble with "tricky collective nouns" like COLLECTION, LAUNDRY, MONEY, and other "lump sum" items that cannot be counted individually.

In the sentence at left, COLLECTION is the subject, not SPOONS. No matter how many spoons are in the collection, it is only one collection that IS DISPLAYED. I would add that good professional writing style would use the words MORE THAN rather than OVER in this instance. The sentence should read this way:

A collection of more than 5,400 spoons is displayed at the Lambert Castle Spoon Museum in Paterson, New Jersey.

To see another example of poor subject/verb agreement, scroll back two posts to January 5 (titled "INFORMATION is like LAUNDRY, MONEY or SAND.")

MOSTLY ABOUT or MORE ABOUT? Check the context.

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Mary Sanchez  columnist  Mary Sanchez, opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star, could have benefited from a quick edit of her recent column about the new U. S. policy on Cuba. Using comparative and superlative forms like MORE and MOST can be tricky.

  Take a look at this sentence:

"Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always mostly about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people."

Good point, but MOSTLY is the superlative form (like GREATEST, FINEST, COSTLIEST). It does not imply a direct comparison between two things–in this case, THE GEOPOLITICAL THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY and THE OPPRESSION OF THE CUBAN PEOPLE. It does not fit with THAN. What is needed here is the comparative form, which would be MORE ABOUT….THAN…. The sentence should read this way:

Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always more about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people.

We all make these mistakes as we commit our thoughts to paper. The solution is to spot and correct them by going back and editing the wording for clarity.

NOTE: Welcome to any of my Mobile workshop participants who may be reading this blog for the first time this week. I hope you find it useful and will visit often.

Be careful– A Grammar Glitch can spread like a virus!

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

A friend who does a lot of editing sent along this example of a classic dangling modifier:

Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, thirsty travelers have been visiting Jacobs Well since the mid-1800s.

Whoops! The subject of this sentence is TRAVELERS. The phrase NAMED FOR ITS NATURAL FRESHWATER WATERHOLE should modify the sentence subject, but it is Jacobs Well (not the thirsty travelers) that has been named for the freshwater waterhole.

The sentence should read this way: 

Named for its natural freshwater waterhole, Jacobs Well has welcomed thirsty travelers since the mid-1800s.

My editor friend pointed out that a bad sentence can spread on the Internet like a virus because one source often quotes (or just lifts from) another source. Just Google the original sentence above, and you will see what she means. virus  computer

In case you are curious about more than just the viral sentence, Jacobs Well is a tourist attraction on the Gold Coast of Australia, not far from Brisbane.


ADDED NOTE: My editor friend's eagle eye also spotted a sentence this week that talked about certain animals being in danger of DISTINCTION. Whoops! That should be IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION!

Compliment? Or Complement? With wine, it depends.

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

wine dinnerThe Greystone Living review of a recent wine dinner was riddled with Grammar Glitches. Here is the first problem sentence:

"The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and had a great selection of wines for the guest to compliment the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell."

Whoops #1: Logic (and the accompanying photos) show that more than one GUEST attended this event.

Whoops #2: The wines were there to ENHANCE the dishes prepared by the chef, not pop their corks and shout out COMPLIMENTS about the good food. COMPLEMENT, meaning to partner with something in order to enhance it, is the correct choice here. 

This sentence should read as follows:

The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and offered the guests a great selection of wines to complement the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell.

Here is the next problem sentence: 

"We try and feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone."

Whoops #3: The proper usage here is TRY TO, not TRY AND. It should read this way: We try to feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone.

And finally, this sentence:

"The next dinner will be held on November 5th and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher Proprietor from Fisher Winery."

Whoops #4: When writing a date within a sentence, the ON can be left out. Even though we pronounce FIFTH, it is not necessary to write the TH at the end of the numeral. 

Whoops #5: Because PROPRIETOR renames JUELLE FISHER, there should be a comma between FISHER and PROPRIETOR. 

Whoops #6: Proper usage is that JUELLE FISHER is the PROPRIETOR OF, not the PROPRIETOR FROM the winery. There is no reason to capitalize PROPRIETOR when it does not come before the person's name.

This sentence should read as follows:

The next dinner will be held November 5 and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher, proprietor of Fisher Winery.

PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL? An Easy Tip for Remembering Which is Which.

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Because both PRINCIPLE and PRINCIPAL are legitimate words, a spell checker will not pinpoint your error if you use the wrong one. The good news is that, like CAPITOL and CAPITAL, there is any easy way to remember when to use which one.

PRINCIPLE  is a noun that has only one meaning–a basic rule or standard, as of good behavior. Here are some examples of using it correctly:

The judge will not compromise his principles.

She based her decision on principle rather than greed.

Our country operates according to the principles of democracy.


PRINCIPAL has several usual meanings–the head of an elementary or high school (noun), highest in rank or worth (adjective), the main participant (noun), describing the person having a starring role in a production (adjective), the capital or main portion of a financial holding (noun). Here are some examples of using it correctly:

Melissa Jones is the principal  at Valley Elementary. 

Paul is the principal partner in that firm.

The briefing included all of the principals involved in the transaction.

Smetlana is the principal ballerina with that company.

Our invested principal  is no longer earning seven percent interest. 


Just remember: PRINCIPLE has only one meaning. Everything else will be PRINCIPAL.



CAPITOL or CAPITAL? Easy tip for choosing correctly.

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Driving back up I-65 from beautiful Gulf Shores on Monday, I spotted a billboard that read simply, "85 Years of Bringing Capital to the Capitol." We passed by so quickly I didn't see whose ad it was, but it makes a great usage point. CAPITAL is money poured into an investment. CAPITOL is the building where a legislature meets–NOT the city that is the seat of government. (A spell checker will not catch it if you confuse these two.)

Here is an easy way to remember the difference and never confuse these two words again:

capitol buildingCAPITOL (with an O) has only one meaning: the building (state or national) where a legislature meets.

Everything else is CAPITAL (with an A):

  • money poured into an investment
  • an upper case letter (A or B as opposed to a or b)
  • calling for the death penalty (capital crime, capital punishment)
  • a town or city that is the official location of government for a state or a nation
  • excellent or first-rate, usually British (a capital fellow, a capital good time)

If you simply remember that CAPITOL has only one   meaning, you will never confuse these two again! 


NOTE: The next post will offer an easy tip for choosing PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL correctly.