Sunday, June 26, 2016

All Muddled Up

There are those times when you're trying to dash something off on a social media site and in the back of your mind you sense that the word you're using isn't the right one. In the alternative, something tells you it isn't spelled properly - you're using the homonym for what you really want to say. But there you are trying to dash off a quick response to something. You ignore that instinct that I affectionately call "My Muse" and click Post. No going to to check the spelling. No tolling the benefits of spell check. Auto-correct! Isn't that a four-letter word!?

So eight different instances of using the term in different posts (and a couple of other terms) that My Muse started nagging you about that are also generously sprinkled about your social media home (still without checking the spelling or usage of the terms), and

lo and behold!

You come upon all of them in a news headline - spelled correctly. And you've been telling people you have perfect spelling and are a quality proofreader. Would you like this plain paper bag to cover your head - and embarrassment?

In the alternative, you wrote it one way. Then you reasoned through whether that was the correct version of what you wanted to say. Let's say the word was about courage and fortitude. You know that sword metal needs to be tempered and tested. Does that, therefore, mean that the character's "metal" is being tested or is the character's "mettle" the subject of the passage. You go with "metal" because the result will be the strongest possible. It would be so much wiser to double check which spelling (thus, which word) is the one that should be used. Two days later you decide to double check. That's when you're reminded about the other homonyms, "medal", "metal", "mettle", and (just for good measure, "meddle"). Are you slapping your forehead with the palm of your hand? Here's an ice pack. Your face has a few blue marks and I don't think they're from an editor's - or copyeditor's, for that matter - pencil.

Maybe you can make an argument about the location of Briton and how it's related to Britain. (And we won't even get into whether either one is spelled with one "t" or two.) Of course, the person listening to the rationale won't tell you that one is a person from the region whereas the other is the region. They'll simply hand you a mental shovel as they walk away with that strange smirk on their face.

Their loss. They don't know about your sharp wit and mounds of awards for public speaking and debate.

Besides, there are all of those new words that are becoming part of our lexicon these days because of global language blending, colloquialisms, and idioms that allow all (global all) of us to speak in emoji and Twitter-speak. Remember those good old days? You know, the ones where we were scrambling to keep up with computerese? That time from the 1980s when computers were becoming every person's language as we evolved from "every man's" language.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Importance of Bibliographies

Many bloggers do not use bibliographic notes appended to their posts. Perhaps that's because most blog posts are simply thoughts of the writer rather than researched articles. Perhaps the bibliographic notes are missing because the writer doesn't realize the "why" of creating that reference point. Either way, the bibliography (sometimes called a resources list) serves a very meaningful purpose. It isn't a bunch of cross links to other sites in order to promote a friend's or colleague's website or blog.

For a lab report, a research paper, or an article, the standard is universal. A reference list or bibliography is used in order to show that there was research done to support the thoughts being put forth in the writing. The facts can be proved; anyone who wants to check them has a list of the resources relied upon to develop and support the ideas.

There are those who attempt to detract from the writer's credibility. Some criticisms amount to saying that the list is nothing more than a bunch of links that were thrown in as an afterthought. Chances are, those critics aren't even aware of the resource list and have not visited any of the references in order to learn more, much less verify that they support the theory being proposed.

No, the reference list is not a gimmick to make the article appear long or increase the word count or make it impressive because of mass. Its purpose is to provide substantiation of what is contained; the author's words provide the substance of the proposition based on how well the arguments are formed. The reference list shows what was examined. Because the list is held up to scrutiny,

it is wise to actually read the source in order be conversant about what it contains. It's also important to read the entire source (unless, of course, it's a very lengthy book or treatise that requires an inordinate amount of time to consume) in order to be certain that it doesn't start by making one proposition that will be disputed and proved wrong or different at the end. Know the content. If the original proposition is different from what is being argued, find one that supports the proposition that is being made. In the case of the treatise, it's better to examine the chapter or section that directly deals with the subject of the writing. There is the matter of overkill when researching a subject.

It's also useful to double check resources to be certain the theory or principle is still the same. In law, some principle will be cited in the pleading (or brief). Woe to the lawyer who doesn't Shepardize their case law or legislation to be certain it is being maintained in their jurisdiction and that it is still good law. Even if it isn't law that's being discussed in the paper, make certain the propositions are supported by evidence or facts (or both) in order to make certain the arguments are as strong as possible.

Citation Styles

There are a number of citation styles. The more standard are Chicago, Associated Press (AP), and Modern Language Association (MLA). The style that is used is primarily based on where the writing is going to be published and its purpose. If it is for journalism, it's wise to determine whether the publisher prefers (or defaults to) the Chicago style or AP. There are differences between the two. Better to have your writing submitted under the correct style rather than have the writer's credibility questioned because the wrong style was used without regard to the quality of the content. It means the publisher will have to be doubly careful about scrutinizing the content because there's first impression evidence that the writer doesn't pay close attention to details.

But there's no wiggle room for legal writing. The rule of thumb is to follow the Harvard Blue Book of Citation.

No Matter What

Suffice it to say, it's wise to create and list the sources used to support the proposition being discussed in the paper. If nothing else, the reference list provides evidence of having looked into the matter rather than just blowing off a bunch of gibberish intended to flimflam the unsuspecting reader. It's also wise to use a reference list to help keep track of what was used as the paper is being developed. Most importantly, the reference list is not the paper; it supports the paper's proposition.

The next time you're discussing something more than the latest reality show and there's a difference of opinion, an assertion that the current topic is flawed, ask for what shows otherwise.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Evolution of Expressions

Yes, word usage evolves over time. That means the word takes on new meanings from the onset of its use to somewhere in the distant future. One classic example is the word "nice" which at one time did not enjoy a very favorable connotation. Colloquialisms became associated with it and how it was being used. Those nuances caused changes in the meaning and because of that, how it was subsequently used to describe something. Now it interpreted as indication of being favorable or enjoyable, pleasant to have but not above average. Still, it has evolved through the ages.

Every One vs. Everyone

Paul Madison tells us that the term "every one" has taken on a new meaning and directs our attention to nGrams to emphasize his point. He notes:

. . . I forgot to send a link to google nGrams like I said I would at out last meeting. The main website is

Here's an example of how nGrams can be used to find "correct" grammar as it changes over time: When were the words "every one" more correct than "everyone"? The answer may (or may not) surprise you:

There's a bit of an oversight here. The term Madison is referencing is to a group, true, but there's something missing from the explanation. The thing is "every one" can be broken down into "each one of . . ." and relates to pinpointing one object or person individually out of the entire group.

Compare "every one", for example, "each one in the group" to "everyone" or "everybody" which mean "all of the people" or "all who are/were there." It's inclusive and looks at no single instance as an example; it looks at the entire collection. When musing over a term and trying to determine whether an alternative is correct or whether the term has really evolved, test it. Say it in another way while maintaining the gist of the intended meaning. As with this example, is everybody in the room what's intended or is each apple in the basket what's being highlighted.

It's a good idea to stay open to using reference tools. Just be careful that you're researching the right information. Take some time to explore nGrams.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Inflammatory Words

Words of hate and mistrust are proliferating nearly everything these days. The more the words are used, the more it's prudent to question and learn the definitions before blindly following suit and using those words - sometimes incorrectly. It's also a good idea to know how to spell these terms so that you show yourself knowledgeable in as many ways as possible.

As to Women

The first word that comes to mind is "misogyny." What does that mean? It's rising in use in sitcoms and now while speaking of one of the Presidential candidates.

While attempting to find it on, I spelled it "misogeny," which the site quickly prompted me was the incorrect spelling. What we need to remember about the meaning of the word is it relates to distaste for women. Thus, the spelling has its roots in gynecology. You'll find the correct spelling to be "misogyny".

Forms of Governing

The next word on today's radar is far removed from feminism - or is it. The word is "facism," right? What did I say before? You need to know how to spell the word in order to approach using it in the correct manner. Again, swatted my fingers (gently) and asked if perhaps I really wanted to find the word "fascism". It says a lot about a national sentiment. As you get into conversations (and debates) with others about our current Presidential campaigns, as you write about the things that are happening, and as you search for ways to compare these events to an understandable reference point, it won't take long to find comparisons of people, places, times.

I won't get into trying to expound on either of these inflammatory words, nor other words that convey hate. Suffice it to say it is wise to use the word correctly and spell it as it is spelled.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dealing with Writer's Block

The subject was writer's block and how to overcome it. It can be a problem when you're on deadline and the right nut-graph just isn't working, no matter how it's revised. Or the wording just isn't coming to you. Or the message of the content simply isn't there.

There are so many explanations for each of these situations. Maybe you're trying too hard on that nut-graph. Maybe you should write it as you would an elevator pitch. Incidentally, write as you think without trying to revise as you do so. That is, write spontaneously. Once you're done simply spray-wording, go back and review what's there. Or just take a few minutes to step away from the thing and then return to it with a refreshed perspective. No, a few days, a few weeks, are simply not what I'm talking about.

There are many reasons for writer's block. Sometimes it's a matter of your brain is trying to process too much information all at one time. Your mind keeps jumping from one subject to another as it darts from one piece of the picture you're trying to paint to another that isn't associated with the first. Then you find yourself with the unenviable task of immediately trying to make to two communicate with one another when in actuality they are quite disparate. You find you're trying to sort through the chaos and there simply is no sense to any of it.

Meanwhile, your fingers are producing little to nothing. Maybe this is the time to simply write down the thoughts. It isn't necessary to make a formal list. Just write down the topics that are popping into your head. Once you've got a good list of those ideas, they can be massaged by organizing them into a logical sequence. And then those bullets can become paragraph headers so that both you and your reader can more easily follow the the train of thought and the message. Remember, it's the message that you ultimately want to communicate. Those sentences are merely little pieces of the message.

At other times, it's a matter of the words simply not coming to you at all.

Just write. Then put it aside. Come back to the content a day or so later and take a peek at it just to see what spilled out. It could be there's something salvageable in all of that stuff. If not, it was a great lesson in journaling. Better yet, you kept the momentum going for putting the words to paper. You were productive. You may even have a list of topics to write about at another time. At least you got those words saved somewhere and you created several starting points.

Another stumbling block is knowing the definition of the word. You want to be absolutely certain it's the right word. You find yourself doing more research about a single, insignificant (in comparison) word instead of writing the message. Or you've used the same word so many times that even you are getting bored with it. It's starting to sound contrived. Is your thesaurus handy?

You know, writing is like a job. You don't want a throng of traffic constantly interrupting you while you're trying to concentrate on what you're doing. So it is with niggling other stuff. Picking up the dry cleaning, paying that bill on time, vacuuming the floors, finding the coins to do the laundry, the appointments that need to be kept - for the entire week. Some of those can be put onto a page in your date minder. Some of them can wait until your work time is over and it's time to take a break. Some of it isn't going to be resolved in the minutes that are distracting you from your current task. Unlike a tsunami, the consequences of ignoring them will not be fatal. So let them wait and simply focus on your "write" time.

Maybe the answer to the situation is to give yourself a writing time allowance - so many minutes (maybe two hours) at one sitting and then off to handle some of those other things until a little later, when you can return to what you were doing with a fresher mind.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

That Niggling Little Symbol

What is it about the apostrophe? _'_ It isn't all that important. After all, it's only a symbol. Oh, but such a useful symbol.
Please don't confuse it with one of its cousins, the quote mark _"_ (twin apostrophes, if you like).
Also don't confuse it with its other distant cousin, the comma _,_. The apostrophe is above all that ground work. It has loftier functions.

Nope. The apostrophe is one of those tools that fills in when things are omitted in order to make the syntax less robotic. Let's look at a few examples.

You want to write (or speak) about a period of time, say the Hippie Era. Would you refer to it in a formal way and reference it as the 1970s? (Incidentally, ignore that silly Word squiggly red line. It's wrong!) I think not. Nope, you'd abbreviate the reference and speak of the '70s. Hmph. There's that apostrophe barging its way into this conversation. What's going on here? Oh-h-h. I see! The century-defining preface is omitted so the apostrophe is standing in to let us know that something's been omitted.

Come to think of it, even as this post is being composed, there are nine instances where the apostrophe has already been used in this this manner and in this post. Can you find them? Why are they in there?

They're serving as stand-ins in order to create contractions. You know about contractions. Those instances where you have two words but you've turned the second one into a blended form of the first word and omitted the vowel. So you have words such as
  • "it's" which is the contraction of "it is"
  • "don't" which is the shortened way of saying "do not"
  • "Let's" is another way of saying "Let us"
  • "There's" is actually "There is"
In each instance, the apostrophe has stepped in for the vowel that was omitted. The two words were blended to create the slurred contraction that allows a faster pronunciation of the intended message rather than the choppy sounding out of each and every word and each and every syllable.

So we've covered the beginning and the middle. What else could there be? Why, the end, of course. Yes, the apostrophe even has a function in that area as well. You know those times when you're speaking colloquially (informally) and the last letter of the word isn't pronounced? Yep. Good, old Apostrophe comes along to clue us in that the informal version of the word (and pronunciation) is being used. So we wind up with catchy little instances such as
  • Keep on Truckin'
  • beatin' the daylights out of
  • beggin' forgiveness
  • biscuits that are finger-lickin' good
We haven't addressed other colloquial expressions such as "whatcha gonna do," which represents a hybrid slur and blend for "what are you going to do." Instead, we'll leave that consideration until another time. This is for bite-sized thoughts and a little guidance.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

When It Happened

There are so many words in our language that tend to get garbled and confused over time. (Yes, I know. Word are inanimate and aren't sentient. They don't think, therefore, they don't get confused. Humans get confused!) Oh well. There are a lot of words that get used but not in the right place.

"Then" is one such word. Poor little thing. It's trying to indicate a particular point in time. It happened "then" and not "now." It will happen "then" (meaning, at that point in time) and not any sooner.

It's related to a point in time. It's sort of related to "when" as in the answer to the question, "When will it happen?"

Response: "At 3 PM and not any sooner. Then we will have a good time."

You see the relationship? "W" simply took off his wrapper and then stood tall to show off his broad shouldered "T".

Why in the world am I making such a big deal about this beleaguered word? Because in some places it gets confused with a word that indicates comparison - "than."

For the time being, just remember that "then" relates to a time.

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