Category Archives: meta

A Little Speedbump

speedbumpHello. I had a little bit of an Internet connectivity problem, but thanks to @sophielynette, things seem to be okay now. I’ll return tomorrow with the Weekend Photo and answer readers’ comments and questions on Sunday, and then it will be back to the linguistic madness again on Monday. Thanks for hanging in with me!

Schedule Adjustment

You’d think that summer vacation would make these things easier, but it has made them harder.  I keep scheduling time to write entries for and I keep finding other things to do during those times.  I’m very, very, very close to getting it all worked out, though, so please don’t go anywhere.  I’ll be back Wednesday with everything locked and loaded for the next few weeks.

Ain’t no cure for the Summertime Blues.

Late Show Viewer Mail!

And now: Viewer Mail.

In response to this post, Blaine writes:

Scrivener! “Cemetary.” Dude, for SHAME! Cemetery! Or is it Cafetaria?

Yes, I misspelled it. How odd. It was embarrassing enough an error that I went back and corrected it, so now Blaine’s comment doesn’t look like it refers to anything. It brings up an idea I’ve been working on, where people earn points for finding my errors. I’m working on a scoring system.

In response to the same post, Mokihana writes:

Eh! You’re gonna love this one! It combines your plurals post as well as this one.

“Built in the early 20’s the Usa Building is graced with large lanai’s, and shaded by the enormous branches of monkeypod trees…”

Do I get extra credit for finding it?

No extra credit, but photographic evidence for a weekend photo would have been nice! I want to build contributions like this into the scoring system, too. As for the quote: Yuck!

In response to this post, Nickoli clarifies one of Blaine’s comment:

The example of a team being called the A’s doesn’t seem to be a problem to me, for there is another use of apostrophes: contractions. Shortening “Athletics” to “A’s” is surely as valid as shortening “is not” to “isn’t”. I think this is the point Blaine is making above, as well.

When Blaine left the first comment, I was so blown away (not to mention liberated!) that I didn’t know what to say! A lifetime of guilty rooting for a team whose punctuation I could not condone vanished in an instant! I have to think about this one, because if you are right, I can feel good about myself. However, if you are right and the continued use of A’s confuses other people so that they THINK this is the OTHER use, then I might still have to avoid using it myself!

RJG, in response to this post, writes:

I don’t know why, but I think putting the name second, and putting the possessive “his” first, is wrong. Is that a grammatical rule or am I just being weird?

It’s definitely not incorrect to write it the way it appears, but I understand your beef. Writing should be clear, and in the case of newswriting, the copy needs to be read quickly, too. Readers are not expecting James Joyce. They want good, clear writing that does the job quickly, so for a news article, I think your suggestion is better. However, I can think of times when, for stylistic reasons, you might want to put the possessive his first, as in Although her audience wasn’t expecting it, Madonna surprised the crowd with her costume of rubber bracelets, bangles, and big hair, just as she wore them in the mid-eighties.

Whoops. Sorry. Little fantasy of mine.

We’ll return with more viewer mail the NEXT time I can’t think of anything to write!

What the Heck?

Okay.  I scheduled updates for Friday’s Quiz and the Weekend Photo but wasn’t paying attention and scheduled them for the wrong month.  We’ll pick it all back up from here Tuesday.  Darn it!

PS: Thanks for the emails alerting me to the problem.  I was locked up all weekend working on my Masters thesis and therefore couldn’t really do anything about.  Thanks also for the Weekend Photo submissions!  I’ve received a few in email and will definitely use them!

Mumbo-Jumbo Monday

When first went live, I was determined to present short, readable, easily understood tips for writing while avoiding as much of the grammatical mumbo-jumbo as I could. I hope I’ve stuck to this wherever it was possible, but I know that in the two months I’ve been meeting you in this space, I’ve used words like modifier, infinitive, and parallelism.

The truth is that any time you’re trying to communicate about a topic that requires at least some thought, you will find yourself adopting or creating language specific to that topic. When you order a plate lunch in Hawaii, for example, you are sometimes asked if you want “mac or toss.”*  This qualifies as jargon, because it has a very specific meaning and because the meaning is pretty much restricted to a certain realm. You’d look pretty funny working in a shave ice store, for example, if you asked the customer who ordered a “large strawberry with azuki”** if he or she wanted “mac or toss?”

For this reason, I am introducing a new intermittent feature, Mumbo-Jumbo Monday. On one or two Mondays per month, I’ll explain some kind of grammatical jargon and provide examples, hoping to beef up your writing vocabulary. It is a fact that language skills affect thinking skills, and the more robust your vocabulary, the more flexible and powerful your thinking will be.

I will still try to keep things as clear and non-mumbo-jumboey as possible, but it never hurts to learn a few new words. Okay, it hurts sometimes. I did say we’d only do this once or twice per month!

* macaroni salad or tossed salad

** large snow-cone with strawberry syrup and sweetened Japanese-style azuki beans

*** now I’m jonesing for shave ice

Let’s Get it On!

Welcome to! My purpose here is to help the world (and its wide web) to improve the quality of its writing, one simple step at a time. I’m not going to make any wild promises about turning you into James Joyce in Ten Easy Steps, because the truth is that good writing takes practice, and good practice takes time, and the world doesn’t need another James Joyce anyway.

However, I do believe that one idea per day, explained simply and with clear examples, can make a difference, especially with frequent review. I will, as much as possible, stay away from the confusing language of English grammar that often acts as a barrier to learning good writing, and take my examples from the real world. My hope is that we can build a community here of eager learners, and that we can help each other move toward a better understanding of the beauty and function of the English language.

I am not an expert, though I have been a high-school English teacher for twelve years. Some of what I espouse as “good writing” might be bad writing in your eyes, or you might have a better explanation or a better fix than whatever I’ve offered. Please, let’s talk about it! I’m as eager to learn as I am to teach, so if you’ve got suggestions or corrections, please send along your ideas. You can send email to scrivener -[a..t]-, and comments will always be open on the topics I post.

I’m eager to get this going, so let’s dive in.