Tricky Tuesday: Using Spell Check

While a spell checking tool can be useful, it’s important not to rely on it too much. You’ve probably had plenty of those embarrassing instances when auto correct messes up your text messages. Similarly embarrassing situations can occur if you don’t carefully check your emails, Word documents, or other written work.

Yesterday I told you about my new Malaprop Monday series. In this series, I’ll talk about lots of malaprops that a spell check tool won’t catch – things like using vice instead of vise, wether instead of whether, or flaunt instead of flout. To catch this type of error, you need to do a careful, line-by-line proofread of your work. Spell check will never catch an incorrectly spelled word if the misspelling is an actual word with another meaning.

Another mistake spell check won’t catch is words omitted or added unintentionally. Sure, if the grammar of a sentence is wrong maybe you’ll get that green squiggly underline. But maybe you won’t, and I’ve seen Word’s editing tool underline sentences that were totally correct.

The third thing to watch out for with spell check: you know how you can make it “learn” a word? Be sure you know that word is correct before you add it to your spell checker’s vocabulary. And if it’s a name or something specific that wouldn’t appear in a dictionary, make sure you’re spelling it right before you add it.

Spell check can be helpful as a precursor to real editing, but never trust it with your writing – there’s no substitute for your own eyes (or an editor’s!). I once had a coworker who trusted spell check too much, and he would consistently use “are” in place of “our.” Lesson: don’t be like that.

Introducing: Malaprop Monday

A malaprop is the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar one. In fact, the name of my blog is based on a malaprop!

Each Malaprop Monday, I’ll tell you about a malaprop, the correct phrase and its origin, as well as the meaning of the incorrect word so you can avoid misusing it in the same way.

For my first Malaprop Monday, I’ll start off with one I hear/see frequently: supposably/supposively instead of supposedly.

Neither of the two incorrect words is actually a word. However, they both sound similar enough to “supposedly” that if someone says one of them aloud, you might miss the mistake. I think this has something to do with why it’s so common – a person might say
“supposably” all the time and never be informed that they’re saying it wrong.

“Supposably” uses the ending “ably,” a form of the adjective “able.” This misuse suggests that something might be supposed; that one is “able” to suppose it. This is different from the meaning of “supposedly” – something that is supposed.

There’s your malaprop for the week. If you know of any malaprops you’d like to see me write about, let me know in the comments!

Slang Saturday: Abbrvs., Part 2

Last week I told you about some common texting/instant messaging abbreviations. This week I’m going to talk about the less common ones.

You may be wondering what these have to do with grammar, and why I’m spending time telling you about texting lingo on a blog about “real” writing. Well, there are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to know these terms – especially if you’re a blogger like me.

First, it’s important to understand your audience. If you’re a blogger, you may get comments on your posts from readers who like to abbreviate things. And even if you’re not, social media is a big part of marketing these days. Chances are, if you’re any type of writer then you have to spend time marketing your work, and that involves interacting with your audience through social media, which is rife with abbreviations and millennial slang.

The better you know your audience, the more effectively you can speak to it. So without further ado, here’s my list of abbreviations. Please feel free to comment with any that I missed!

  • 2moro – tomorrow
  • 2nte – tonight
  • 4YEO/FYEO – for your eyes only
  • AAMOF – as a matter of fact
  • ACK – acknowledgment
  • AFAIK – as far as I know
  • AFAIR – as far as I remember/recall
  • AFK – away from keyboard
  • B2K/BTK – back to keyboard
  • B3 – blah, blah, blah
  • B4YKI – before you know it
  • BM&Y – between me and you
  • BTAM – be that as it may
  • BTT – back to topic
  • CTN – can’t talk now
  • CUS – see you soon
  • CWOT – complete waste of time
  • CYS – check your settings
  • EM? – excuse me?
  • EOD – end of discussion
  • EOM – end of message
  • EOT – end of thread/text/transmission
  • FAQ – frequently asked questions
  • FACK – full acknowledge
  • FKA – formerly known as
  • HF – have fun
  • HTH – hope this helps
  • IRL – in real life
  • JC – just checking
  • JTLYK – just to let you know
  • KFY – kiss for you
  • L8R – Later
  • N-A-Y-L – In a While
  • NC – No Comment
  • NP – No Problem
  • NSFW – Not Safe for Work
  • NTIM – Not that it Matters
  • OATUS – On a totally Unrelated Subject
  • OIC – Oh, I See
  • OTL – Out to Lunch
  • OTP – On the Phone
  • PROPS – Proper Respect/Proper Recognition
  • QT – Cutie
  • RN – Right Now
  • RU – Are You
  • SLAP – Sounds like a Plan
  • SMIM – Send Me an Instant Message
  • SO – Significant Other
  • TMI – Too Much Information
  • UR – Your/You are
  • W8 – Wait
  • WB – Welcome Back
  • WYCM – Will You Call Me?
  • WYWH – Wish You Were Here

Phrase Friday: Non-English Phrases, Part 2 – French

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, Tower, Landmark, Europe
Photo via Pixabay

Also read last week’s post on Latin phrases.

For some reason, English speakers love French. Perhaps it’s simply because it is a pretty language. I think we have co-opted French phrases for a variety of reasons, though. French culture has been exported throughout Europe and even America over the centuries, in the forms of opera, ballet, music, wine, and more. Many of the phrases in the list below were popularized among English speakers this way.

Avant-garde – cutting edge; new; experimental; innovative. Usually refers to something in the arts (for example, “Shakespeare’s play Othello was avant-garde for its time”)

Bon voyage:  “have a pleasant trip” – an expression of goodwill at the start of a trip or new venture

Carte blanche: “blank paper” – unrestricted power to act at one’s own discretion; complete freedom

Cause célèbre: “famous case” – any incident that attracts great public attention

C’est la vie:  “that’s life” – such is life

Déjà vu:  “already seen” – the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time

Du jour: “of the day” – 1.as prepared on the particular day; of the kind being served today (a restaurant’s “soup du jour”); 2. fashionable; current

Enfant terrible:  “terrible child” – usually refers to a famous or successful person who likes to shock people; a person whose unconventional behavior embarrasses others

Esprit de corps – a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group; team spirit

Faux pas:  “false step” – a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion

Femme fatale:  “fatal woman” – an irresistibly attractive woman, especially one who leads men into difficult or dangerous situations; a siren

Haute couture: “high dressmaking” – high fashion; clothing created by high fashion designers

Je ne sais quoi: “I know not what” – an indescribable or inexpressible thing

Joie de vivre: “joy of life” – a keen enjoyment of living; exuberance; lightheartedness

Menage-a-trois: “household of three” – a love triangle

Nom de plume: pen name; pseudonym

Piece de resistance: “means of resistance” – usually in reference to creative work or food – the most important or remarkable feature (for example, “the piece de resistance of the show was the artist’s 20 foot tall sculpture of a fire hydrant”)

RSVP: stands for “Respondez s’il vous plait”, meaning “please answer” – a reply to an invitation

Savoir faire: ability to say and do the right thing at the right time; tact; poise; sophistication

This and That Thursday: Is it Okay to use Swear Words in Writing?

" TAKE NOTES "
Nice graffiti, dude. Image via Foter

Is it okay to use swear words? Like with most questions about writing, the answer to this one depends on your audience.

Most magazines, newspapers and other publications have a formal policy addressing the use of profanity. For instance, The New York Times has a pretty strict no-swearing policy. But some argue that these policies are too restrictive and some banned words are not actually that big of a deal.

For your own writing purposes, you can really do whatever you want. It all depends on who your audience is and whether they will be alienated by or feel uncomfortable with swearing. I keep my blog free of any language I wouldn’t want my mom hearing from me (and no, it’s not just because she reads my blog). I am writing to a wide audience and want my content to be accessible to kids, students, adults, and other bloggers, to name a few. A large portion of my target audience would be alienated by bad language, plus what I write about doesn’t really necessitate the use of obscenities, so I just don’t use them.

To figure out what’s right for you, think about your readers. Will they find the use of bad language amusing, or will the be put off by it? Are you trying to make a point which is emphasized by the use of profanity? Are you looking for shock value? Do you have readers whose computers are controlled by their parents? Would swearing fit the tone of your writing?

It’s up to you, but this is a choice that can really divide your audience, so be careful!

Wordy Wednesday: Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Emigrate: to leave a country or region to live elsewhere

Immigrate: to come to a country to live there

Source: Merriam-Webster

These two words are frequently confused for each other, and it’s easy to see why. The spellings, pronunciation and meanings are almost the same – although the meanings are also essentially opposite.

Here are examples of how the words should be used:

“My great grandmother emigrated from Italy in the early 20th century.”

“People from all over the world hope to immigrate to America for the many opportunities the country offers.”

It helps to remember that “emigrate” should usually be followed by “from,” and “immigrate” should be followed by “to.”

Tricky Tuesday: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Could of, would of, should of – this mistake happens all the time. It’s probably because the contracted form of “could have” – “could’ve” – sounds a little like “could of” when you say it out loud.

The rules:

  • When people write “should of”, what they really mean is “should have”.
  • Written down, the shortened version of “should have” is “should’ve”.
  • “Should’ve” and “Should have” are both correct, and the latter is more formal. (remember my post on contractions?)

Incorrect:

  • I could of done it if you had reminded me
  • They would of made it if they had been faster
  • You should of told me you were going to be late

Correct:

  • I could have done it if you had reminded me
  • They would have made it if they had been faster
  • You should have told me you were going to be late

 

Modifier Monday: Use Sparingly

Hey! Happy Monday!

So, I had a feeling this would happen eventually but I’m kind of running out of things to say about modifiers. This will be my last Modifier Monday post. Check out my new Monday theme next week!

I’ve talked about how not to dangle, misplace or squint a modifier. I talked about how prepositional phrases can function as modifiers, and I talked about weak modifiers. For my final Modifier Monday post, I’m going to talk about overuse of modifiers.

There are a few reasons why writers should avoid overuse of modifiers. First, too many modifiers can clog up your writing and make it difficult to read. Second, a weak verb + adverb combination, or noun + adjective combination, can often be replaced with a verb or noun that is strong enough to stand on its own. And finally, to quote my favorite Strunk & White rule, omit needless words. You’ll often find when proofreading your work that a lot of your words can simply be deleted without harming the meaning or tone of your writing.

Look at the following examples:

  1. Too many modifiers slow the pace and cause confusion
    1. With modifiers: “The sleek, black horse, with long legs and bulging muscles, walked toward the humming electrical fence surrounding his enclosure, staring beyond it with his huge sad eyes as though he longed to jump over and run away into the dark, thick forest on the other side.”
    2. Worded more minimally: “The black racehorse approached the electrical fence around his enclosure and gazed longingly into the lush forest on the other side.”
  2. Weak noun/adjective or verb/adverb combination should usually be replaced with a single, stronger word:
    1. Weak: “I ran quickly across the field.”
    2. Stronger: “I sprinted across the field.”
    3. Weak: “The enormous house sat majestically atop the huge hill.”
    4. Stronger: “The mansion sat majestically atop the mountain.”
  3. Omit needless words: also see my post on weak modifiers. A lot of the time, you can simply remove a weak modifier since it doesn’t do much anyway. However, sometimes it’s a good idea to replace it with a stronger one.
    1. Weak: “I was very scared.”
    2. Stronger: “I was scared.” Or for greater impact, “I was terrified.”

This isn’t to say that modifiers are all bad. Sometimes a writer will use modifiers to intentionally slow the reader’s pace, either to lend a contemplative atmosphere or to jar the reader, or to lead up to something with suspense. But if you’re going to pull it off, your modifier use should be intentional and calculated – don’t just throw in flowery words in order to sound smart or meet a word count.

This wraps up my Modifier Monday series. Check back next week for a new Monday theme!

Slang Saturday: Abbrvs. You Should Know, Part 1

As a result of instant messaging, texting and other typed, electronic communication, there’s a huge number of abbreviations that are commonly accepted and used in a variety of online mediums. They include common phrases such as “talk to you later” (TTYL) and “by the way” (BTW), and phrases that nobody ever says out loud but are frequently used in texting such as “laughing out loud” (LOL) and “for the win” (FTW).

This is a short list of the more common abbreviations and what they mean. Next week for Slang Saturday, I’ll cover some of the more obscure ones that you might not have seen before.

A lot of abbreviations, such as ASAP (as soon as possible) and TGIF (thank goodness it’s Friday) are not new to instant messaging or texting, so I have not included them here. This list mostly includes abbreviations that have become common over the last 10 years or so.

  • B4 – before
  • BCNU – be seein’ you
  • BRB – be right back
  • F2F – face to face
  • G2G/GTG – got to go
  • GR8 – great
  • IC – I see
  • IDK – I don’t know
  • IMO – in my opinion
  • JK – just kidding
  • L8R – later
  • LMAO – laughing my a** off
  • LMBO – laughing my butt off
  • LOL – laughing out loud
  • MSG – message
  • n00b – newbie
  • OT – off topic
  • PLZ – please
  • ROFL/ROTFL – rolling on (the) floor laughing
  • SMH – shaking my head (usually expresses exasperation or disbelief at something stupid)
  • TTYL – talk to you later
  • U/UR – you/your/you’re
  • WTH – what the heck

Further reading: txtdrop.com; netlingo.com

Phrase Friday: Non-English Phrases Used Frequently by English Speakers, Part 1 – Latin

Americans have a habit of using certain words and phrases from other languages, and we particularly love to use Latin and French. Italian, though less common, is also sometimes appropriated by English speakers, as are Greek and Spanish. While there’s nothing saying you shouldn’t use non-English phrases in your writing, it is important to know the correct spelling and meaning before you use them. Today I’ll cover Latin phrases, and next week I’ll talk about French ones. The following week, I will tell you about the less common phrases from other languages.

  • Ad absurdum: literally “to the point of absurdity” – used the same way you would the English phrase.
  • alma mater: “nurturing mother” – the school from which one graduates
  • cum laude: “with honor” – used in diplomas to grant special honors to those with above average grades
  • verbatim: in exactly the same words; word for word
  • E pluribus unum: “out of many, one” – the motto of the United States
  • status quo: the existing condition or state of affairs
  • Caveat Emptor: “let the buyer beware” – the principle that the seller of a product cannot be held responsible for its quality unless it is guaranteed under a warranty
  • tabula rasa: “blank slate” – a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc; anything existing undisturbed in its original state
  • ad nauseam: endlessly, to the point of nausea
  • carpe diem: “seize the day” – enjoy the day, take the opportunity
  • tempus fugit: “time flies”
  • bona fide: made or carried out in good faith; genuine; sincere
  • non sequitur: an idea or statement that does not follow logically from evidence
  • id est: “that is” – that is to say; in other words. Frequently abbreviated as i.e. (see last Friday’s post on i.e. and e.g.)
  • terra firma: “solid ground” – often used when referring to being back on land after traveling by boat or air.
  • vox populi: “the voice of the people” – popular opinion or sentiment
  • ad hoc: for a specific purpose or situation; improvised – outside the usual routine. For example, an “ad hoc” project at work would be something you are not normally assigned to do.
  • magnum opus: the greatest work of an artist, writer, or composer; masterpiece
  • persona non grata: an unacceptable or unwelcome person
  • quid pro quo: “this for that” – something given in exchange for something else
  • modus operandi: “Mode of operation” – the typical or usual way of doing something
  • mea culpa: “my fault” – an acknowledgment of error or guilt

Further reading: Daily Writing Tips (this site doesn’t tell you what language the phrases come from, but many of them are obvious and at least it gives decent definitions).