Passive voice: the good zombie rule

(I’ll admit it’s not a rule so much as a test, but I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Live with it.)

First, an apology to all my readers for not having written about this here on the blog before today. I know I’ve discussed it elsewhere on the ‘net, but an omission of this magnitude could not go unaddressed any longer. Continue reading “Passive voice: the good zombie rule”

Ee-ther, eye-ther …

This post isn’t about song lyrics. It’s not about pronunciation in regular speech, either. It’s about word placement.

When you use the conjunction “either” or its negative form “neither,” you need to be aware of what you’re comparing. Placing the word correctly is vital, or you end up with an illogical construction. Consider this:

“He was either too tall or those trousers were too short.” Continue reading “Ee-ther, eye-ther …”

A short (no, really), pithy post about a comma

See that comma after the closed parenthesis in the title up there?

That’s where it belongs. This isn’t a style issue. It’s a mechanics rule in AmE. (I suspect it’s the same for BrE, but I couldn’t find an entry for it in my copy of the New Oxford Style Manual.)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen someone write a sentence with a parenthetical intrusion and put the comma before the opening parenthesis, like this:

I was walking with my mom the other day, (doctor’s orders, you know, after her surgery) and we saw blah blah blah.

It looks so odd, I stop dead every time. Think about it like this. You’re talking along to a friend, okay? And you interrupt yourself mid-thought to add something, but that thing you’re adding actually belongs to what you just said, not to what you’re about to say. It’s semantically and syntactically linked to what came before. In my example, the comment about doctor’s orders is linked to walking with Mom, not to whatever thing we saw.

That’s why the comma goes after the closing parenthesis of the intrusion. We keep the related thoughts — the main one and the related intrusion — together by putting the comma afterward. Of course, this is assuming you need a comma. I’m not going into the variations that don’t. This post is short (remember the title?), pithy, and about commas.

See? I just did it again in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. That’s how it’s done.

I failed an editing test.

Made you look, didn’t I?

It’s true. A couple of years ago, I took a technical editing test for someone who runs an editorial services company, of which many clients are suppliers to the government. The test comprised a spelling section and a practical section. The latter was a six-page proposal (I’m sure there’s a special term for it, but I’m not aware of what it would be) in a Word file. The instructions were to edit for prose flow, AmE idiom (not use of idioms, per se, but “natural” wording), and GUMmy stuff.

I took my best shot, and sent it off.  Continue reading “I failed an editing test.”

About that word Comey used

There’s a lot of discussion (I’m trying to be neutral, here) about FBI Director James Comey’s use of “nauseous” in the last day or two.

Pedants will shout that he should have said “nauseated,” because “nauseous” is only and ever used to mean “capable of creating nausea” (like some fumes, or some votes in the US House. But I digress). Continue reading “About that word Comey used”