I’ve Mentioned Fluff Before

rogersgeorge on August 14th, 2017

Actually several times over the past several years. (Search on redundan or fluff to see more.) Extra words go contrary to my rule about good expository writing, to be concise. So I suppose I don’t really need to mention it again, but this Wrong Hands comic has some good examples of what not to do. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

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A Word of Advice about Being Right

rogersgeorge on August 6th, 2017

The word “right” has at least three reasonably unrelated meanings, though they share a derivation. Right can refer to your political leanings, it can mean the opposite of left, and it is a synonym for being correct. (the shared derivation is not etymological but cultural in the case of politics, which used to refer to the right-hand side of the aisle.) And then there’s pun-fodder in the homonym “rite.”

Here’s an example of confusing right and left from good old Gasoline Alley:

So we have a situation ripe for ambiguity, which is the enemy of good expository writing. In spoken language you can get away with it (ahem, usually) because you have the aid of tone of voice, but when you’re writing, here’s my advice:

When that’s what you mean, always write “correct” instead of “right.”

I remember watching a John Cleese movie that ended with a scene of a (humorous) almost-car crash because the driver and passenger confused the meaning of “right.”

Maybe you should always use “correct” when that’s what you mean.

Prepositions are Tricky

rogersgeorge on July 26th, 2017

This probably seems a minor quibble, but the first panel in this comic has the wrong preposition. It should be “on” or “about.”

On the Fastrack - 07/25/2017

You pretty much need to be a native speaker of the language to get prepositions right all the time (and even then, you can find geographical differences, say, between the US and UK).

I don’t have a good solution, either. Maybe try googling phrases like “preposition for thesis topic.” Or ask a curmudgeon.

Two Harrumpfs

rogersgeorge on July 24th, 2017

No comic today, but something to think about.

My second gold rule of writing is to be correct. This from This Day in History for July 20:

In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit.

The whole moon is dark half the time! They went to the FAR side of the moon! I know, “dark” is a synonym for “unknown,” and I presume they were using a professional writer who decided to write, um, informally. Still, why not be accurate?

While I’m at it, here’s another example of bad writing from the same article:

After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hoursApollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.

“Into” is unnecessary. (It’s redundant. “Entering” includes the idea of going into.) I call this kind of mistake “fluff.” It goes against my third rule, to be concise. If you don’t need a word, don’t use it.

Double harrumpf.

This is Why We Have Hyphenated Adjectives

rogersgeorge on July 20th, 2017

We call them compound adjectives. Sometimes when you have two (or more) adjectives before a noun they both refer to the noun. The big red boat, for example.

But sometimes the first adjective refers to the second adjective, and together they modify the noun. Black-eyed Susan, for example.

So here’s a comic to illustrate what might happen when you forget that hyphen.

Free range eggs!

Mightn’t you say that the first adjective is really an adverb? After all, don’t adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs? Good point. That’s why we use the hyphen, to show that two adjectives are working together. If you used an actual adverb, you wouldn’t need the hyphen. A messily ruined shirt, for example. No hyphen.