Using “Kind Of,” and Astronomy

rogersgeorge on May 9th, 2016

I clearly remember Mrs. Clemens, my sixth-grade teacher, telling us not to say “kind of,” but to say “rather.” “Kind of” is incorrect, she said. We should always use “rather” in our writing, she said.

She wasn’t quite right. “Kind of” is informal, and it’s idiomatic, especially in spoken language. It fits the kind of writing, too in which you want to create an informal, conversational feel. I still agree that you shouldn’t use it in formal, expository writing.

I said all that to say this: I’m not only a grammar geek, but I’m also kind of an astronomy hobbyist. And today, May 9, 2016, is rather special. (See how I switched from informal to expository?) Today Mercury passes directly in front of the sun as seen from earth. This is called a transit, and it happens only a couple times per century. It starts about 7:15 in the morning in the eastern time zone (US) and it lasts a couple hours. Google “Mercury transit” if you want lots of details.

You don’t need a telescope to watch it, but you certainly don’t want to look directly at the sun! Do not look directly at the sun! (If you have a telescope with a solar filter, you already know about all this. Have fun!)

Here are two approaches you can try.

  1. Get some sun-viewing sunglasses, or use a number 14 or higher welding mask. Today is too late to order the glasses; they cost about $5 online and you can get them for future events, such as the solar eclipse in 2017. Besides, Mercury is small—it might be too small to see unmagnified.
  2. Use a pair of binoculars. (Do not look at the sun through them!) Get a piece of paper. Prop the binoculars against something to hold them steady and point them at the sun. Hold the paper a couple inches away from the eyepieces and move it back and forth until you find a nice, in-focus image of the sun. Mercury will be a little tiny dot moving across the lower half of the sun. (Well, maybe across the upper half.)

Here’s a picture of the last transit, about ten years ago. My thanks to Bill Bunker for the photo:

Since the transit lasts a couple hours, you won’t be able to see it move, but you’ll have lots of time to impress your friends with your astronomical savvy. That would be rather kind of fun, wouldn’t it?


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Teaser for an interesting article

rogersgeorge on February 26th, 2014

Other people besides me are good with English (duh) and I ran into an article by one of those folks; I think you might like to read it. The article is about an internet-based linguistic meme called doge (pronounced “doggy,” I say). Read the article for a full understanding of how it works.

The article, by Gretchen McCulloch, is here: The paragraph below is toward the end of the article.

The first factor is the kind of “baby talk” that we do towards our pets, known in the literature as pet-directed speech (yes, there are actual studies on this). It tends to involve speaking with exaggerated pitch and using simplified sentence structure. By comparison, the “baby talk” that we do towards actual children involves these two factors plus extra-precise articulation of sounds and is known as infant-directed speech (formerly motherese until some genius realized that it’s not only mothers who talk to babies).

Of course I can’t resist adding value for my dear readers, both of them, by making a comment or two. Two things: I had a post about baby talk a while back, which I recommend. The other thing is about the word “towards.” It has a synonym, “toward.” Perhaps it’s a personal quirk, but there is absolutely no difference in meaning between the two words, but one is longer, with that s tacked onto the end.

Use the shorter word, I say.

I won an award!

rogersgeorge on December 14th, 2013

My third! (The other two were a long time ago, from the Society for Technical Communication for some software manuals). The Writing Rag’s official address is Newark, Delaware, and I’ve seen plaques from this organization in assorted businesses over the years, and apparently the competition among restaurants for these awards is lively. So I think it’s legit. At least it’s not my name in a book that I have to buy if I want to see it. They do sell the plaques, but I have no place to put one, so I’ll pass.

Here’s the press release:


The Writing Rag Receives 2013 Best of Newark Award

Newark Award Program Honors the Achievement

NEWARK December 4, 2013 — The Writing Rag has been selected for the 2013 Best of Newark Award in the Editing category by the Newark Award Program.

Each year, the Newark Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Newark area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2013 Newark Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Newark Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Newark Award Program

The Newark Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Newark area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

The Newark Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

SOURCE: Newark Award Program

I found two nits to pick: “those” where “the” will do, and a missing Oxford comma. Hey, if I’m such a good editor…

Another who preaches my message

rogersgeorge on April 23rd, 2012

I know of many kindred spirits out there who promulgate good writing; I just ran into a new one. New to me, anyway. It’s in the form of an article on a site called Website Magazine. They are a fairly classy trade rag for people in the Internet Marking business, and wannabes. I get their free subscription, which includes a glossy every quarter, and the articles are generally pretty good.

The article is titled Grammatical Gaffes are the Worstest, and I recommend giving it a read.

It’s more or less my kind of article. I even commented on it. It ends with a challenge to find all the mistakes in the article, a fun exercise if you’re a grammar curmudgeon/nazi/emperor. Or wannabe.

Here’s an essentially unrelated picture, but I wanted to include something to look at besides my deathless prose.

I got this from Colin Collins on G+, but don't know the original source.

Yummy writing

rogersgeorge on April 13th, 2012

This post is a nice relaxing one—not too much grammar. It’s not yet time to post an example of outstanding writing, this being post number 168 (not 200), but I have an example of some pretty good writing to share with you. I confess that I’m a bit prejudiced because the writing is about several of my favorite non-writing topics: Local organic food, self-sufficiency, gardening, cooking, and (ahem) my wife. She has a friend, Rachel, who writes a local food blog called Rachel’s Table, which I suggest you go look at. Tell Rachel I sent you. Anyway, we had a few parsnips in our garden that had wintered over, and they came out a week or so ago as my wife prepped the beds for this season. My wife gave her one of the parsnips (and for effect, left it caked with dirt).

Enough preamble; here’s a picture of a parsnip plant:

Parsnip plant. Photo by Valerie George

I can’t resist saying something about the writing on the site. First, I found no actual grammatical mistakes or typos beyond a single missing comma and one tense I would have changed. Those are nit picks. The quality is far superior to a lot of Scientific American blog posts I’ve seen lately. Altogether, it’s a lighthearted, useful, and enjoyable read, and the photos are appropriate and useful.

One other point of interest: The third sentence of her post contains a nice example of hyperbole. Can you spot it?