Who is that?

rogersgeorge on August 30th, 2009

I see this so often in internet marketing efforts; you’d think these folks were more literate. “That” and “who” are called relative pronouns. They refer to a word that came earlier in the sentence.  (Yes, I know, they have other names in other contexts.)

who—refers to PEOPLE, people! You might say, “Will the person who got my name wrong please stand up?”

that—refers to THINGS, but not people. (I was going to use all caps instead of italic, but I don’t want to be someone who displays bad manners by shouting.) Say “Things that go bump in the night…”

You don’t refer to things who go bump in the night; don’t refer to people that do something. This rule applies to words that stand for people, too. “The teacher who teaches well…”  “The police who were on duty that night…” “The wretch who stole my pen…” I invite those of you who read this tender missive to provide your own examples in the comments.


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Teacher and Teachee?

rogersgeorge on August 23rd, 2009

Yes, we borrow from the Latin on some pairs of words, such as employer and employee, and grantor and grantee, but most of the time we don’t. We have parent/child, husband/wife, giver/recipient, boss/underling, master/apprentice (or slave). You can come up with your own list, and I invite you to do so in the comments. So what about “mentor”?

It’s not mentor and mentee! (Mentee sounds like a sea creature that used to be mistaken for mermaids.) The correct term is protegé (accent optional in English). You pronounce it “prota-zhay.” This one we borrow from the French, and leave Latin to its dusty spot on the bookshelf.

We borrow from the Greek, too— “Mentor” is an eponym. It’s the name of Odysseus’ teacher. Remember the Odyssey? That guy. Mentor was an old, wise fellow, who was instrumental in saving Odysseus’ marriage. It’s an interesting story.

One last tip: to get that high-class accented “e,” hold down the Alt key while you type 0233 on the numeric keypad. Then lift the Alt key and “é” appears.

Do you say “more farther”?

rogersgeorge on August 17th, 2009

This one might be a losing battle, but your writing will be smoother if you get the distinction between “further” and “farther” right.

Further—to a greater extent in any sense but distance. If your sentence doesn’t make sense with “far” in it, use further. “They caused further delay by walking slowly.” This is more delay, not far delay, so “further” is correct.

(You also see “further” used as a verb, but that’s another topic.)

Farther—the comparative form of “far.” If your sentence could work with the word “far,” use farther, not further.”Their slow walking put then farther behind.” They are far behind, so “farther” is correct.

Sometimes the sense of “far” is metaphorical, and that’s when people start to use “further.” If “far” works, even metaphorically, using “farther” still makes a smoother sentence.  Here’s an example of this: ” They keep getting farther into debt.” In this sentence, both “far into debt” and “more into debt” make sense. Since “far” works, prefer that one.

Here’s a test—fill in the blank: “Your writing will take you ______________ if you follow my advice.”

How simple is too simple?

rogersgeorge on August 13th, 2009

Lots of folks like to use big words. That’s okay, but you have to use them right, or those in the know will snicker at you ro roll their eyes. And those not in the know will be led astray.

Today’s sin is choosing the wrong, longer word:

Simple—not complicated. Easy to describe or do. You know what simple means.

Simplistic—oversimplified, hence incorrect. Not enough detail to be useful. “‘Nuke ’em till they glow’ is a simplistic solution to the Middle East problem.”

So don’t use “simplistic” when you mean “simple.” Short words are okay—they’re simpler.

First or Foremost?

rogersgeorge on August 10th, 2009

Okay, perhaps this distinction is falling into disuse (the people who like to be pretentious are winning), but if you make this distinction in your writing, your writing will be tighter, less pretentious, and easier to read.

Prior—ahead in order of importance. Think of the phrase, “takes priority,” which still conveys this meaning. ” I’d agree with you, but that would contradict the court’s prior ruling.”

Previous—ahead in order of time. (This word’s teammate is “before.”) “Your previous statement led me to believe you were kidding.”

If you use “previous” or “before” to refer to something that happened beforehand, instead of “prior,”  no one will notice that you used the simpler word, but your writing (and speaking) will flow more smoothly and it’ll have a bit more punch.