More small mistakes

rogersgeorge on January 31st, 2012

As if there were such a thing as a small mistake. It depends on your perspective, of course. I have a rule in cooking: if you have basically good ingredients, and don’t destroy them, you’ll come up with something that’s at least acceptable. If your cake falls, serve it under or over ice cream. It’ll still be pretty good. On the other hand, a single typo in your résumé could keep you from getting that interview.

Perhaps I can define a small mistake as one that’s easy to fix. Small mistakes are not the hard part of writing.

Today, class, we look at some words whose plurals are easy to get wrong.

Data—This word is plural. The singular is datum. You generally see this used correctly in scientific writing, where they perform a lot of statistical analysis on piles (scientific term) of data, and you can see sentences like “The data are fairly convincing; only one datum is an outlier.”

The plural of "date" is "dates" and they have nothing to do with data

Media—This word is a plural. When we say “mass media,” we refer to all the TV and radio stations, and all the newspapers and magazines. The singular is medium, and sometimes you see it when someone refers to one of the media.

The medium of radio is the only one you can use while you do something else.

This word has become contaminated by the use of “medium” to refer to someone who holds séances, and the plural of this word is “mediums.” I predict that “media” will eventually become a singular and its plural will become “medias.” But not yet, so get it right.

Criteria—Our third plural. The singular is criterion. I remember a fancy restaurant in St. Paul named The Criterion. They claimed to be the standard by which other restaurants should judge themselves. I ate there once. They cut the lettuce for the salad instead of tore it. Didn’t meet my criterion for how to prepare a salad.  I recently read a pretty good article about mistakes you can make in a job interview. The article got “criteria” wrong, and it’s this sentence in the article that gave me the idea for this post.

When I am hiring though, and if you happen to apply, the above is the criteria I will use to decide.

Since the writer was referring to a list of five items, she should have written “…the above are the criteria…”

These mistakes are commonly made by well-educated professionals. The plurals are slightly more high-falootin’ than the singulars, so I could have classified this lesson under my oft-used heading, “the sin of pretentiousness.”

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A kind of mistake

rogersgeorge on January 29th, 2012

I frequently use the word “solecism,” meaning a mistake in grammar. It’s one of my favorite words (harrumpf). I also read A.Word.A.Day, written by Anu Garg. The word of the day a while back was “solecism.” Here’s the article. He includes a link to an audible pronunciation of the word, and an inspiring quote at the bottom. I left both of those out to help motivate you to click the link to the site.


solecism (SOL-i-siz-ehm, SO-li-) noun

1. A grammatical mistake or a nonstandard usage.

2. A breach of etiquette.

3. An error, inconsistency, or impropriety.

[From Latin soloecismus, from Greek soloikismos, from soloikos (speaking incorrectly; literally, inhabitant of Soloi) after Soloi, an ancient Athenian colony in Cilicia where a dialect considered as substandard was spoken.]

“`Ah! Madam,’ said Ovid, `how great a solecism would it be both in a lover and a poet if he did not look upon his mistress as the sublimest object of his thoughts!’
Benjamin Boyce and Thomas Brown; The Adventures of Lindamira: A Lady of Quality; The University of Minnesota Press; 1949.

“But the AAUP’s (Association of American University Presses) guidelines go beyond correcting what it regards as solecisms to more drastic exercises in raising consciousness. Consider the traditional personification of ships as feminine. According to the AAUP task force, such usage is `quaint at best’ and should be avoided: `it’ is preferred. Along the same literalist lines, you should think twice before describing an important work by a woman scholar as `seminal’.
Speech Therapy; The Economist (London); Jun 3, 1995.

If you don’t subscribe to the AWAD email already, why are you still reading this post? Go subscribe right now. Then come back and don’t make any more solecisms.

A nice insult

rogersgeorge on January 27th, 2012

Somebody criticized Robert Burns’ writing, once. I think you could call his reply “strongly worded” even though he uttered not a single profanity. Many of the metaphors are particularly apt, and it requires a classical education (or access to Google) to “get” all the allusions.

Thou eunuch of language; thou Englishman, who never was south the Tweed; thou servile echo of fashionable barbarisms; thou quack, vending the nostrums of empirical elocution; thou marriage-maker between vowels and consonants, on the Gretna-green of caprice; thou cobler, botching the flimsy socks of bombast oratory; thou blacksmith, hammering the rivets of absurdity; thou butcher, embruing thy hands in the bowels of orthography; thou arch-heretic in pronunciation; thou pitch-pipe of affected emphasis; thou carpenter, mortising the awkward joints of jarring sentences; thou squeaking dissonance of cadence; thou pimp of gender; thou Lyon Herald to silly etymology; thou antipode of grammar; thou executioner of construction; thou brood of the speech-distracting builders of the Tower of Babel; thou lingual confusion worse confounded; thou scape-gallows from the land of syntax; thou scavenger of mood and tense; thou murderous accoucheur of infant learning; thou ignis fatuus, misleading the steps of benighted ignorance; thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense; thou faithful recorder of barbarous idiom; thou persecutor of syllabication; thou baleful meteor, foretelling and facilitating the rapid approach of Nox and Erebus.

Of course I can’t resist making a grammar comment. Did you notice that the entire passage contains not a single main verb? Plenty of participles, and a “was” in a subordinate clause, but the whole thing is really a sentence fragment! At first glance it looks like an extended direct address, as if someone called “Hey you!” and then didn’t follow up with anything.

Actually, Burns isn’t quite so guilty of bad grammar. He left out the main verb (this is called ellipsis), which would have been the second word, “art” or nowadays, “are.” The verb “to be” is easy to leave out in many languages, and we use this particular construction not infrequently when we want to insult someone. Ever hear someone call out “You Sunday driver!” or “you nincompoop!” Same thing.

Only Burns did it rather more eloquently.

Everybody shows a picture of the poet; here's a picture of his home

Today is the Day

rogersgeorge on January 23rd, 2012

To those few of you who read this who aren’t on Google+, here’s an interesting ad I got last week. (I already posted the ad there directly.) It’s good today only, but you can’t beat the price. These people will make you a font out of your handwriting. I bought a font a couple years ago and I’m very satisfied. I think it works best if you print.

On January 23, 2012 celebrates National Handwriting Day. Why don’t you join us and make a personal handwriting font for free?

So what is National Handwriting Day?
Well, we are not sure but we think the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) initiated it to remind us all of the importance and power of handwriting. The date refers to the birthday of John Hancock (January 23, 1737) as he was the first to sign the United States Declaration of Independence.

Even with modern technology we still use our handwriting, and with our online font generation service you can combine the best of both worlds!

Use the special National Handwriting Day coupon that allows you to make as many fonts as you like for FREE! Of course the coupon can only be used during National Handwriting Day; January 23, 2012.

Use coupon CPN4NHD2012 when you check out and receive your font for free!

Remember to use this coupon when you check out:

This offer is only valid January 23, 2012, but you can already download and fill out the template.

Not competition, exactly…

rogersgeorge on January 21st, 2012

…but a kindred spirit perhaps. Google+ led me to another site that believes in and “preaches” good grammar. This article is a couple years old, but still good. After all, language changes over time, but not that fast.The site, Copyblogger, is flashier and more commercial than this humble site, but the links on the bottom of the page I link to here look pretty interesting:

5 common mistakes that make you look dumb.

Of course I have to quibble—if you start a sentence with a number, spell it out, don’t use a numeral.