Another Curmudgeon!

rogersgeorge on October 18th, 2017

His name is Brian Patrick Byrne and he wrote an article about a NASA-sponsored computer game that he says is riddled with errors, both of fact and of English. He seems to be correct. If you’re interested in mistakes in video games, go read the article. It’s not bad, (though once he used “within” when just “in” would have been fine). Here’s a quote:

Cosmic Quest teaches players bad math about the size of solar arrays, and gives false instructions for an important process used to make fuel and water in space. It also screws up the name of a vital chemical element needed to power NASA spacecraft. Among the game’s typos are misspellings of the words “analyze” and “oxide,” and confusing the verb “affect” for the noun “effect.”

As a writer and editor, I think these are pretty serious errors, even if they occur only once each. NASA has the excuse that an outside company did the development, and I’m certainly glad it’s not a real NASA project. Here’s a screen shot, by the way. I put the pointer under the misspelled word, but you probably didn’t need the assistance, did you?

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In which I bemoan the state of editing in…

rogersgeorge on January 3rd, 2012

The New York Times, of all places. This newspaper, whatever you say about its politics, used to be the standard of good and correct writing to which any writer of non-fiction could aspire. Now I must say Beware of imitating how the NYT is written.

I’m in the middle of a photo article that reviews 2011 with 365 photographs. It’s an interesting article, and here’s the link:

Photo 57, dated February 26 has a nice NASA photo of the ISS and the space shuttle with the earth in the background. “Backdrop,” even when used as a verb, is one word, folks.

“In this handout image provided by NASA, back dropped by a blue and white part of Earth, space shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station during STS-133 rendezvous and docking operations in Space.”

Photo 131, for May 11, has, and I quote, shuddering,

“A young Afghan boy who was shot in the stomach lays on a stretcher as he is taken to hospital in a medevac helicopter in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.”

I’m not trivializing the human tragedy here by mentioning bad grammar.  Reporters and editors doing sloppy work do the trivializing. I discussed this verb a while back, here and here. The NYT should know better. (Full disclosure: they got the verb right in the Sept 13 photo.)

Photo 191, dated July 10, has this monument to carelessness:

A female passerby adjust her hair using the glass in the front door of the temporary residence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anne Sinclair in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.

Third person singular present tense of “adjust” is “adjusts.”  But you knew that.

Photo 221, dated August 9:

A malnourished sick with TB is being washed by his mother in Banadir hospital.

A malnourished what?

The Sept 14 photo caption has “a police” where they mean “a policeman.” The Sept 20 caption says the people in the picture have their heads bowed in prayer.  They are standing, heads up, with their hands over their chests in the posture customarily taken when pledging allegiance.

Come on, you professionals at the NYT. Read my previous post.

To end on a cheerier note, here’s a NASA photo similar to the one in the NYT article.

Our Earth is the backdrop!

When not to hyphenate

rogersgeorge on October 25th, 2011

One of my favorite errors to point out is an unhyphenated compound adjective. A compound adjective is when two words work together to modify a noun, and you need to connect those two words with a hyphen. If you leave out the hyphen, you get the first word modifying the second word, and this can lead to serious ambiguity. I wrote about missing hyphens recently here. Go look at the article—it contains examples. People don’t usually put in the hyphen if they don’t need it, but I found an unnecessary hyphen today. The article is interesting, too, if you like astronomy.

 By blowing a wind prior to exploding, the white dwarf was able to clear out a huge “cavity,” a region of very low-density surrounding the system. The explosion into this cavity was able to expand much faster than it otherwise would have.

You’re reading along, and suddenly you wonder, “a region of low-density what?” That hyphen told you “compound adjective here” so you expected a noun. Maybe you filled in the noun yourself—low-density vacuum. Or perhaps you re-arranged the whole sentence, “…a very low-density region surrounding…” Or maybe you picked the simplest  solution and removed the hyphen—a region of low density.

Perhaps some science writer has been reading this blog and got over-enthusiastic about hyphens. (I flatter myself. I’ve never gotten a comment from a science writer about anything.) Here’s the picture that goes with the article.

Four telescopes teamed up on this one

Oh—one other thing I need to be curmudgeonly about: Don’t write “prior to” when you mean “before.”

Verbs can be tricky

rogersgeorge on October 17th, 2011

Regular readers of this humble site know that I’m a frequent reader of Scientific American. I can generally count on its English being as good as its science, though in recent years I manage to find more examples of how not to do something than I used to. Solecisms in that fine magazine are still few and far between, and perhaps my own increasing experience enables me to pounce on these misshapen gems. This item is a couple months old now, but the error is still a good warning to be careful what word you use.

English has two classifications of verbs, transitive and intransitive. You probably remember from high school English that transitive verbs take a direct object, intransitive verbs don’t, and some verbs can go either way. Sometimes a verb starts out innocently enough, but when you get into the past and perfect tenses, the forms differ depending on whether you want transitive or intransitive.

On to our example, taken from an online article earlier this year, Ten Things You Want to Know about Tornadoes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had already raised to 118, ranking the event among the top 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes of all time.

Our guilty word is “raised.” It’s transitive, but the usage here is intransitive—no direct object.  Here’s how these deceptive words go:

Transitive: raise, raised, raised—I raise the flag, I raised the flag, the tornado had already raised the, um, death toll.

Intransitive: rise, rose, risen—The sun rises, the sun rose yesterday, the death toll had risen every day last week.

Some words are the same in the present tense: “Shine,” for example. I can say the sun shines, and he shines my shoes, but in the past: the sun shone and I shined my shoes. Same thing for the perfect: The sun has shone every day this week, I have shined my shoes every day this week.

Some verbs are even more mixed up, the famous “lie” and “lay” mix-up. “Lie” is intransitive, and it goes lie, lay, lain. “Lay” is the transitive one, lay, laid laid. And let’s don’t even get into falsehoods: lie, lied, lied

We’ve all seen pictures of tornadoes, so here’s a NASA picture of a 39-mile tornado track in Massachusetts

Visible from space!