Test Answers 1

rogersgeorge on September 6th, 2017

Back in March of 2017 I posted a writing test. If you missed it and are curious, follow this link before you go any farther.

I’d have posted the answers sooner, but someone asked me to send the test to their dad first. Well, Dad never responded, and I got distracted by other things, hence the tardiness.

So here are some of the questions. More in another post.

  1. “The technology,” he wrote, “is not limited to only aviation.”
  2. Best known of the two is Enrico Fermi, the Italian intellectual giant who escaped from fascist Italy to America after winning a Nobel Prize for his research in nuclear physics.
  3. On February 23, 1997, NBC broadcast the film in its three-and-a-half-hour entirety, uncut and uninterrupted by commercials, as per Spielberg’s request.
  4. Who do you think you match with?
  5. 1856   The Republican Party holds it’s first national meeting.  (© Ducksters.  I wasn’t going to embarrass them, but they put a copyright symbol on it. Used without permission)

And here are the answers.

  1. In English you can split an infinitive, but this sentence is better if you don’t. It should be “…only to aviation.”
  2. When you’re comparing two things, use “better.” “Best” is for when you have three or more.
  3. This one really irritates me. It’s “per” not “as per.” Per means according to, so as per would mean as according to. Nonsense. A good example of being too fancy, which, in writing, I call a pretentiousism.
  4. Everybody has trouble with “whom,” especially in questions. Turn the sentence around: Do you think you match with him? The “m” is the give-away. Whom is the object of the preposition; objective case.
  5. Arg! I can’t believe a professional writer got this wrong. It’s ITS! no apostrophe in the possessive! His, her, its.

So there’s your dose of self-righteousness for the day. You knew all those, right? If you didn’t before, go take the test.

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Simplistic

rogersgeorge on November 29th, 2016

Simplistic is an important word to understand, both its definition, and recognizing it when it happens.

Lots of times people say “simplistic” when they mean “simple,” but they want to sound more high-falootin, so they use the longer word. I call this behavior pretentiousism. “Simplistic” means oversimplified. Too simple. Important details left out. (That means you shouldn’t to say “over simplistic,” either.)

You need to recognize oversimplification because simplistic content creates pitfalls that can lead to misunderstanding, even error. Whenever you write to explain something, be alert about leaving out necessary details. At least mention that those details exist. If you’re writing to influence, not merely inform, being simplistic is a powerful tool. It enables you to leave out details that contradict your point.

Here’s a good example of  being simplistic from an enjoyable comic about life in academia, PHD Comics:

Remember, please, that I’m writing about the language, not about the politics.

Let’s look at the first number. We generally understand rounding, so that’s okay. But that 1% actually tipping the scales is not so simple. The votes would have to be distributed pretty specifically to succeed in turning the tide. If 1% more people had voted Democrat in California or Delaware, those votes would have made no difference. It’s extremely unlikely that that 1% would have been effectively distributed in real life. The 1% is a mere statistic, not something that could realistically have happened. I should add that the persuasiveness of the number becomes a lot weaker if you say something like “1% properly distributed among key states would just barely have tipped…” I suspect Jorge Cham would expect his thoughtful readers to figure out this detail on their own. See why you need to be able to recognize oversimplification when it happens?

The second number. (I’ll ignore that the description should have “who” instead of “that.”) And remember, I’m describing the language, not the politics.

  • The first simplistic thing is “didn’t bother.” I can imagine a lot of reasons why people didn’t vote besides not bothering to. Disgust with both major candidates, physical handicap, schedule conflicts, illness, and so on. Does this 44.4% apply only to the folks who didn’t bother, or does it include everyone who didn’t vote?
  • Realize also that about half of them would have voted some other way than Democratic, too. Not pointing out this diversity of opinion doesn’t acknowledge that important detail.
  • The number has three significant digits! It doesn’t match the other number. Using more digits isn’t exactly oversimplification; what it does is increase the emotional impact of the number, especially next to the one-digit number. Darrell Huff’s classic How to Lie with Statistics calls this sort of thing statisticulation, and this is such a good example, I have to point it out.

Do you see that being simplistic can be a powerful tool of persuasion? Always be alert for left-out details.

Somebody else gets “Comprise” Right

rogersgeorge on July 13th, 2016

First, in case you haven’t already read it on these pages, the rule is “Never say ‘is comprised of.’” That’s a big fat pretentiousism. Comprise means, in effect, “is composed of.” Saying “is composed of of” is nonsense.

Second, I’ve mentioned before that cartoonists tend to be pretty good at English, and I like to use them as good examples. Here’s an example of a cartoonist getting it right:

Each year’s Eisner judging panel comprises completely different people, and I had no reason to hope that this year’s panel would feel the same about my work as last year’s did.

See that? His use of “comprise” is absolutely correct. By the way, here’s another grammatical subtlety: the last phrase (…as last year’s did) has a possessive adjective but no noun! Last year’s what did? That’s not a goof, it’s an ellipsis. He left out “panel” because you can tell from the parallel structure that he’s talking about another panel. High-quality adult-level writing.

Third, I have an ulterior motive for mentioning this example. I stumbled onto a comic that I recommend to you all. It’s called The Last Mechanical Monster, by Brian Fies. It continues the story of a really old Superman animated short—it’s about what happens after the bad guy gets out of jail, aged 99. Don’t follow the link unless you have some time to read; it’s a real page-turner. The quote, by the way, is toward the bottom of page 160 in the comments.

Pretentious Demonstratives

rogersgeorge on March 25th, 2016

The demonstrative adjectives (and pronouns) are these, those, this, and that. You need them when you have to point something out explicitly. A lot of times, however, plain old the works fine. Using a big word (those is the most common culprit in this case) when a simpler one does the job is being a little bit pretentious, what I call a pretentiousism.

Here’s an example from the mission statement of a Federal agency (where, I admit, a bit of pretentiousness might be expected, and they might call it “being formal.”). But even the Feds might sound friendlier if they write more plainly. I’ll make the guilty word bold so you can see what I’m referring to:

The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.

Here’s the sentence trimmed way down:

The mission of the DEA is to bring justice to those organizations involved in illegal drugs.

Now get rid of “those” and replace it with “the”:

The mission of the DEA is to bring justice to the organizations involved in illegal drugs.

In fact, in this case, you can even get rid of the “the”:

The mission of the DEA is to bring justice to organizations involved in illegal drugs.

Here’s the rule of thumb: If you can use the instead of these, those, this, or that, do so.

(You might have noticed that I removed the comma after “organizations.” It shouldn’t be there. But that’s a lesson for another day.)

Malaprops

rogersgeorge on February 18th, 2014

Malaprops are incorrect words (or non-words) that sound similar to the intended word, often to humorous effect. They are named after a certain Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a Dickens novel (but I read recently she’s in something by Richard Brinsley Sheridan written in the late 1700’s. I’m too lazy to research it.) Here’s a more up-to-date example of this linguistic comedy:

Luann

From Luann, Feb 4, 2001.

Malaprop, referring to the humorous error, is called a malapropism by some, and this leads me to mention a more insidious error, one that occurs too often among educated folks, (who are more likely to read this blog than people who make malaprops). The error I refer to is pretentiousism. Pretentiousisms are grammatically correct words that are longer, harder to understand, or more obscure than plain, clear writing or speaking. I’ve mentioned pretentiousism in the past; you can search this blog for it.

Don’t add unnecessary syllables or Latinisms to your writing. Don’t say “utilize” when “use” will do. Don’t say “obfuscate” when “confuse” will do. Don’t say “malapropism” when “malaprop” will do.

Here are a few more malaprops, from the pen of the talented Darrin Bell, who writes Candorville: