It’s an Epidemic!

I don’t know what it’s about, but lately I’ve been reading a lot more texts — from e-mail messages from clients to various forum postings and blogs — that are filled with comma splices and run-on sentences. I remember when I used to teach and would tell my students that a sentence was a “run-on,” they would assume that I meant that it was too long (i.e., went on and on and on). So afterwards, I would start getting a lot of short, staccato sentences that would still be run-on sentences (e.g., “The semester runs through April, the break begins in May.”).

It drove me nuts then and it drives me nuts now, albeit for a different reason. When I was teaching, it bothered me because the students would keep doing it despite all the effort I would put into showing them what was wrong and how to fix it. Today, it’s just because I’m under a lot of stress professionally and, as a result, probably have a shorter fuse than usual.

I understand that people might view e-mail messages, forum postings and blog entries as somewhat ephemeral or as being less important than a formal letter or proposal. But I’ve found that those who adopt this view are often at the beginning of a slide down a very slippery slope. They form bad writing habits by letting their defenses down, so when they need to write something “important,” they continue, although perhaps to a lesser extent, to litter their prose with comma splices and run-on sentences (among other grammatical faux pas).

Trust me: I’ve seen plenty of reports in which the writer seemingly forgot that he or she was writing something formal, or who lacked the formality and eloquence that would have helped him or her get a point across. (Honey is better than vinegar at attracting bees.) Instead, a reader is left having to figure out the writer’s stream of consciousness in addition to the argument being put forth. As a professional, I don’t mind wading through a long, detailed document, but I don’t want the mechanics of language getting in the way of understanding what are possibly complex concepts. Put the two together — bad writing and complex concepts — and I’m not inclined to want a professional relationship with you because it’s just too damn hard to figure out what the heck you’re talking about.

No, I don’t expect literary perfection — certainly a subjective entity in itself — nor do I believe there is only one style of writing. Ungrammatical sentences have their place provided that they appear on the page with the writer’s knowledge that they are ungrammatical. Advertising copy comes to mind as a good example of how an ungrammatical sentence can be an effective rhetorical device.

Maybe you think it’s odd that I should be so judgmental towards bad writing. Some even go so far as dismissing such rants with a startling array of insults suggesting that I’m just too picky and uptight. They fail to see that it’s not the mistakes per se that bother me. What gets to me is what your resistence to correcting those mistakes tells me about you.

Woes of *This* Blog Writer

Sometimes I go back days, weeks, even months in aMMusing and re-read stuff I’ve written. And the thing that drives me nuts is finding typos and poorly constructed sentences. In fact, it does more than just drive me nuts; I feel mortified when I find mistakes.

The most devastating ones, of course, are those I find in entries in which I rail against bad writing practices. However, I think that’s precisely when Murphy lurks to trip me up. The bastard!

But more fundamentally, I have this thing about leaving mistakes once I find them, even if they’re nested deep in a very old entry and I know readers of aMMusing understood what I meant. Quite simply, I can’t leave them there; I have to correct them. So, you can imagine that, for me, writing a blog entry can be time-consuming since I spend a lot of time revising it before switching it from “Draft” to “Publish.” And even after I switch to “Publish,” I make several more revisions before finally walking away.

The worst part is that I’m the same way with my e-mail. Most of my clients simply fire off messages and don’t pay much attention to how they write. And that’s fine: if it works for them… I, on the other hand, read my messages over several times before finally pressing “Send.” And I feel awful when I find a mistake in a message I sent — sometimes even if I sent it weeks ago.

The thing is, I’ve always been this way about my writing. I can drive myself crazy with it. Yet, cognitively, I know a few harmless mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Still…

Another One for the “Arrgh” File

Regardless of What They Say…
I read in a blog somewhere — I don’t remember whose — that the non-word disorientated yanks her chain the wrong way. Me, it’s irregardless. I feel the urge to slap somebody — preferably the writer — whenever I see it.

Professional Nose Pickers
Another one is how professional has come to be misused and overused. It’s so bad that on some website requiring registration — again, I don’t remember which site — the form clearly stated “traditional professional (accountant, doctor, lawyer, etc.).” In many instances, the substantive “professional” has become synonymous with “a white collar worker.” As an adjective, it has come to mean something along the lines of “deftly executed.” Consider, for instance, how many times you’ve heard or read that a website was or wasn’t “very professional,” and then examine what I consider a liberal definition of professional. Even if someone were to “perform nose picking” for pay, it’s doubtful it would be a good idea to call that person a professional nose picker.

This Rant Comprises a Rant on “Comprise”
I don’t care that opposition to the usage comprise of is subsiding. There’s no need for it. We’re allowing people who can’t use a thesaurus properly to lower the standard. I can just see it now: a bunch of people decided they didn’t sound sufficiently erudite when writing “consists of” and decided to substitute “consist” with “comprise.” Oh, get over yourself! You’re only making yourself sound more unlearned.

Okay, let’s get this straight once and for all. In English, a period or a comma goes inside the closing quotation mark; a colon or a semi-colon goes outside the closing quotation mark; a question mark or an exclamation point goes inside or outside the closing quotation mark depending on context. Look smart: Punctate correctly.

Real Compounded Words
¤ nevertheless
¤ nonetheless

No hyphen. No space. No other way.

Who’s That You Say?
Don’t reduce people to objects by using the pronoun that to refer to them (e.g., “People that…”). The correct pronoun to use is who (i.e., “People who…”). And use whom as an indirect object (e.g., “The woman to whom I was speaking…”).

Colour Me ________

This is rather cute, actually…

I am paleturquoise
Your dominant hues are green and blue. You’re smart and you know it, and want to use your power to help people and relate to others. Even though you tend to battle with yourself, you solve other people’s conflicts well.

Your saturation level is low – You stay out of stressful situations and advise others to do the same. You may not be the go-to person when something really needs done, but you know never to blow things out of proportion.

Your outlook on life is bright. You see good things in situations where others may not be able to, and it frustrates you to see them get down on everything.

the html color quiz

Via John Kusch

The results of this fun little quiz really aren’t that far off. The second and third paragraph (on saturation and outlook, respectively) are quite accurate. You can ask Indiana Jones for confirmation of last paragraph, especially. While not a mindless optimist, I’ve come to terms recently with the fact I’m more of a “glass-half-full” kind of guy and I really don’t go looking for problems and complications. Or as the Bush Whacker calls them, hands extended in front of her, shaking them quickly, “implications.”

Effect, Affect, Ahfuck!

Since I’ve already been dubbed the Grammar Queen, I might as well rant about a point which, even though it isn’t grammatical in the strictest sense, is certainly closely related.

Why can’t people just figure out once and for all the difference between affect and effect?! We have tons of little tricks and sayings to remember correct spelling and grammar in other instances, like “I before E except after C“, or “dessert with two S’s is the one you eat, and there’s two S’s because you’d want more, not less, dessert.” The effect of people misusing these two words affects me in a way that is not just affected, but that makes me wish I could come up with a similar riddle that would effect a wonderful change, namely have the effect of getting said people to stop using the words EFFECT and AFFECT interchangeably.

Of course, it doesn’t help that these words can be both noun and verb. But then again, I suspect that many who misuse these words don’t have a firm grasp of parts of speech like nouns and verbs. To many, words are just words. They might not recognize a noun or a verb if one bit them in the ass.

“The affect of this latest computer crash…”

That’s a classic — referring to the effect of some circumstance as a feeling or emotion (affect). The reasoning seems to be that, because someone was affected (verb) — in this case, by the computer crash — it has had an affect (noun) on him or her. *sigh* No, you dumbass my dear, it had an effect on you.

“We tried to affect a change to the policy…”

Oh really? You wanted to influence rather than bring about a change? I really think you meant to say, “effect a change.”

“I was seriously effected by the computer crash.”

There again, because an event has had an effect, it has brought about a change in you (i.e., effected you) rather than affected you…

I’m the first to recognize that affect and effect are sneaky words because of their tendency to change the A to an E and vice versa depending on whether we’re using the noun or the verb. However, not taking the time to figure out when to use which word simply demonstrates that you either don’t think very highly of your readers or you believe everyone is hanging on every word you write because of the sheer brilliance of what you have to say.

Truth be told, I’m willing to cut some slack for personal web logs, especially if they’re not designed to promote someone’s services. But I have a real problem with people who present themselves as “professionals” — the subject of a later rant, I’m sure — yet can’t be bothered to learn the basics of language, which is the common denominator that allows us to complete any transaction. In fact, when you call yourself a “professional” yet persist in making such easily avoidable mistakes, you’re merely letting me know that you’re NOT really a professional.

Sounds judgemental? Perhaps. But if you’re too busy posturing as a “professional” to learn how to write correctly, I figure you’re probably too busy to offer me the quality of service I would have hoped to receive from you. Or that the quality of your services must be lacking since you can’t even explain them to me in writing. If writing is not your strong point — it isn’t everybody’s — then consider getting someone to help you whenever you have to write something. True professionals are able to recognize and promote their strengths — their area of expertise — but downplay their weaknesses.