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Media Watch

Several weeks ago, a Vatican-endorsed medal honoring Pope Francis had to be recalled because Jesus was spelled “Lesus.” Just last week, a political placard at a Washington, D.C., press conference spelled filibuster “fillibuster” and against “againts.” In light of these disgraces, it seems the right time to reopen our Media Malfeasance file…

• “They have arrested two suspects, neither of whom are British.” This decades-old problem is only getting worse. To journalists it may concern: The pronoun neither, like either and each, is always singular. Make it “neither of whom is British.”

• “Prop. 32 is an initiative to curb union’s influence.” Ah, apostrophes. Note that one could also say “to curb the influence of unions”—that’s unions, plural. Plural nouns ending in s show possession with the apostrophe after the s, not before. So make it “curb unions’ influence.”

• “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” Looks all right, you say? The problem is the unnecessary question mark. “Guess” is an imperative—a direct order, not the first word in a question.

• “Rebecca Solnit’s book, Unfathomable City, was celebrated last week.” Remove the commas. This is slipshod editing. With the commas, the sentence means that Unfathomable City is the only book Solnit has ever written. In fact, she has written over a dozen.

The rule is that commas set off nonessential information. If the author has written only one book, its title is not essential to the sentence: “Rebecca Solnit’s [only] book, Unfathomable City, was celebrated last week.” But since she has written several, we must be told which book directly—no commas. Similarly, The actor, Robert De Niro, was there is incorrect with commas. But The president of the United States, Barack Obama, was there is correct.

As writers’ skills decline, so do readers’ standards. The acerbic avant-garde musician Frank Zappa (1940-1993) once described a rock ’n’ roll magazine as “written by people who can’t write for people who can’t read.” Were he alive today, Zappa might not limit his assessment to rock-music journalism.

 

Pop Quiz

See if you can spot the flaws in these actual quotations from the media.

1. “…shot himself with a riffle.”

2. “Is it fair to compare the two crisis?”

3. “It does so many other things that drives up the cost.”

4. “Everyone has come out looking badly.”

5. “Dow closes at new record high.”

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. “…shot himself with a rifle.”

2. “Is it fair to compare the two crises?”

3. “It does so many other things that drive up the cost.”

4. “Everyone has come out looking bad.”

5. “Dow closes at record high.” (“new record” is a redundancy)

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Posted on Monday, November 25, 2013, at 1:36 pm


How Did They Get In Here?

Writers today have problems keeping their sentences internally consistent. This is especially true of print journalists. Because of staff cutbacks at financially challenged newspapers, many articles are proofread hastily, if at all.

Combine that with the shocking decline in Americans’ English language skills over the last fifty years or so and you get sentences unworthy of the average sixth-grader in 1963. Here is a sentence from a recent article in a major metropolitan newspaper on the West Coast: “Each side in the condo fight has spent more than $350,000 on their campaigns…”

Everything is fine until that jarring “their” at the end. Go back to the subject: “each side.” The writer is talking about two things but is taking them one at a time—each side has spent, not have spent. So writing “their” confounds the ground rules of the sentence. It’s like setting the table with a fork and then eating with your hands.

This is an easy one to fix: “Each side in the condo fight has spent more than $350,000 on its campaign…”

 

POP QUIZ

The following sentences or fragments from recent print or broadcast media reflect contemporary bad habits. Can you fix them?

1. McDonalds is doing everything they can to shift costs to operators.
2. There needs to be better screening and a more foolproof monitoring system.
3. East Haven, Conn. plane crash…
4. No listener is ever happy with how much time they get.
5. He didn’t believe in the peoples’ right to know.

 

POP QUIZ ANSWERS

1. McDonalds is doing everything it can to shift costs to operators.
2. There need to be better screening and a more foolproof monitoring system.
3. East Haven, Conn., plane crash…
4. No listeners are ever happy with how much time they get.
5. He didn’t believe in the people’s right to know.

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Posted on Sunday, August 11, 2013, at 11:06 am


Its vs. It’s

Would you like to know the #1 Grammar Error?
Hint:
The word involved is small and it’s contained in this sentence.

That’s right: its vs. it’s
Yet the two rules are actually quite easy to remember.

Rule 1: When you mean it is or it has, use an apostrophe.

Examples:
It’s a nice day.
It’s your right to refuse the invitation.
It’s been great getting to know you.

Rule 2: When you are using its as a possessive, don’t use the apostrophe.

Examples:
The cat hurt its paw.
The furniture store celebrated its tenth anniversary.

 
Note: From what we understand, the possessive was also written it’s until a couple of hundred years ago. While we don’t know for certain, it is possible that the apostrophe was dropped in order to parallel possessive personal pronouns like hers, theirs, yours, ours, etc.”

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Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at 5:35 pm


The Apostrophe with Numbers, Letters, and Abbreviations

Rule 1: The plurals for capital letters and numbers above nine do not require apostrophes, but some use them anyway.

Examples:
She learned her ABCs.
(some writers prefer ABC’s)
the 1990s (some writers prefer 1990′s)

Rule 2: For clarity, most writers use apostrophes with single capital letters and single-digit numbers.

Examples:
Please dot your I’s.
She learned her times tables for 6′s and 7′s.

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Posted on Monday, November 9, 2009, at 10:28 am


Apostrophes with Names

Question: How do you form the plural of a proper noun that ends in y like Murphy? Should you change the name to Murphies as in I visited the Murphies yesterday?

Answer: No. Never change the spelling of a name to show the plural form.

Example: I visited the Murphys yesterday.

Question: How do you show possession for a name that ends in y?

Answer: To show singular possession, use the apostrophe and then the s.

Example: I petted Mrs. Murphy’s cat.

To show plural possession, always make the noun plural first, then use the apostrophe.

Example: I petted the Murphys’ cat.

Example: I visited the Murphys’ store on Main Street.

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Posted on Thursday, October 22, 2009, at 10:01 am