Category: Effective Writing

Basically, Why Your Cohort Isn’t Your Buddy

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, at 11:00 pm

I received an e-mail from a fellow fussbudget deploring basically. He considers it meaningless and useless, and if you think about it, he has a point. Say any sentence with it and without it, and basically there's no change in meaning (see?). Perhaps the most basic use of basically is as a promise to cut …

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Orwell and Newspeak

Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at 11:00 pm

It’s not just professors and snobs who deplore the decline of English. The great essayist and novelist George Orwell (1903-50) had much to say about the corruption of language—and how it enables tyranny. The warning was clear: a distracted populace with diminished reading, writing, and speaking skills is vulnerable. Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, is …

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Word Nerds: Verbal Custodians Trapped in a Time Warp

Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2018, at 11:00 pm

A big drawback to a column like this is being perceived as having insufferable attitude: “So, Mr. Expert, I guess you think you’re so superior.” It’s not like that. Word nerds do custodial work. A lot of brilliant people can’t write. Ernest Hemingway was a terrible speller. Word nerds don’t think they’re “better”—do janitors think …

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Still on the Stakeout for Worn-Out Words and Phrases

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2018, at 11:00 pm

Last year we waded into the weeds of worn-out words and phrases: the verbal components that appear fresh and assimilate well in language until their nature is revealed. At first they might look just like the grass that surrounds them, but in time they disrupt communication with buzz words and catch phrases that impose on …

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Punctuating Compounds That Precede

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2018, at 11:00 pm

It's enough to drive even the most exacting writers, proofers, and editors a little batty sometimes: More than one descriptive word precedes a noun, forming what we call a compound modifier. Do we need to hyphenate the words, or are they well enough left alone? What if we have two words modifying another word and all three …

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