Posner’s Ruling: Jargon, you’re out of order!

If you’re a writer or editor or someone who follows the latest developments (such as they are) of the English language, you’ve probably spent time on various grammar and vocabulary and writing advice sites. You’ll know some of the popular ones (Grammar Girl) or the elder statesmen (World Wide Words), or your taste might run to the more specialized (Garner’s LawProse blog) or the eclectic (Language Log). There are literally more than I could list.

You might have encountered some of the eccentric groups, such as the Plain English Campaign (PEC) with its awards for outstandingly bad use. An outfit like that can do some good, although their approach and success are limited (and they’re quite rightfully not without critics).

I sympathize with PEC, as most editors probably do: some of us spend a lot of our time simplifying over-wrought writing, and it’s not always easy convincing an author to stop bloviating and just say what they mean. It ever was and ever will be.

So stop bloviating and get to the point already!

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hibernating for the Summer? That’s estivating.

Not too long ago, I found myself writing a quick social media message for a seasonal organization that was shutting down for their off-season: a ski club, which has little or no activity between early April and early September.

The group was going dormant for a few months and a word that naturally came to mind was “hibernation.” In the first draft, something along the lines of “we’ll see you in the Fall, when we emerge from hibernation made it to the page.

As soon as I wrote that, I was pretty sure it made no sense. My Latin is exceedingly rusty, but I realized right away that this is a specific seasonal word. ‘Wait a minute,’ I thought. ‘”hibernation” means to sleep through the winter.’ It’s right there in the word — hibernate is from the Latin hiberna (winter quarters) or hibernare (to winter — a verb which isn’t much used in modern English). The Latin for ‘winter’ itself is hiems, if you’re curious.

What then, I wondered, is the correct term? Is there an opposite to hibernate…to describe what an animal does when it sleeps for the summer? Before I could even look that up, new questions followed: hibernation seems a natural strategy for an animal to reduce energy use and go dormant when resources are scarce. Are there reasons why an animal might want to sleep through the summer? And are there any such animals? What are they?

You’re dying to know, so click for more.

Posted in Things you should know, Words | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amidst, Amongst, Whilst: You Stillst Shouldn’tst

A reader recently took issue with my long-standing recommendation to avoid the use of the “-st” variants of amid, among, and while (original 2013 post here). Our exchange about it was growing unmanageably long for the comments section, so I’ve gone and turned it into a full post for today.

The reader’s actual question was, essentially:

“is it more appropriate to talk about being amidst people or amongst people?”

All will be answered when you click here

Posted in Culture, Language, Requested, Things you should know, Words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Capitalizing the Internet (or internet): big I or little i?

In case you missed it, the big news in writing style this month was an announcement by the AP style book that…

Wait, wait, wait. Hold on a minute. Let’s rethink that. The whole idea of “big news in writing style” seems wrong. Is there ever any “big news” when it comes to writing style?

Click for news, big and small

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

n-grams: for fun (and profit?)

In the last post I delved into LSSU’s list of “banned words” for 2016 using the Google Ngram viewer. If you’re interested in modern language use (primarily English, but it dips into a few others), that’s a tool you should know about and learn to use. But what exactly are “n-grams“?

Read more about the power of n-grams

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment