More List Comma Advice

I’d planned to post something else today, but then a problematical use (or avoidance) of the list comma came streaking across my desk so I changed gears.

Some time back — in one of the earliest posts on this blog — I discussed the list or “Oxford” comma. This issue, whether or not to use a comma before the “and” in a list of items, gets a lot of debate, some of it heated. As with most issues, I don’t treat it as a matter of absolutes: in just about all cases that final comma is good practice (and I recommend it), but some writers are constrained by style guides telling them not to use it. Even if you’re in the habit of using it all the time, every once in awhile you’re going to run into a situation where using it makes the sentence look awkward, and omitting it is the better choice.

Click for a dose of comma ambiguity

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Don’t get all butthurt over it: a new crop of words enters the dictionary

Maybe you missed it late last month (I almost did), but Oxford Dictionaries, the umbrella organization for a slew of English language reference works (among them the OED, the OAD, and the Oxford Thesaurus of English) used their blog to note the recent addition of numerous contemporary terms to their semi-official registries of English. I believe they only do a big add once each year, but it seems like Oxford has gotten into the habit, quietly, of making small announcements every few months of new words they’ve added. Why this one got more attention, I’m not entirely sure — perhaps it was just a slow news day.

Click for more or act butthurt. It’s all the same.

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Spotted in the Wild: Some Lazy Summer Errors

It’s still summer, if not for much longer, and a quick, not-too-serious post fits the mood. This is the type of light post I’d usually put on my Facebook page (yes, I have a Facebook page; if you’re interested in following that, you can ‘like’ it here). I post a bit more frequently there (every week or two, vs. monthly here) and keep things short. This one takes up more space, so the blog is better.

I’d mentioned some time back that it seemed like most of the copyeditors had taken the summer off because of the quantity of silly errors I was encountering. The two (or is it three?) below were part of this trend. These are available in PDF form at the source, but the resolution was low so I made my own digital images to better highlight the errors.

Anyway: I picked up the local “city paper” (I read it once or twice most weeks but the real reason I grab it is for the Sudoku) and noticed this ad on the front page:

Molly Ringwald! In "perosn!"

Molly Ringwald! In “perosn!”

I cringed but smiled. The error was amusing, if small, but I still had to shake my head: this was almost certainly a camera-ready ad that had been sent to the paper as-is, meaning that it wasn’t the paper’s responsibility (or fault) that this happened. The event promoter had botched it. Which is sad, but so it goes. The ad was fairly small — less than 1×2 inches — so the error probably went unnoticed by most readers.

Several pages later, however, I was confronted with a much larger version of the same ad, part of a full-page spread for eight events at the same venue. ‘No,’ I thought to myself, ‘don’t tell me they made this mistake in the large copy and then scaled it down for the front page plug.’ Sadly, they had:

As long as it's better than being "in prison."

As long as it’s better than being “in prison.”

We’re not through. Two weeks later in another issue of the same paper, I came across this:

I don't know what a "gitft" is. But they've got the best in New England!

I don’t know what a “gitft” is. But they’ve got the best in New England!

Again, this probably wasn’t the paper’s fault. This looks like another client-supplied ad, which wasn’t properly reviewed at the source. The error could almost be lost (it’s a full page ad), but the photo, the type face, and the placement right above a list of awards, all draw the eye to it. This one might have been a little trickier for the staff to spot, because of that…”decorative”…type face.  It still should have been corrected before submission.

What can I say? Only a variation on what I always say: it doesn’t matter how good you are with language, you always want someone else to check your work. Everyone makes mistakes. But you can minimize the ones that make you look unprofessional with a quick (and usually not very expensive) review by a good copyeditor.

Alright. All the kids are going back to school, but we’ve got one more big summer weekend left and probably another month of summery weather. Enjoy it! If you need a hand avoiding this kind of problem when you get back to the office, drop me a line. That’s what I’m here for.

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“Females” or “Women?” Why your choice matters.

I admit it: I’m a lurker in more than one online group. In some, I occasionally step from the shadows to comment, while in others I know better than to open my (figurative) mouth: I don’t engage, I simply observe.

This observational approach — in groups I wouldn’t ordinarily have an association with — sometimes pays off when the people in that group use language in an unusual way, or make interesting arguments for or against the way someone else is using it. I’ve watched a couple of these mini-debates unfold recently, one of which was particularly well argued: a discussion of whether it’s ever appropriate to refer to women as “females” and why (or why not). Click for more about language and gender

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Real Estate and Realtor: Word Origins

It’s been a fairly busy month in language but I haven’t been able stay timely. So many interesting words and usages, so little time! I didn’t want to let a full month slide by without posting on some useful topic so here, on the last day of June, a quick post on something that’s been on the radar a lot in my household in recent months: real estate.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what an odd pair of words they are? “Real estate.” In 21st century English, the phrase is used constantly and everyone knows exactly what it means. But the construction is odd for modern English and each of the two words, taken in isolation, doesn’t mean what it does when they’re together. “Real“? Of course it’s real, as opposed to being fictional or imaginary. “Estate“? Well, some properties might be estate-like, but most real estate transactions hardly involve estates in the traditional sense (an estate usually being a large property in the US; the term is more variable elsewhere, ranging from large properties to public housing projects).

So where does the phrase come from? What did it originally mean, and how did it get to where it is today?

Click to invest in a few paragraphs of cyber real estate

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