Spot the Error: Pundit Edition


Spotted in a bit of political commentary:

If the Romney team believed their own inevitability rhetoric, failing to invest for victory yesterday just as they did before South Carolina, that doesn’t auger well for their ability to make sound decisions later on.

What’s the problem? (Or should that be “What are the problems?”)

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“Writing is a skill, not a talent”


“Writing is a skill, not a talent, and this difference is important because a skill can be improved by practice.”

–Robert Stacy McCain, The Other McCain

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Need to apologize? Speak plain English.


There are good ways and bad ways to address a customer service fiasco. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines, here’s one of the bad ways:

“We are working directly with the family after sincerely apologizing and issuing a full refund for their less-than-positive travel experience,” Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said Sunday night. “We certainly will take away any potential learnings from this experience in our constant evaluation of how to provide the best possible customer service, which is second only to the safety of every passenger.”

Setting aside the situation that led this (the short version: Chris and Heather Dainiak, parents of a terminally ill boy, were told their son could not fly sitting in his protective chair, even though he had used it on another Southwest flight just days earlier), I have to ask: what makes people talk this way? A “less than positive travel experience?” “Potential learnings?”

Rule Number One of corporate apologies is: Never spin. Acknowledge the situation as honestly and objectively as you can.

Mr. Hawkins may be a fine, compassionate fellow, but when he uses phrases like “less than positive travel experience,” he sounds like his number one concern is minimizing the damage to his company’s image, rather than offering a heartfelt apology to the Dainiak family and doing everything possible to make amends.

What is “less than positive?” Neutral or negative. Nobody would say the Dainiaks’ experience was neutral, therefore, it was negative. It was bad. So cut the crap, ditch the spin, and admit what everyone already knows.

I have no idea who added the “potential learnings” locution to this statement (I’m betting that it was the product of a committee), but they should have been smacked with a dead mackerel. “Learnings” is bad enough, but to tack on “potential,” as if the management and workers of Southwest might not actually learn anything from this situation is staggering.

Everybody screws up. Everybody needs to apologize. When it’s your turn, try to sound like a human being, and speak or write in plain English, not in corporate speak.

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Posted in Business writing, Plain Language | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Never underestimate the power of sitting down and doing it


Author John Scalzi recently ran across something he wrote back in 1997 upon finishing his first novel:

[L]ike most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.

What are you thinking about writing?

Posted in Good advice from here and there | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Spot the Error: Lists Edition


Here’s a poser for you: Our local daily newspaper has a front-page article describing how frequently Fargo makes it into lists generated by various magazines, newspapers, and websites. A few paragraphs into the story is this:

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast figures North Dakota’s Grand Forks, Bismarck and Fargo are the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 coldest cities in the United States, respectfully.

Can you spot the error? Share your answer in the comments.

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Exculpate the lacuna


Yes, there’s been a lengthy break in posting; real life has reared its head with its normal mix of good, bad, and indifferent disruptions. We will have normal service restored shortly.

And for those of you wondering whether I got carried away with a thesaurus while composing the headline…

Yes. Yes I did.

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“Friends, Romans, countrymen, borrow lend me your ears”


Borrow Lend me your attention and let me share this gaffe on a newspaper website that my friend Fred pointed out:

The day before, his sister Dolly Wambach, of Georgetown, Minn., and family spent about 12 hours loading the tops into a trailer borrowed to him by friend Shawn Olson for the transport.

This is a common error in the Midwest, especially in conversation, but borrow and loan or lend are not synonyms. To borrow means “to receive something with the promise to return it,” while to lend or to loan mean “to give something on condition that it will be returned.”

In other words, it’s the difference between give and receiving. I can give or lend something to you, and I can borrow or receive something from you.

Here’s a usage oddity: people often use borrow in the place of lend or loan, but I’ve never heard someone make the mistake the other way around.

[Note: the Forum corrected the error before printing it in the newspaper, and have since corrected the story on their website.]

Posted in Grammar, Uncategorized, Usage | Tagged | 3 Comments

New special report available: “Put Your Writing to the Test”


Can you tell if your writing will get the results you want? Will that document, that letter, that brochure meet the goals you have for it? Is there some way to find out?

Yes!

There are four inexpensive methods you can use to test your writing to help ensure that it will achieve its goals: protocol testing, focus group testing, usability testing, and control studies.

These tests can help you in a number of ways: more effective marketing materials, increased customer satisfaction, improved brand reputation, fewer customer service calls, and decreased printing and distribution costs.

My new special report, Put Your Writing to the Test: Four Easy Ways to Find Out if Your Documents Really Work, will teach you how you can add simple and inexpensive tests to your writing process, tests that can help make your writing even more effective.

Request your free copy now!

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Voting opens for Best Grammar Blog of 2011! Vote now!


Voting has opened for the Grammar.net Best Grammar Blog of 2011 Award, and Writing, Clear and Simple is one of the nominees.

The Best Grammar Blog of 2011 nomiee

This is the first time my blog has been nominated for an award like this, and it feels a bit odd to ask, but I would be grateful for your support.

Please click here and vote.

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No such thing as “very imperative”


Can something be “very imperative?” No, it can’t.

I’ve already written about the overuse of intensifiers, our habit of tacking adverbs like very, really, and extremely onto words in an attempt to turn up the intensity of our language. While adding an intensifier sometimes makes sense, we can usually find a word that already has the intensity we want.

And then there are times when you simply should not modify a word’s intensity at all. I read an essay recently that described something as being “very imperative.” This will not do.

Imperative means “absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable.” Just as there are no shades of pregnancy (you either are pregnant, or you are not), there are no degrees of intensity with the word imperative. There is no volume knob, because being imperative is a binary state. Something either is imperative, or it isn’t, and so the intensifier very doesn’t add any information.

Remember that some words have no gradation, no variation of intensity, and therefore it is useless to graft a modifier to them. Things are everlasting, unique, monochromatic, or symmetrical, or they are not. These words don’t work with intensifiers, just like a coffee maker doesn’t come with a speed control—it’s either on or it’s off.

Think of it this way: if it wouldn’t make sense to modify a word with a diminishing adverb like slightly, then it doesn’t make sense to add an intensifier like very. It doesn’t make sense to say something is slightly imperative, therefore it’s equally nonsensical to say it’s very imperative.

Posted in Grammar, Usage, Word Choice | Tagged , , | 4 Comments