Questions that people think Google can answer


I occasionally occassionally browse through my referral logs to see what sort of search terms people used to find this site. Some of the time, it’s clear that they find an article that answers their questions. For example, I constantly see people searching for “bad news messages,” and Google takes them directly to my article, “Delivering Bad News.” It’s clear, however, that they haven’t always found what they were looking for on my site—not until now, anyway. This post will attempt to answer some of those unanswered questions. 

1. What does the word exodus mean?

Before I answer that, one little point: If you can’t or won’t buy yourself a good dictionary, bookmark this site: www.thefreedictionary.com. Use a dictionary or go to a dictionary site, rather than googling a word when you want the definition. “The right tool for the job,” and all that.

Now, to the definition (from thefreedictionary.com, by the way):

1.  A departure of a large number of people.
2. Exodus

a. The departure of the Israelites from Egypt.
b.  Abbr. Ex or Exod.

Usage note: Never write mass exodus. An exodus is already a “mass” event. Mass exodus is a pleonasm. (Exercise for the class: go look up “pleonasm.”)

2. starting a sentence with if

That’s easy: If you think you shouldn’t start a sentence with “if,” you’re wrong. See?

3. what does “a little song a little dance a little seltzer down your pants” mean

That phrase goes back to the Mary Tyler Moore show, in which it was said to be the catch phrase used by Chuckles the Clown. You can read more here on Wikipedia

4. Grammar question is it all your or all of your?

 Both. No, really. As far as I know, either one is fine, grammatically speaking, so trust your ear to let you know which one sounds better in a given situation.

5. can i use semicolons to list things

I find paper and pencil works better. As far as punctuation goes, a colon is more appropriate to set off a list, like this: 

Here is a list of stuff: Item A, Item 2, and Cranberries.

You can also use it to introduce a bulleted or numbered list. Find out about the uses of the semicolon here

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9 Responses to Questions that people think Google can answer

  1. cfw says:

    I thought you were going to discourse about using bullet points. What are the best practices? Bullets are common in resumes. When are they wrong? How many are too many (4? 5? 8?)? What about numbered lists? When are they a bad idea as just a data dump? What is a too-long numbered list for persuasive writing? When is a chronology a bad idea as just a data dump? Is it just a back-up to be kept internally and not made public? Is it advisable as a brainstorming step? What are the pros and cons of witness lists (lists of relevant people, with or without bios) or exhibit lists (lists of relevant documents, with or without details)? No-go in poetry or novels. Ever ok in persuasive writing or just use it for brain storming? When can or should one embed video, photos, links to songs or blogs or web sites? College application? Legal brief? Legal memo? Ad brochure?

  2. Roy Jacobsen says:

    You don’t ask for much, do you?OK, give me a bit, and I’ll devote a post to bulleted lists. Be warned: for some (if not most) of your questions, the answer is "It depends."

  3. OiPaz says:

    I was actually using google to search for an answer to a grammatical question unrelated to this topic, but it was one of the hits.I’m new to your site, though it looks interesting, and I will quite likely visit again, so I don’t know whether I’ll be considered pedantic, but with the title ‘Writing, Clear and Simple’ I was surprised to see in the first sentance of this post (blog post/item/), the misuse of the word ‘too’."I occassionally browse through my referral logs too see….". Surely there should only be one ‘o’ ?Thanks for the pointer to ‘pleonasm’ though. I like that word.

  4. Roy Jacobsen says:

    OiPaz,Wow. For as long as this post has been up, I’m amazed that nobody else (myself included) saw that gaffe. Thanks for pointing it out, and I hope to see you around some more.

  5. Katie says:

    Thank you… i looked all over the net for that information, and only found it here.Hopefully this is correct:Familiar with a variety of computer programs including PowerPoint, Photoshop, Word, Publisher, Dreamweaver, Windows Movie Maker (presentation tool) and Excel.I thought maybe a semicolon should have been in there?

  6. Roy Jacobsen says:

    Katie,What you have is fine. I don’t know the context this needs to fit into, but you could also have done it like this:Familiar with a variety of computer programs including:* PowerPoint* Photoshop* Word* (etc)(Note the colon after "including.")

  7. Paul says:

    Occasionally is spelled wrong in the first paragraph.

  8. Paul says:

    Also incorrect usage of "its/it’s":"As I said, a colon is the appropriate mark for setting off the list from it’s introduction"Sorry, but this drives me NUTS!!

  9. Roy Jacobsen says:

    Paul,Thanks for pointing out the errors. I’ve made the needed corrections.

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