Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to Effectively Use Passive Sentences (Part I)

When it comes to English, I love exploring the rules that are meant to be broken. If done right, breaking a grammar rule catches readers by surprise, mixes things up, and can guide the reader's attention to what you really wanted emphasized.

The rule we're going to break today is to never use a passive sentence when you can use an active one. I am a huge supporter of active sentences—they almost always are more engaging than passive sentences—but sometimes a passive sentence serves your purpose so much better. When is that? I've explained below.

The Doer Is Not Important
If you are trying to emphasize the object of a sentence, and it doesn't really matter who acted, consider using a passive sentence:

Chloe glanced around. Someone had fitted the bed with sheets of Egyptian cotton and had placed on top pillows that looked like sheathed clouds.


Chloe glanced around. The bed was fitted with sheets of Egyptian cotton and covered with pillows that looked like sheathed clouds.

Notice how the meaning of the sentence changes slightly—in the first, the doer seems important (and ominous) because they are the subject of the sentence. In the second, the emphasis is on the bed, which is where I wanted it to be (because in this case, nobody did anything ominously).

Other examples of this:
The building was built in 1975. (Emphasis on the building; in this case, it doesn't matter who built it.)
Our book can be purchased at (Emphasis on the book; it doesn't matter who buys it.)
The Grand Canyon is enjoyed year-round. (Emphasis on the Grand Canyon; it doesn't matter who enjoys it.)

Part II can be explored here!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Parody


def.: a comic imitation of another's work that is often intended to criticize the original

as in

A parody should do much more than make readers or viewers laugh at the original—it should highlight aspects or point out flaws in the original that people would not have seen otherwise in order to help them get a more rounded perspective. (The Colbert Report, anyone?)

Another example, which I was alerted to by Language Log,* includes the Miss USA contestants' answers to the question, "Should evolution be taught in schools?" The parody asks, "Should math be taught in schools?" and by doing so, highlights some of the flaws of the evolution vs. creation jargon that has become accepted in the for/against debate. It's pretty funny, too.

The original (no need to watch it all; three or four minutes will give you the idea):

And the parody:

*Language Log discussed how the expression "to believe in" something is used in general, based off the contestants' answers to the question.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Contact Success!

I have received your email. Thanks for contacting me and I will respond to you as soon as I can. Have a great day! :)

Self-Sustainable Farm in Honduras Funds Orphanage

My husband and I have recently jumped on board with Hope Farm in Honduras, a group of people who have dedicated their lives to making the lives of orphans in Honduras better.

Their concept (explained in the video) is awesome—they've created a coffee farm (and now have some animals as well) where they hire local workers and then sell the coffee to fund the orphanage. The possibilities seem endless, but they need more support! If you're interested in getting involved (or buying some coffee!), check out their latest newsletter and their sponsorship brochure or fill in their contact form.

A few more images from the farm:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hemingway's Coffee Quote

Is it sacrilegious to compare myself to Hemingway, even if it is a comparison of routines?
It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write. - Ernest Hemingway
This is my life with two changes:
  1. I live in AZ, so I never wear a raincoat.
  2. I pull out my computer, rather than paper and pencil.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Editing Tip: Check for Consistency

One way to lend credibility to your writing is to check for consistency in the editing phase. Because languages are always evolving, there are often multiple acceptable ways to express the same idea (not to mention the British/American English divide). Your goal is to make sure that whichever term you choose is consistent throughout your document. Here are a few consistency issues to watch for.

  • Titles: If your piece is talking about people a lot, make a point to check that all their titles are consistent. For example, Robert Drumgool, Ph.D., and Dr. Robert Drumgool are both right, but you should strive to only use one form. Another example is the Ms. versus Miss title; Ms. implies a desire to not be classified based on marital status and Miss implies never having been married.
  • Capitalization: Check for consistency with capitalizing names of organizations, departments, ideas, theories, etc. This is particularly crucial if what is being capitalized is not commonly capitalized but you have a specific reason for wanting it to be so. For example, if your piece is about Rogers University and you decide to capitalize University whenever it refers to Rogers University, you might not notice if one instance goes uncapitalized, since that word is usually not.
  • British/American Spelling: As the Oxford Dictionary shows, there are several instances where British and American spelling is different. Make sure that you are using one or the other and check for its consistency. The issue I come across the most with this is the omitting of the second l in some American English words (traveled versus travelled), since American English does double other consonants when changing tenses (omitted, for example).
  • Alternate Spellings: A great example of this is advisor/adviser or grey/gray; this is not an example of a British/American divide, but rather two acceptable versions of the same word. Since we are familiar with both spellings, it can be easy to interchange them on accident; but when you're editing your document, check to make sure that your use of one or the other is consistent.
  • Numerals/Numbers: All manuals of style have rules about when to use numerals and when to spell out numbers. If you're following a manual, refresh yourself on the rules and stick to them. If you're not following a manual, choose a rule (spell out under ten, spell out one- or two-word numbers, etc.) and stick with it.
The key for all this is ensuring credibility; readers are more willing to trust writers who provide them consistency (after all, isn't stability one of those basic human needs?). Pay attention to the details. They matter. :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Asinine


def.: extremely and completely foolish or stupid

as in

When will people learn that posting suggestive pictures or videos to the Internet is asinine—regardless of if you're a teen from Idaho, a celebrity from Hollywood, or a politician from Washington?

And, in case your mind went there as mine did, Webster's second definition confirms that, yes, asinine is related to ass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Homonyms Happen: Assent & Ascent

I'm currently editing some PowerPoint presentations for a scuba diving organization and have come across the word ascent several times; it brought to mind its homonym, assent, and led to today's post. :)

Ascent: an upward slope, or the act of moving upwards

Assent*: as a verb, to agree; as a noun, the act of agreeing

An easy way to remember the difference between these two is that in assent, the s's are the same—that is, they agree. Alternatively, in ascent, the s is farther "down" in the alphabet and it moves "up" to the c.

*Not related to the homonym aspect of the word, but still interesting, is Merriam-Webster's full definition of this word: agreeing to something "especially after thoughtful consideration." So, it would seem, to assent to something means not only to agree to something, but to do so after having thought the decision through thoroughly. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Is...Jane Austen?

Author of: Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, and several other novels, short stories, and works of juvenile fiction.

Important because: Austen's works, although not popular in her day, were the first signs of transition in popular writing from pure emotion-based "nonsense" to the realism of the 19th century (she was born in 1775 and died in 1817). She critiqued the society of the gentry, highlighting women's dependence on marriage (and therefore men) to survive.

Important to me because: Pride & Prejudice was my first "romance" novel (need I say more? You never forget your first!); over time, I've read Austen's other well-known pieces and what has always struck me is the strength of character that many of the women have. I love strong, witty women in writing!

Friday, June 17, 2011

House Made of Bookshelves

A guy in Japan had this house built for his Islamic history book collection. As much as I love books, the only thing that keeps running through my mind is, How much would it cost to FILL all those bookshelves?!?!

Still, it is pretty. :)

More pictures and background story at Gizmodo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just for Fun: Word Games

If you have some free time and you like words, try some of these interesting word game sites!

Merriam-Webster's Word Games: Search, drop, roundup, ruffle, rip, and jumble words in a plethora of games here.

Word Game World: Classics such as anagrams, mad libs, and crosswords mix it up with buzzwords, triangulars, and ZigZags.

Mobile Device Word Game App: Bumperstickers. On your phone. In a game.

English Vocab Word Games: Simple games that can either strengthen your vocab, pass the time, or if you're lucky, both!

Fun With Words: As a sampling, this site has boggle, hangman, and tongue twisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

House Wanted: Closed to Shopping, 2 Blogs Away from Freeway

An actual house description I came across tonight. The highlights?

-- Valley ball
-- Closed to shopping centers
-- Less than 2 blogs to freeway

Apparently, if you live here, you privy to a new sport, not able to be visited by shopping centers, and two blogs will get you to the freeway!

Need I say, this is yet another example of why proofreading is important? :)

Word Wednesdays: Hamartia


def.: tragic flaw; moral error or deficit; unwitting mistake

as in

While looking up this word in different places, I found out that its harmatia is having so many varying definitions!

For Example:
Merriam-Webster: Tragic Flaw
Collins English Dictionary: Character Flaw Leading to Downfall
Dictionarist: Terrible Mistake
Wikipedia: All of the Above (and Sin)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Grammar Tip: Trickier Subject/Verb Agreement

Easy to Say, Hard to Do
I know this is one of those rules that gets hammered into your head in grade school, but I came across a trickier example of this recently, so I decided to use it as a refresher.

The original sentence was (in essence):

The Heart Association and the Heart Foundation offer special training for both family and professional caregivers that teach techniques for dealing with the challenges of caring for someone with heart problems.

This is a tricky example because the main subject of the sentence (Association and Foundation) is plural, and the noun closest to the verb is also plural (caregivers)—so it's easy for the mind to "attach" the plural teach to either of those and completely miss that its real subject is training.

My Grammar Tip Trick for Subject/Verb Agreement
The way that I catch these kinds of mistakes is by focusing on the basic sentence structure as I read—I do a mental checklist as I'm reading a sentence. Once I identify a noun, I keep it in the front of my mind until I also identify its verb; then, I "see" them together to find if they agree.

With the example above, as I read it, I identified the nouns Association and Foundation and saw that the subject was plural. Then I came to the offer and it, too, was plural. So—clean slate! The next noun I came to was training, and I kept it at the front of my mind until I came to a verb—teach. "Training teach" obviously does not agree in number, so immediately I knew something's wrong and so I took the whole phrase and figured out how it should be:

The Heart Association and the Heart Foundation offer special training for both family and professional caregivers that teaches techniques for dealing with the challenges of caring for someone with heart problems.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Quotes about Sisters

My youngest sister is coming to visit us a week from today, and I am SO EXCITED!! I haven't seen her in six months (the longest ever in our lives) and I know I'm going to cry when I see her. So, in honor of the special bond between sisters who can still stand each, a few quotes:
A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves - a special kind of double.  ~Toni Morrison
What's the good of news if you haven't a sister to share it with? ~Jenny DeVries
A sister smiles when one tells one's stories - for she knows where the decoration has been added. ~Chris Montaigne 
You can find more quotes about sisters here, here, and here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Who Is...Charles Dickens?

Author of such greats asA Christmas CarolDavid CopperfieldA Tale of Two Cities, and many, many more.
Important because: he helped change society for the better through his writings. By using unique characters in serialized works, Dickens highlighted the underdogs of Victorian society and moved people to enact real change. He has also been attributed with rejuvenating the “spirit” of Christmas. Read more of Charles Dickens's biography.
Important to me because: I associate Charles Dickens with Christmas and college, since he was the subject of more than one class I took. Enough said? 
***P.S. I have noticed that I haven't done any women yet! My favorite, Jane Austen, will be next. :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New to the Scene: Zombieless Pride & Prejudice Mash-up

My morning chuckle today came from The Guardian's book blog, which talked about a new Pride & Prejudice mash-up:
Apparently, it's "the book Jane Austen would have written, if only she'd had the nerve!"
It goes on to explore what happens when "Mr Bingley and his sister both have designs on Mr Darcy's manhood", when "Elizabeth's bff Charlotte marries their family's strange relation, discovering that her husband's pious nature extends to worship of a different sort", and when "Lady Catherine de Bourgh takes the disciplining of those in the parish very seriously".
And my favorite part of the post:
Whatever next, I wonder? My own stab at it would probably be an Austen fantasy remix. Pride and Prejudice: Quest for the One Ring of Love, perhaps, in which the young farmboy D'arcy, orphaned and unaware of his vast magical potential, tames a dragon and embarks on a quest to find the magical glowing ring which will win him the love of Princess Benn'ett. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a farmboy in a fantasy novel will turn out to be heir to the throne ..." Or something.  
Readers are invited to come up with their own and post them. Happy writing! :)

Grammar Tip: Commas, Tenses, & Word Series

In a recent assignment to edit an association’s member profiles, there was one error I came across consistently that I did not expect to: jumbled word series.
What I’m talking about is a list: I like candy, chocolate, and Easter eggs…or, my two favorite things to do are ski and hike. Something as straightforward as these, it’s easy to see the order of the items and the correct “word-glue.” However, sometimes, the series is not so easy to pinpoint and the correct clarifying words are forgotten. Two examples are below.
I am currently involved with the National Association of Photographers and a Freelance Photographer.
I enjoy reading, hiking, growing plants in, tending, and eating from my garden.
If you break the sentences into simple declarative sentences, the problem becomes clear. The first one would read:
I am currently involved with the National Association of Photographers. I am currently involved with a freelance photographer.
Obviously, she means to say that she is a freelance photographer. The missing “word-glue”?Am; it alerts the reader that you are not “reusing” the implied previous verb phrase:
I am currently involved with the National Association of Photographers and am a freelance photographer.
The second one reads:
I enjoy reading. I enjoy hiking. I enjoy growing plants in, tending, and eating from my garden.
When you create a series in order to avoid repetition, an and always precedes that last item. The issue here is that the last item in the series is a series itself, which can trick writers into thinking they already have all the necessary components. You still need, however, the “word-glue” of the and inbetween the last two items in the series:
I enjoy reading, hiking, and growing plants in, tending, and eating from my garden.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Vesthibitionism


def.: the act of a woman flirtatiously displaying her undergarments

as in

Given my recent query over at Daily Writing Tips about the difference between pantaloons and pantalettes, I wonder if any vesthibitionism of pantalettes would achieve being flirtatious?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Recently Read: The Difference between Yoga and Pilates

During research for an article I'm writing, I came across this page: Pilates vs. Yoga: Which One is Right for You? I've always wondered what the difference is between yoga and pilates, so I'm glad I finally know!

In a nutshell:

Pilates has been around for about 80 years and is based on yoga asanas (postures); it focuses on the physical benefits.

Yoga has been around for much, much longer and is a holistic approach to health, including physical exercise, diet, mental exercise, and spiritual awareness.

What have you read recently that stuck out to you?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Benjamin Franklin & FedEx

You might be asking what Benjamin Franklin has to do with FedEx. Well, not much, really, except that my experience at FedEx today required a quality from a Benjamin Franklin quote:

He that can have patience can have what he will.
I tried out the print on the go feature for FedEx—but waited until I got there to begin. After a while waiting, finally got to a printer—and received an error message. Helpful staff tried and failed. Finally had to give them access to my YouSendIt account to download the file and print. Total bill: $30!!! Still, I am very proud to report that, eventually, and without being rude or irritable, I got what I willed for. Mr. Franklin would be proud. :D

Friday, June 3, 2011

Editing Tip: The Deleting of Unnecessary Words

I've come across this problem in two pieces I worked on recently, so I decided to address it. The rule is simple: Do not use more words than necessary to get make your point.

One of the most common ways to do this is taking an awesome active verb and turning it into a noun, as in my title for this post: "Deleting Unnecessary Words" becomes "The Deleting of Unnecessary Words." However, there are other ways that people can use more words than necessary in other ways—for example, replacing a solid noun subject with "there."

Avoid this at all cost!

This type of writing will only serve to weaken your writing and muddle your point. Try to Be aware of excess words and be willing to get rid of them. Here are two other examples and how I chose to fix the problem:

The increased use of its terminology generally provided me with the impression that it was becoming broadly poplar.

Increased use of its terminology seemed to imply that it was becoming broadly popular.

We were beginning the education process, which went on for more than a year. We met with all four unions, seeing some unions twice or three times.

We began the education process, which went on for more than a year, meeting with all four unions—some two or three times.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Who Is...Gabriel García Márquez?

Authored: One Hundred Years of SolitudeLove in the Time of Choleraand many other novels, novellas, short stories, and nonfiction pieces

Important because: Márquez is credited with popularizing magic realism and is one of the most acclaimed Spanish writers of all time; he is also considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

Important to me because: While his characters did not make a huge impression on me, the way he can manipulate language to tell his stories is absolutely magnificent...and I read an English translation!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Amphigory


def.: nonsense verse

as in

When I found this word, I immediately thought of Shel Silverstein—although his poems tell a story, most of the stories take the form of amphigories.

Does anyone else have examples of amphigory authors? I'd love to see them!