Tripping Over Commas

Adding commas where they don’t belong, and omitting commas where they are needed, are like speed bumps to readers. They erode confidence in the text and cause mental stumbles as readers work extra hard to decipher the correct meaning.

What’s the difference in meaning between these two sentences?

1) Puppies and children, who are highly adorable, steal the scene in many a movie. 2) Puppies and children who are highly adorable steal the scene in many a movie.

In sentence number one, the phrase ”who are highly adorable” is a non-restrictive element, set apart by commas. The meaning of the sentence would work with or without the clause which serves to give additional information about puppies and children who are scene stealers. Continue reading

Write Well or Be Written Off

Greeting me this morning was this Facebook post by my friend and fellow writer and editor Dena Kouremetis:

She writes, “No doubt the subject of an upcoming blog.” I don’t suppose Dena thought I’d front run her on this, did she? Sorry, Dena, but I couldn’t resist. Kyle Weins’s blog post, from July 20, 2012 on the HBR Blog Network, engendered 3,070 comments! Dena attracted a few pithy ones of her own, my favorite rant being this one.

This could be an advertisement for WordWit! These kinds of egregious errors made us crazy, too, so we did something about it. But a confusing words app can’t change the world all by itself, and the people who don’t care also don’t think they need to care. That is the sad thing.

So next time you need to explain to someone why it matters, here is a rundown of Kyle’s reasons. None of the points is particularly new as much as amusingly argued on a prominent platform (hello Harvard Business Review). Here are my favorite outtakes: Continue reading

Beautiful yet #expensivewords

Sample book titles from D4EO

The cool things you discover on Twitter! This morning, I checked my account on the iPad’s Twitter app which apparently I haven’t used for three days. (I’ve been following it on my Mac.) My feed was broken into two parts: the tweets I’d left off reading, and tweets from the hour, separated by a ripped paper design to demarcate the two. At the top of September 23′s left-off feed was a juicy thread, identified by the hashtag, #expensive words.

For your reading delectation, I’ve reproduced most of it below so you can see how the literary world on Twitter get their rocks off. (Me, too!) Interestingly, the generator of the thread, Bree Ogden, is a literary agent for D4EO (a syllabic acronym for the founder’s name, Diforio). And guess what? Bob is located in the town next door to me in Weston, CT. (Bree’s profile says she’s in WA.) I am following Bree’s and Bob’s Twitter feeds now, and I hope they’ll follow me back!

Bree’s instigating tweet incited us thusly: “Let’s start with something simple: Beautiful yet expensive words that should only be used once in an entire book. Go! #expensivewords

What are yours? Let’s carry this discussion on to our Facebook page: Click on “More” to see the Twitter conversation reproduced and The Ballpoint Revue Daily Word. Continue reading

Way Too Nice to “Contemn” Anyone Anymore

Photo for The Daily Blague, September 26, 2012

You could do worse than reading The Daily Blague on, well, a daily basis. It is erudite, witty, informative, personal, thoughtful, deep, culturally astute, and written awfully well. Today’s post included a discussion of an out-of-use word that one’s readers or listeners would surely assume you were misusing, and they probably wouldn’t check it to see if they were wrong. Check it out (you can read the entire post here where you can also enjoy a brief history lesson and a personal anecdote about RJ’s adorable grandson bearing rings):

“Contemn” is a word that I often wish to use, but never dare. I was surprised to find it (although I oughtn’t to have been, given the richness of his vocabulary) in Reed Browning’s War of the Austrian Succession. Writing of Maria Theresa (at this time merely Queen of Hungary and Archduchess of Austria) that “she contemned British informality as fully as she distrusted British sensitivity to Austrian interests,” Browning puts some oomph in the old girl’s contempt. To contemn something is much stronger than having contempt for it. Continue reading

Letters from the Grammarverse: Possessives

Get your hands off her! She’s not yours.


I thought maybe you can clarify a confusion I’ve always had about possessive pronounsYou don’t use an apostrophe for the possessive version of its and yours, right?

What about one’s, everyone’s, everybody’s, other’s“It’s not just your business; it’s everyone’s business.” “Each player is going to try each other’s position.”

It just doesn’t look right to use “everyones business” or “others
position” versus the contraction: “Everyone’s going to the city.” “One’s encouraged to mind one’s own business” versus ”It’s time to stop; the group has met its goals.”

Do you have the definitive answer?

Thanks!!   :-)  

— Bill Continue reading

Back to School: Commas and Conjunctions

Does this make it any clearer? No?

When I edit, the thing I correct the most often is comma placement. Spellcheck catches obvious spelling errors, and usage errors (it’s/its, fewer/less) certainly occur, though less frequently.

Punctuation is a prickly pastime, so we’re going to take you all back to school and review those rules you may have forgotten, or, if you’re a younger generation, perhaps never even learned in the first place. Hopefully, this presentation will be a tad less chaotic than the whiteboard above. (Although it did make me hungry.) Continue reading

Homing In On a New Yorker Error

PhraseWit tells it like it is.

In my decades of reading the venerable weekly magazine The New Yorker — in hard copy, and now, deliciously, on my iPad — I finally caught a mistake. My heart pounded when I saw it. Could it be? In the Comment segment from “The Talk of the Town” on the political conventions, Steve Coll wrote: “But the tradition of free political airtime had been established, and admen honed in and fashioned the quadrennial infomercials we now endure.” I’d just been discussing the misuse of “honed in on” with our also-venerable game designer. It was top of mind, and now it was in my face.

My schadenfreude was somewhat muted, however, by what I found on Twitter, which was a dismissive quip and a link to a defense rather than an admission of error. New Yorker editor Mary Norris writes in a post entitled “Don’t Try to Hone In On a Copy Editor“:

Our tweeting readers have homed in on what they characterize as a flagrant misuse in this week’s Comment. . . . A million tweeters think [honed in] should be “homed in.” Continue reading

Syn City

Obstreperous Tweets Hey, announcer for rhythmic gymnastics!

About the tenth time I heard the rhythmic gymnastics announcer praise the “synchronicity” of these graceful, athletic nymphs, I took to my Twitter feeds, entering the word into the Search box, retweeting the few objections that had appeared so far, and entering my own comment into the fray. As annoying as Miss Commentator’s misuse of the word was, the outrage of a small Twitter faction was that much more gratifying.

Synchronicity is, of course, the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Synchronization is causing something to occur or operate at the same time or rate (like movement in a group of rhythmic gymnasts). Continue reading

Willy Nilly Commas? Silly Billy

Willy Nilly Electric Company

Will Nilly Electric Company

Put commas where you would normally pause in speech. Right?

Wrong. Here are two examples by a blogger who stuck commas where she paused instead of where they belong to make her intended points:

  • INCORRECT This is the Internet you know.
  • CORRECT This is the Internet, you know.

In the first sentence, the comma belongs after “series.” The independent clause, “called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” qualifies the subject, “series.” You should be able to remove the independent qualifying clause and have the remaining sentence make sense: His new web series debuts on July 19 at 9 P.M. (By the way, I’ll be watching this new Internet Seinfeld series on Sony Pictures Television’s Crackle Service.)  Continue reading

The Sunday Funnies: #OverUsedWords

You Only Live Once

This trending Twitter topic happily vied for my attention while following today’s shocking #TDF12 #tackgate during Stage 14 in the Pyrenees. A saboteur — coincidence that it’s a French word? — spread upholstering nails at the top of an ascent, endangering lives and unfairly penalizing the leading Tour de France cyclists. This sometimes cranky, often humorous, and surprisingly revealing trending topic provided welcome comic relief.

Herewith my curated list of the most popular — or my favorite — tweets. I hope I don’t have to note it, but I will: these tweets are all stet.


YOLO. Going to the store YOLO. Made a pb&j YOLO. Bout to cut the grass YOLO. No. Stop that.” • “YOLO. Yeah, we All know you only live once.” • “If you use it in a serious way you should be forced to wear army patterned crocs for the rest of your life” Continue reading