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by Brenda Looper | April 28, 2021 at 3:25 a.m.
Brenda Looper

This time next week, I'll be on my third day in the office after more than a year of working remotely. There will still be days I'll need to do some work at home, but for the most part I imagine life will continue much as it did before.

Except for that having to talk to strangers thing. I can do without that.

Not that pandemic life has been that different. Some people still feel the need to bully to get their way, can't seem to do the simplest thing without causing a stink, and refuse to accept that they're wrong or behaving improperly. Others remain secure in the knowledge that if you treat others as you want to be treated, you will be treated in kind most of the time. There are always exceptions, but I remain convinced that most people are inherently kind.

Jerks will always be with us, but I think we outnumber them; they're just louder.

Other things haven't changed, either. Among them:

• People still use words interchangeably when they shouldn't.

Editorials, op-eds or columns, articles, ads and letters are not the same thing. When I was on the clerks' desk, I was constantly having to figure out what callers were referring to so I could transfer them to the appropriate place, and it wasn't always an easy task. Again: Editorials are considered to be the newspaper's opinion, and are written by staff editorial writers. Op-eds or columns are signed opinion pieces, which may be written by staff or guest writers. Articles are news, sports, business or feature stories. Ads are advertisements or solicitations for goods or services. Letters are written by newspaper readers.

It's not just newspaper terms. I know of one reptile expert whose head nearly explodes if you use poisonous and venomous in willy-nilly fashion; according to National Geographic, venomous creatures bite or sting to release their toxins, and poisonous creatures do so passively as a defense mechanism, or by being eaten. There are also words like averse and adverse, affect and effect, and verses and versus that shouldn't be used interchangeably.

• People still write like they're being paid by the word.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever seen is the title of educator and writer Ben Yagoda's 2006 book: "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It." Yagoda notes that writer, editor and critic William Zinsser said most adjectives are unnecessary, and, "Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."

I'm all for well-written literary prose, but if I have to wade through 20 adjectives and adverbs in a single paragraph, I'm likely to find something else to read, as over-reliance on those parts of speech makes reading tedious. And if you're writing with the thesaurus open so you can infuse your writing with 23 different synonyms for bad, fine; just don't expect me to keep reading, and don't use them in the same sentence.

Yes, that actually happens.

Yagoda says we should show rather than tell: "The root of the problem is lazy writers' inordinate fondness for this part of speech. They start hurling the epithets when they haven't provided enough data--specific nouns and active verbs--to get their idea across. It's easy--too easy--to describe a woman as "beautiful." It takes more heavy verbal lifting, but is more effective, to point out that the jaw of every male in the room dropped when she walked in. And establishing that someone kicked an opponent who was down, stole $17 from a Salvation Army collection kettle, and lied to partners about having sexually transmitted diseases precludes the need to call him terrible, awful, horrible, horrid, deplorable, despicable, or vile."

• Some people still act as if they and people like them are the only people in existence.

I've seen a meme posted several times that sums up the problem with those who refuse to follow pandemic protocols because, you know, FREEDOM!! In the story, a man on a boat decides to dig through the floor of his cabin, and when other passengers complain because water is now coming in, he says it doesn't matter because it's his cabin. The point is that personal choice can only go so far when we're all on the same boat.

If what you're doing adversely affects the greater community, rethink what you're doing.

Or be a jerk. It's your choice, after all, as it is our choice to snub you.

Some things will never change. There will always be people who complain about everything, and those who are just thankful to be alive. We'll always have those who see the world as a terrifying hellscape full of demons and monsters out to get them, and those who see the world for how it really is--a bit broken, but capable of rehabilitation.

But we will also have those who want nothing more than to leave the world in a better place than they found it. They recognize that society evolves, and want to make sure that all have the same rights and privileges.

I hope that we can be the more realistic and idealistic of these. If we can at least be less jerk-ish, though, I'll call that a win.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at


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