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OPINION | WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE: I must write no more

by Bernadette Kinlaw | July 5, 2021 at 1:56 a.m.

The Southern Adirondack Library System posts hilarious items on Facebook. They mostly are related to literature, and so I love nearly all of them.

A recent post was taken from SparksNotes, a company that creates study guides.

You know how you sometimes can't decide how to end an email? SparkNotes offered a few good sign-offs from Jane Austen correspondence.

"I must go, uncertain of my fate."

"I must write no more."

"Now, my dear madam, I will release you."

"Beware how you give your heart." (OK, this might not work in business emails.)

"I shall write again as soon as anything is determined on."

"Yours, etc."

I bring up these original farewells partly because this will be my last language column for the Democrat-Gazette (and, in fact, anywhere).

Along with this column, I've always had three or four other freelance jobs. I keep busy. Now I've started a new job that is a great opportunity but will take up most of my days. Writing a column takes a lot of time, energy and consternation. I don't believe I can do well on those other jobs and still do a good job on this column. (Also, having some free time is essential.)

STANDARDS TO REMEMBER

Those who read the column regularly know some of my key beliefs.

◼️ Don't use a long word when a short one will do. I will nearly always change utilize to use and approximately to about.

One disgruntled reader asked me why I prefer shorter words. I found this snippet in my defense on a site about writing skills:

"Sesquipedalianism (or sesquipedality: literally, the use of words 1.5 feet long) is not intrinsically wrong, but make sure you indulge in it with restraint and an awareness of readers' needs and expectations. Otherwise it can overshadow the ideas you're trying to communicate."

I appreciate long words that are strong, clear and lovable. I will always like serendipity.

◼️ Use the active voice rather than the passive voice.

◼️ Check your facts and spelling. But know that everyone is human. I won't detail all the mistakes that my editors have caught, but I am eternally grateful to them.

◼️ Learn how to end a sentence. My late husband was forever writing never-ending sentences, especially in emails. I joked to our friends that long after he died, I would find a trunk load of periods that he had been hording all his life. (I never found that trunk, but I was only joking, anyhow.)

◼️ Learn where an apostrophe goes and where it doesn't.

◼️ Avoid random quotation marks, including:

Have "fun" on the playground!

Painting in progress. "Odors" present.

Look "but please" do not touch.

"Authentic" Mexican food.

All of those examples are from the fantastic, hilarious site Unnecessary Quotes, at unnecessaryquotes.com.

◼️ Avoid random capitalization. I'll elaborate by taking a quote from a useful website on how not to randomly capitalize:

"This is an Important Post. You know that because it includes Unnecessary Capital Letters."

This is the curse of random capitalization: the misuse of capital letters to make things appear more important than they are.

Read more here: arkansasonline.com/75curse.

◼️ Avoid jargon. I have always avoided language terms that would likely befuddle people: cognate object, dative case, genitive, interrogative, modal verbs and, most of all, pluperfect. Find those words elsewhere!

◼️ Don't turn fine verbs into clunky nouns. Please don't ever ask anyone, Do you have a solve for this problem?

◼️ Realize that though we have thousands of rules and guidelines for usage, not a single one applies to every situation. English is a notorious rule-breaker.

◼️ Stay curious about words. It's an ailment that can be fun.

READ ON

Here's a list of my favorite language reference books for you to explore.

"The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr.

"On Writing Well" by William Zinsser

"The Accidents of Style" by Charles Harrington Elster

"Yes, I Could Care Less. How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk" by Bill Walsh

"Oxford Pocket Fowler's Modern Usage"

"The Careful Writer, A Modern Guide to English Usage" by Theodore M. Bernstein

"Why You Say It" by Webb Garrison

"Modern American Usage: A Guide" by Wilson Follett

"Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English" by Patricia T. O'Conner

And one more recent book abandons some long-accepted language rules while still being fun. It's "Dreyer's English. An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style" by Benjamin Dreyer.

I love every post I've read online by The Grammar Girl. She explains things simply, cleverly and nearly always with humor. Find her at quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl.

I appreciated all of your feedback, questions and discussions over nearly five years. I've written 250 columns, so if you wander through the newspaper archives to see older columns, you won't even miss me.

I'll end with one last story of a weird phrase related to products. I recently treated myself to one of those automated vacuum cleaners. I turn it on, and it treks methodically around the room vacuuming up the detritus I have been neglecting to go after for ages. The little sucker even comes with a phone app so I will know exactly how dirty my floor is every day of my life.

The journeying vacuum takes note of spots that are dirtier than others. The app calls these dirt events and tells you how many dirt events the vacuum encountered that day. A dirt event is "an unusual concentration of dirt detected in a small area, which requires more than one cleaning pass."

May your life be free of excessive dirt events, real and imagined.

Yours, etc.

Sources include Southern Adirondack Library System, Grammar Girl, Emphasis, Unnecessary Quotes, Linked In. Reach Bernadette at

bkwordmonger@gmail.com

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