Category Archives: grammar

Three grammar rules to ignore, according to the expert

A sharp-eyed, enlightened, and faithful newsletter reader sent me a link to a post by Benjamin Dryer, a copy chief at Random House publishers, who delineates his top three English “rules” that he believes should be ignored.

He introduces the post this way:

The English language, though, is not so easily ruled and regulated. It developed without codification, sucking up new constructions and vocabulary every time some foreigner set foot on the British Isles—to say nothing of the mischief we Americans have wreaked on it these last few centuries—and continues to evolve anarchically. It has, to my great dismay, no enforceable laws, much less someone to enforce the laws it doesn’t have. Source: Grammar expert Benjamin Dreyer lists three rules you can ignore — Quartz

His three:

— Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but” (or, I might add, any coordinating conjunction).

— Never split an infinitive.

— Never end a sentence with a preposition.

I agree with Dryer on all counts. Ignore these rules.

How say you? Will you come to the defense of these rules?

Or, maybe you have your own “rules” that you believe should be ignored. Either way, write and let me know.

Carver’s rules for life, dethroning King Apostrophe, the author that Agatha Christie ‘remembered’: newsletter, July 12, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, July 12, 2019.

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The honey harvest was completed last weekend at the Stovall house, and we gathered almost eight gallons of honey from three hives, which is a little more than 100 pounds of honey. That was an adequate and satisfactory harvest, not quite as much as in some previous years but certainly enough to make the efforts worthwhile. Harvesting honey is hot, hard work, so make it a point to be kind to a beekeeper.

Meanwhile, the summer continues with heat, humidity, gardening and many other projects. These things, plus some new books and a few literary discoveries, got in the way of watercolor this week, and I did not have a chance to complete a new video of Verse and Vision. I have several things in mind and hope to get back on track next week.

I hope that you have had a great week and are looking forward to a pleasant weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,747 subscribers and had a 31.5 percent open rate; 7 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the monthly open rate averages will be published in the first newsletter of each month.


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George Washington Carver’s rules for a good life

The great scientist George Washington Carver developed some simply-formulated rules for living that he presented to his students. They’re worth passing on to you.

— Be clean both inside and out.

— Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.

— Lose, if need be, without squealing.

— Win without bragging.

— Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.

— Be too brave to lie.

— Be too generous to cheat.

— Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.

Carver was born sometime in the early 1860s — he was not sure when — as a slave in a Missouri family. When he was an infant, his family was kidnapped and taken to Kentucky where they were sold. His Missouri master, Moses Carver, hired someone to find the family, but that person only found George. When the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, the Carvers raised George as their own, teaching him to read and write and encouraging his intellectual pursuits.

Carver went to school where he could and eventually graduated from high school in Minneapolis. He attended or attempted to attend several colleges and finally landed at Iowa State as its first black student. He got his bachelor’s degree in 1894 and a master’s in 1896. He taught there as the university’s first black faculty member.

Booker T. Washington recruited him to the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1896, and he taught there for the next 47 years, developing a strong agricultural research department and gaining a worldwide reputation for his work with peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Carver never married and continued his research and teaching into old age, despite his deteriorating physical condition. He died in 1943 of complications after a fall down a flight of steps.

Carver openly professed his Christianity throughout his life, and he often told his students: “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

Is it time to dethrone King Apostrophe?

As a member of the Realm of the Apostrophe, you should stand up and declare your position.

Are you loyal to our little king (“the squiggly one,” we affectionately call it), trying to follow all the confusing rules put out by his courtiers?

Or are you one of a growing number of apostates, planning a palace coup that would banish the squiggly one from the language entirely?

The question achieved increased urgency last week when Anu Garg, the founder of A Word A Day, outed himself as one of the rebels. He wants to oust the king and his rule-making courtiers.

A little squiggly mark, and so much trouble. Death to the apostrophe! With apostrophe in the discard bin, greengrocers can go back to making sure their stuff (such as, potato’s and tomato’s)** is fresh, little kids can go back to rejoicing in the beauty of English spelling (is it height, hieght, or hyt?), and hiring managers can go back to finding some other reason to reject a job application (a degree from Harvard is nice, but a resume in Comic Sans?).
What about those of us with black markers in our hands, defacing (correcting) signs and defending the world from apostrophe catastrophe, you ask. Well, you’ll have to find something more fulfilling and productive in life. Have you brushed your cat’s (or cats’ or cats) teeth lately? Source: A.Word.A.Day –cat’s pajamas

Read Anu’s reasoning at the link above and the comments that followed, and decide for yourself. Let us know if you have any thoughts.

 

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


Margery Allingham, the writer that Agatha Christie ‘remembered’

Agatha Christie once wrote that Margery Allingham was one of the detective fiction writers that she “remembered.”

That was a high compliment coming from Christie, who said that she was often asked which detective fiction writers she read.

What people should really ask you is: ‘How many of the detective stories you read do you remember?’ Not very many. And there Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light. Everything she writes has a definite shape. The people, their characters, the very distinctive atmosphere in which they move and have their being — never twice the same — each book has its own separate and distinctive background. (“Margery Allingham — A Tribute” by Agatha Christie in The Return of Mr. Campion: Uncollected Stories)

Allingham was born in 1904 and came of age — literally — in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. She published her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick, in 1923, when she was only 19. The novel was not a great financial success, but its popularity with some readers showed that Allingham could attract and keep an audience.

Her next novel, The Crime at Black Dudley,  introduced Albert Campion, part adventurer, part detective, as a minor character, and many readers interpreted Campion as a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey.

He wasn’t. At least, that’s not the way it turned out. Her next novel, Mystery Mile, had Campion as the central character, and he became one of Allingham’s chief writing devices from then on. In all, she produced 17 novels and more than 20 short stories. Campion not only worked on country-house murders but also colluded with MI6 on national and international issues.

Allingham wrote many other novels, short stories, stage plays, and radio plays. Her life was cut tragically short by breast cancer in 1966, but she still holds a premier position among female detective fictions writers.

Three female poets

Readers of this newsletter know how much I enjoy finding out about the lives of writers — especially if they are women, and especially, these days, if they are poets. In the last few weeks, I have found three about whom I knew little or nothing.

My cup has been full-to-running-over the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t had much of a chance to dig into their lives and write something about them just yet. I plan on doing that and thought I might mention them now to give you a bit of a heads-up:

Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752-1783), a wife and mother in upstate New York, had her life disrupted by the American Revolution but still managed to compose some exquisitely beautiful poems in her letters to friends and family. Bleecker suffered tragically as she had to flee the invading British Army with her small children after her husband joined the New York State Militia. The disruptions led to the deaths of her infant daughter, mother, and sister. Eventually, she too succumbed and died at the early age of 31.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the slave of a Boston family, who saw to it that she learned to read and write. Her bent for poetry and her family’s connections caused her to become the first published African-American poet in the nation’s history.

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote “The New Colossus,” the words of which are on an inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. They are lines we often quote and sometimes misquote. More about her in next week’s newsletter.

 

Verse and Vision

For the first time in several weeks, my list of videos in the Verse and Vision series failed to grow. I’ll try to be back with a new one next week.

Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea 

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennysonhttp://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade 

The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howehttp://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scotthttp://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvellhttp://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowhttp://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/NPM-Poe-AnnabelLee

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grayhttp://bit.ly/gray-elegy

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browninghttp://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/poe-theraven

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespearehttp://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18

And more are on the way.

Reactions

Dan C.: Great insight on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” You missed some key points in the Francis Scott Key story. The more you research, the more you find that the stories differ. These I am most comfortable with.

— The Fort’s commander, Major George Armistead told the commander of Baltimore defenses in July 1813 that he needed a flag—a big one. “We, sir, are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy…except that we have no suitable ensign to display over the Star Fort, and it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”

— Major Armistead told the British that as long as the flag flew over the fort he would not surrender. While visible, the flag was a key point of bombardment by the British and the pole was knocked down several times, always returned to a flying state by soldiers holding the pole up. Several soldiers were injured and others replaced them holding the pole with sandbag support.

— Only four Americans out of the 1,000 on the island died during the bombardment.

— There were two flags,  a smaller 17 by 25-foot storm flag and the larger garrison flag measuring 30 by 42 feet.  The flag that was seen during the battle was the smaller storm flag. The garrison flag, according to eyewitness accounts, wasn’t raised until the final morning after the bombardment ended.

— Key and the other Americans watched the battle under guard from the deck of their own ship, not the British ship.

— Dr. William Beanes, a friend of Keys was the POW.

— It did not become the National Anthem until 1931.

— To further snub our noses to the British, the music was taken from a popular English drinking tune (or sung in gentlemen’s clubs in Britain) called “To Anacreon in Heaven” by composer John Stafford Smith.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: George Washington Carver (caricature)
 

Best quote of the week:

The idealists and visionaries, foolish enough to throw caution to the winds and express their ardor and faith in some supreme deed, have advanced mankind and have enriched the world. Emma Goldman, social activist (1869-1940) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Writing the national anthem, ripping off Dickens, publishing a Civil War memoir: newsletter, July 5, 2019


 
 

 
 

 

 

 

Appalachian language and other myths about the region

You’ve probably heard this rural legend (as opposed to urban legend): The people of Appalachia speak a dialect of English that harkens back to the English of Chaucer; it’s older even than the English of Shakespeare.

No, they don’t.

Just as everyone else’s English has done, the English of rural Appalachia has constantly evolved and is the product of multiple influences.

That’s the argument that Chi Luu, a computational linguist, makes in an interesting and arresting article in JSTOR Daily: The Legendary Language of the Appalachian “Holler” | JSTOR Daily

Language has an important place in the folklore of Appalachia and has evolved to become something quite different from its original linguistic sources. It’s one of the ways Appalachian communities show solidarity and belonging. Language lovers may marvel at this unique linguistic quilt, a thing of threads and patches, that extends across a region that often seems to have little else going for it. But in some ways, the folksiness, the romanticized hearkening back to the past, holds the region back from telling a more nuanced story about itself, where it came from, and where it might be going.

Luu posits that Appalachia should be recognized for its diversity — cultural as well as linguistic — rather than being thought of as fiercely and exclusively white descendants of Scots-Irish stock. Movement in and out of Appalachia was just as prevalent as in any other part of the country.

We may think of Appalachia as poor, rural, white, backward, and uneducated (and, in today’s political climate, angry). But to do so makes us the fools rather than the people of this fascinating region. Or, as Luu puts it:

So the theory of the poor, white, rural Appalachian mountain men going it alone, preserving a pure and unchanging strain of archaic British English, isolated in a hardscrabble place far from civilization, could not be further from the truth. Without the influence of diverse communities of other Appalachians such as African American Appalachians, the southern Appalachian speech and culture simply would not be what it is today. To ignore their contributions to culture and language means Appalachia will always be a distant story, burdened by the myths and legends written by others, left half told.

 

A 19th century writer-rock star, King James’ obsession, costly commas, and the Clinton impeachment revisited: newsletter, Sept. 7, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on August 30, 2018

Too much good stuff to read, too little time. I am in the middle of an excellent novel by a well-known author at the moment, and I will tell you about it in a week or two. I’ve also started a book about the American Revolution that focuses on the relationship between Benedict Arnold and George Washington. I have also reached into the 19th century and spent some time with Sut Lovingood, George Washington Harris’ scamp of a character.

Then there’s Frances Hodgson Burnett, the most famous writer of the late 19th and early 20th century. She’s the main feature of the newsletter this week, and I’ll have much more to say about her in the coming weeks. The garden is finished, but there’s still the pasture to mow — and then there are all those projects that I have put off until “the weather gets cooler.” It’s September, but the weather so far isn’t that much cooler, so I suppose they can be put off a little longer.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ve had a wonderful week and are looking forward to a great weekend.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


 
Frances Hodgson Burnett, a rock-star writer of the 19th and early 20th century

Frances Hodgson Burnett, another of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, wrote prolifically and made a ton of money doing it. She traveled extensively, lived peripatetically, spent extravagantly, and maintained a lavish lifestyle that most of us could only imagine.

During her 30 years atop the world’s literary stage, she was one of the world’s most famous women.

When the serialization of Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in 1885, it was so wildly popular that readers waited breathlessly for the next installment and stood in line to buy copies of St. Nicholas magazine in which the episodes appeared. The story set off a fashion trend that eventually became the basis for the Buster Brown clothing line. The episodes were gathered together into book form in 1886 and became an international best-seller; the book was translated into 12 languages.

Burnett was, indeed, the J.K. Rowling of her day.

We remember Burnett for her children’s books today, but during her time, she also wrote best-selling adult fiction and highly popular stage plays. Little Lord Fauntleroy was turned into the stage play title The Real Little Lord Fauntleroy. Burnett had discovered that an unauthorized version of the book was being produced in a London theater; she then pursued and won a ground-breaking lawsuit for copyright infringement. The play she wrote went on to make as much money as the book did.

Burnett was born in Manchester, England, in 1849, but the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, during her teenage years, to be close to an uncle. After the Civil War, however, Knoxville could offer them little in the way of economic opportunity, so Frances took up writing to try to earn an income. She sold her first story to Godey’s Lady Book in 1868 and thereafter worked manically at her writing, often sacrificing her health to keep up a steady income.

Frances married Swan Burnett, a Knoxville neighbor, and they eventually left Knoxville to live in Washington, D.C. There she became famous for the literary salons she hosted on Tuesday evenings, which the rich, famous, and politically powerful attended. She also had two sons on whom she lavished attention. Vivian, the younger son, was the model for Little Lord Fauntleroy. The marriage ended in divorce, as did her second marriage.

There is much more to her life’s story that what I have been able to relate here. 

She has been the subject of at least two major biographies:

Thwaite, Ann (1991), Waiting for the Party: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849–1924, David R. Godine, ISBN 978-0-87923-790-5

Gerzina, Gretchen (2004), Frances Hodgson Burnett: the unexpected life of the author of The Secret Garden, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0-8135-3382-1

I have been living with Burnett and her work for the last few weeks since we at the Blount County Public Library have decided to issue a new edition of The One I Knew the Best of All, Burnett’s autobiographical novel of her childhood. It will be the first of a series of books we will publish about the area or by authors associated with Southern Appalachia. Stay tuned. I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks.

Costly commas

God save the Queen!

God, save the Queen!

The presence or absence of punctuation — particularly the ubiquitous comma — can change the meaning of a sentence. And it can have massive consequences.

This BBC website article,  Pocket: The commas that cost companies millions tells about how the absence of a comma in a contract cost a dairy company in Portland, Maine, $5 million earlier this year. And this is not an isolated story.

“Punctuation matters,” says Ken Adams, author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. But not all punctuation is made equal: contractual minefields are not seeded with semicolons or em-dashes (here’s one: – ) waiting to explode when tripped over. “It boils down to commas,” says Adams. “They matter, and exactly how depends on the context.”

Learning and applying the standard and well-evolved rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation is the key to effective communication. Despite the many changes that our modern lives have witnessed, the importance of the rules of the language still rules.

Giveaways and offers

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

 

King James, Bible scholar and witch hunter

The famous opening scene of The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare begins with the speeches of three witches. They predict what will happen in the play, but they are more than a dramatic device. They were a very pointed and obvious political statement.

That statement — something of a cheerleader’s “We’re with you all the way!” shout-out — was pointed directly at King James I.

We remember King James as the man who authorized the most famous translation of the Bible in history — the King James Version. He not only authorized it; he sent some specific directions to the translators and monitored its progress.

But there is another side to James that we forget today. He believed in witches and witchcraft and did his best to stamp it out both in Scotland, where he reigned as James VI and in England after he was crowned as James I in 1609.

James’ belief in witchcraft and his campaign against it is outlined in an interesting article in HistoryExtra, the website of the BBC History Magazine and BBC World History Magazine. The article is Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King James’s witch hunts  and was written by Tracy Borman), who has authored a book about King James’s attitude toward witchcraft. (Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts )

James’s obsession with witchcraft can be traced back to his childhood. The violent death of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, seems to have inspired a dark fascination with magic. “His Highness told me her death was visible in Scotland before it did really happen,” related Sir John Harington many years later, being, as he said, “spoken of in secret by those whose power of sight presented to them a bloody head dancing in the air”.

The article is a fascinating account of the James we may have thought we knew.

Slow Burn

It’s been almost two decades now (really? that long!), and the impeachment of Bill Clinton still rubs up against raw feelings on the part of Clinton’s supporters and opponents.

And even if you don’t have feelings about it that were generated at the time (maybe you weren’t old enough to really remember), you should list to Slate.com’s podcast series Slow Burn, Season 2: Bill Clinton. Even after nearly 20 years, we still don’t understand it. We don’t understand why Clinton did what he did? We don’t understand why his opponents were so dedicated to his destruction. We don’t understand why Republicans in Congress — when it was clear that the votes in the Senate were not there to convict the president — continued with their impeachment quest.

That lack of understanding is the reason for the podcast in the first place. In the words of podcast producer Leon Neyfakh:

There’s a quote I think about a lot when I’m writing about the past: “You know what the mayor of memory lane understands? The truth is in what happened, how it happened; not how it felt; not how it feels.” It’s a powerful mantra that has served me well. But when it comes to the Clinton presidency and the scandal that engulfed it, “how it felt” was an essential driver of “what happened.” At every step in the Clinton saga, going back to when he was first elected in 1992, people made decisions and had reactions that now seem inexplicable. (Did Katie Couric really float the idea that Monica Lewinsky was a “predatory girl who set her sights on the president”? Yes, she did.) With the benefit of hindsight, it can be easy to condemn those decisions and reactions. But it’s more fruitful—and more exciting—to try to understand them. What were all these people thinking and feeling when they said what they said and did what they did?

Season 1 of Slow Burn was about Watergate. I recommended it to you several months ago. It was truly compelling. If you haven’t listened to it, you should.

 

Reactions

John K.: I just wanted to thank you for your informative emails. If I could afford to read all the good books you reference I would have to be a very wealthy man. Unfortunately, I am not. I can only collect free offers from authors through Amazon Kindle (and not KU). I am a senior citizen living on SS and living is month to month. Reading is a joy and I have collected a large volume of books now for when the TV is no longer affordable. God Bless.
Remember your local library if you are close to one. And check out Instafreebie.com for lots of free downloads.
 

Jean T., on learning a foreign language and Beatrix Potter: There is a school of thought that you can “make” foreigners understand you if you speak loudly enough and add o or io on the ends of words. It never works. 

 
I speak English and German and quite a lot of French. Thanks to my language teachers at school and my parents who let me do a student exchange with a family in Austria.  (The mother was a teacher and I HAD to speak German all the time). 
It helps that France is 2 hours away by train. Germany is about 3-4 hours away. 
 
They had an exhibition of Beatrix Potter’s work at the Dulwich Picture Gallery – near where we live in South East London – there were lots of her fungi pictures and they were amazing. If you ever get to see the actual illustrations they are well worth any effort.
 
 
 

Self-publishing workshop at Blount County Public Library, Oct. 6, 2018

My duties and responsibilities as writer-in-residence at the Blount County Public Library (Maryville, Tennessee) continue to evolve. On the first Saturday of October, I will be offering a half-day workshop on getting started with self-publishing.

If you’re in the area and are interested in this topic, sign up here:

http://www.blountlibrary.org/FormCenter/Public-Library-9/Introduction-to-SelfPublishing-OCTOBER-6-111

Here’s the description:

Introduction to Self-Publishing Details: ADVANCED REGISTRATION FORM WITH $10 FEE, LUNCH INCLUDED, FOR SESSION ON OCTOBER 6th, 2018
The workshop will be held Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Sharon Lawson Room. You will learn the basics of self-publishing in this half-day workshop conducted by Jim Stovall, the Blount County Public Library’s current writer-in-residence (www.jprof.com). The workshop will cover everything you need to know about getting started in the world of independent publishing and how to make your book available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and other book-selling forums. Advance online registration is required as is a $10 registration fee which includes a box lunch from the library’s Bookmark Café. Lunch is not optional, and lunch order options are on the registration form below. Seating is limited to 30. For more details, call Adult Services (Reference Desk) at 865-273-1428 or 865-982-0981, option 3.

Remember, the $10 fee includes lunch!

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

 

Best quote of the week:

To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the first duty of the educator. Maria Montessori, educator (1870-1952) 


Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim


Jim Stovall 

www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter:  Lincoln-Douglas debate, every word; the art of Beatrix Potter; future of English; newsletter, Aug. 30, 2018

 

 
 

Costly commas

God save the Queen!

God, save the Queen!

The presence or absence of punctuation — particularly the ubiquitous comma — can change the meaning of a sentence. And it can have massive consequences.

This BBC website article,  Pocket: The commas that cost companies millions tells about how the absence of a comma in a contract cost a dairy company in Portland, Maine, $5 million earlier this year. And this is not an isolated story.

“Punctuation matters,” says Ken Adams, author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. But not all punctuation is made equal: contractual minefields are not seeded with semicolons or em-dashes (here’s one: – ) waiting to explode when tripped over. “It boils down to commas,” says Adams. “They matter, and exactly how depends on the context.”

Learning and applying the standard and well-evolved rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation is the key to effective communication. Despite the many changes that our modern lives have witnessed, the importance of the rules of the language still rules.

10 letters lost from the alphabet: the video

Austin McConnell has put together this fun video about the symbols that were once part of the English alphabet but that we no longer use.

 

 

Some of it may not be completely accurate — we do still use the ampersand (&) — but this is still a good, informative video.

It runs for nearly 10 minutes, but it’s so fast-paced, you won’t notice the time.

Hat-tip to the Digital Reader for putting us onto this.

Going online: What I tell high school teachers and students

When I am talking to high school journalism workshops and groups these days, I try work in the following points about what it means to work online:

A news website gives scholastic journalists the opportunity to do something they’ve never done — practice “daily journalism.”

They would have to think about the news constantly. “What happened at your school today? What happened yesterday? What will happen tomorrow?” he said.

Finally, I tell them:

  • pay attention to the basics of journalistic writing: accuracy, clarity, precision and efficiency
  • think about the audience: “Always think about the audience. What is it they want to see on your site?”
  • post something new on their news website everyday

This fall, I have spoke to workshops in Chapel Hill, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn..

Texting and grammar:

r u goin 2 c her 2-nit

Strict grammarians (I don’t count myself in those ranks) believe that text messaging will kill off good grammar, spelling and punctuation. (Unless it literally kills us first, since many text messages are sent and received from behind the wheel of vehicles at 45-plus mph.)

But before we don our funeral duds, let’s think about what’s happening with the text message.

First, it’s a form of (usually) one-to-one communication.

Second, it’s writing–not great writing and often not correct writing in the sence of using the standard rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Ah, but it’s efficient, argue the texters.

Well, yes and no. Texting with language like what is above is efficient for the writer. But is it efficient for the reader? It is only if the reader knows the language and the symbols. Even then, it may not be totally and quickly comprehensible.

If a reader has to “figure out” the writing, then the writer has failed. Whether it’s a text to a friend or a nationally telecast news bulletin, the writing should be absolutely clear to the reader or listener. So, even though it takes a little longer to write . . .

Are you going to see her tonight?

. . . that’s better than what’s at the top of this post.

And “Loved your text” is certainly better than the title.