7 Cases in Which the Name Is Not the Thing

By Mark Nichol

When referring to an entity — anything from an object to an organization — writers often confuse the name of the thing for the thing itself. Beware of the following types of composition confusion:

1. “GRID, an acronym for Generating Renewable Ideas for Development, offers job training for low-income individuals.”
The acronym doesn’t offer job training; the organization does, so distinguish between the two, or simply parenthesize the full name by itself: “GRID (Generating Renewable Ideas for Development) offers job training for low-income individuals.”

2. “Being an “environmentalist” conjures images of outdoor concerns like driving a hybrid vehicle, protecting areas of natural beauty, or keeping trash out of landfills.”
Being an environmentalist does no such thing; it’s the term itself that inspires the imagery, so make that distinction (and lose the annoying scare quotes): “The term environmentalist conjures images of outdoor concerns like driving a hybrid vehicle, protecting areas of natural beauty, or keeping trash out of landfills.

3. “With his talkie debut, as British secret agent Bulldog Drummond (1929), he became the first silent star to become even more popular in sound films than he had been during the silent era.”
The sentence refers to the film, not the title character. When discussing the actor, a reference to the character distinct from the title is called for: “With his talkie debut, as the titular British secret agent in Bulldog Drummond (1929), he became the first silent star to become even more popular in sound films than he had been during the silent era.”

4. “The pre-emptive offer—a common term in corporate transactions—is hardly new.”
The strategy is being equated with the term for it. However, the parenthetical should be worded to demonstrate the difference: “The pre-emptive offer—that’s a common term in corporate transactions—is hardly new.”

5. “Give credit to The Grudge remake for inspiring a wave of American versions of Japanese horror films.”
Here, the definite article in the movie title is erroneously employed as an article in the framing sentence, but it cannot do double duty. Recast the sentence to include a separate definite article: “Give credit to the remake of The Grudge for inspiring a wave of American versions of Japanese horror films.”

6. “Mike is an Eagle Scout, a moniker he wears with pride and satisfaction.”
In the initial phrase, “Eagle Scout” is not a moniker; it’s a type of Boy Scout. The second phrase should be revised to focus on the latter at the expense of the former: “Mike is an Eagle Scout, and he comports himself as one with pride and satisfaction.”

7. “Users can choose from any Web site that offers RSS feeds, short for Really Simple Syndication.”
“RSS feeds” is not an abbreviation; the three letters constitute one. Introduce semantic distance between the service and the initialism for it: “Users can choose from any Web site that offers RSS feeds (RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication).”

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3 Responses to “7 Cases in Which the Name Is Not the Thing”

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • L Beauchamp

    Re your point #5: Changing “The Grudge remake” to “the remake of The Grudge” does not change anything at all in terms of making your point. A “remake” is an inanimate object and therefore not able to receive “credit”. This is a common error as well; perhaps you could point that out and suggest the following alternatives:

    The remaking of The Grudge inspired a wave of….
    OR
    Give credit to those who remade The Grudge for inspiring a wave of…

    I’m just saying!

  • Ken

    Good stuff.

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