Words Derived from “Pend”

Pend, stemming from the Latin verb pendere, meaning “hang,” is used exclusively in legal terminology, as a verb meaning “be awaiting,” but it appears as the root of many other words referring to hanging or weight, which are listed and defined in this post. Something that is pending is waiting to be resolved. A pendant … Read more

Retaining the Connotation of “Retinue”

What is a retinue, and do you need one? That depends on whether you need to be retained. This post defines and discusses the term retinue and its synonyms. Retinue, derived from the French verb retenir, meaning “retain,” or “keep,” refers to a group of associates or attendants. Originally, it applied to retainers (that word … Read more

Punctuation Quiz #8: Strong-Comma Semicolons

All but one of the following sentences incorrectly employs or omits one or more semicolons; revise sentences as necessary to demonstrate correct use of punctuation: 1. We just need to meet this recall movement head on; turn a bad thing into a good thing; and move toward reforming the city for everybody. 2. The possible … Read more

Abbreviations in Science and Technology

Because of the bewildering variety of abbreviations for scientific and technological terms and the inconsistency of treatment, writers and editors are advised to consult with publications like The Chicago Manual of Style or a handbook specific to a scientific discipline or to an industry to confirm standard modes of abbreviation for specific terms. This post … Read more

5 Cases of a Missing Hyphen

In each of the following sentences, omission of a hyphen hinders comprehension; discussion and a revision follows each example. 1. Two and a half months elapse between when the president elect is declared the winner of the election and when he or she takes office. The noun phrase “president-elect,” based on French syntax (in which … Read more

Achieving Parallel Structure in Sentences with Parenthesis

When a sentence includes a form of parenthesis—a word, phrase, or clause framed by a pair of commas, dashes, or parentheses—writers must take care that the statement surrounding the interjection is structurally valid so that if the optional parenthesis is omitted, the remaining wording is still coherent. To test whether the sentence’s composition is complete, … Read more

Literal Meanings and Pedantic Precision

Earlier this year, the Merriam-Webster website, which, along with its paper-and-ink version, is notorious for its laissez-faire approach to word usage, expressed an intriguing argument in one of its Usage Notes: Chill out about preserving the “original” meaning of words. If one were to insist that words be used only in their initial sense, one … Read more

Quotations with Colons

Colons frequently crop up as transitional punctuation preceding a quotation, but that particular punctuation mark is usually not a good choice, as explained in the discussions that follow the sentences below; a revision follows each discussion. 1. The graffiti included the words: “Black lives matter.” This simple declarative statement requires no punctuation between the descriptive … Read more

Style Quiz #8: Not Only… But Also

All but one of the following sentences incorrectly establishes a relationship between two things with a setup of “not only” followed by a faultily constructed counterpoint; revise sentences as necessary to achieve parallel construction: 1. Not only did she mimic his voice, but her descriptions were replete with meaning. 2. It became clear that he … Read more

Geographical Abbreviation

This post outlines the use of abbreviation to refer to geographical locations and other references to location. Note that in general, such references should be spelled out; abbreviation is usually reserved for when space is limited. Some publications still use traditional abbreviations for states, such as Calif. and N.Y., but the trend is toward using … Read more

Abbreviation with Names and of Titles

This post outlines major conventions regarding the use of initials and abbreviations in association with people’s names. Periods are used with initials in names (“W. E. B. Du Bois”) unless someone is referred to exclusively by his or her initials (“FDR”). Note, too, that in formal writing, a space separates each initial used in a … Read more

More Answers to Questions About Apostrophes

1. In a reference to the amount of medication provided to an outpatient, I read “three days’ supply for acute or chronic noncancer pain; seven days for cancer pain or palliative care.” Should days be singular in this expression, or plural? I can’t decide whether it applies to three individual days, one at a time, … Read more