Style Quiz #11: Confusion of a Thing and Its Name

Revise each of the following sentences so that the name of the thing, not the thing itself, is defined. 1. He coined the term “the Silk Road,” a network of Eurasian roads and trade routes. 2. Polygyny translates to “having many wives.” 3. We were introduced to the precocious child Prof, short for “Professor.” 4. … Read more

3 Sentences with Hyphenation Problems

In each of the following sentences, one or more hyphens is missing from a phrasal adjective, but another solution is available: A relaxation of the syntax is recommended, as explained following each example and demonstrated in a subsequent revision. 1. We can expect to see lighter touch regulation in the banking sector. The hyphenation problem … Read more

5 Cases of Awkward Appositives

In each of the sentences below, a writer has referenced a person, place, or thing with an appositive, a word or phrase equivalent to another word or phrase, but erroneous punctuation or syntax introduces a flaw in sentence construction. The discussion following each example explains the problem, and a revision illustrates its resolution. 1. A … Read more

3 More Cases of Superfluous Semicolons

Some writers avoid semicolons either because they are not certain of the punctuation mark’s functions or because some people consider it stodgy, or both. It is in fact quite simple and practical to use, but beware of employing one when a comma will do just as well, as in the following examples, each followed by … Read more

The Story of “Sake”

Sake is one of those nebulous yet specific words that are employed in a limited number of circumstances. This post discusses its origin and uses. Sake (from the Old English term sacu, meaning “guilt”), which primarily means “end” or “purpose,” is used most transparently in phrases beginning “for the sake of”: “For the sake of … Read more

The Impressive Range of “Impress”

Impress has various meanings, both literal and figurative. This post explorers those senses and the meanings of various words in which impress is the root. Impress is derived from the Latin verb premere, meaning “press” and the source of press in all its senses. It usually is a verb and can mean “imprint by applying … Read more

Style Quiz #10: Tense Shifts

Pick the version that correctly reflects the state of the fact or proposition. 1. a) It was common knowledge that things fall down when you drop them. b) It was common knowledge that things fell down when you dropped them. 2. a) He posited that the universe consisted of a space-time continuum. b) He posited … Read more

3 Cases of Mixed Metaphors

Efforts to describe something idiomatically with the use of metaphor—a word or phrase that figuratively provides an analogy—more than once in a sentence will likely distractingly interfere with reading comprehension, so avoid using more than one metaphor in a sentence, or at least ensure that they are complementary. Discussions after each example in this post … Read more

50 Foreign Terms That Aren’t Foreign

English is a very welcoming language, adopting terms indiscriminately from other tongues. Many publishers observe a distinction between naturalized words and those still considered foreign, honoring the assimilation of the former by refraining from using any visual emphasis and italicizing those in the latter category. The careful writer will honor this distinction, but how is … Read more

3 Examples of Dashing to the Rescue

When commas are employed to set off a break in thought, or are used to set off more than two distinct sentence elements, the result is often a flat or confusing sentence. To properly signal an abrupt syntactical change or clearly indicate syntactical hierarchy, consider replacing one or two commas with a dash or two, … Read more

“Optics” Is in the Eye of the Beholder

How does optics—employed as a buzzword synonym for perception, not a reference to the study of light and sight—look to you? What’s your view? Do we see eye to eye? This post discusses a not-new but newly trending term whose increasing popularity says something about the way we see ourselves and our culture—and institutions that … Read more

Slang Words Ending in “O”

Among the more curious classes of slang words is that of terms ending in the letter o, the topic of this post. Several categories exist in which informal words end in o. Among the oldest are those consisting of words to which an extraneous o has been added, such as cheerio (from cheer or cheery), … Read more