5 Cases of Confusion Between Things and Their Names
1. “Users can choose from any website that offers RSS feeds, short for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’
“RSS feeds” is not short for “Really Simple Syndication.” The sentence refers to RSS feeds and then explains what the initialism stands for, but the association of the spelled-out term with the initialism is confusing, so the additional information needs to be distinguished from the main point: “Users can choose from any website that offers RSS feeds. (RSS is short for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’)”
More simply, the parenthesis could be introduced as here: “Users can choose from any website that offers RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.” However, the information is not essential and is better introduced in a trailing parenthesis. Use your judgment according to the context of each case.
2. “This is a camera obscura, a Latin term that means ‘dark chamber.’”
This sentence suffers from the same type of confusion as the previous example. A camera obscura is not a Latin term; it is a device with that Latin name (and though the origin of the name is Latin, the term, despite being taken from that language, is English). Revise the sentence to clarify both points: “This is a camera obscura, a device whose name, borrowed from Latin, means ‘dark chamber.’”
3. “The pre-emptive offer — also a common term in corporate transactions — is hardly new.”
Here, the concept of the pre-emptive offer is being mistaken for the name of the concept. Again, word the interjection of information to clarify the distinction: “The strategy known as a pre-emptive offer — that phrase is also a common term in corporate transactions — is hardly new.”
4. “With his talkie debut, as British secret agent Bulldog Drummond (1929), he became the first silent star to become even bigger in sound films.”
This sentence attempts to name both a character and a film in one designation, but as we all know from physics class, two phenomena cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Separate the reference to the title character from that of the film title: “With his talkie debut, as the titular British secret agent in Bulldog Drummond (1929), he became the first silent star to become even bigger in sound films.”
5. “John is a Wetland Watcher — a moniker he wears with pride and satisfaction.”
This sentence’s conflict of concept and name is not as jarring as in the previous examples, but the statement would nevertheless benefit from more of a separation of the two elements: “John is a Wetland Watcher, and that’s a moniker he bears with pride and satisfaction.”
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