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

By Mark Nichol

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. Karaoke, which means “empty orchestra,” is singing along to a recording of a song in which the original vocals have been deleted.

5. A resume, or a CV (which means “curriculum vitae”), basically a more detailed resume, is the most important document in your job search.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: He coined the term “the Silk Road,” a network of Eurasian roads and trade routes.
Correct : He coined the term “the Silk Road” to refer to a network of Eurasian roads and trade routes.

The term “the Silk Road” is a not a network of Eurasian roads and trade routes; it is the name for such a network.

2.
Original: Polygyny translates to “having many wives.”
Correct : “Polygyny” translates to “having many wives.”

The word polygyny is used to describe a concept. However, the concept is not translated to “having many wives”; the word for it is so translated. (The correction encloses the word in quotation marks because the tool for constructing these exercises does not allow italics for the sample sentences; the word should be italicized rather than set in quotation marks.)

3.
Original: We were introduced to the precocious child Prof, short for “Professor.”
Correct : We were introduced to the precocious child Prof, whose nickname is short for “Professor.”

The child is not an abbreviation of Professor; his or her name is. Here, too, Professor should be italicized rather than framed in quotation marks.

4.
Original: Karaoke, which means “empty orchestra,” is singing along to a recording of a song in which the original vocals have been deleted.
Correct : Karaoke (the name means “empty orchestra”) is singing along to a recording of a song in which the original vocals have been deleted.
Alterna.: Karaoke — the word is Japanese for “empty orchestra” — is singing along to a recording of a song in which the original vocals have been deleted.

The name for karaoke, not the activity itself, means “empty orchestra.”

5.
Original: A resume, or a CV (which means “curriculum vitae”), basically a more detailed resume, is the most important document in your job search.
Correct : A resume, or a CV (the initials stand for “curriculum vitae”), basically a more detailed resume, is the most important document in your job search.

The initials for the document, not the document itself, represent the term “curriculum vitae.”

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2 Responses to “Style Quiz #11: Confusion of a Thing and Its Name”

  • Richard Wheeler

    Wow! Some of these were really challenging! I don’t think I make this mistake very often, but now I wonder. I’ll be more sensitive to it, so thank you, Mark Nichol.

    The fifth correction could address two more significant flaws.

    1. The writer adds a comma after resume so that readers would associate the second parenthetical (“basically a more detailed resume”) with CV and not with resume. However, that comma incorrectly implies that CV and resume are synonymous. The comma after resume and the article before CV need to go. In order to include the second parenthetical in a way that applies only to CV, the parenthetical may be placed within the parentheses.

    2. Spelling out “(which means ‘curriculum vitae’)” is wordy. In formal writing, the expansion (which spells out the initialism) precedes the initialism in parentheses, but since people use the term CV far more frequently, one may reverse the order in less formal writing.

    A better “correct” version would be:

    A resume or ‘curriculum vitae’ (CV — basically, a more detailed resume) is the most important document in your job search.

    (I placed the expansion in single quotes because we normally italicize foreign expressions. In my opinion, double quotes would be overkill, but you should check your style guide before following my example.)

  • Dale A. Wood

    This is a relevant article about a serious concept.
    In most cases, there is a big difference between something and the name of that thing or idea. The mistake of confusing the two happens frequently.

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