Category Archives: writing

Have you ever heard of Scare Quotes?

Framing a word or phrase in scare quotes, or quotation marks used for emphasis, can be an effective tool for signaling editorial distance—that is, subtly and succinctly clarifying that the word or phrase is not of the writer’s choosing or that it is euphemistic or otherwise specious or spurious. However, too often, scare quotes are gratuitous or redundant, as shown in the examples below:

1. They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this “big picture” view.

This sentence features gratuitous use of scare quotes—gratuitous, because the writer seems to mistakenly assume that any idiom, no matter how quotidian, must be enclosed in quotation marks to signal that the meaning is not literal. The marks are unnecessary with most established idiom: “They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this big-picture view.”

2. The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called “front-line” units.

Here, the scare quotes are redundant. The quotation marks serve to inform the reader that the writer did not generate a word or phrase; rather, he or she is merely reporting a usage that someone else employed. But so-called signals this fact to the reader, so it is superfluous to use scare quotes as well. When such redundancy occurs, the writer (or editor) should opt to delete the scare quotes and retain so-called: “The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called front-line units.”

3. That same budget funded quote-unquote “crisis pregnancy centers.”

Using the phrase quote-unquote in speech is understandable, because scare quotes are not visible in speech—another approach is to use air quotes, hand gestures that suggest quotation marks—but in writing, doing so is an intrusive alternative to so-called: “That same budget funded so-called crisis pregnancy centers.” (In this case, however, because the writer is criticizing the use of the euphemistic phrase “crisis pregnancy centers” for a type of facility associated with deceptive advertising and misleading information, use of scare quotes in lieu of so-called is also appropriate.)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Parentheses

Parentheses serve several specific functions, but their general purpose is to set a grammatical unit of content off from the surrounding text. The parenthesized material can range from a single letter, numeral, or other symbol to an entire sentence. (Because enclosing more than one complete sentence in parentheses overextends the digression, it is not recommended.) Here is a summary of ways to deploy parentheses.

First, a definition of terms: Parenthesis denotes a single parenthetical mark, but it can also refer to a digression, interlude, or interval enclosed in parentheses or other pairs of punctuation marks, such as commas, dashes, or brackets. The first of two parenthetical marks is an open parenthesis, and the second is a close parenthesis. The pair together are called parentheses.

A parenthesis of an entire sentence can be inserted within another sentence, but omit a period after the parenthesized sentence (However, an exclamation point or question mark is acceptable!) to avoid confusion. (A complete sentence may also follow the terminal punctuation of the preceding sentence; in that case, include a period—or another terminal punctuation mark—immediately before the close parenthesis.) An incomplete sentence within parentheses is not punctuated with a period, but, again, an exclamation point or question mark is allowed.

When providing an explanation or an example, the additional information can be enclosed in parentheses. Note in the following sentence how a parenthesis of a parenthesis should be formatted. (The abbreviations e.g. [“for example”] and i.e. [that is”] generally precede such information in formal and scholarly prose; in more casual contexts, the phrases are employed.) This is general American English style; British English style (and legal style and style for some other contexts) is parentheses within parentheses.

Parentheses enclose the abbreviation of an acronym or initialism after the spelled-out name of an agency, company, or organization to inform the reader about how the entity will be identified on subsequent references: “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909.” (Note that the article the is not repeated in the parenthesis, but it should precede the initialism when it appears again.)

Parentheses are used to enclose a note when a reader is directed to a cross-reference or when a writer glosses (presents a brief definition of) a term, provides a citation for a quotation or a fact or figure, points out that he or she has used italics to emphasize part of a quoted passage, or otherwise annotates a quotation.

Note that the location of the parenthesis in the following sentence is awkward: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ should serve on the committee (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations).” Parenthesized annotation, just like additional information enclosed in a pair of commas or dashes, should immediately follow the relevant word or phrase, as here: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations) should serve on the committee.”

Back-to-back parenthesis is acceptable, but this can be avoided by combining two pieces of information into one parenthesis divided by a semicolon or by reorganizing the framing text to separate the two parenthetical comments.

When the items in a run-in list (a list appearing within a sentence rather than formatted vertically) are numbered, they should be enclosed in a pair of parentheses (not with a close parenthesis only)—as in “The three types of rocks are (1) igneous, (2) metamorphic, and (3) sedimentary”—but numbering is seldom necessary.

Use parentheses in moderation; excessive deployment of the symbols can give text a cluttered appearance (note their ubiquity in this post) and result in an obstacle-ridden narrative flow. Often, a pair of commas will suffice in their place, and dashes are appropriate when abruptly interjecting additional information, especially when the writer wants to give an impression of sudden interruption rather than unassuming interpolation.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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15 Reduplicative Doublets

Reduplicative doublets are a small class of idioms in which a word is repeated after the conjunction and; such repetition is intended to provide an emphatic boost to a statement. Here are fifteen such constructions with definitions and sample sentences.

1. Again and again: repeatedly (“I practiced the maneuver again and again so that I didn’t have to think about what I was doing”)

2. By and by (or by-and-by): later, or eventually (“I think he’ll come around to our way of thinking by and by”)

3. Done and done: done thoroughly and satisfactorily (“The team avenged its loss with a decisive victory — done and done”)

4. Ever and ever: always, or seemingly so (“I had to wait for ever and ever for my car to get fixed”)

5. Half and half: in equal parts; also, a food or drink made of two often equal ingredients, or a mixture of cream and milk, or a person of dual nationality or mixed ethnicity (“She likes half and half in her coffee”)

6. Hot-and-hot: multiple courses of food served individually as soon as cooked (“The catered meal was served hot-and-hot”)

7. Less and less: increasingly less, progressively decreasing, or decreasingly true or prevalent (“I’m less and less confident of success as the days pass”)

8. More and more: increasingly more, progressively increasing, or increasingly true or prevalent (“It’s getting more and more difficult to find in stores”)

9. Neck and neck: very close in a contest or race, suggesting two horses whose necks are side by side (“The candidates are polling neck and neck lately”)

10. On and on: continuously (“The speaker droned on and on beyond her allotted time”)

11. Out-and-out: complete or utter (“That’s an out-and-out lie!”)

12. Over and over: repeatedly (“He said it over and over, to make sure I understood”)

13. So-and-so (or so and so): a placeholder name for a person (often initial-capped), a placeholder word for one or more things, or a euphemism for an offensive epithet (“I talked to So-and-so — that guy over there”)

14. Such-and-such: a placeholder for a thing or action (“If you were to go to such-and-such a place, you’d find the building”)

15. Through and through: see out-and-out (“He’s a loser through and through”)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Onomatopoeia

How do you represent various sounds in writing? The term for vocal (and written) imitation of sounds, onomatopoeia, means “to make names.” (The word, a Latinization of a Greek word, consists of the term that is also the origin of name, nominal, and the like and the one from which poem and poet are derived.) But making names is complicated by the fact that spelling of sounds is arbitrary.

Various languages represent common sounds with uncommonly assorted words. What in English would be spelled chomp or munch is in Indonesian krauk and in Japanese musha-musha. Shh, or hush, is translated as psszt in Hungarian and cht in Spanish. Achoo! is spelled apchix in Bulgarian and achhee! in Hindi. Sometimes — for instance, because a frog in one country is a different species from one in another country and therefore may actually make a different sound — this variation is logical. But often (look up the various representations for meow around the world) the differences are perplexing.

But even within one language, a writer is challenged by the ambiguity of sounds. How, exactly, does one spell a yell? That word itself is onomatopoeic, but “Yell!” is not a yell. A cry of anger is distinct from one of fear. And an exclamation of pain could be spelled starting with an a (“Aughhh!”), an o (“Owww!”), or a y (“Yeow!”).

Some variation from what a reader may be accustomed to is reasonable: If I routinely spelled an archvillain’s triumphant evil laugh “Bwah-hah-hah!” I would be distracted but not derailed to see it treated as “Muah-ha-ha!” But “Myau” would not alert me to the presence of a cat; in English, either the spelling above or the British English preference, miaow (or mew, a variation suggesting a gentler cry) is standard.

But how do I know that? The compositional catch-22 — “How can I look something up in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it?” — may come into play, especially when the word starts with a vowel. But that’s step number one: Look it up. Is a donkey’s bray spelled “Hee haw”? Type the word into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you’ll learn whether your guess is validated. (In this case, English is in the minority among languages, most of which begin spelling of that sound with a vowel.) Or rely on your reading — whether your sources are science journals or comic books, some standard is likely to prevail.

Neologisms or words not generally granted legitimacy in writing (fuggedaboudit, anyone?) can be a challenge, but try an online search if you’re not sure. You’ll likely get a response for more than one alternative, but apply the quality test, not the quantity test: Judge the preferred spelling not on which is most frequent, but which is used on the most authoritative (or least questionable) sites.

But in the right circumstance, go ahead and take a chance. If you desire, for example, that a character respond to another’s cattiness, a flat utterance of “Meow” may convey the first person’s cynical understatement, whereas “Reerrrrrrrrrrr!” will, despite its lack of resemblance to the standard spelling, clearly evoke an unambiguous judgment about the second character’s provocative statement or behavior.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Hyphenating Prefixes

A reader who works with legal transcription has the following question:

There seems to be a trend towards having the prefixes and suffixes separate from the modified noun instead of being attached or hyphenated. What is proper?  Some examples are non negotiable, post surgery, post doctorate, age wise.

The examples given present a variety of forms, not all of which represent a prefix+noun combination.

The prefix non- is added to nouns of action, condition, or quality with the sense of “absence, lack of,” or simply “not.” for example, non-Catholic.

Non- is affixed to adjectives to make them negative. Whether to add a hyphen depends upon whether American or British usage is being observed. The OED hyphenates many words that M-W shows written as one word. For example, M-W gives nonnegotiable, but OED has non-negotiable.

When it comes to another word in the reader’s list, however, both the OED and M-W agree with postdoctorate, although both prefer postdoctoral.

The prefix post- means, “after” or “behind.” It is added to adjectives without a hyphen: postcolonial, postsurgical. Post can be used on its own as a preposition meaning, “after”: “Your mouth will be extremely dry post surgery.” In this context post is a separate word. Added to a noun to create a descriptor, however, post would require a hyphen: “Post-surgery care is vitally important.”

The suffix -wise means, “in the manner of” or “as regards,” as in clockwise, lengthwise, foodwise, etc. This combining form is never separated from the word it’s added to, either by a hyphen or by a space. It can have other meanings, of course. For example, a person is said to be “penny wise, but pound foolish.” In this context wise is a word that means “possessing wisdom”; it is not a suffix.

Hyphenation is not an exact science. Authorities differ regarding the necessity of a hyphen, but I’m reasonably sure that all agree that suffixes aren’t free agents that can stand apart from the words to which they belong.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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12 Misunderstood and Misquoted Shakespearean Expressions

From: Daily Writing Tips

The plays of William Shakespeare provide a wealth of pithy sayings — many of which he likely popularized rather than produced himself, though we may still be grateful to him for sharing them. Unfortunately, sometimes the original sense is adulterated by careless usage, so that the eloquent force of the expression is weakened. Here are a dozen of Shakespeare’s phrases with comments about their original wording and meaning:

1. “At one fell swoop”

This phrase from Macduff’s grief-stricken lamentation about the murder of his family in Macbeth uses the archaic word fell, meaning “fierce,” to extend the metaphor of the perpetrator (who he calls a “hell-kite”) as a bird of prey. Modern usage is generally more casual and even comical.

2. “Brave new world”

This phrase from a speech by Miranda, daughter of the wizard Prospero in The Tempest, naively uses brave in the sense of “handsome” when she first lays eyes on other men. The subtext in Shakespeare is that those she refers to are superficially attractive but substantially deficient in character. The sense is the same in the phrase as it appears in the title of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic. Unfortunately, the dark sarcasm is being dulled by use of the phrase to blithely herald a bright future.

3. “Foregone conclusion”

From Othello, this phrase means literally something that has already occurred (it has “gone before”); now, the phrase often refers to a conjectural event.

4. “Gild the lily”

This misquotation from King John, which actually reads, “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily . . . is wasteful and ridiculous excess,” confuses the metaphor, because lilies are white, not gold.

5. “Lead on, Macduff”

This misquotation from Macbeth, in which the title character baits his nemesis to attack him by saying, “Lay on, Macduff,” is now a variation of “After you” — quite a diversion from the original intent.

6. “The milk of human kindness”

This metaphor, employed in the service of a heartwarming connotation, would rouse the wrath of Lady Macbeth, whose reference to the virtue in the play named for her husband was contemptuous.

7. “More honored in the breach than the observance”

This phrase from Hamlet has been twisted by time to mean an admirable custom that is neglected more often practiced. Shakespeare’s sense was of a deplorable custom that should be halted. The expression immediately follows another well-known but oft-misunderstood phrase: Hamlet refers to himself as one “to the manner born,” meaning “brought up to follow the custom,” but some people believe the phrase, when expressed out of context, to be “to the manor born,” referring to one raised in the opulent surroundings of a manor house.

8. “Neither rhyme nor reason”

The modern focus is on the second element of this phrase from The Comedy of Errors, but the intent is to express a lack both of sense and of eloquence.

9. “Sea change”

This expression from The Tempest refers to a deadly shift in weather, but now the sense of peril has been replaced by a connotation of significant transformation.

10. “Third degree”

Shakespeare’s humorous reference in Twelfth Night to someone “in the third degree of drink” harks to the principle of degrees in natural philosophy, which assigns the third degree to the penultimate level of intensity. The modern sense is of merciless interrogation, though it’s usually employed in a lighthearted tone.

11. “What the dickens”

Some of those unfamiliar with the origin of this expression — The Merry Wives of Windsor — assume it has a Victorian provenance and refers to Charles Dickens. But dickens is an Elizabethan euphemism for the devil, and Shakespeare employs it as an oath.

12. “The world’s mine oyster”

The usual assumption is that one can easily lay the world wide open and extract its contents. But the boast in The Merry Wives of Windsor goes on to say, “Which I with sword will open,” expressing the partaker’s more active — and more violent — role.

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The Path Magazine

The Path magazine, normally published bi-annually (July and December) will be published once this year, in December (Vol. 10 Nos. 1 and 2) because of the Coronavirus siege.

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Writing Fiction – Chapter One

USE CAREFULLY CHOSEN DETAIL TO CREATE IMMEDIACY.

 Your Chapter One must move along smartly, but in being economical you cannot become vague. Difficult, you say? It’s all in the context.

The genius of books as diverse as Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Robin Cook’s Coma lies in the authors’ generosity with good, authentic detail. Cervantes knew that a suit of armor kept in a junk locker for years wouldn’t merely be dusty, it would be corroded to hell—and that would be a problem to overcome. Likewise, Cook, himself a doctor, knew that a patient prepped for surgery would typically be given a calming drug before the main anesthetic—and that some patients, somehow, do not find peace even under the medication, especially if they have reason not to.

If you’re an expert on something, go ahead and show that you know what you’re talking about. One of the reasons my novel Damn Straight, a story involving a professional golfer, won a Lambda Award is that I know golf, and let my years of (painful) experience inform the book. I felt I’d done a good job when reviewer after reviewer wrote, “I absolutely hate golf, but I love how Sims writes about it in this novel. …”

Let’s say your Chapter One begins with your main character getting a root canal. You could show the dentist nattering on and on as dentists tend to do, and that would be realistic, but it could kill your chapter, as in this example:

Dr. Payne’s running commentary included the history of fillings, a story about the first time he ever pulled a tooth, and a funny anecdote about how his college roommate got really drunk every weekend.

Bored yet? Me too. Does that mean there’s too much detail? No. It means there’s too much extraneous detail.

How about this:

Dr. Payne paused in his running commentary on dental history and put down his drill. “Did you know,” he remarked, “that the value of all the gold molars in a city this size, at this afternoon’s spot price of gold, would be something on the order of half a million dollars?” He picked up his drill again. “Open.”

If the detail serves the story, you can hardly have too much.

From:
Elizabeth Sims

8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One

 

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What is a Palindrome?

A palindrome is a word, number, phrase, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward as forward, such as madam, racecar, or the number 10801. Sentence-length palindromes may be written when allowances are made for adjustments to capital letters, punctuation, and word dividers, such as “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!”, “Was it a car or a cat I saw?” or “No ‘x’ in Nixon”.

Composing literature in palindromes is an example of constrained writing.

The word palindrome was first published by Henry Peacham in his book, The Truth of Our Times (1638). It is derived from the Greek roots palin (πάλιν; “again”) and dromos (δρóμος; “way, direction”); however, the Greek language uses a different word, i.e. καρκινικός,[1] to refer to letter-by-letter reversible writing.

Palindromes date back at least to 79 AD, as a palindrome was found as a graffito at Herculaneum, a city buried by ash in that year. This palindrome, called the Sator Square, consists of a sentence written in Latin: “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” (“The sower Arepo holds with effort the wheels”). It is remarkable for the fact that the first letters of each word form the first word, the second letters form the second word, and so forth. Hence, it can be arranged into a word square that reads in four different ways: horizontally or vertically from either top left to bottom right or bottom right to top left. As such, they can be referred to as palindromatic,

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Grammatical Case in English

Old English had five cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental.

Modern English has three cases:

  1. Nominative (also called subjective)
    2. Accusative (also called objective)
    3. Genitive (also called possessive)

The objective case subsumes the old dative and instrumental cases.

Case refers to the relation that one word has to another in a sentence, i.e., where one word “falls” in relationship to another. The word comes from a Latin word meaning “falling, fall.” In other modern languages, adjectives have case, but in English, case applies only to nouns and pronouns.

 

Nominative/Subjective Case
When a noun is used as a) the subject of a verb or b) the complement of a being verb, it is said to be in the subjective or nominative case.

The king laughed heartily.
King is a noun in the subjective case because it is the subject of the verb laughed.

The king is the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Son is a noun in the subjective case because it is the complement of the being verb is.

 

Accusative/Objective Case (This isn’t accusing anyone of anything)
When a noun is used as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition, it is said to be in the objective or accusative case.

The king subdued his enemies.
Enemies is a noun in the objective case because it receives the action of the transitive verb subdued; it is the direct object of subdued.

The friends went to a movie.
Movie is a noun in the objective case because it is the object of the preposition to.

Sallie wrote Charlie a letter.
Charlie is a noun in the objective case because it is the indirect object of the verb wrote.

A transitive verb always has a direct object; sometimes, it will have a second object called the “indirect object.” In the old terminology, the indirect object was said to be in the “dative case.” Nowadays, the indirect object, like the direct object, is said to be in the accusative or objective case

Note: Some English teachers may still distinguish (as I once did) between the accusative and the dative, but the most recent college English textbook I have, (copyright 2000), does not even list the term “dative” in its index. As nouns and pronouns in the dative case are spelled the same as those in the objective case, there’s no practical reason to retain the former designation.

 

Genitive/Possessive Case

Of the three noun cases, only the possessive case is inflected (changes the way it is spelled).

Nouns in the possessive case are inflected by the addition of an apostrophe–with or without adding an “s.”

The boy’s shoe is untied.
Boy’s is a singular noun in the possessive case.

The boys’ shoes are untied.
Boys’ is a plural noun in the possessive case.

This one inflected noun case is the source of error for a great many native English speakers.

English pronouns are also a frequent source of error because they retain inflected forms to show subjective and objective case:

Pronouns in the subjective case: I, he, she, we, they, who
Pronouns in the objective case: me, him, her, us, them, whom

The pronouns you and it have the same form in both subjective and objective case.

Note: Strictly speaking, both my and mine and the other possessive forms are genitive pronoun forms, but students who have been taught that pronouns stand for nouns are spared unnecessary confusion when the teacher reserves the term “possessive pronoun” for words that actually do stand for nouns, like mine and theirs. Like adjectives, my, its, our, etc. stand in front of nouns, so it makes sense to call them “possessive adjectives.”

The objective form whom is almost gone from modern speech; the subjective form who has taken over in the objective case for many speakers.

 

From: Daily Writing Tips

 

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