Archive for May, 2010

Units of Measure

May 28, 2010

Only abbreviate units of measure when there are numbers preceding them or in tables.


The tank was 3.5 m in diameter.

The mud pit was several meters away.

Don’t add “s” to abbreviations to make them plural, but do add the “s” if the word is spelled out.


The truck held 500 bbl of methanol. (not bbls)

The truck weighed 10 tons and had 23,489 miles on the odometer.

Don’t use symbols such as #, ‘ or ” to indicate units.

Use lbm for pounds of mass, lbf for pounds of force, ft for feet, and in. for inches.

And don’t ever use lbs. (See rule about plurals above.)

Use cm3 for cubic centimeters, not cc.

Use a slash ( / ) in place of the word “per.”

Example:  87 psi/ft

For English units, use a hyphen to indicate a product of two units.

For metric units, use a dot to indicate multiplication of two units.

(For a dot using Word software, insert symbol 00B7 from Unicode (hex) character set.)

Examples:  ft-lbf,  ohm·m

Units of Time English Metric
Second sec s
Minute min min
Hour hr h
Day D d
Year / Annum yr a

And don’t ever leave numbers stranded without their units of measure.

Whenever one of his students erred in such a way, my old geometry teacher, Mr. Perrone, used to demand in a thundering voice: “Apples, oranges, or bananas?”

He pronounced the latter “Bah-nah-nahs.”

It’s still ringing in my ears 30+ years later.


Making Decisions, Solving Problems

May 27, 2010

We make a lot of decisions and solve a lot of problems in the oil industry. I am particularly happy the Top Kill solution seems to be solving BP’s Macondo oil gusher problem – or will at least stanch the flow.

 Here’s an extra side tip inspired by a recent press release about that problem:

Stanch vs. Staunch

Stanch = to check or stop the flow of blood or oil

Staunch = soundly built or steadfast in loyalty

Ah, but I digress….

Problem solving is not hyphenated when used as a noun. However, it is hyphenated when used as an adjective before a noun.


Noun: Engineers generally are very good at problem solving.

Adjective: However, this engineer’s problem-solving skills seem to be lacking.

Likewise, decision making is not hyphenated as a noun, but it is hyphenated as an adjective before a noun.


Decision making occurs at every level of the organization.

Our company’s decision-making process has been automated with this new software.

Assure vs. Ensure vs. Insure

May 26, 2010

Assure means to encourage a person or restore confidence. If you can use the word “reassure” instead, then you can assure someone of something. The recipient, or object of this verb, is always a person.

Example:  He did his best to assure her of his fidelity.

 Ensure means to guarantee, to make sure that something is certain, or to confirm that it is true. The object of this verb is a concept, fact or situation, usually starting with “that.”

Examples: His job was to ensure that every customer was satisfied.

She proofread the numbers in the appendix tables to ensure accuracy.

Insure is only used in reference to the insurance business. If there is no insurance policy or insurance company involved, then don’t use “insure.”

Here is a great example from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s online style guide:

“I assured her that we would ensure that she was insured with our company.”

How to Do a Redo

May 24, 2010

Got a question from the Peanut Gallery today. Mike writes:

“I recently signed up for your daily tips and find them most helpful. I have a question for you. When is it appropriate to use a hyphen? I am especially interested in the cases where ‘re’ is used as a prefix, like resend (or re-send?), re-do, reiterate, re-model, etc.”

Generally speaking, Mike, “re-” is an attached prefix with no hyphen. My dictionary has a list of hundreds of words that start with “re” that are not hyphenated, including: reacquire, reanalyze, reassemble, recalculate, recertify, recirculate, recomplete, redrill, refit, refix, reinject, reinstall, reload, remeasure, remix, reorient, repressurize, reschedule, resize, and restart.

I thought it was funny that the four examples you asked about were not on the long list at all. However, they were listed as individual entries, and not one of them was hyphenated.

Now, there are some exceptions – are you SO not surprised?

Although Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary says not to hyphenate even words that have two vowels bumping heads, such as reengineer, the AP Stylebook recommends hyphens when the word following the “re-” prefix starts with an “E.”


Re-elect, re-emerge, re-employ, re-enact, re-engage, re-enlist, re-enter, re-equip, re-establish and re-examine. I would include re-engineer in this batch of exceptions.

The AP Stylebook also recommends using a hyphen to avoid confusion with the meaning.


Recover from an illness (regain) vs. re-cover the algebra lesson in class (cover again)

Reform a criminal (improve) vs. re-form a blue dog out of Play-Doh (form again)

Resign from your CEO job (quit) vs. re-sign a contract to pitch for the Astros (sign again)

So the general rule is: Don’t hyphenate with “re-” unless it starts with “E.”

(I love grammar rules that rhyme!)

And if you do it right the first time, you won’t have to worry how to spell the word!

Further vs. Farther

May 24, 2010

Farther vs. Further

“Farther” refers to a greater spatial distance. Think “far,” as in:

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”

The Starship Enterprise can travel even farther than that!

“Further” is used to mean “additional” or a continuation in terms of time or degree, especially when there is no concept of distance involved.


“We need to discuss this further at our next team meeting.”

“Further, we plan to drill 18 delineation wells in the hope of extending the field farther to the west.”

In the second example above, the word “furthermore” can also be used at the beginning of the sentence.

If you’re in doubt as to whether actual distance or figurative distance is involved, it’s usually acceptable to use “further.”

Example: “Before we proceed any further, let’s re-examine the facts.”

Post vs. After

May 22, 2010


Recently I have seen several examples of people using the word “post” instead of the word “after.” In the dictionary, “post” is listed either as a noun, a verb or a prefix that is attached to a word without a hyphen.


Noun: post office, fence post, trading post

Verb: post a guard, post a job opening, post the news on my blog

Prefix: postseason, postdate, postgame, postmortem, postscript

Note that it means “after” only when attached to the front of another word, not as a separate word.

Bad Example:

The temperature of the cement increases for several hours post completion.

In such a case, the preposition “after” is correct. The whole purpose of a preposition is to describe a relationship (before, on, toward, over), and the word “after” serves that role.

“Post” as a standalone word is not a preposition.

Verbing a Noun

May 20, 2010

Got a question from the Peanut Gallery today. Mark writes:

“Languages evolve through time, and businesses and teenagers probably do more to change language than most other groups. I have heard presenters use noun forms of words as verbs, and some of them fall naturally upon my ears, while others leave me curious about whether I am behind on language development or the speaker has invented a new one himself. The most recent example that comes to mind for me is ‘to decision’ something. For example, ‘Let’s form a team to decision the best path forward.’ Will you please address this topic in one of your future entertaining and educational tips?”

To decision???

Oy, vey!  The verb is “to decide.”

This reminds me of Tip #30 in my series (see below), in which “trial” was used as a verb.

Example: We plan to trial the new thermoconambulator in Q4 2011.

Oy, vey squared!  The verb is “to try” or “to test.”

About the only noun I can stand to have “verbed” is “to google.”

Example: “What does a giraffe say, Mommy?”

“I don’t know, son, but I bet if you google that, you’ll find an answer.”

Fractions and Decimals

May 18, 2010

I used to love doing fractions in math, geek that I am. Some people just don’t comprehend them. Some people don’t even know how to write fractions, either in words or in numbers.

When expressing fractions in words, hyphenate.

Examples:  one-half, two-thirds, three-quarters

If combined with a whole number or units of measure, use numbers.

Examples: 2½ times as large, ¼-in. hole

Sometimes Word will automatically convert 3/4 to ¾, and if it doesn’t you can usually insert a symbol to “fractionalize” a common fraction. Others, such as 11/16, don’t do it automatically. It’s generally best to leave them “unfractionalized,” putting a space between the whole number and the fraction, to avoid erroneous symbol translations when used in electronic form.

Note: hyphens do not belong between the whole number and the fraction.

Bad Example: 13-3/8 in.

The correct form is 13 3/8 in. or 13 3/8-in., depending on whether it is used as an adjective or not.

Used as adjective: The 13 3/8-in. tubing was run into the hole.

Not used as adjective: The diameter of the tubing was 13 3/8 in.

Fractions are not used with metric system units. Rather, decimal notation is used.

Note: Always use a zero preceding the decimal point for numbers smaller than 1.0.

Example: 0.5

Korrection on Kolaches

May 17, 2010

Comment from the Peanut Gallery:

Paul writes: “The original Czech spelling of kolache is ‘kolace.’ And by the way, kolace actually means more than one ‘kolac.’ Meat kolache is a Texas invention. Kolace in the Czech Republic are prepared with fruit or cheese only.”

Who vs. That vs. Whom

May 17, 2010

“Who” is a pronoun used as a subject to refer to people. “That” is a pronoun used for things or groups. When used as an object, “who” becomes “whom.”


John is the person who brought in the kolaches today. (not “that”)

These are the kolaches that John brought.

This is the team that ate all the kolaches. (not “who” because it is a group)

These were not the people whom John intended to feed. (not “who” — it is an object)

What is a kolache, you ask? (pronounced coal-AH-chee)

Kolaches are Czechoslovakian pastries with a big glob of sweet fruit or cheese on top or with meat and/or cheese rolled up in it. These are popular in Texas, which has a sizeable Czech population. Of course, we Texans like to put jalapeños in our meat and cheese kolaches. Now I’ve got a big hankerin’ for some – and I bet y’all do, too!