Archive for January, 2011

Lots of Little Things

January 28, 2011

I’ve been editing a long document (cutting it down by half, as well), and I found several little things I’d like to address, but none of them merits a whole lesson by itself. Therefore, I am lumping a bunch of them together in this Tip of the Day.

1)      There was an abbreviation of OL, and I could not find a suitable definition of it in any of the oil industry glossaries. So I asked the author, and it turns out to be “outlook.” I really think this should be spelled out, as it’s neither long nor commonly abbreviated.
2)      Upcoarsening is not a word. Use either “coarsening” or “upscaling.”
3)      Finely-gridded should not be hyphenated, nor should any adverbs ending in –ly be hyphenated with the next word they modify.
4)      Volumetric concentration? I think the author really meant “volume.”
5)      “Enables the ability” is redundant. Enables it, period.
6)      6% for Well A, 7% for Well B, and 8% for Well C, respectively. If you’re going to pair them up, you don’t need the “respectively.” You do need it when you unpair them: “6%, 7%, and 8% for Wells A, B, and C, respectively.
7)      Trail and error. Another one that got away from Spell Checker!


Employed vs. Used vs. Utilized

January 27, 2011

The word “use” has nearly been taken over by more highfalutin and pretentious verbs such as “employ” or “utilize.”
I guess that’s because being “used” sometimes has the connotation of being taken advantage of.

According to Webster’s Ninth dictionary, all three words mean to put into service, especially to attain an end.

Use implies availing oneself of something as a means or instrument.
He used a spoon to eat his soup.
She used the Peng-Robinson equation of state as the compositional simulator.

Employ suggests the use of a person or thing that was available, but previously idle or inactive.
In fact, a Google search for “employ” brings up mainly job hunting or employment hits rather than synonyms for “use.”
The construction crew will employ a cherry picker to install the new equipment way up there, rather than building a scaffold.
Oxy hopes to employ 300 new engineers in the next few months.

Utilize is used when a new strategy is put to practical use or a chemical reactant is being consumed in a reaction.
The new timesheet should be utilized to track the hours spent on each project.
Taking Vitamin C along with your calcium supplements enables your body to utilize the calcium more effectively.

Don’t be afraid to use “use.” It’s certainly not overused.

25 Most Annoying Buzzwords

January 26, 2011

The Creative Group recently published a list of the most annoying and overused buzzwords in the advertising and marketing industry, and “social media” topped this year’s list.
Also in the top five were “synergy” and “ROI, ” which are still annoying people five years after they appeared on a prior survey.

Here’s the list:
1.    Social media/social networking
2.    Synergy
3.    Free
4.    Innovative/innovation
5.    ROI/return on investment
6.    Extra value/value added
7.    Model(s)
8.    Telemarketing
9.    Social media expert
10.  Resolve
11.  Moving forward
12.  Branding
13.  Multitasking
14.  Going green
15.  Proactive
16.  Think out of the box
17.  Culture change
18.  End of the day
19.  Interactive
20.  24/7
21.  Integrated/integration
22.  Viral
23.  The big idea
24.  Leverage
25.  Unique

Which of these expressions have you been overusing lately in your speech or writing? Well, cut it out!
“When professionals need to grab attention or have an important message to deliver, excessive use of buzzwords can cause people to lose interest and tune out,” says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group.

Surely you don’t want that to happen. Here’s how to swat those buzzwords:
1.    Use a synonym or alternative expression that conveys the same thought.
2.    Use only beefy words; eliminate the baloney. Does “at the end of the day” add anything at all to what you’re trying to say? At the end of the day, probably not.
3.    Show, don’t tell. Use concrete examples to convey your thoughts. If your new turbodoodiddly is unique, describe what it can do (diddly) and state that nothing else on the market today can do that with a turbocharger under the hood.
4.    Put these expressions on Buzzword Bingo cards and use them at your next meeting.<>

Co-mingle vs. Commingle

January 25, 2011

I spotted a typo today that I wanted to address in my Tip of the Day.
The word used was co-mingle, which is not a real word. I can see why the writer thought it would be a word, though.

The prefix “co–” means “with, together, joint or jointly,” and “mingle” means to mix together. So if you’re talking about two separate fluid streams being mixed together, one might think “co-mingle” would express that thought.

However, there are three things wrong with this line of thinking.

First, the prefix “co–” is a joined prefix, which means there would be no hyphen in the word – unless the part of the word after the “co–” starts with the letter O, as in co-owner.

Second, the word “mingle” has the connotation of maintaining the identities of the mingled things. Webster’s Ninth dictionary says: “to bring or mix together or with something else, usually without fundamental loss of identity.” Now, when you mix two production streams, they lose their individual properties, making allocation of the mixture difficult (but not impossible, using the latest technologies).

Third, there is already a proper word for this concept: commingle. Webster defines it thusly: “to blend thoroughly into a harmonious whole.” This captures the reality of what happens when two production streams are combined into a homogenous fluid.

So, let’s use “commingle” when blending two or more streams of production together.

One Criterion, Two Criteria

January 21, 2011

When I was a magazine editor, one of my duties was to proofread the whole magazine, including articles written by fellow editors.

One of my colleagues had an article about ten criteria to ensure a successful project, and had listed them thusly:
Criteria #1: Blah, blah, blah….
Criteria #2: Etc., etc., etc….

I changed every one of those ten “Criteria” to “Criterion #X,” because the word “criteria” is officially a plural, not a singular, noun.

And she changed them back to plural. And I changed them a second time to singular. And she changed them back, and that was how the article was published.

And she caught hell from one of the readers because she used the plural “criteria” instead of the singular “criterion.”

And I gloated (couldn’t help it).

Well, according to Webster’s Ninth dictionary, my colleague is in good company. Apparently former US President Richard Nixon once said in a speech:
“Let me now return to the third criteria.”

The dictionary notes that such sins are encountered often in speech and increasingly so in edited prose:
“…it may be that in time criteria will establish itself as a singular as agenda and candelabra have.”

Well, that time is not now, so please use “criterion” for the singular noun and “criteria” for the plural noun. And I will continue to correct it with the utmost attitude.


Typo of the Day that Cracked Me Up

The SPE Gulf Coast Section Board was approving some proposed guidelines today for making arrangements at hotels, restaurants and other meeting venues. One of the suggestions for keeping costs down was to ask the venue management to “wave” rather than “waive” the audiovisual fees they normally charge.

                                  Wave the Audiovisual Fee!

Prior or Previous?

January 18, 2011

The adjective “prior” refers to something that occurred earlier in time or with a higher order of importance.

I have a prior commitment, so I cannot have lunch with you today, but thanks for asking.

Corporate writing tends to use “prior to” as a preposition to convey the thought of “before,” which is preferred. Another no-no is to use “prior” to mean “beforehand” or “earlier.”

Bad Examples:
Prior to commencing production, the well casing is cemented in place.
Vacation days must be approved by your supervisor at least 24 hours prior.

Previous is also used to mean “prior,” but it has a connotation of “preceding.” Many times you can omit the word “previous” because it is redundant.

Bad Example:
In our previous discussion, we decided not to perforate that interval.
(Of course the discussion we had in the past preceded this one – redundant.)

Good Example:
In the previous meeting (the meeting preceding the one we are now talking about), we decided not to perforate that interval.

From whence did the word “prior” come?
In the middle ages, the prior was the superior of the monastery or other religious house, whereas the prioress was the chief ranking nun of the convent. Thus “prior” came to mean higher ranking, or person with higher priority.

Fracturing, Not Fracing or Fracking

January 14, 2011

The media are covering hydraulic fracturing in shale plays like never before, getting people all worried about their drinking water aquifers and spawning new regulations that will only serve to make it more costly and difficult for us to do business in unconventional gas fields.

In many of these recent articles, I have seen the word “fracing” used. This word would be pronounced FRAY-sing in English. If the writer really meant to use a shorthand for the word “fracturing,” the proper way to spell it would be “fracking,” adding a K to the end to cause the prior vowel to have a short A sound, rather than a long A sound. This same convention is used when politicking, which is what many of the northeastern US leaders are doing when their constituents are faced with fracking in their back yards.

I am opposed to using either “fracing” or “fracking” in any kind of writing for several reasons:
1) The whole word “fracturing” is not so dad-gum long that it needs an abbreviation. Put three more letters in it, then you won’t need to use a whole sentence to explain that fracing or fracking means hydraulic fracturing.
2) Writing is supposed to be a tad more formal than talking around the coffee pot.
3) Having fracturing experts using slang like that with the public makes them sound like oilfield trash, not the high-tech scientists and engineers they really are.

I am hoping that our industry will use some whiz-bang technology like 3D visualization to put the public’s fracturing fears to rest. If folks could attend a town hall meeting and see how microseismic sensing shows exactly where the fractures are forming – and how far away they are from their drinking water zone – not only will they be reassured, but they might also be impressed with our high-tech tools and methods. They might even come to the conclusion that hydraulic fracturing really is all it’s cracked up to be!

Accuracy vs. Precision

January 13, 2011

To be accurate means to be correct or free from error, as in an accurate diagnosis.
Another meaning of “accurate” is conforming to truth or a standard, as in an accurate gauge.

To be precise means to be minutely exact, down to a couple of decimal points, as in “just at that precise moment.”
Precision also refers to conformance to a strict standard, pattern or convention, which is why it is sometimes confused with accuracy. Think of it as a very narrow range of tolerance.

To illustrate the difference, let’s consider the length of a piece of pipe.
“This is a three-foot piece of pipe” may be an accurate statement. Think “correct.”
“This pipe is 3.05 ft long” is a precise statement. Think “exact.”

Now, do you think you have an accurate understanding of the difference between “accuracy” and “precision”?


Decreasing – Synonyms

January 12, 2011

In a world of decline curves, lots of things decrease. Sometimes the word is overused, so using synonyms might be a good idea, keeping in mind the subtle differences inherent in those words.

Decrease suggests a progressive decline in size, number, amount, or intensity.
Lessen means to reduce the amount, rather than the number (countable items), as in to lessen the concentration.
Lower means to move downward, to descend, or to reduce the height or altitude of something.
Reduce means to make smaller, narrower, or shorter, or to downgrade.
Abate means to reduce from an excessive or oppressive value, as in noise abatement.
Dwindle suggests visible reduction to very small amounts or values.

By using the right word for the concept of decreasing, your writing will provide the right nuances and flavor to your readers.

Pull – Synonyms and Idioms

January 11, 2011

I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to push a door that clearly said “PULL” on the sign. And I bet I’m not the only one (if I am, humor me and keep it to yourself.)

So today we are going to have a little lesson on some words that mean “to pull” and some idiomatic expressions that include the word “pull.”

Pull means to exert a force on an object toward you. Synonyms for “pull” include:
Draw – smoother, steadier motion than “pull,” with somewhat less force, as in drawing up a bucket of water from a well.
Drag – greater effort in pulling to overcome friction or resistance, as in dragging a huge bag of leaves to the curb for trash collection.
Haul – pulling large loads over a long distance, as in hauling sacks of cement to the wellsite.
Tug – using strenuous force or spasmodic bursts of force to pull, as I do when I walk my dog Pepper, who likes to stop and sniff.

Here are some definitions for idioms used in the English language involving the word “pull”:
To pull a fast one – to trick or deceive someone
Not pulling any punches – not holding back the full force at one’s disposal
Pull yourself together – Get control of yourself and regain your poise
Are you pulling my leg? – Are you kidding me?
Pull one’s weight – to do one’s proper share of the work
Pull out all the stops – not holding anything back, using all your resources without restraint
Pull some strings – to use one’s influence behind the scenes
Pull the rug out from under you – to remove support or assistance suddenly
Pull together – to work in harmony and cooperate.