Archive for September, 2011

Preventive vs. Preventative

September 28, 2011

I got a good question today from Peter, who says  he prefers to think of himself as hailing from the coalface rather than the  Peanut Gallery – despite being paid peanuts.

Quick Mini-Tip:
The idiomatic expression “at the coalface” means you work in the thick of things, dealing with real problems and issues, getting all dirty, rather than sitting in a remote office viewing things in a detached way.

Back to Peter’s question:
What is the difference between preventive and preventative?

Preventive can be either a noun or an adjective.
As a noun, a preventive is something that prevents something bad, such as a
Beano is a preventive for intestinal gas. If you take Beano, there will be no gas.

As an adjective, preventive means concerned with prevention, precautionary, done to avoid something unpleasant.
The new medical insurance plan covers 100% of preventive care, such as mammograms and pap smears, with no deductible or co-pay required.

Preventative is a variant of preventive that means the same thing, and it can be used as either a noun or an adjective. However, preventive is generally preferred by the Grammar Police.

According to <a href="<>,
“…preventative has gained ground—now appearing about a third as often as
preventive—and most dictionaries list it as an acceptable variant. Whether or
not preventative is correct, it is now so common that we can’t help but accept

Some sources, including the New York Times, use “preventive” as the adjective and “preventative” as the noun, but Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University, says: “…the two are interchangeable as both nouns and adjectives, though many prefer ‘preventive’ as being shorter and simpler.”

I vote for shorter and simpler as a preventive measure.


Advice My Mother-In-Law Sent Me:
“If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.”


The Picture Shows

September 28, 2011

I hit the jackpot today! No, I didn’t win the National  Punctuation Day contest – yet. However, I did get a both a question and a tip in separate emails from the Peanut Gallery.

Salim asked the following question:
“Sometimes we use certain vocabulary to describe a figure or a table, for instance: ‘The below figure demonstrates, shows, illustrates, describes, represents, …, etc.’ The question is: Can these verbs be use alternatively? Or there is a special use for each one where it is incorrect to use it anywhere else?”

Let’s see what Mr. Webster has to say about this in his dictionary.

“Show” means to put into view, to cause or permit to be seen. So to say “the figure below shows …” would be valid if it helps the reader visualize what the words are saying.

“Demonstrate” goes a little beyond “show.” Demonstrate means to show clearly or prove by reasoning or evidence, or to explain using many examples. Demonstrate implies showing by action or by display of feeling.
He likes to demonstrate how his software works at conferences. (action)
She demonstrates her love by cooking his favorite foods. (feeling)

“Illustrate” means to make clear by giving an instance or example. Thus, a figure or table that shows data from a sample well that exhibits the sort of behavior you are describing would “illustrate,” but perhaps not a table or figure containing all the data for the whole field.
Surely, an illustration such as a diagram can illustrate.

“Describe” is usually used when referring to words, not pictures or tables.
He described the picture to her over the phone.
However, “describe” can also mean to represent by a figure, model, or picture.
The PVT behavior of the condensate is described by the curve in Figure 2.

“Represent” means to serve as a sign or symbol of something else, or to serve as an example or instance. Thus, it would be used similarly to “illustrate.”

Figure 3 represents the open sleeve position, while Figure 4 represents the closed sleeve configuration.

So yes, there are some subtleties among these variations that can be used to distinguish their usage. But the simple word “show” is preferred, as long as it’s not overused.

Finally, Australian CyberText blogger Rhonda shared the following tip:
“An even quicker way to sub/superscript a character is via the keyboard:
Ctrl+Shift+= for superscript
Ctrl+= for subscript”
I tried it and it works! The trouble is, it keeps on working, so you have to do the little trick a second time to revert to normal script format.

For more excellent tips, visit the CyberText Newsletter at:

National Punctuation Day – Sept. 24, 2011

September 23, 2011

National Punctuation Day – Sept. 24, 2011

Who knew there was such a thing? Only a true Grammar Geek could appreciate this particular holiday.

There’s a National Grammar Day, too, which I learned about after the fact. That celebration took place Mar. 4, 2011. Get it? March forth! That’s a complete, grammatically correct sentence in the imperative tense. We’ll celebrate that holiday in Tip of the Day Writing Style next Spring.

Meanwhile, let me tell you how I will be celebrating National Punctuation Day. There’s a contest, the Punctuation Paragraph Contest, and there will be 25 winners chosen by “an esteemed panel of judges” to receive “a box of punctuation goodies,” which I sure hope is a box of comma-shaped chocolates, and not some nerdy T-shirt and baseball cap.

The rules for the contest are:
“Write one paragraph, maximum of three sentences, using these 13 punctuation marks:
apostrophe  ‘
brackets  [ ]
colon  :
comma  ,
dash  –
ellipsis  …
exclamation point  !
hyphen  –
parentheses  ( )
period  .
question mark  ?
quotation mark  ”  ”
semicolon  ;
You may use a punctuation mark more than once.”

Good thing, because a few of them come in pairs.

You can still submit an entry to this contest until Sept. 30, 2011, either by emailing <a href="<>,
or by visiting the website at
If you go to the website, you can see the winners of last year’s Punctuation Haiku Contest, which are worth reading.

Well, here’s my entry for the contest:

Who would’ve thought that I – a female chemist from upstate New York (LeRoy) – would spend my entire career in the Houston oil industry? Had you suggested it back then, I would have told you this: “I just graduated [from SUNY Albany] and I’m on a mission to cure cancer …; you’re nuts!” Well, my self-assurance vanished when I learned how interesting and high-tech the oil industry really is.

If you decide to enter this contest, please copy me on your email, so I can share it with the rest of the Peanut Gallery. And if you win and I don’t, please share your comma-shaped chocolates with me. And send me a photo of yourself wearing the nerdy T-shirt and cap.

Reduce Vs. Shorten – Reprise

September 22, 2011

I got a whole slew of questions from one member of the Peanut Gallery today on my recent Tip of the Day concerning the subtle difference between “reduce” and “shorten.”

Herman asks:
Could there be an exception if the item being shortened is not linear? Non-linear lengths (and the perimeter of closed shapes) all have a length, so would you shorten or reduce a length of zig-zag or perimeter fence? The same may also apply to a route, such as taking a shortcut that reduces distance as well as time. Are there similar exceptions for references to time? Does driving faster
or taking shortcuts ‘reduce’ my driving time or ‘shorten’ my driving time? What about areas and volumes? Are they reduced or shortened? Can typed areas and volumes be shown as cm2 and cm3 or do I need to make the numeral a superscript? Would this be different for informal emails vs. official reports?

The short answer (pun intended) is this: Shorten works with a single dimension and also with zig-zags, as in the case of a shorter fence. However, it does not work in two dimensions (area) or three dimensions (volume), which would be reduced rather than shortened. In the case of a perimeter, the area is 2D, so you would reduce the area, and that would require a shorter fence around that area. Time is still 1D (as far as I know), so taking shortcuts to get to work faster would shorten the time spent in your car as well as shorten the distance.

As for the superscripts for area and volume units, do use the Format, Font, click the Superscript box method in Word to use cm2 and cm3 in official reports. This is perhaps not necessary in informal emails.

Flashback in 1D Time:
Remember typewriters? Superscripts required a slight twist of the wrist to move the barrel a half line, type the numeral, then turn the barrel back one notch.

Back to the Present:
The same 1D vs. 2D/3D rule applies to increase and lengthen.
I took what I thought would be a shortcut, but the detour I encountered actually lengthened my drive to work. (1D zig-zag)
The new offshore agency actually increased the acreage offered in the Gulf lease sale. (2D area)
The volume of hits on my blog has increased to more than 100 per day. (3D volume in cyberspace)

More –Up Words

September 21, 2011

Here is a nice table of words that end in –up. Some of these nouns are hyphenated, and some are not, according to the AP Stylebook. When they are used as verbs, they are always two separate words.

Hyphenated              Not Hyphenated
change-up                 breakup
close-up                    checkup
follow-up                  cleanup
frame-up                  crackup
grown-up                 holdup
mix-up                     letup
mock-up                  lineup
push-up                  makeup
runner-up              pileup
shake-up                roundup
shape-up                setup
tie-up                     smashup
walk-up                 windup
Stress Management Tip of the Day:
While leading and explaining stress management to an audience, a young lady confidently walked around the room with a raised glass of water. Everyone thought she was going to ask the ultimate question, “Is this glass half empty or half full?”
But she fooled them all. She asked: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers from the crowd ranged from 8 oz to 20 oz.
She continued, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. How heavy it is depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

“And that’s the way it is with stress,” she continued. “If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.

“As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden, holding stress longer and better each time practiced.

“So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Be like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and worry about them tomorrow.”

Decrease vs. Shorten vs. Reduce

September 21, 2011

If you are trying to make something smaller, do you use the word “reduce,” or do you use “shorten” or “decrease”? As the old-timer petroleum engineer would always answer: “That depends.”

Use the word “shorten” if the thing being made smaller is distance or time. Take a look at the units of measure of the thing. If it’s in., cm, ft, m, miles, km or other units of length, or if it’s sec, min, hr, days, weeks, months, or years, then use “shorten.”

OSHA says we will have to shorten the distance from the living quarters to the lifeboats.
Flowback is used to shorten fracture closure times in extremely tight formations.

Use the word “reduce” if you wish to diminish the size, amount, extent or number. Using the word “decrease” implies a progressive decline over a period of time.

If you want to decrease your waistline, you will need to reduce the number of calories in the food you consume.

Here, the caloric reduction happens all of a sudden, but the waistline getting smaller takes time.

Some examples of things that are reduced all of a sudden are: risk, prices, workforces. Some things that are decreased with time are populations in rural areas, drop-out rates in schools, and the number of Americans majoring in science and engineering.

Oil and Gas

September 17, 2011

Sometimes engineers, geoscientists, and other oil and gas industry folks have to write articles that will be read by a non-technical audience. In such situations, the writer has to be very careful in explaining even the simplest oil and gas terms, such as “oil” and “gas.”

To someone who does not work in our industry but does drive a car, “oil” means the 30W or synthetic liquid that goes into your car when you get an oil change, and “gas”
means the gasoline that you put into the gas tank to fuel you car. To us, however, “oil” means crude liquid petroleum, and “gas” means natural gas, a colorless vapor.

So it may be a good idea to define these simple terms at the beginning of the article; that way, the remainder of the article will make more sense to the general public.

Here are three more expressions that may require definition for the sake of clarity:
LNG – liquefied (not liquified) natural gas, mostly methane with a little ethane, cryogenically condensed natural gas in a liquid state at -260°F.
NGL – natural gas liquids, ethane, propane, and butanes that are removed from “dry” natural gas by cryogenics or absorption.
LPG – liquefied petroleum gas, mostly propanes and butanes, with a smidge of pentanes. It is a byproduct of natural gas processing, and it will evaporate at ambient pressure and temperature.

Funny Quote of the Day:

“You might be a redneck if… the blue book value of your truck goes up and down depending on how much gas it has in it.”
Jeff Foxworthy, comedian

Dates That Don’t Exist

September 16, 2011

Be careful when setting dates for milestones or deadlines, especially at the end of the month. Several times I have seen things listed as being due on April 31, June 31, or November 31. These dates do not exist, because there are only 30 days in those months.

As much as I like to stretch deadlines, I would certainly insist that April 31 must mean May 1. And I would also insist that I had until 11:59:59 pm on May 1 to get my report emailed and still have it listed as “deadline met.”

So let me share a couple of little tricks for remembering how many days are in each month. I want you to use one of these methods when setting month-end deadlines and milestones so I don’t have to edit February 30 ever again.

Method #1: The Poem
“Thirty days have September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one.
February stands alone.”

Method #2: Two Fists
Make two fists, put them next to each other (hiding your thumbs), and look at your knuckles. Start at the left pinky knuckle, and say the names of the months on both the hills and the valleys of your knuckles. When you finish one hand, jump across and start at the pointer knuckle of your right hand,
continuing to name the months, like this:


The hills are all 31 days, the valleys are all 30 days except for February. February is usually 28 days except for Leap Year, which is a year divisible by 4. Leap years have 29 days. Next year will be a leap year, so make sure you set Feb. 29 as the deadline for anything that needs to be done by the end of Feb. 2012.

I Before E, Except After C

September 15, 2011

There’s a little poem that helps you remember how to spell certain words with the dipthongs “ie” or “ei.”
What is a dipthong, you ask? Well, it’s a complex sound made with two or more vowel sounds in the same syllable.

Dipthong Examples:
boy = bo-ee
cow = cah-ooh
yield = yee-ild
freight = fray-eet

Here’s the little poem as I learned it back in the Cretaceous:

“I before E, except after C

Or when it sounds like A as in neighbor or weigh.”

So if the dipthong sounds like “ee,” it is usually spelled with “ie”, or I before E.
shield, wield, believe, fierce

Here are some examples of the “except after c” case, where I does not come before E, even though it makes the same “ee” sound:
receipt, ceiling

And here are examples of the other exception, when it makes the long A sound:
vein, skein, reins

Here are some other exceptions that are not covered by the popular rhyme:
ie after c:  ancient, species, science, sufficient
ei with no c:  either/neither, height, foreign, leisure, seize, their, weird

So what inspired me to cover this rule today? Well, I was driving to work and got stuck at a train crossing. A freight train (an exception like neighbor and weigh). And I got to reminiscing again, this time about when I got to ride in the engine of a freight train with my dad and little brother and sister. My dad’s golf buddy, Fran Schillinger, was a train engineer, and he often drove his trains past the golf course across the street from our house. Well, my daddy asked him if we could have a ride, and so my mom drove us to the next town, Avon, and we hopped
aboard the engine and went back and forth to hitch up many cars, then when it started to get dark, we rode in the train to the golf course, where Mr. Schillinger dropped us off.

But the cool thing was this: along the way, there were white posts with a luminous W on them, and whenever the conductor sees one, he has to blow the train whistle – and he let us kids blow the train whistle! How many of you can brag that you blew a real train whistle? It was the top story in Show and Tell the next day at school, I assure you!

On the Up-and-Up

September 15, 2011

In one of my Tips of the Day last year  titled “Up, Up  and Away” (,
I covered some words that began with “up” that were hyphenated and some that were not. I’d like to discuss a few more “up” words.

The first one is “upward,” an adverb meaning in a direction opposite of down. This is preferred to “upwards,” according to the AP Stylebook.
One exception is the expression “upwards of,” meaning “more than.”

The department plans to spend upwards of $50 million on new automation equipment.

Of course, feel free to use “more than” rather than “upwards of” or “in excess of” to express this concept. Remember the KISS principle: Keep it simple, sweetie!

Here’s another one.

Upstate is not hyphenated, and it’s not capitalized unless it’s the first word in the sentence.
I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.

Many times models have to be  upscaled so that simulations won’t take so long to finish.
But don’t use the word “upscale” as a verb; use “scale up” instead, according to the SPE Style Guide.

Scaleup (not hyphenated) is used as a noun or adjective.

Bad Example:
We will need to upscale the geological model to run it faster on Petris.

Corrected Example:
We will need to scale up the geological model to run it faster on Petris. I will need some help with the scaleup.

And finally, what exactly does the idiomatic expression “on the up-and-up” mean?
It means that the situation or person in question is legitimate, honest, and respectable.
And yes, it is hyphenated, according to Webster’s dictionary.

In a crackdown on graft and corruption in West Africa, the company is refusing to do business with any local politician that is not on the up-and-up.