Archive for October, 2011

Try And vs. Try To

October 28, 2011

Here’s another Timely Tip brought to you by Shea Writing Solutions, a fast-growing Houston company that helps people “create clarity out of chaos, one sentence at a time.”

Which is correct?
A)      I will try and finish the report by the end of the week.
or
B)      I will try to finish the report by the end of the week.

The correct answer is B:
I will try to finish the report by the end of the week.

If you say, “I will try and finish the report by the end of the week,” you are saying that you are going to do two things:
(1)     try
and
(2)     finish the report by the end of the week.
Think of the word “and” as a combiner (conjunction) of the two verbs “try” and “finish.”

Here’s how Shea’s Ivy Jody-Castillo suggests you reason this out:
Use the word “attempt” in place of the word “try.”
You would not say: “I will attempt and finish the report by the end of the week.”
Rather, you would say: “I will attempt to finish the report by the end of the week.”

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary says that when “try” is used to mean “to make an attempt at,” it is often used with an infinitive, which means “to + verb.”
According to The Handbook of Technical Writing by Gerald J. Alred, et al., “The phrase ‘try and’ is colloquial for ‘try to’. For technical writing, use ‘try to.'”

So try to use “try to” instead of “try and,” OK?

Unknown vs. Unbeknownst

October 28, 2011

Sometimes people like to use fancy words to impress others, especially when their photo and name accompany the piece of technical writing and lots of people are going to see it.

I ran across one such example this week:
“… for some unbeknownst reason ….”
I thought the word “unknown” would work better there, but I wasn’t sure why (other than for simplicity’s sake), so I looked up both words in the trusty dictionary.

Unbeknownst means happening without the knowledge of the person. It is usually used with the word “to” immediately following it.
Example:
Unbeknownst to the employees, the CEOs of the two oil companies had worked out a merger agreement while playing golf together over the weekend.

Unknown, on the other hand, means not known or not well-known.
It also means having an unknown value, like a variable in an equation or a mystery sample in a chemistry vial.
And one of the examples given in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary was “For some unknown reason, my computer crashed.”

Here’s another example:
For some unknown reason, my putting was extraordinarily good during the Oxy golf tournament last Friday.
I’ve never made a birdie putt before. My team tied for first place at nine under par – that’s nine pars and nine birdies, no bogies. Unbeknownst to us, however, another team was also nine under par, and after the scorecard playoff, where they take into account handicaps, etc., my foursome ended up in second place, each of us winning $75 rather than the $100 first place prize. I’m not complaining! I rather like earning money by playing a game and drinking beer. I may have to do more of this.

I also ran across a couple of interesting typos today I wanted to share with y’all:
–       “summaries” instead of “summarizes” – that’s one the Spell Checker would miss.
–       Instead of “mud log” I saw “mug log,” “mid log,” and my favorite, “mad log.”
I would love to hear your fabricated definitions of these technical terms. 🙂

New Words Added to the Dictionary

October 26, 2011

Happy 300th Writing Style Tip of the Day!

New Words Added to the Dictionary
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary added a bunch of new words for 2011. In yet another sign of our era’s communications revolution, “social media” and “tweet” were officially added to the standard lexicon, along with more than 150 other new words and definitions.

“From the dramatic events of the Arab Spring to the scandal that brought down Congressman Anthony Weiner, ‘tweet’ is a word that has been part of the story,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor at Large. “We’ve been tracking words like ‘social media’ and ‘tweet’ for years, of course, and now we feel their meanings have stabilized enough to include them in the dictionary.”

Other technology-related terms include crowdsourcing (the practice of obtaining information from a large group of people who contribute online), m-commerce (a business transaction conducted using a mobile electronic device), and robocall (an automated phone call made by computer.) Last year they added “texting;” this year they added “sexting.”

The additions also include interesting words reflecting the changing nature of human relationships: helicopter parent (a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child), boomerang child (a young adult who returns to live at his or her family home for financial reasons), and cyberbullying (a form of harassment using the computer.)

Some of the words reflect modern practices, such as parkour, a sport where people climb over obstacles, and the fist bump, a gesture made famous by US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary celebrated its 100th anniversary by releasing its 12th edition, adding 400 new words. Internet-speak words like LOL (laughing out loud), OMG (oh my god/gosh), and woot (an online whoop of enthusiasm) were among the new additions.

My favorite of the September 2011 additions for that dictionary is “Houstonian,” which after 31 years I consider myself to be, even though my accent doesn’t remotely resemble a Texas drawl.

Verb Phrases with Up

October 26, 2011

A verb phrase is an expression that usually contains a verb and a preposition. Which preposition to use with which verb is best learned by just listening to the language.
Of course, you can always go to the dictionary, but we are often too busy to spend so much time on such a small word.

Today we will give examples of many verb phrases in which the preposition is “up.” This nice list was sent to me by a member of the Peanut Gallery named Aarifa.

It’s easy to understand “up,” meaning toward the sky, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up?
Why do we speak up, call up our friends, and write up a report?
We use paint to brighten up a room, we polish up the silver; we warm up the leftovers in the microwave, and clean up the kitchen.
We lock up the house and fix up the old car.
People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses.
To get dressed is one thing, but to dress up is something special.
A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up.
You can sit down, or you can sit up.

We open up a store in the morning, but we close up at night.
We seem to be pretty mixed up about “up”!
If you look up the word “up” in the dictionary, it takes up almost ¼ page and can add up to about thirty definitions.
If you are up to it, you might try to build up a list of the many ways “up” is used.
It will take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding up. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up.
When it rains in Houston, it messes up traffic badly. When it doesn’t rain all summer, things dry up.

One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up, for now my time is up.

Juxtaposition

October 26, 2011

If you want to make something stand out in your writing, place it next to something that is so unlike it that it makes an important point. Placing unlike things side by side to emphasize the contrast is called juxtaposition. Yes, it’s a mouthful, and you don’t really want to try to pronounce it with crackers in your mouth.

I ran across an unusual juxtaposition yesterday. There was a college student looking for a summer internship in the oil industry, and a friend sent me his resume. The young man had spent the previous summer as a drilling rig floor hand, drilling five wells successfully and safely. Then further down under Experience he listed a job where he taught ballroom dancing and etiquette to middle school kids at the junior cotillion.

This juxtaposition of making drillpipe connections and throwing a spinning chain next to ballroom dancing and etiquette just cracked me up. How many people do you know with that same set of credentials? What that tells me is, this boy is a gentleman that doesn’t mind getting dirty. He’s not your ordinary roughneck, but more of a diamond in the rough. We sent his resume to the drilling department.

One of my favorite examples of juxtaposition can be used when talking to schoolchildren about the oil industry. When someone brings up environmental issues or oil spills, one can say that the oil industry can be credited with saving the whales. Whales, you see, used to be hunted and killed for their blubber, which was burned as a source of energy for light and heat in Arctic areas – and not that long ago. But because petroleum is now used to generate propane and kerosene and to fuel natural gas-fired power plants, we don’t go around killing whales for energy any more. In fact, it’s illegal in some locales, as several kinds are endangered species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 banned the hunting of whales in US
waters.
So how can you use juxtaposition to make a strong point in that memo you are writing to your boss? Or to that partner who doesn’t believe the simulation results you showed him? Place an iPad next to some punch cards and watch the lightbulb of understanding come on.

Normalcy vs. Normality

October 20, 2011

I got a question from the Peanut Gallery. Steve asks:
“Why is ‘normalcy’ increasingly being used when there is the perfectly good word ‘normality’ that could be used instead?

Webster’s dictionary says that “normality” is the noun form of the adjective “normal,” and then right beneath that it says that “normalcy” is the state or fact of being normal. So I’m thinking they are basically interchangeable.

“The word ‘normalcy’ had been around for more than half a century when President Warren G. Harding was assailed in the newspapers for having used it in a 1921 speech,” says Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University. “Some folks are still upset, but in the US ‘normalcy’ is a perfectly normal—if uncommon—synonym for ‘normality.'”

The Grammarist says “… normality and normalcy are both accepted, and they have no difference in meaning, but the former is generally preferred to the latter. Normality is centuries older and linguistically more logical than normalcy. Nouns ending in –cy are conventionally derived from adjectives ending in –t.”

Examples:
Pregnant => pregnancy
Complacent => complacency
Hesitant => hesitancy
Secret => secrecy

“Adjectives ending in –l usually take the –ity suffix. … Most publications with high editorial standards prefer normality.”

Generally you would want to pair “abnormality” with “normality” rather than “normalcy.”
And while I don’t normally condone democracy in grammatical matters, Google has 5,450,000 hits for normalcy and 7,010,000 hits for normality.

One of the definitions of “normal” is “characterized by average development or intelligence; free from mental disorder; sane.”
Thus, normality equals sanity.

Shrink, Shrank, Shrunk

October 19, 2011

Most verbs add a simple –ed (if the last letter is a consonant) or –d (if the last letter is a vowel) to the infinitive to form the simple past tense. These are called Regular Verbs.
Example:
Work => Worked
Like => Liked

If the verb ends in the letter Y, change the Y to I and then add –ed.
Example:
Copy => Copied

If the verb ends in a consonant preceded by a short vowel sound, you have to double the consonant at the end prior to adding –ed.
Examples:
Plan => Planned  (not planed)
Mop => Mopped  (not moped)

In my blog where I store my Tips of the Day for posterity, one of the most popular hits is the Planed vs. Planned entry I did a year ago. I get a couple of people looking for guidance on that every day.

In addition to these rules of thumb for regular verbs, there is a whole slew of irregular verbs that do not follow these rules. Some have the same present and past tenses, but a different past participle. Some are the same for all three forms. Some are different for all three forms. I’m going to cover
the latter today.

drink           drank           drunk
ring              rang            rung
sing              sang            sung
sink              sank            sunk
shrink          shrank        shrunk
swim            swam          swum

And my very favorite of this series comes from a cartoon movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
There’s a song that describes how mean this character the Grinch is:

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch, ….
You’re a nasty, wasty skunk!
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk,
Mr. Gri –INCH!
The three words that describe you best are as follows, and I quote:
‘Stink, stank, stunk!’”

Hendiadys

October 19, 2011

The other day the Word of the Day email from Merriam-Webster featured “hendiadys” (pronounced hen-DYE-uh-diss or hen-DEE-uh-diss), which is
the expression of an idea by the use of usually two independent words connected by the word “and.” It comes from the Greek expression “hen dia dyoin,” which literally means “one through two.”

Examples:
nice and warm
good and tight
stand and deliver
vim and vigor
shock and awe

The point of using two words separated by a conjunction rather than a word with its usual modifier (nicely warm, tightened well) is to get the reader to slow down and consider two concepts rather than just one (deliver, vigor, shock). The use of a hendiadys can add either subtlety or extra oomph to the concept you are describing. Such a device turns your writing from a science into an art.

In case you ever need to use more than one hendiadys, the plural is hendiadyses.

Twice or Thrice

October 16, 2011

Let’s fix the following sentence together:

The first production test on the new well was 1,012 BOPD, two times more than the estimated initial production of 506 BOPD.

The first problem with it is the phrase “two times more than.” If we let initial production = x, then “two times more than x” = 2x+x, which is 3x, or in this case 1,518 BOPD. It would be better to say “two times the estimated initial production” (2x), or even more simply “twice the estimated initial production.”

Two times more than the initial production would actually be thrice the production (3x). “Thrice” is considered archaic today, although it is not listed as such in the dictionary. It would be more common to say “three times the estimated initial production” if that was indeed what was meant by “two times more than….” Because we have the 506 figure there, though, we can figure out what the author meant, but what if that was not there? We would wonder: “Does he mean 2x or 3x? Twice or thrice?”

The second problem with this sentence is the verb “was.” The first production test was 1,012 BOPD. Not only is this verb a namby-pamby non-action verb, a form of the verb “to be,” the test wasn’t 1,012 BOPD; the oil produced during the test was 1,012 BOPD. The test was done to measure the oil produced, so say that. “Measure” is an active verb.

Corrected sentence:

The first production test on the new well measured 1,012 BOPD, twice the estimated initial production of 506 BOPD.

No matter how you say it, though, that sure is a nice surprise!

—————————————–

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.”

– Plato, Greek philosopher, 427-347 BC

Twice or Thrice

October 14, 2011

Let’s fix the following sentence together:

The first production test on the new well was 1,012 BOPD, two times more than the estimated initial production of 506 BOPD.

The first problem with it is the phrase “two times more than.” If we let initial production = x, then “two times more than x” = 2x+x, which is 3x, or in this case 1,518 BOPD. It would be better to say “two times the estimated initial production” (2x), or even more simply “twice the estimated initial production.” Two times more than the initial production would actually be thrice the production (3x). “Thrice” is considered archaic today, although it is not listed as such in the dictionary. It would be more common to say “three times the estimated initial production” if that was indeed what was meant by “two times more than….” Because we have the 506 figure there, though, we can figure out what the author meant, but what if that was not there? We would wonder: “Does he mean 2x or 3x? Twice or thrice?”

The second problem with this sentence is the verb “was.” The first production test was 1,012 BOPD. Not only is this verb a namby-pamby non-action verb, a form of the verb “to be,” the test wasn’t 1,012 BOPD; the oil produced during the test was 1,012 BOPD. The test was done to measure the oil produced, so say that. “Measure” is an active verb. Corrected sentence: The first production test on the new well measured 1,012 BOPD, twice the estimated initial production of 506 BOPD.

No matter how you say it, though, that sure is a nice surprise!