Archive for November, 2011

Punctuation Contest Results

November 30, 2011

Hot doggies, I won the National Punctuation Day contest! (Along with nine others.)

The prize? No, not the comma-shaped chocolates I had hoped for, but a nerdy T-shirt. I will take a picture of myself wearing it when it finally comes in the mail.
The Punctuation Paragraph Contest rules were to write one paragraph, maximum of three sentences, using all 13 punctuation marks: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation marks, and semicolon. Apparently some people cannot count to three or to thirteen, according to contest officials.

Jeff Rubin, founder of National Punctuation Day and organizer of the contest, said there were 220 entries from 204 people in the adult contest – with one person submitting 10 entries. (Get a life, man!) There were also 40 schools participating, including The American School of The Hague and Harvard University. He asked for my photo so he could notify the Houston Chronicle newspaper and post it on his website.

This was 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.
Which brings me to my Tip of the Day:

Do not capitalize the oil and gas industry. Use lower case letters, as I have here, and spell out the ampersand (&) as “and.”

My friend Barbara Saunders, a technical writer for Rigzone.com, sent me this email: “If you haven’t already, would you please blog on how Oil & Gas Industry and Petroleum Industry are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized like I have here? I gag every time I see this. It looks both arrogant and ignorant. No other industry I’m aware of does this. Do we see Airline Industry, Computer Industry, etc.? I think it might even be a subliminal part of the industry’s perception problems.”

Good point, Barb. (And yes, “to blog” is an official verb.)
I think the reason many people in the oil and gas industry do this is because they are so used to seeing Oil & Gas Journal on every coffee table in the land. (Yes, that’s an example of hyperbole.)

Our industry is big, big, big. However, the letters should be small.
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Quote of the Day:

“If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 MPG.”

– Bill Gates, former CEO and current Chairman of Microsoft, b. 1955

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The Past of Broadcast and Forecast

November 25, 2011

Lots of people use “forecasted” and “broadcasted” as the past tense of those verbs. The AP Stylebook says to use “forecast” and “broadcast” for both the present and past tenses.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary lists the –ed forms of the past tense after the word “also,” which means that form is a secondary variant, meaning that it occurs less frequently than the –cast form of the past tense. Therefore, it’s not preferred.

The root word “cast” is an irregular verb that means to throw. Forecast means that you throw or look forward, and broadcast means that you throw broadly.

Present Examples:

I regularly cast scathing looks at misbehaving children.

We forecast our production volumes monthly now.

They broadcast the news every night at 6 p.m.

Simple Past Examples:

I cast a scathing look at a misbehaving child last Sunday.

We forecast our production volumes quarterly last year.

They broadcast the news every night at 5 p.m. last year.

Past Participle Examples:

I had cast a scathing look at that misbehaving child the Sunday before that, too.

We had forecast our production volumes quarterly since 1906.

They had broadcast the news every night at 11 p.m. since the TV was invented.

How shall we remember this? Easy!  If it ends in –cast, the past is –cast. Hey, that rhymes!
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Quote of the Day:

“Accursed who brings to light of day the writings I have cast away.”

– William Butler Yeats, Irish poet, 1865-1939

Tabula Rasa

November 25, 2011

Sometimes when you need to start writing a report, the most fearsome thing to behold is the blank page, the empty slate, “tabula rasa.” It can kick off a bout of writer’s block for which the only cure is to type something – anything – just so your screen starts to fill up with words that awaken your writing self and get you out from under that blanket of white blankness.

There are lots of tips and tricks for how to get started. Here are a few of them.

1) Don’t start at the beginning. You’ll probably do an executive summary for the beginning after you write the rest of it. Even if you don’t plan to have an executive summary, after writing the rest you will know how best to start it to pique a reader’s interest. Start in the middle with something you know best or find the most interesting. Then you will be able to find the words more easily, and your energy and enthusiasm about the subject will propel you deep into the writing quickly.

2) Create a writing ritual that you follow each time you write. Go get a tall, caramel macchiato with whip cream and a blueberry scone each time you start a new report. Put the iPod earbuds in and listen to Mozart or the William Tell Overture, or whatever music gets you writing. Or my favorite: open a box of Milk Duds or Whoppers or chocolate-covered raisins or peanuts. Then allow yourself to eat one after every paragraph you write.

3) Force yourself to write down something, anything. What you plan to do when you get home, a shopping list, a “bucket list” of things to accomplish before you die, or a letter to your mom will do; just get those fingers typing. Turn off your internal spell-checker and grammar editor and just get some words on the page. Do a really messy “brain dump” and get everything out of your head and onto the screen. You can come back later and fix everything – or send it to me to fix for you. Just remember to remove the shopping list from the beginning.

4) And finally, there is the online Gobbledygook Generator:

 http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/examples/gobbledygook-generator.html
This website asks: “Have you ever wanted to use meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about?” In other words, it shows you how to speak like a consultant.

Examples:

At base level, this just comes down to knowledge-based policy processing.”

“We need to cascade memos about our remote reciprocal flexibility.”

While Grammar Geeks normally don’t condone writing such obtuse prose, it’s actually pretty funny to see some of the jargon this nifty little app gins up, and it just might help you get something on the page so you can get over that hump of writer’s block and on the road to actually writing.

If you have a favorite ritual or trick to conquer writer’s block, please send it to me so I can share it with the other members of the Peanut Gallery.

Where Words

November 25, 2011

There are quite a few compound words that start with “where.” Many of these are used as adverbs or conjunctions, and some are used improperly.

The government’s favorite seems to be “whereas.” Politicians love to start their resolutions with a whole string of warm-ups beginning with “whereas” before they get to the “Be it resolved” part of the resolution.

Example:

Whereas Jeanne Perdue is a leader in the technical writing community, and

Whereas her Oil Patch Writing blog has achieved a total of 30,000 hits,

Be it resolved that Jeanne Perdue be awarded the title of Queen for the Day.

Actually, this usage of “whereas” as an equivalent of “because” began about 1795. A much earlier meaning has an opposite connotation of “on the contrary” or “although.”

Example:

The wells in the North structure have a gas/oil contact around 3,456 ft, whereas the wells in the South structure have a GOC of only 3,398 ft.

One of my favorite “where” words is the conjunction “whereby,” which means “by or through which.”

Example:

Proper reservoir management is a process whereby data is collected, decisions are made, and changes are implemented, resulting in incremental oil production.

Another one is the conjunction “whereof,” which means “of which.”

Example:

As Chief Geophysicist, he knows whereof he speaks.

Here’s one that’s a noun: wherewithal. It means resources or means or money.

Example:

The small service company didn’t have the wherewithal to buy the startup software firm that developed their new mobile monitoring application.

And one “where” word Shakespeare made famous is “wherefore.”
“Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

This question does not mean that Juliet is wondering where her new beau is in the darkness. Wherefore means “why” or “for what reason.” Juliet is asking why Romeo has to be a member of the enemy gang when she has just fallen in love with him. She is not inquiring about his whereabouts up there on the balcony, whereon she pines for his presence and whereto he stealthily creeps, whereupon they experience their first kiss.

But soft, here comes the boss. I better quit this romantic reverie.

Typos and Conformance

November 19, 2011

I got a few emails from the Peanut Gallery I’d like to share.
John writes: “Did you leave the incorrect spelling of ‘Antarctic’ in paragraph 5 just to check if we were reading and digesting your Tip of the Day?”
No, John, I did not do that on purpose. I’ve sinned and actually made two typos in my 308 Tips of the Day – that’s not a bad record. Shows that I am human and do err now and again. That’s a good idea, though, about planting typos to test the Peanut Gallery on occasion.
I’ve added John’s name to my office whiteboard list of Attaboys for catching “Anarctic.” I corrected the mistake on my blog, where another person called me on it by leaving a comment. Thanks to all those who are on their toes (hey, that rhymes!) – they keep me humble.
Here’s another email from the Peanut Gallery.

Mohammad asks: Which one is right? “Out of conformance” or “not in conformance?”

For example: These numbers represent pattern count out of conformance…    or These numbers represent pattern count not in conformance…

Well, Mohammad, I would say that in general, out = not in. Therefore both are correct usages. A Google search showed that “out of conformance” had 79,600 hits, and “not in conformance” had 879,000 hits, so the latter use is more popular, though both are technically correct.
However, the sentence structure you gave as an example sounds better with “out of conformance.” The reason for this has to do with point of view. The focus of the sentence is “these numbers” that represent a certain “pattern count” that are outside of the limits of conformance. Since your focus is outside, “out of conformance” fits the subject of the sentence better.

On the other hand, if your point of view is focused on things inside the limits of conformity, such as the issue of safety, then “not in conformance” would work better.

Example:

That contractor’s safety management program was not in conformance with our corporate guidelines.

It’s a subtle difference, but selecting the best option depending on the point of view can be a powerful tool in distinguishing whether you are an insider or an outsider.

Arctic and Antarctic

November 15, 2011

I saw a McDonald’s sign advertising an “Artic Shake,” which sent a chill down my spine.

You see, many people misspell Arctic as Artic. Artic stands for either the Art Institute of Chicago or the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, but not that invisible circle that runs at a constant latitude of 66° 33′ 44″ north of the Equator. That would be the Arctic Circle.

Here’s how to remember it: There are four C’s in the Arctic Circle. Actually, there are eight seas located within the Arctic Circle: Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea, Berents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. Many of these seas are good oil and gas plays.

Fun Fact:
The Arctic Circle is the southernmost point that experiences 24 hours of visible sun =  a polar day on June 21 (summer solstice) and 24 hours of polar night with the sun just below the horizon on Dec. 21 (winter solstice). That’s why they call the Arctic the “land of the midnight sun.”

The similar invisible circle in the southern hemisphere is the Antarctic Circle, which also has four C’s. It is located at 66° 33′ 44″ south of the Equator.

That McDonald’s sign reminded me of the following personal anecdote. The last dog my husband purchased was an Alaskan malamute. When filling out the purebred paperwork, he named the dog “Gypsy of the Artic Nights.” When I was filing said paperwork in the file cabinet, I noticed the spelling error and had a proper fit. Because we would have to pay another
registration fee to correct the spelling, he decided to leave it as it was.

Gypsy was a good dog, very patient with the young boys, but shed handfuls of fur each Spring. She was an indoors dog because wearing such a fur coat in a typical Houston summer was brutal. But she enjoyed pulling the boys in the red wagon when we went for walks in the neighborhood.

Gypsy died in her sleep of old age about 10 years ago. We took her to the vet to be cremated, as I refused to bury her under a tombstone with the word Artic on it.

The Same Word – Or Is It?

November 10, 2011

There are a lot of words in the English language that look exactly the same, but sound different when pronounced. These are called heteronyms because they have both a different sound and a different meaning. Here are some good examples sent in by Aarifa, a member of the Peanut Gallery who likes to share such stuff.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his comrades in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on The Fishermen band’s bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind up the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

He/She and Him/Her

November 10, 2011

The English language does not have a neutral, gender-free pronoun to use when applying something to both sexes. The French are lucky: they have one.
He = il
She = elle
He/She = on, also translated as “one”

Pesky Examples:
If a driver sees a traffic light turning yellow, _____ should slow down, not speed up.
If an employee has a heart attack, the first thing to do is call an ambulance for _____.

Because drivers and employees can be either male or female, using “he” or “him” in all such situations may seem sexist, even if the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of males in the oil industry. On the other hand, using “he/she” and “him/her” too often on the same page can sound very stuffy and impersonal.  A better way is to use “he or she” and “him or her” or possibly even “one,” if it sounds
right.

One thing NOT to do is to use “they” or “them,” because that is a plural pronoun, and thus it would not agree with the singular noun in the first half of the sentence.

Here are some tricks for rewriting the sentence to make it sound better, thereby sidestepping the him/her business.

Rewritten Examples:
If one sees a traffic light turning yellow, one should slow down, not speed up.
If an employee has a heart attack, the first thing to do is call an ambulance for that person.

If drivers see a traffic light turning yellow, they should slow down, not speed up.
Here the plural pronoun “they” agrees with the plural noun “drivers,” which is OK.

And if one is ever stuck and can’t figure out a way to rewrite a particular sentence, one can always send it to me and I’ll answer that person in my next Tip of the Day.

There Are vs. There Is, Reprise

November 10, 2011

It’s autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and the birds are flying south for the winter.
Q: Have you ever wondered why they fly in a V formation with one leg of the V longer than the other?
A: There’s more birds on that side. Har, har, har!

This was in the local newspaper as a joke of the day, but it reminded me of a past Tip of the Day wherein I covered when to use “there is” and when to use “there are.”

So let’s examine the answer above: There ___ more birds on that side.

The subject of the sentence is not “there;” the subject is “birds,” which is plural.
Therefore, you should say: There are more birds on that side, rather than “there’s,” which is a contraction for “there is,” which would only be used for a single bird. It’s hard to make a V formation with just one bird – or two, for that matter. Seems you have to have three for a proper V.

So how shall we remember this without having to analyze the sentence for a singular or plural subject?

Simple. Just change the word “there” to “where” and see what sounds better.

Example:
There ___ the instructions for assembling the Combo-Botinator.
Where ___ the instructions for assembling the Combo-Botinator?
You would say: “Where are the instructions…,” so the verb in the first sentence should be “are.”
There are the instructions for assembling the Combo-Botinator.

It says “some assembly required” right there on the box.

Here’s a Good Question submitted by a member of the Peanut Gallery after my last tip.
Charles writes:
If enough is pronounced enuf
Women is pronounced wimen
caution is pronounced caushon

Is ghoti pronounced as fish?

Good Questions

November 6, 2011

Here is an amusing series of questions that bring to light how bewildering the English language is. Peanut Gallery member Aarifa wanted to share this with y’all:

Let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England, nor were French fries invented in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese; one moose, two meese? One index, two indices?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

Three teachers taught, why not “three preachers praught?” If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’ ?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race you can win. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

Thanks for sharing, Aarifa.