On the last Thursday of every November, American families gather together to half-watch football, complain about airports, and eat foods covered in baby marshmallows. Most people’s goal, apart from stuffing themselves silly, is to avoid conflict. But there are a few brave individuals out there who will risk getting sent to their old childhood bedroom with no pumpkin pie: sticklers.
Regular readers may have noticed that I have a deep, abiding love for both puns and Halloween. Celebrating the combination of the two is becoming an annual tradition around here. But you know what I like better than puns or Halloween costumes? Animals. And you know what I like better than animals? Animals in punny Halloween costumes, of course. Why, they’re pawsitively purrfect!
Quite a few laundromats use pun-based names to attract attention. This is a risky strategy because some people just hate puns, period. Even those of us who delight in them are more likely to groan than laugh at puns. But a punny business name has a way of sticking in your head—just ask any of the owners of Vietnamese restaurants who choose fun pho puns. Pho-king pho-nomenal!
Want to make your business name memorable? Make it a play on words. Puns are one option, and I’ll talk about those next time, but today I want to focus on idioms.
An idiom is “an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically … or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements,” according to Webster’s.
If you call someone a small businessman, you’re implying that he is a businessman who is small. While some men may technically fit into this category (e.g., the three-foot-six actor of Return of the Jedi and Harry Potter fame, who also owns a talent agency for actors under five feet tall, Willow Management), I doubt any of them prefer to identify as such.
“The Purple People Eater,” written and performed by Sheb Wooley, was the song of the summer in 1958—it for six weeks. It tells a very silly story about an alien who comes to earth because he wants to be a rock star and possibly also eat people. From the beginning, people were confused about the meaning of the song. What was purple: the alien or the people?
My last two blog posts on commas were all about the official rules of where you do or do not place a comma. But not all comma rules are written in stone; this time, let’s take a look at the situations in which comma use is entirely up to you.
I promised that I have a long list of homonyms (words that sound or look like other words) wherein one of the words in the pair is used rarely, so it's easily mistaken for the word that's used frequently. Let's examine some more!
O.K., you know what’s weird? OK is one of the most commonly used words in English (—which is pretty darn high when you realize that ). But there’s no definitive way to spell okay! Why is it that we don’t know how to spell a word that we use every day? Because it started as an abbreviation and has become a full word over time.
You have probably noticed that there are a few different kinds of dashes, but you may not know what they’re called and when they’re called for. Well, don’t despair—just follow this guide, and soon you’ll be deftly dashing off dashes.
Get excited: This is the long-awaited follow-up to my post explaining the five surprising places you need a comma. Just as people tend to leave out commas when they should put them in, people tend to insert commas when they should leave them out. Here are three surprising places commas don’t belong:
Press releases used to land in the newsroom, where the story would live or die on an editorial whim. But nowadays, numerous online services will post your release and send it to hundreds of news organizations, building strong links to your website in the process. The good news is that you can easily get your message out there. The bad news is that everyone else can, too, including your competitors.
So how do you make your press release stand out from the crowd? Just follow these six steps.
We’re all counting down to the upcoming three-day weekend, but many of us don’t know how to write the name of the holiday on Monday correctly. Is it Presidents Day? How about President’s Day? Presidents’ Day? Well, it all depends on whom you ask.
Grammar quiz time! Say the following URL out loud, as if you were giving it out over the phone: www.google.com/analytics.
Did you just say “double-u double-u double-u dot google dot com backslash analytics”? The good news is that you’re not alone; lots of people would say the same thing. The bad news is that you made an error: The punctuation mark / is not a backslash.
There are commonly confused words—let’sandlets, for example, or it’s and its. Everyone uses these words in everyday writing, and learning to distinguish them is a worthwhile pursuit. But today, let’s talk about a different kind of commonly confused words: words we use rarely that sound like words we use often.
The word Xmas, like fruitcake, is one of those holiday traditions that everyone knows of but no one quite understands. Is it proper English to shorten Christmas to Xmas? Is it offensive? No one seems quite sure. So my Xmas gift to you is a quick clarification.
“Avoid fancy words.” This command from is excellent writing advice whether you’re publishing a novel or sending an email. They admonish, “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”
But somehow we all end up choosing longer, showier words to say something that could be said simply—especially in business writing. Here are just a few of the worst offenders:
Being a night owl, I rarely go to bed before 1:00 AM. Or is that 1:00 A.M.? Or maybe 1:00 am? Nope, it’s 1:00 a.m.
The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. come from the Latin phrases ante meridiem and post meridiem, meaning, respectively, "before noon" and "after noon." As with many other Latin abbreviations that we use in English—e.g., i.e., et al., etc.—the preferred style is to use lowercase letters with periods.
Is data plural? Well, it started out that way. Data is the plural form of the Latin word datum, meaning "something given." English adopted the word in the mid-1600s and kept the Latin construction, at least until recently. Nowadays, usage guides approve treating data as a collective noun, in the manner of information or money, and using a singular verb.
Think back to your high school English classes. You were probably taught that the proper way to write titles is to capitalize the first, last, and all major words. But what qualifies as a major word? The two style guides that recommend this structure don’t quite agree.
Here’s the good news: There are other rules about capitalizing titles, and they’re a lot easier to follow. If you’re thinking about how to capitalize titles on your website (or report or presentation), here are a few different options you should consider:
I created a recurring reminder in my iPhone the other day, and I set it to repeat Every 2 Weeks. The calendar app shortened it to Biweekly, and I thought, Wait, is that right? Which word means twice a month: biweekly or bimonthly?
The comma is one of the most misused punctuation marks, but—unlike its dreaded cousin the semicolon—it’s absolutely necessary to everyday writing. Since there’s no getting around it, you should probably learn to use commas correctly.