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Monday, November 12, 2012

My Pet Peeves: From the S Entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the 16th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the S section of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. My style manual covers editorial issues like abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling and word usage. It focuses on U.S. standards for spelling, punctuation, definitions, usage, style and grammar.

Earlier blogs:

A peeves | B peeves | C peeves | D peeves | E peeves | F peeves | G peeves | H peeves | I peeves | J peeves | K and L peeves | M peeves | N peeves | O peeves | P peeves | Q and R peeves

sacrilegious Commonly misspelled. Not sacreligious or sacriligious. Remember by thinking of the noun sacrilege, not the adjective religious.

safe-deposit box Not safety-deposit box. Include the hyphen.

scan Scan used to mean "examining something carefully to find a particular person or thing." But it now commonly means just the opposite: "reading something quickly to get its main meaning or find a particular detail."

scenario Overused cliche. Avoid, unless writing about the outline of a plot, play or film. For other uses, delete or try chain of events, plan or situation.

scheme Do not use as a synonym for a plan or a project.

second of all Wordy. Simplify. Drop of all. Same with first of all

seeing that, seeing as, seeing as how Awkward and wordy. Try using simpler becausesincegiven or in that instead.

semiannual Means "twice a year." To avoid reader confusion, use twice a year instead of semiannual

semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.

First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St.

The following two uses can add variety, eliminate a word or two, and closely link contrasting or related ideas. But breaking a long sentence with a semicolon into two or more shorter sentences can aid readability and clarity.

Second, use a semicolon to link two (or more) closely related statements that could stand alone as independent sentences (or clauses): The train arrived on time; the passengers were overjoyed. If a coordinating conjunction such as andbut or or separates the two independent clauses, a comma would replace the semicolon: The train arrived on time, and the passengers were overjoyed.

Third, use a semicolon between two independent clauses when the second clause begins with transition words such as thereforehoweverthus and for exampleThe department had planned to drop the service; however, overwhelming customer demand persuaded officials to keep it.

Place semicolons outside quotation marks. Put only one space after a semicolon.

semimonthly Means twice a month. To prevent reader confusion, use twice a month instead. 

semiweekly Means twice a week. To prevent reader confusion, use twice a week instead. 

sensual, sensuous Sometimes confused. Use sensual to describe enjoying physical pleasure, especially sexual gratification. Think "sexy": sensual desires. Use sensuous to describe something pleasing to the senses; it applies to aesthetic pleasures such as art, music and food and doesn't involve sexual stimulation: sensuous music. And if one leads to the other, wonderful!

sentence length Varying sentence length makes writing more interesting and easier to read. Include only one idea in a sentence, with an average length of 20 to 25 words. Shorter sentences, 10-15 words or less, are good for emphatic, memorable statements. Try including a short sentence every three or four sentences. Longer sentences, no more than about 30 words, are good for detailed explanation and support.

serve, service Sometimes misused, especially serviceServe has the broader use, especially for providing goods and services that people want or need. Use it when writing about fulfilling a duty or working for, helping or obeying someone. Use service to describe installation and maintenance of things: Mechanics service trucks. Also, try using simpler repair instead of service.

service mark A brand, design, phrase, symbol or word used by a service supplier and protected by law to prevent inappropriate use by a competitor. If you must use a service mark, capitalize it. Unless use of a service mark is essential, replace it with a generic term (lowercased): real estate agent, not Realtor. You don't have to use the service mark symbol--SM

set, sit Sometimes confused. Use set when you're putting something down. An object usually follows setHe set the book onto the table. She set the child into the crib. Use sit when you're putting yourself into a chair or others are putting themselves into a chair. An object doesn't have to follow sitHe will sit there all day if we let him. Other verb forms of setset, setting. Other verb forms of sitsat, sitting, seat, seated, seating. Use sat, not sitted.

set the stage Wordy cliche. Simplify. Try prepare, arrange, plan orready.

sex, sexism Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. 

Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. 

[My style manual includes other advice on this important topic, but it deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned.]

shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word: 
  • Use is when something is fact: The senior editor is [not shall beresponsible for reviewing all documents for clarity and consistency. 
  • Use may instead to give permission: Members may borrow up to three CDs a month
  • Use must instead to express legal obligation: Tenants must pay rent by the 15th of each month
  • Use have to, must, need to or required instead to express other requirements: Each student is required to take the exam
  • Use should when recommending a course of action: We should move ahead with the project by Friday
  • Use will instead to express what someone plans to do or expects: I will be there. We will meet. You will like it. She will not be pleased. 
See should, would below.

share, sharing Sharing is wonderful, but don't use it redundantly: sharing together, sharing the same office or sharing the same birthday. Drop together from the first example, and reword the others:using the same office, sharing an office, having the same birthday, sharing a birthday. Also redundant:both share and share in common. Use they share instead, and drop in common.

Sheetrock A trademark for a brand of gypsum wallboard. Use plasterboard instead.

she Do not use this pronoun to refer to ships or nations. Use it instead.

sherbet Sometimes misspelled. Only one r. Not sherbert.

should, would Use should to express an obligation (meaning "ought to"), a condition (an "if" statement) or an expectation: We should help the needy. If I win the lottery, I should give at least 10 percent to charity. They should be back in 15 minutes. Use would to express a usual action, a hypothetical situation or a preference: In the summer we would spend hours by the seashore. She would do it if she could. I would like to see you.

sic This Latin word means "thus" or "so." Usually bracketed and in italics, it's used after quoted material to show that an error, odd usage or misspelling is in the original document. But avoid using unless you must keep the error for historical or technical accuracy--or want to appear snide. Think about paraphrasing the mistaken word, phrase or statement instead.

sightseeing, sightseer No hyphen.

sight, site Sometimes confused. Sight is about seeing, from "the ability to see" to "things you see, can't see or should see." We go sightseeing. And we set our sights on something we look forward to doing. Site is about a place, "a place where something happened," "a place where something could be built" or "a place on the World Wide Web." Site is also a verb for "putting something in a particular place." Don't confuse with cite

simple, simplistic Too often confused. Simplicity is a virtue, especially in communications. Simple means "not complex or complicated, easy (as in easy to understand), unembellished, not ostentatious." Simplistic, best used when referring to complex problems and usually used in a negative way, means "unrealistically simple or oversimplified." See Garbl's Concise Writing Guide.

simple, simply Simple is unnecessary and wordy in phrases like simple reason, simple truth, simple purposeSimply is often redundant and wordy when used to mean "absolutely" or "extremely": The Rolling Stones concert was simply thrilling. Simplify. Drop simple and simply.

sink down Redundant. Drop one of the words.

situation Trite. Delete, or find a more concrete, descriptive word: a crisis situation. Drop situation.

-size Something may be small, medium-size or large. Size is inherent in the meaning of small and large. See small-sized below.

slow, slowly Slowly is the more common adverb to modify a verb, adjective or other adverb, but slow is also acceptable as an adverb (as well as an adjective to modify nouns and pronouns). Let your ear be your guide: He complained that his computer runs slowly. Her car is really slow, but her children say she drives slow.

small-sized Wordy and redundant. Change to small.

so Like the conjunctions and, but and yetso is a useful, correct transition word at the beginning of sentences--instead of as a result, consequently and therefore. For emphasis, so may be followed by a comma. 

some of the Wordy. Simplify. Replace with some.

some time, sometime, sometimes Sometimes confused. Use some time (two words) to refer to "an unspecified period or time": He had hoped to meet her for some time. They met some time ago. Use sometime to mean "at an unstated time or an indefinite time in the future": She'll meet you sometime after work. Let's get together sometime. It also means "former": The sometime colleagues hadn't seen each other for years. Use sometimes to mean "occasionally": They now write each other sometimes.

something, somewhat Sometimes confused. Avoid using the weak word somewhat. But if you must use it, use it only as an adverb to describe a verb, adjective or other adverb. Somewhat means "a little, slightly": somewhat scary, somewhat boring. Don't use somewhat as a noun; use something instead: David may be somewhat hungry, but he can't be somewhat of pest about eating. He can be something of a pest about eating, however.

spacing Put only one space after all punctuation marks--unless no space is needed, such as between adjacent punctuation marks and before and after a dash and a hyphen. This guideline applies to the colon, period and other punctuation marks at the end of a sentence: exclamation point, question mark.

To prevent a person's initials from splitting between two lines of type, don't put a space between them: T.S. Eliot. Also, don't put spaces before or after hyphens, dashes or virgules. But treat an ellipsis like a word, with a space before and after it.

Either put one space between paragraphs or indent paragraphs; doing both is usually redundant.

spelling Frequently misspelled words are listed alphabetically throughout my online style manual. Also listed are preferred spellings for words with more than one possible spelling. Based in the United States, my manual and this blog prefer American spellings to British spellings, except for names of British publications and organizations. 

For spelling and definitions not covered in your style manual, check a dictionary, such as the New Oxford American Dictionary. The Associated Press prefers Webster's New World College Dictionary. If two (or more) spellings are listed, use the first one unless your style manual lists a specific exception. If your dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries (gray and grey, for example) use the spelling followed by a full definition (gray). If a dictionary entry is listed as usually or often, use that entry.

Use computerized spelling checkers carefully; they don't catch mistyped words that are spelled correctly--not instead of now--or words that sound alike but are spelled differently--too, two, to.

spell out Hackneyed. Use explainspecifyshowdescribe or detail instead. And don't spell out in detail.

split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect. See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.

spousal unit Ridiculous euphemism. Simplify. Swap in wife or husbandspouse, or partner.

springtime One word, no hyphen. But unless you're being poetic, spring is simpler.

staff Collective noun, it takes singular verbs: The staff is working on the project. Staff members may be used, if needed: Staff members are working on the project.

stalactite, stalagmite Sometimes confused or misspelled. A stalactite hangs from the ceiling of a cave. A stalagmite rises from the floor. Memory aide: A stalactite is stuck tight to the ceiling.


state names, states Spell out the names of the 50 U.S. states when they stand alone in texts: He moved to Washington after living 20 years in New York. State names may be abbreviated in charts and tables.

Except in business correspondence, abbreviate most state names when used with the names of U.S. cities, counties, towns or villages. Spell out the names of the two states that are not part of the continental United States and the six continental states that have five or fewer letters: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. These states may be abbreviated in charts and tables. If documents or websites have large audiences outside the United States, consider spelling out all state names. Always spell out the state name in business correspondence.

For punctuation, place one comma between the city and the state name and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence: She moved to Portland, Ore., from Portland, Maine. 

Use state of Washington or Washington state--with lowercase state--when necessary to distinguish the state from the District of Columbia.

Lowercase state when used as an adjective: a state mapthe state governmentThey visited the state of Washington. Capitalize state when writing about the state government: He worked for the State of Washington.

Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. Ellen Berger, state Department of Social Services, state funds, state Department of Ecology. But capitalize the full name of state governmental units: Washington State Department of Ecology. 

state-of-the-art Cliche. Try modern, up-to-date, newest or innovative instead--or explain why it's so "state-of-the-art."

stationary, stationery To stand still is to be stationary. Writing paper is stationery. Memory tip: Both stationery and paper contain er.

storm event Wordy. Redundant. Simplify. Drop event.

subsequently Overstated and formal. Four syllables and 12 letters. Simplify. Try laterafter, next or then.

subsequent, subsequent to Pompous. Try after, next, later, following or resulting.

substitute People substitute one thing for another. Don't use substitute by or substitute with.

successfully Often unnecessary: She finished the assignment successfully means the same as She finished the assignment.

suffice Formal. Simplify. Think about replacing with be enough, do, satisfy, meet or answerA few hours of your time will be enough [or will do].

sufficient number of Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Consider replacing with enough or plenty

suffixes Usually, do not hyphenate words formed with the suffixes wide, down, less. If in doubt, follow your preferred dictionary. If it does not list a word combination, use two words for the verb form and hyphenate any noun or adjective forms. 

Here are some general rules:
  • The suffix -able is more common than -ible, and it is used mostly with complete root words:workable, dependable, changeable, noticeable. The final e is dropped in some root words:desirable, excusable, indispensable, usable.
  • Only -able follows g, i and the hard c ("k" sound): navigable, amiable, irrevocable.
  • The suffix -ible is commonly used after double consonants (like 11), s, st, some d sounds and the soft c ("s" sound): infallible, divisible, credible, forcible.
  • The -ance/ant and -ence/ent suffixes don't follow any firm rules, so use your memory:attendance, maintenance, relevant, resistant; existence, independence, persistent, superintendent.
summertime Janis Joplin and others sing a powerful "Summertime." But summer is simpler.

summon Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try send for, call, order, call up or call on.

sum total Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop sum or total.

supplement Simplify. Try add to or go with instead of supplement. Also, think about using simpler extra, more, added, another or spare for supplementary and supplemental.

support Vague verb with multiple meanings. Be more precise if possible: consider hold up or carryhelp or encourageuphold or agree withmaintain or provide forprove or confirmendure or tolerate,keep up or sustain.

supposably, supposedly, supposingly Sometimes confused. Supposedly is usually the correct choice. Use it to mention something that might be true or real though you may not believe it. If you must use supposably, first find a dictionary and then try to figure out what it means. You'll find supposingly in a dictionary of words that don't exist.

suppose to, supposed to Commonly misused. Meaning "expected to," the correct phrase is supposed to, not suppose to

surrounded Completely surrounded is redundant. Simplify. Drop completely.

syndrome Jargon. Avoid this term unless the meaning is medical. Try pattern, conditions or characteristics instead.

synergy "I don't know what it means, and I don't have time to look it up." If your readers might respond like that, don't use synergy--or at least explain it.

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