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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Skip the buzzwords, use plain English | Bill Repp, The Commercial Appeal

A question from Ned:
I just joined a company and am overwhelmed with the buzzwords they use ("seamless," "robust," "deliverables.") Are these new tools for modern business, or can I just use plain English?
And the start of Repp's response (emphasis added):
It sounds like people in your company have jumped onto the jargon bandwagon, thinking it's a short cut to communicating clearly. It isn't. You'll probably have to learn the jargon just to get along. But many studies continue to prove the value of using simple, everyday words — and show the problems of using buzzwords and jargon. One good argument against jargon and buzzwords is that there's no clear meaning for them.
Repp continues with advice from communications trainer Dianna Booher, author of The Voice of Authority. And he adds a fun exercise for creating your very own statement of bureaucratic gobbledygook.

Here's another online resource -- Garbl's Concise Writing Guide -- to help make your writing easier to read and understand. My free guide provides alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases.

Here's additional advice on clear, concise writing: Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It covers these seven steps:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.
Repp's article is featured today, Nov. 3, in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

"Between you and me" vs. "Between you and I" | Oxford Dictionaries Online

The Oxford Dictionary comments in this short article on a common misunderstanding of grammar:
A common mistake in spoken English is to say ‘between you and I’, as in this sentence: It’s a tiny bit boring, between you and I.
"Between you and me" is the correct way to say or write that statement.

Oxford explains:
People make this mistake because they know it’s not correct to say, for example, ‘John and me went to the shops’. They know that the correct sentence would be ‘John and I went to the shops’. But they then mistakenly assume that the words ‘and me’ should be replaced by ‘and I’ in all cases.
My online editorial style manual has related entries on this term and related words:

between you and I, between you and me Between you and me is both preferred and correct. Why? Because between is a preposition, and grammar rules say objective pronouns, not nominative pronouns, must follow prepositions--or be the object of the preposition. Me is an objective pronoun, and I is a nominative pronoun.

I, me Often confused. The pronoun I (like he, she, we and they) is always the subject of sentences and clauses. And the pronoun me (like him, her, us and them) is always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, I is more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And me is more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb): I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us.

Also, please remember these correct uses when the sentence has a conjunction (such as and or or):He talked to Linda and me. Linda and I talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and me. Debbie and I rode the horse. Incorrect: He talked to Linda and I. Linda and me talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and I. Debbie and me rode the horse. To be polite, me or I usually follows the conjunction.

To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving the pronoun; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He talked to I" or "Me talked to him" or "Me rode the horse." 

pronouns Often confused and misused. The "nominative" pronouns I, he, she, we and they are always the subject of sentences and clauses (groups of words with a subject and a verb). In other words, I and the other nominative pronouns are more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And the "objective" pronouns me, him, her, us and them are always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, me and the other objective pronouns are more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb). Also follow those rules when joining pronouns (and other nouns) with conjunctions like and and or.

Examples: I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us. We and Alex debated him and her. He and I considered them and Amanda. She or they would attend with me or us. 

The Oxford item is featured today, Nov. 3, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

40 Things To Say Before You Die | Jessica Hagy, Forbes

Before you’re sprawled on your deathbed, there are some things you really have to say. They’re not complicated. They’re not poetry. They’re just short sentences with big meaning.
And with that introduction to her blog article in Forbes (of all places!), Hagy begins her countdown to No. 1. Explaining each of her "things to say" are a hand-drawn diagram and a second short statement.

Here are some other examples from her thought-provoking list:
“I believe in this.”

A god, a plan, a company, a person, an idea—you have to put your faith in something.

“This is wrong.”

If you never say it, you embody the statement.

“Get out.”

It’s always harder to take back an invitation than to give one, but protecting yourself from personified trouble is always worth the effort.


Being the first to know something is a delicious sensation.

“I understand.”

More important than being right, or being important, is being truly aware.
This article is featured today, Nov. 3, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications--available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs | 'One cup of frothy coffee, please': UK store ditches confusing lingo'

Blame it on Starbucks, the espresso-brewing giant of a coffee company based in my city of Seattle, Washington, USA. Though it started with relatively simple terms (decades ago) for naming coffee drinks, Starbucks has become the worldwide leader in coming up with other terms and new terms for its expanding list of drinks.

Latte or mocha. OK, that's easy. Short or tall. OK, easy too. Same with espresso. They're almost self-explanatory. But then there are cappuccino and macchiato and Americano. Though not unique to Starbucks, they likely need some explanation for some folks.

But what about mocha valencia, espresso con panna, frappuccino, breve, and venti (larger than grande)? Are the words for those concoctions the unique concoctions of Starbucks?

So it was fun to see recently all the articles about a business in the United Kingdom that's attempting to use plain language--clear, concise words--to name and describe its coffee drinks.

Today's issue of Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs features several articles on the topic. My daily online paper is available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

I also found this website about Starbucks' drinks. Its self-description:
Since many people seem to be overly confused by the wide variety of options available at Starbucks, I've put together this handy-dandy page to help you figure out what you want without spending hours staring blankly at a menu. It's huge, but that's because there's a lot to choose from, and I've tried to include as much as possible. Of course, a lot of this stuff is trademarked by Starbucks Coffee Co. Drink availability will vary by location.
For more information and advice on clear, concise writing, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps for improving your writing skills:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.

Don't forget your teethbrush | Mind your language Blog, The Guardian

At least once a week, my blog refers to items in my online editorial style manual about the preferred or correct use or spelling of specific words.

I offer that advice because many words in English (generally, homonyms) have the same spelling or pronunciation (or both) but have differing meanings. Other words (synonyms) have identical or similar meanings but are spelled differently. Among synonyms, some are simpler to use and understand because they're shorter, with fewer syllables, or have fewer other definitions. Or the meaning of one synonym is more precise than its synonyms or more common in particular professions, geographic locations, user groups ... and so on.

All those synonyms and homonyms can be confusing to people who don't use certain words frequently and to new or young learners--especially if they already speak another language that has fewer homonyms and synonyms. English--American English, especially--has become such a hybrid of words from many languages and even geographic variants of English! 

So, this article captured my interest because it provides a good example of the need for a handy style guide (especially) or dictionary. As its subhead says:
Arts minister, but art thieves. Drugs tsar, but drug dealers. When you put a noun in front of another noun, should it be singular or plural?
Sometimes we all need to just look something up, to find out what's recommended or correct! (My blog on Nov. 1 covered rules for using for using plurals.)

Even among the best of writers and editors, it's impossible to remember all the correct spellings and definitions of words and the rules for using them. A thesaurus can be useful, at least as a starting place. But if you're more interested in the precise meaning of a particular word, instead of the similarity between words, a reliable style guide or dictionary will be more useful.

If your dictionary lists two (or more) spellings for a word, use the first one unless my editorial style manual (or another style guide) 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.

If you live in the United States or are writing for publications mostly for U.S. audiences, you should use American word spellings instead of British spellings. 

This article is featured today (Nov. 2) in my daily online newspaper, Garbl's Style  Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Which" Versus "That" | Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, Quick and Dirty Tips ™

In a blog article appropriate for Halloween (and other times), Grammar Girl Fogarty writes about witches and whiches (and thats)--and how to use which and that correctly. 

She begins:
To understand the difference between “which” and “that,” first you need to understand the difference between a restrictive element and a non-restrictive element, because the simple rule is to use “that” with a restrictive element and “which” with a non-restrictive element.
After clearly explaining the grammar of that statement, Fogarty provides this Halloween-appropriate "Quick and Dirty Tip":
If you think of the Wicked Witch (Which) of the West from The Wizard of Oz, you know it’s okay to throw her out. You won’t change the meaning of the sentence without the which phrase. So, you can throw out the which (or witch) clause, commas and all.
If you can safely throw out the “which” and the meaning of the sentence doesn't change, then you know “which” is the right choice. If you try to throw out the clause and it does change the meaning of the sentence, then you know that the right choice is “that” instead of “which” because it's a restrictive clause. ...
After providing some "advanced" advice, Fogarty concludes with this clear summary:
[T]he simplest rule is to choose the relative pronoun “that” when you can't get rid of the clause and the relative pronoun “which” when you can get rid of the clause. Remember that it's always safe to throw out the “whiches.”
While I agree with and recommend Fogarty's advice, here's my advice from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. It includes some related advice on using who and whom:
That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun for essential clauses: The camera that is broken is in the shop (tells which one). Which is the nondefining, or nonrestrictive, pronoun for nonessential clauses: The camera, which is broken, is in the shop (adds a fact about the only camera in question).
In the examples above, note the correct use of commas: Which clauses are always set off with commas (or sometimes dashes or parentheses), and that clauses aren't. Essential that clauses cannot be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. Don't set off an essential clause from the rest of a sentence with commas. Nonessential which clauses can be dropped without altering the meaning. Set off a nonessential clause with commas.
James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1984: "Rule of thumb: If the qualifying phrase is set off by commas, use which; if not, use that."
In addition, that is the preferred pronoun to introduce clauses that refer to an inanimate object: Greg remodeled the house that burned down Friday. Which is the only acceptable pronoun to introduce a nonessential clause that refers to an inanimate object: The house, which Greg remodeled, burned down Friday.
When an essential or nonessential clause refers to a human being or something with human qualities (such as a family), introduce it with who or whom. That -- but not which -- also may be used to refer to human beings, as well as inanimate objects. Don't use commas if the clause is essential to the meaning. Use them if it is not.
Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer, 1977: "Which normally refers to things, who to persons, and that to either persons or things."
Fogarty's article is featured today (Nov. 1) in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What to do when you're writing about more than one thing | Plurals in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's advice from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on forming plural words to show more than one of the things named:
  • For most words, add s: books, guitars. Except when making a plural of single letter, do not add an apostrophe to words or numbers to make them plural.
  • Add s to compound words written as single words: cupfuls, handfuls. For compound words that use separate words or link the words with a hyphen, make the most significant word plural: assistant attorneys, attorneys general, daughters-in-law, deputy chiefs of staff.
  • Add s to figures: General Motors built the car in the 1940s. The Boeing Co. sold 12 more 767s.
  • Don't change the spelling of proper nouns when making them plural. Add es to most proper names ending in es or zGonzalezes, Jameses, Joneses, Parkses. Add s to other proper names, including most proper names ending in y even if preceded by a consonant: the Clintons, the Abernathys, not the Abernathies.
  • Add es to most words ending in ch, s, sh, ss, x and zchurches, buses, foxes, fuzzes, glasses.
  • Change is to es in words ending in isparentheses, theses.
  • Add es to most words ending in o if a consonant comes before oechoes, heroes. There are exceptions: pianos.
  • Words with Latin roots: Change us to i in words ending in usalumnus, alumni. Change words ending in on to aphenomenon, phenomena. Add s in most words ending in ummemorandums, referendums but not addenda, curricula, media.
  • Avoid using a possessive name as a plural: The free passes are available at four McDonald's restaurants. Not: The free passes are available at four McDonald's.
  • Do not use 's when writing about words as words: His speech had too many ifs, ands and buts.
  • To avoid confusion, add 's to single letters: Dot your i's. She earned two A's and three B's on her report card. Add s to multiple letters: He knows his ABCsThey have three color TVs.
When providing both the singular and plural forms of a noun, a common style is to put the plural ending in parentheses: truck(s), glass(es). An alternative style is to separate both forms with a slash: truck/trucks, glass/glasses. That style works well if a word must be spelled differently when it becomes a plural, like singular words ending in y (city/cities), singular words ending in f or fe (wife/wives, calf/calves) and odd words like mouse/mice, woman/women. Both styles can produce awkward, confusing sentences, however, and should be avoided unless necessary. Less confusing could be using only the singular form and letting the context show that your statement can apply to more than one thing.
When a number and a noun form a compound modifier (or compound adjective) before a noun, use a singular noun in the phrase and hyphenate the phrase. Drop the hyphens and use plural nouns in other uses: The room measured 6 by 9 feet, but a 6-by-9-foot room. The building has 3,300 square feet of usable space, but a 3,300-square-foot building. The container held 10 gallons, but a 10-gallon container. The type size is 18 points, but 18-point type. Her shift lasted 10 hours, but a 10-hour shift. She was on vacation for three weeks, but a three-week vacation. 
For plurals not covered here, check your preferred dictionary. 
Here's additional advice from my online style manual:
abbreviations and acronyms To form most common plural abbreviations, add an sABCs, CDs, chaps., Drs., IOUs, TVs, UFOs. Sometimes, an apostrophe may go before the s: when the abbreviation has internal periods (M.A.'s, M.B.A.'s, Ph.D.'s), when the abbreviation is composed of lowercase letters (pdf's), when the abbreviation is a single letter (A's, S's) and when the abbreviation would be confusing if only the swere added (OWS's instead of OWSs). In the last example, if your readers might misinterpret an abbreviation like OWS's as showing possession, leave out the apostrophe.
capitalization Lowercase common noun elements of names in all plural uses: Democratic and Republican parties, Ackley and Messer streets, 154th and 156th avenues southeast. But don't lowercase the common nouns when the form is not plural: Your sister can catch a bus on First or Third Avenue.
collective nouns Collective nouns name a group or collection of people, places, things, ideas, actions or qualities, including board, class, committee, crowd, family, group, herd, jury, panel, public, orchestra, staff, team. Nouns that show a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: The board is electing its committee chairs. The crowd is eager to march. To stress individuals in a group, use members of: Staff members answered questions. Some members of the panel left before lunch. 
Some nouns are both singular and plural in meaning, including corps, chassis, deer, fat, fish, grease, moose, oil, public, sediment, sheep, soil, water and waste. The use of a singular or plural verb in a particular sentence conveys the meaning. Because these words are already plural, avoid adding s or esto make them plural: Scientists studied sediment from Charger Bay. The geologist took samples of soil from the site. When mentioning various types or species, however, plural spellings may be used:Scientists studied Fox Lake and Lake Roosevelt sediments. The site contained both glacial and sandy soils.
Follow the rules of subject-verb agreement when using the proper names of athletic teams and musical bands or groups: The Seattle Mariners are on the road. The Seattle Storm is an event sponsor. The Beatles were wonderful at the old Seattle Center Coliseum and so were the Rolling Stones. The Who is still terrific.
  • Use only an apostrophe for singular proper names ending in sDrakes' decision. And add only an apostrophe to plural proper names ending in sthe Parkses' home.
  • Add 's to plural nouns not ending is schildren's passes, men's bike, women's rights, women's room.
  • Add only an apostrophe to plural nouns ending in sthe girls' books, boys' bike, plants' supervisors, families' cars.
  • When a plural noun is possessive but each person "owns" only one item, the item should also be listed in plural form. To confirm correctness, rephrase the possessive relationship as an of phrase:the children's brains or the brains of the childrenthe teachers' hands or the hands of the teachers.
  • Follow the rule above (and its test for correctness) when using plural nouns and possessive pronouns: The children became upset when their mothers left the room or the mothers of the childrenGerry and Lena took their dogs for a walk or the dogs of Gerry and Lena.
  • When writing about a family in the plural, add s and then an apostrophe: the Abernathys' Christmas greeting (but Bob Abernathy's Christmas greeting). See plurals above.
  • Add only an apostrophe to nouns plural in form, singular in meaning: mathematics' rules, United States' wealth.
  • Treat nouns that are the same in singular and plural as plurals, even if the meaning is singular:the two deer's tracks. See collective nouns above.

The Willingness to Think Differently | Leo Babauta, zenhabits

I connected with Babauta's blog post in my daily online paper about simplicity, Garbl's Simple Dreams. His ideas certainly relate to living simply, but I think they relate even more to creativity--being creative, creating new and better things. 

He begins:
I can summarize the most successful people I've ever known with one trait: the willingness to challenge mainstream ideas.
Babauta lists some things he and his family have done to simplify and enhance their lives. But he writes:
This isn't a post to brag about all of that — it’s to share what I believe is a real key to life: the willingness to think differently than most people.
It means you have to be willing to question what most people do and tell you. It means you have to have the courage to try something different. It means you have to be brave enough to stand out from the crowd and not take the safe route.
He goes on to describe some things people do while taking the safe route, nothing that "our need to play it safe turns up in every part of our lives."

But then he gives some ideas about learning to think differently:
When you hear an idea that’s different than what you’re used to, pause. Instead of rejecting it outright, consider it — is there some merit? What are the arguments, the evidence?
He concludes:
Learn to be proud of your ability to test things that people traditionally believe in, and not to worry so much if you stand out. In fact, learn to see standing out as good — not just to stand out, but to forge new ground, to challenge ideas, to express your individual voice rather than blending in.
Garbl's Simple Dreams is available at the Simplicity tab above and by free mail superscription.

For more ideas on the topic of creativity, check the Creativity tab above and visit Garbl's Creativity Resources Online. It's an annotated directory of websites that provide advice for increasing creativity and innovation in your writing, in your personal life, on the job, in school, in the arts and elsewhere. Many of the sites have links to other resources on creativity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Treating Your Employees Like Turtles Can Smother Innovation | Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, Fast Company

In their article, authors DeRose and Tichy use an analogy about the mistreatment of pet turtles to explain how employers can promote creativity among their employees. They write:
If you buy a turtle and put it into a small aquarium, it will stop growing to accommodate its limited living space, regardless of how large it might have potentially been. This is a phenomenon that often outrages animal activists because urban apartment dwellers who fancy diminutive turtles typically don’t look after them very well. In truth, the turtles stop growing because they not only have limited room to reach their potential but are also malnourished and poorly treated.
The authors explain that companies stunt the personal growth and organizational contribution of frontline employees when those employees are boxed in by rules, bureaucracy and hierarchy. They write:
When middle managers and senior leaders claim that frontline leaders lack the necessary strategic context or see criticism of organizational processes only as resistance to change, they have the same limiting effect as the turtle tank. Employees never achieve their potential and the organization misses out on great ideas and potential innovations.
The article continues with examples of how four companies--Amazon, Facebook, Steelcase and Ritz-Carlton--have encouraged innovation by their employees.

And the authors introduce a five-step process to harness "the ingenuity, innovation, and emotion of their largest group of employees."

Summarized, here are those steps:
  • Connect the front line to the customer strategy. ... If front-line employees can’t see how to connect their daily reality and the organization’s capabilities to delivery of the customer value proposition, no strategy--regardless of how elegant--will succeed in practice. ...
  • Teach people to think for themselves. Helping employees understand how to make customer-friendly judgments while protecting the business’ long-term health is the cornerstone of building a frontline-focused organization. ...
  • Experiment to implement. ... Many companies have unlocked millions of dollars of value simply by offering frontline employees the autonomy, resources, and a methodology to put their ideas into practice. ...
  • Break down the hierarchy. ... Becoming a frontline-focused organization requires eliminating the detrimental aspects of hierarchy epitomized by overbearing HiPPOs [Highest Paid Person’s Opinion]--disrespect, intimidation, and oppressing opinions--through the careful use of language, data, and open discussion.
  • Invest in frontline capability. ... Too often, companies under-invest in both their frontline employees and the supervisors who manage them.
This article is featured today, Oct. 30, in my daily paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

We Are All from New Orleans Now: Climate Change, Hurricanes and the Fate of America's Coastal Cities | Mike Tidwell, The Nation

It does not matter if Hurricane Sandy is completely the fault of climate change. The fact is that climate change IS happening, and another fact is that humans CAN do something about it. And another fact is that if we don't start doing something about it now, later WILL be too late.

It's disturbing how little attention climate change has gotten this election season from both political parties and the "news" media.

In his article, Tidwell writes:

"What can we do? Three major options: (1) abandon our coastal cities and retreat inland, (2) stay put and try to adapt to the menacing new conditions or (3) stop burning planet-warming fossil fuels as fast as possible.

"Retreat, of course, is no one’s first choice. But adapting means committing fully to the New Orleans model. It means potentially thousands of miles of levees and flood walls across much of the East Coast. And that’s just to handle the rising sea. ...

"In truth, we must combine some level of adaptation with the third option: switching away from fossil fuels and onto clean energy. Clean energy is less expensive, less risky and overall much better for us. It’s the option that treats the disease of global warming, not just the symptoms. ..."

This article is featured today, Oct. 30, in my daily paper, Footprints: Progressive Steps--available at the Progressive Politics tab above and by free email subscription.

The Power of the Opening Paragraph | Hesham Zebida, Social Media Today

If you don’t captivate your audience and draw them in within the first 100 words or so, it’s likely that they won’t bother to finish your blog post or article regardless of how amazing or well-researched it may be. With so much on the line, a lead paragraph should be planned out carefully before one even begins.
I don't know if the fact about the "first 100 words" in Zebida's statement is accurate, research-wise. But I do know that the message in his article is right on.

It's common sense, for one thing. Our readers have many interests and concerns, and they're constantly looking for information that meets their particular interests and concerns. Thus, it's essential that any blog post or article make its main point immediately--in the opening paragraphs. Doing that will grab the attention of readers with that particular interest and concern.

Zebida writes:
The main thesis of your article should be more or less summarized in the title and first sentence. From there, you’ll need to use the rest of the first paragraph to expand on your central idea and clarify it.
But then he adds this "warning":
No matter what happens, don’t give your audience a reason to stop reading after the first sentence and paragraph. In other words, don’t give away the game before you've gotten started. Your first paragraph should set the table, so to speak, without serving up the whole buffet. Just make sure that your teaser ultimately delivers on its promise.
He also emphasizes that writers know their audiences  because that understanding can influence how they write the opening paragraphs. He writes:
Some articles and audiences demand that you jump right into the topic at hand. Other types of writing are better suited to a softer, “warm-up” paragraph that eases the transition into weightier subject matter. Matching your tone with your audience is tricky, but well worth putting some effort into.
For more related advice, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide, especially these two sections:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas.
Zebida's article is featured today, Oct. 30, in my daily paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications--available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Words are Our Weapons | Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch/Nation of Change

Confucius says:
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.
Solnit's column highlights that quotation. And she notes well-known examples of "language that is not correct." She writes:
[T]he far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world -- a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.” ...
What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights. ...
 Solnit goes on to offer suggestions to counter language that is not correct:
Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth. 
Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. ...
Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. ...
[L]et’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life. ...
Solnit describes how language must be changed in how we discuss the concentration of wealth, climate change, and taxes.

And she concludes:
Names matter; language matters; truth matters. In this era when the mainstream media serve obfuscation and evasion more than anything else (except distraction), alternative media, social media, demonstrations in the streets, and conversations between friends are the refuges of truth, the places where we can begin to rectify the names. So start talking.

Remember that you are an interruption | Katya Andresen, Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog

Andresen's column is so accurate that every writer and speaker--not just people in marketing and fundraising--must consider what she says. And we all must follow her advice.

You, your organization, your ideas, your product and your service are not the most significant thing in the world--in the hearts and minds of most people you are trying to reach.

In the language of communications theory, there is always interference between your audience and you as a writer or speaker. People in your audience always have many other concerns, interests and priorities: a deadline at work, a fight with a spouse, a son having problems at school, the 5 o'clock news about another random shooting, a bad cold, the coming Christmas, engine trouble in the car, tonight's basketball game, the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, a favorite book they're rereading, and so on.

In fact, you are likely part of the interference between many people and things that matter a lot to them. Or as Andresen writes, you are likely an interruption.

So, in writing and editing a document of any kind, you must consider those facts.   As I advise under "Your Reader and Your Purpose" in Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide:

Focus on what your reader wants and needs to know. Don't try to say more than you have to. Like you, your readers are bombarded with all kinds of information from many sources. Like you, your readers have much on their mind at home, at work, at school and at play. And like you, they don't have the time and interest to read, understand and act on all the information they get.
So, reading your document is probably not the highest priority for many potential readers. Your readers' needs and wants should influence what information gets the most emphasis in your document. And your readers' needs and wants should influence what information you drop from your document.
My plain-language website provides advice on how you can ensure you are meeting the needs of your reader, while also meeting your needs as a writer. But one key point for organizing your document and your information:
Usually, make your main point easy to find--at the beginning of your document.

7 Common Problems Solved by Owning Less | Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

As my wife and I get closer to full retirement, we're downsizing, buying less stuff and getting rid of stuff--just trying to simplify our lives. So the suggestions in Becker's article are useful to me, but I think they're useful to anyone with the problems he describes.

Becker writes:
The intentional choice to live with fewer possessions has brought with it a great number of benefits. It has been the answer to much of the discontent we felt in our lives when we owned more. And the decision holds the potential to do the same for you.
Summarized, here are the problems:
  1. “I don’t have enough money / I’m in debt.”
  2. “There’s just not enough time in the day.”
  3. “There’s always so much cleaning to do / Even after I clean, my house feels cluttered.”
  4. “My house is too small / There’s never enough storage around here.”
  5. “I’m too stressed.”
  6. “I can’t decide what to wear / It’s so hard to keep up with the changing fashions.” 
  7. “I wish I had …”
This article is featured today (Oct. 29) in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

My Pet Peeves: From the P Entries in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the 14th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the P 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 & L peeves | M peeves | N peeves | O peeves

PAC Acronym for political action committee. Acceptable on first reference but spell out early in the article or document. Lowercase the spelled out form unless its part of a complete name. Legal but not necessarily acceptable are Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, supposedly because the corporations and unions that send them unlimited amounts of money are people with free-speech rights, belly-button lint and acid reflux (or something like that), says the U.S. Supreme Court.

pair A pair is a group of two or something with two similar parts. The singular noun takes a singular verb: The pair of scissors is in the drawer. His pair of black dress shoes is in the closet. The preferred plural is pairsShe took three pairs of pants on the trip. Also, using a pair of when writing about one set of twins, scissors, shoes and so on is often redundant. Simplify. Try dropping a pair of.

paradigm Obscure, pompous jargon. Unless you're trying to impress and confuse readers simultaneously, use simpler pattern, model or example. Instead of a paradigm shift, try a new idea for doing something or a new way of viewing something.

paragraph Long paragraphs--like long sentences--can intimidate readers. To improve readability and appearance (which affects readability), try to limit most paragraphs to seven lines containing no more than four or five sentences. And think about turning some paragraphs into bulleted lists of parallel points.

One-sentence paragraphs aren't used often in formal, academic and business writing. But they can be effective to stress a single point, to mark a major transition between other paragraphs, to summarize what's already been expressed in a single strong statement or to introduce a new topic with a single strong statement. Journalists often use them; the narrow newspaper columns make long paragraphs look uninviting to readers. One-sentence paragraphs also can be useful in technical writing. 

parameter(s) Jargon. If you're not using this term to mention the variable(s) in a mathematical equation, don't use it. Instead, try perimeter or boundary if you're writing about the border around an area of land or outer boundary of a geometric figure. Usually better in business writing are limits, feature, dimensions, extent or scope. Other useful choices are propertiesrules, conditionsbarriers,guidelines or characteristics.

parentheses ( ) Parentheses may be used to surround words, phrases or even whole sentences that are relatively unimportant to the main text. But they can distract the reader from your main point. Think about deleting the unimportant text. If a sentence must contain incidental information, setting off the information with a pair of commas or a pair of dashes may be more effective. Also try placing the extra information in a separate sentence--with no parentheses.

Parenthesis marks always come in twos, one opening and one closing ( ). Don't use one without the other, including if they're used in numbered or alphabetized lists. 

Place a period outside a closing parenthesis if the material inside is not a sentence (such as this fragment). If a parenthetical sentence (here is one example) is part of a sentence, don't capitalize the first word or end the parenthetical sentence with a period. But if the parenthetical sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation point, put a period after the closing parenthesis (here's another example!). If the material in the parentheses is an independent sentence, capitalize the first word and place the period before the closing parenthesis. (Here is an example.)

party Silly legal jargon for "person." A person may go to a party, belong to a party or be part of a party--and be involved in a lawsuit. See people, persons below.

past, previous, prior Redundant and wordy when used with words like achievement, experience, history, performance and recordAfter the merger, they often talked about their prior experience with the agency. Drop prior. Also, in other uses, before, earlier or last are simpler alternatives to previous.

peaceable, peaceful Sometimes confused and often ignored, unfortunately. Use peaceable to describe a person or nation that doesn't like to argue or cause fights. Use peaceful to describe a person, place, relationship or situation that is calm, tranquil, quiet, or not at war or in violent conflict.

penultimate A useful word for confusing your readers, if not yourself. It means "next to last," but if you mean "next to last," simplify and use next to last. It does not mean "the best, the last, the ultimate," or "the quintessential." If you mean one of those words, use one of those words or a simple phrase like the very last or the perfect example.

people, persons Use person when speaking of an individual: One person waited for the bus. Use people instead of persons in plural uses: Hundreds of people attended the open house. Five people were hurt in the accident. People takes a plural verb when used to refer to a single race or nation: The American people are united. Also, when forming the possessive of peoplepeople's is almost always correct. See party above.

"Participants who need participants are the most wonderful participants in the world." "Members of the community who need members of the community are the most wonderful members of the community in the world." "Those who need those are the most wonderful those in the world." "Others who need others are the most wonderful others in the world." Try people instead!

per Avoid using Latin words when English phrases are available: 10 tons a year or 10 tons yearly instead of 10 tons per annum$4 rate an hour instead of $4 rate per hour. Also, avoid mixing Latin and English: 10 tons per year. Use of per may be acceptable to avoid awkward phrases: They produced 10 tons a year per worker. 

per diem Avoid using this Latin phrase. Instead, use a day, daily and daily allowanceShe will be paid the daily rate. Participants will get a daily allowance and salary.

perform Unless you're writing about entertainers, athletes or, perhaps, politicians, think about deleting or using a form of do or a more accurate word.

perimeter See parameter above.

period (.) This punctuation mark has two main purposes. It ends all sentences that are not questions or exclamations, and it's used in some abbreviations.
Use periods to break up complicated sentences into two or more readable sentences. "There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough." William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 1980. 

Use a period, not a question mark, after an indirect question: He asked what the score was.

Don't put a space between two initials: T.S. Eliot.

Use periods after numbers or letters in listing elements of a summary: 1. Wash the car. 2. Clean the basement. Or: A. Punctuate properly. B. Write simply.

Periods always go inside quotation marks.

Put only one space after a period (and other sentence-ending punctuation, including colons).

period of time Wordy and overstated. Simplify. Use either period or time.

per se Latin for "I'm trying to sound superior to you by using this vague legal jargon." Instead, use clearer, less pretentious, less formal in itself, by itself or of itself. Commas usually go at both ends of those terms: Higher pay, by itself, is not usually the reason people form unions.

personally Usually redundant and unnecessary when used by the person speaking or writing: Personally, I like Pearl Jam. Using personally may be appropriate for emphasis when other people are involved: Instead of waiting for her boss to do it, she personally signed the form. The representative voted against the resolution, though he personally favors it. 

pertain to, pertaining to Wordy and formal. Simplify. Change to is aboutabout, for, of or on.

peruse Pompous, formal and often misused. It means "to read carefully." Use read carefully, read thoroughly or study, if that's what you mean. Use skim, scan or simply read, if that's what you mean.

PIN Abbreviation for personal information number. Acceptable in all references, including first. But spell out term near beginning of article. PIN number is redundant.

plain English, plain language A method of writing that matches the needs of the reader with your needs as a writer, leading to effective and efficient communication. It stresses using familiar words; cutting useless words; avoiding or explaining jargon and technical words; using abbreviations carefully; using inclusive language; writing in active voice; keeping sentences short; avoiding double negatives; using punctuation correctly; using lists; and using headings consistently. Also see Garbl's Plain English Writing GuideGarbl's Plain Language Resources;Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links.

planning Avoid the redundant future planning.

plurals This item in my style manual deserves its own blog article. Stay tuned (or check the item in my style manual).

positive benefits Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop positive.

possess Pretentious. Use simpler have or own instead.

possessives This item in my style manual deserves its own blog article. Stay tuned (or check the item in my style manual).

potentially dangerous, potentially hazardous Redundant. By definition, dangerous and hazardous imply potential harm, injury or loss. Drop potentially.

prefixes Usually, follow these rules for adding a prefix: Do not hyphenate when using a prefix with a root word that begins with a consonant. Use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the root word that follows begins with the same vowel. When in doubt, check for specific prefixes and words in my style manual. If not listed there, check your preferred dictionary for specific words, and follow its advice for the first listing of the word. If not listed there, don't hyphenate.

Also, use a hyphen when capitalizing the root word. And use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes: sub-subcommittee. At times, a hyphen is necessary for clarity of meaning: He will reform (correct or improve) the congregation. She will re-form (change the shape of) the clay figure.

preplanning Planning means laying a course. Preplanning is redundant. Replace preplanning with planning

presently Ambiguous, overstated and misused. Simplify. Use soon, in a little while, in a short time or shortly instead, or be precise about the time element. It does not mean nowat present or currently

Presidents Day Not President's Day or Presidents' Day. 

press Don't refer to the print and broadcast news media as the press. Use news media instead: The news media are invited. Organizations produce news releases, not press releases, and hold news conferences, not press conferences

pretty Vague and overused. Use it to describe women, girls, sights and sounds. But delete it, be more specific, or try words like almost, fairly or very in other uses. 

preventative Not a word. Replace with preventive.

prioritize Pompous. Avoid this term. Instead say order, set priorities or rank.

prior to Pretentious, clumsy and wordy. Simplify. Use ahead of or before instead.

privatize, privatization Sometimes misused. To privatize is "to make something private, especially when transferring a government service operated for the benefit of the public to private control, private ownership or private interests": The administration proposes to partially privatize the Social Security system by allowing some workers to divert some funds to private accounts.

proactive An adjective meaning "in anticipation of future problems, needs or changes." Though considered jargon by some, it's a useful antonym to reactive. Use sparingly, delete or try replacing with activeassertive or aggressive.

progressive Sometimes misused as a negative reference to a person, idea, program or action. Used accurately, progressive applies to people who favor progress and reform in politics, education and other fields. It means supporting or openness to new or modern ideas, methods and programs. A progressive person is more inclined to direct action than a liberal person.

pronouns Often confused and misused. The "nominative" pronouns I, he, she, we and they are always the subject of sentences and clauses (groups of words with a subject and a verb). In other words, I and the other nominative pronouns are more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And the "objective" pronouns me, him, her, us and them are always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, me and the other objective pronouns are more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb). Also follow those rules when joining pronouns (and other nouns) with conjunctions like and and or.

Examples: I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us. We and Alex debated him and her. He and I considered them and Amanda. She or they would attend with me or us.

protester Preferred spelling. Not protestor. However you spell it, you have a constitutional right to do it in the United States--to march, to picket, to petition!

punctuation Use common sense. Punctuation should help reading--to make clear the thought being expressed. If punctuation does not help clarify the message, it should not be there.

When more than one punctuation mark (not including quotation marks, parentheses or brackets) could be used at the same place in a sentence, use only the "stronger"--or more necessary--of the two. Question marks and exclamation points, for example, are stronger than commas and periods: "Have all the ballots finally been counted?" asked the reporter. (The question mark fills the role of the comma.)The topic of his speech is "We demand justice now!" (No period following the exclamation point.)

See parentheses and period above and separate entries in my style manual for other punctuation marks.

puns To quote the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: "A pun should be a surprise encounter, evoking a sly smile rather than a groan and flattering the intelligence of a reader who gets the joke. ... The successful pun pivots on a word that fits effortlessly into two elements ..."

purchase To purchase is to make a bad buy. You're using two syllables and six letters for purchase but getting no more meaning than you get with buy. Simplify. Use the verb buy instead.

pursuant to Pompous. Unless you're pretending to be a corporate lawyer, simplify and use according to, by or under instead.

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