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Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Buzzwords in Gay Marriage Cases Before the Supreme Court

In a Time magazine article published as the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments about same-sex marriage, Katy Steinmetz writes:
Marriage, as John P. Marquand might have said, is a damnably serious business—particularly among gay rights activists and same-sex marriage opponents. Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the legal definition of “marriage,” one of many words and phrases that embody America’s long cultural grapple over homosexuality.
She goes on to discuss the vocabulary used in this important debate about civil rights, referring occasionally to Ben Zimmer, linguist and executive producer at For example:

On marriage ...
“It’s not that the word changed,” says American Heritage dictionaries’ Executive Editor Steve Kleinedler, one of the editors who worked on the update. “It’s just that the scope broadened.” And these editorial choices matter: it’s quite possible that the Supreme Court Justices will include various dictionary definitions of marriage in their discussions or opinions about the cases they've heard this week.
On traditional marriage ...
But while the appeal to tradition is an important part of the argument against legalizing gay marriage, Zimmer says, calling heterosexual marriage “traditional” undermines that position, too. “By calling it ‘traditional marriage,’ you've already ceded the ground that there is another kind of marriage,” he says.
On opposite-sex marriage ...
Describing male-female marriages as “opposite-sex” is factually indisputable. It’s also potentially jarring, because most Americans still wouldn't use that phrasing in casual conversation and new labels can make old institutions seem less familiar.
On marriage equality ...
“The whole same-sex marriage debate had increasingly fallen under that rubric,” Zimmer says. The usage has become so widespread, he notes, that the phrase was the American Dialect Society’s runner-up for “Word of the Year” in 2012. ...
On queer ...
Queer, which also means unconventional or deviating from the norm, was used as a pejorative term for gays and lesbians before being reclaimed in the 1980s. Homosexuals and gay rights advocates used it in academia and when referring to themselves, thus giving the word positive or neutral connotations to balance out the negative. ...
The article also discusses the terms husband and wife and widower and widow.

Steinmetz's article is featured today, March 29, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

New entries on weapons, homicide, murder, manslaughter | Associated Press Stylebook

Not surprisingly, given the continuing news about tragic shootings and common-sense gun-safety laws, the Associated Press has updated its entries on weapons, homicide, murder and manslaughter.

As a paid subscriber to the online edition of the AP Stylebook, I get email announcements about updates and additions whenever AP makes them.

Here are examples of the revised entries:
homicide, murder, manslaughter Homicide is a legal term for slaying or killing.
Murder is malicious, premeditated homicide. Some states define certain homicides as murder if the killing occurs in the course of armed robbery, rape, etc.
Generally speaking, manslaughter is homicide without malice or premeditation.
homicide should not be described as murder unless a person has been convicted of that charge.
Do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain. Do not write that X was charged with murdering Y. Use the formal charge – murder – and, if not already in the story, specify the nature of the killing – shooting, stabbing, beating, poisoning, drowning, etc.: Jones was charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend. ...
weapons Gun is an acceptable term for any firearm. ...
assault rifle, assault weapon Terms for military or police-style weapons that are shorter than a conventional rifle and technically known as carbines. The precise definitions may vary from one law or jurisdiction to another. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, some make the distinction that assault rifle is a military weapon with a selector switch for firing in either fully automatic or semi-automatic mode from a detachable, 10- to 30-round magazine. Comparatively lightweight and easy to aim, this carbine was designed for tactical operations and is used by some law enforcement agencies. The form: an M16 assault rifle, an AK-47 assault rifle, a Kalashnikov assault rifleAn assault weapon is the civilian version of the military carbine with a similar appearance. This gun is semi-automatic, meaning one shot per trigger pull. Ammunition magazines ranging from 10 to 30 rounds or more allow rapid-fire capability. ...
automatic A firearm that reloads automatically after each shot. The term should not be used to describe the rate of fire. To avoid confusion, specify fully automatic or semi-automatic rather than simply automatic. Give the type of weapon or model for clarity.
clip A device to store multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit, ready for insertion into the gun. Clips are generally used to load obsolete military rifles. Clip is not the correct term for a detachable magazine commonly used in modern military rifles, assault rifles, assault weapons, submachine guns and semi-automatic pistols. See magazine.
fully automatic A firearm that fires continuously as long as the trigger is depressed. Examples include machine guns and submachine guns.
handgun A pistol or a revolver.
M1, M16 These and similar combinations of a letter and figure(s) designate rifles used by the military. The forms: an M1 rifle, an M16 rifle.
magazine The ammunition storage and feeding device within or attached to a firearm. It may be fixed to the firearm or detachable. It is not a clip.
pistol A handgun that can be a single shot or a semi-automatic. Differs from a revolver in that the chamber and barrel are one integral part. Its size is measured in calibers. The form: a .45-caliber pistol.
revolver A handgun. Differs from a pistol in that cartridges are held in chambers in a cylinder that revolves through the barrel. The form: a .45-caliber revolver.
rifle A firearm designed or made to be fired from the shoulder and having a rifled bore. It uses bullets or cartridges for ammunition. Its size is measured in calibers. The form: a .22-caliber rifle.
Saturday night special A compact, relatively inexpensive handgun.
semi-automatic A firearm that fires only once for each pull of the trigger. It reloads after each shot. The form: a semi-automatic riflea semi-automatic weapona semi-automatic pistol. The hyphen is an exception to general guidance against hyphenating words formed with semi-.
shotgun A firearm typically used to fire small spherical pellets called shot. Shotguns usually have a smooth bore barrel, but some contain a rifled barrel, which is used to fire a single projectile. Size is measured according to gauge, except for the .410, which is measured according to caliber, meaning the ball leaving the barrel is 0.41" in diameter. The form: a 12-gauge shotgun, a .410 shotgun.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Garbl's Creativity Connections | Ideas to Inspire ... You!

If you are in dire need of inspiration, my free daily online paper on creativity provides useful ideas and information almost every day that may help you. Today's edition is especially full of good stuff!

Garbl's Creativity Connections features blog articles, tweets, photos and videos about creativity -- a favorite subject and pursuit of mine. The software selects the items automatically from my preferences in Google+ and Twitter. I'll likely be as surprised -- and inspired, I hope -- as you by some of its posts. 

You can find more information on this topic in Garbl's Creativity Resources Online at Garbl's Writing Center.

My paper is available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

'Ideation' session, 'key drivers,' 'aligning' the team... the pitfalls of marketing jargon

Please please please!

Do not ever use ideate or ideation in any advertisement, brochure, sentence, headline, email message, photo caption, or sign, no matter who you are writing to, no matter who you are talking to, no matter whether you're at work, at play, in an interview, or asleep.

If you do use one of those ridiculous words, you will confuse some people; you will amuse some people; you will affect your credibility ... in a bad way.

Helen Edwards comments on those words and others in this article from Marketing:

Marketers must ditch the buzzwords and jargon and start to speak in plain English if they want to continue to talk to brands about achieving 'clarity'.
She provides good advice about using align, key drivers, and workshop (as a verb). And here are her comments about ideate:
Yes, I know, it's horrible. Something to do with the 'a' that doubles as the last bit of 'idea' and the first bit of '-ate', a suffix that often connotes something vaguely unpleasant: 'Excuse me, I'm just popping in here to ideate.'
Not that 'ideation' is ever a solus activity. It takes place in groups, in front of a moderator who has failed to grasp that ideas (a) rarely happen in 'sessions', (b) rarely oblige straining, conscious minds, and (c) even more rarely strike people who are not practised creative professionals. Of all the terms in the modern marketer's phrasebook, 'ideate' is the nastiest, combining ugliness of form, falseness of concept and emptiness of hope.
Also, if you want to make your writing easier to read and understand, check out Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. My free guide provides alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases:
  • Shorter, simpler words
  • Wordy phrase replacements
  • Redundant phrase replacements.
Also visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It can help improve your writing skills by using plain English techniques:
  • 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.
Edwards' article is featured today, March 28, in my daily online paper,
Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Grammar Rules: How to Sound Smarter

I was amused by the title for this article by Paul Silverman and Sarah Wharton from Reader's Digest. Its subtitle also prompted a chuckle:
Think you know how to talk real good? Test yourself: These grammar rules will surprise even the experts.
Why did I chuckle? Few of the items in their list are about grammar rules. Most are about word usage--choosing the correct word for the meaning you're trying to convey.

Still, the writers provide good advice. I'll add to their advice with my related entries below from Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manualbut please check their column because my manual doesn't cover all the topics they discuss:

Root Rivalry
preventative Not a word. Replace with preventive.
evoke, invoke Sometimes confused verbs. Evoke means "to produce or arouse a strong memory, mental image or reaction by stimulating emotions." Invoke means "to cite a law, principle or other authority to support opinions or actions" and "to call on god or other higher power for help": He invoked the name of God.
disinterested, uninterested Commonly confused. Disinterested means "impartial, objective and unbiased." Uninterested means "not interested": A disinterested person has no personal stake in the outcome of an event. An uninterested person doesn't care.
Grammar 101
myself Often misused. Use this word to refer to yourself or for emphasis: I dressed myself. I'd rather do it myself. But don't use it self-consciously as a substitute for me. Incorrect: He asked Tina and myself for a ride home. Give it to him or myself. He talked to Tina and myself. The horse carried Tina and myself. Correct: He asked Tina and me for a ride home. Give it to him or me. He talked to Tina and me. The horse carried Tina and me.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving myself; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He asked myself for a ride home. Give it to myself. He talked to myself. The horse carried myself." 
former, latter Avoid forcing your readers to reread something by using these words. Instead, restate the item. If you must use these words, they apply to only two things; former is the first, and latter is the second. 
either, neither Use either when writing about one or the other of two people, places or things: I've visited both Los Angeles and Chicago, but I wouldn't enjoy living in either city. Use neither when not including one or the other of two people, places or things: Neither city appeals to me. When used as the subject of a sentence, both words take singular verbs: Neither of the candidates was found guilty. When used as adjectives, the nouns they modify always take a singular verb: Either answer is correct. 
Also, either means "one or the other," not "both": Either plant will look good in the garden. And be careful where you put either in a sentence. It should go just before the first thing you're comparing: They wanted to honeymoon in either Hawaii or Mexico. Not: They either wanted to honeymoon in Hawaii or Mexico.
Confused & Misused
desert, dessert Sometimes confused or misspelled. As a noun, a desert is a dry, barren, sandy, often hot region. A desert(often deserts) is also a deserved reward or punishment: She got his just deserts. As a verb, desert is to abandon or leave one's post without permission. Somewhat like this definition, a dessert is a tasty treat that comes at the end of a meal.
modern Don't overdo it when describing something as modern. Simplify these redundant, wordy phrases: modern instead of modern-daymodern world instead of modern world of todaymodern instead of modern, state-of-the-art
so-called [My manual doesn't include an item for correct use of so-called, but the authors make a good point! I'll be adding this term to my manual.]
Shades of Meaning
exorbitant Commonly misspelled. Also, try using simpler excessive. [The authors note that exuberant is sometimes confused with exorbitant.]
envy, jealousy Sometimes confused. Use envy or envious to describe feelings of desire for someone else's qualities or things. Use jealousy or jealous to describe unhappy or angry feelings about not having someone else's qualities or things--or fear that someone else wants something you have.
The Grammar Rules article is featured today, March 28, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Yes, I Could Care Less by Bill Walsh

I can hardly wait to get this new book by copy editor extraordinaire Bill Walsh (though I will 'cause I'll soon be taking some time away from this blog and my computer--and reading stuff for fun instead).

As Walsh showed in his past books, he's an amusing, irreverent but thoughtful authority on writing. The subtitle to his new book provides a clue about his attitude: 

How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk
Here's what publisher MacMillan says about Walsh's new book:
In his long-awaited follow-up to Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style, while steering readers and writers on the proper road to correct usage, Walsh cautions against slavish adherence to rules, emphasizing that the correct choice often depends on the situation. He might disagree with the AP Stylebook or Merriam-Webster, but he always backs up his preferences with logic and humor.
The Web posting on Walsh's book is featured today, March 28, in my daily online paper,
Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Senate approves bill for plain-language ‘explainer’ on complicated ballot issues | Wichita Eagle

Here's some great news, coming from Kansas of all places. As described by reporter Dion Lefler in the Wichita Eagle:
[A] proposal to provide voters with plain-language explanations of confusing ballot questions is on the verge of becoming a state law.
The state Senate has given initial approval to legislation that would allow county election officials to ask a county or state official to write an “explainer” when the language in a ballot measure is confusing or too legalistic for voters to easily understand.

Unfortunately, the explainers would not appear on the ballot but would be posted at all polling places and sent along as an insert with absentee ballots.

FYI, plain language is an approach to writing that concentrates on the needs of readers. It is ideal for people who write to and for clients, customers, employees, organization members, ratepayers, students and taxpayers. It helps us write for people who read at all levels of time, interest, education and literacy.

Plain language principles can help writers be more clear and concise. For more information, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps in the process:
  • 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.
Leffler's article appears today, March 27, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For 'Whom' the Bell Tolls ... Elvis?

Yeah! Another writer pounds a nail into the whom coffin. As Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic:
We break the old rules, then, because new rules are, effectively, replacing them. Few of us still use whom in speech, and we've adopted that practice in our writing, particularly in more-casual forms (e‑mails, texts, IMs). What scholars refer to as “secondary orality,” the tendency of written language to adopt the characteristics of speech, is for many of us the new linguistic reality. According to the language blogger Stan Carey, “Whom is unnecessary—indeed, it’s out of place—where a conversational tone is sought.” We type with our telephones and we chat with our keyboards and we write, increasingly, as we talk. And—to whom it may concern—our words rise, and fall, accordingly.
That said, I just looked again at various respected grammar and word usage references. They all note the common misuse, misunderstandings about use, and eventual demise of whom in the English language. Heck, one book notes that whom has been on its deathbed for 150 years!

Yet all the references I checked continue to provide advice on using whom (and who) correctly. Whom is like the Elvis of of grammar. Some writers and editors still see its use as valuable to aiding reader understanding. Most people, though, don't use it much, correctly or incorrectly. When will this Elvis actually leave the building?

And though I want to prod its full departure, I feel I should provide some advice to aid those few writers who still listen to whom. Here's my advice in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
who, whom Often confused. Who does something, and whom has something done to it. Use whom when someone is the object of verb or preposition: The man to whom the car was rented did not fill the gas tank. Whom do you wish to see?
A preposition (such as to, at, by, for, from, in, toward, upon and with) often comes just before whomWho does something to whomWho is the word in all other uses, especially when someone takes an action as the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase:The man who rented the car did not fill the gas tank. Who is still here?
To test for correctness: Who equals he, she or they while whom equals him, her or them. Replace who or whom in the sentence with one of those pronouns. If it sounds wrong, it probably is. 
that, which, who, whom ... 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 whomThat -- 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."
us, we Sometimes confused. We and other "nominative" pronouns--including he, I, they and who--typically go before a verb as the subject of a sentence or clause (a group of words with a subject and a verb). Us and other "objective" pronouns--including her, him, me, them and whom--typically come after a verb or preposition.
Be careful when writing sentences with two clauses, like these: Please help us who are your children. This is a grand day for us who are your children. The word ending the first clause should be the "objective" pronoun us, not weUs is the object of the verb help and the preposition for. Also, the word beginning the second clause should be the "nominative" pronoun who. ...

The Atlantic article on whom is featured today, March 27, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Word, Please: Grammar 'rule' has got to be kidding

get Get is good English. It's an acceptable, simpler substitute for formal words like obtain, receive, become and procure. And so are its verb forms: got and gotten: He got a digital camera for his birthday. I have gotten really tired of pulling morning glory.
That's one of my entries in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual. The use of got and gotten are also discussed in this article by June Casagrande of the Daily Pilot in Costa Mesa, Calif. She and I agree--as do most past and present authorities on English grammar and word usage. 

Casagrande concludes:
Some people don't like the sound, the informality or the inefficiency that "got" can bring. That's a valid position. But when they start telling people it's wrong, you know things have gotten out of hand.
Before writing this blog item, I rechecked various style, usage and spelling references I respect and use. While some encourage writers to make sure another word isn't stronger or more precise in meaning than get and its verb tenses, none insist that get, got and gotten should never be used. (Note, however, that longtime approval is in the United States. The verb tenses in British English are get, got and got.)

My references also note that get and its offspring are clear, concise and effective synonyms for unnecessarily formal words. Here are several related entries from my online manual:
access Often misspelled or misused. It takes two c's and two s's. It's also best used as a noun. As a verb, it's technical jargon for getting information, especially on computers. For other uses, try connect, enter, find, get, use, look up or reach.
acquire Overstated. Simplify. Try a form of get, buy or win.
obtain Overstated and formal. Simplify. See get.
procure See get.
receive Formal, and commonly misspelled. Remember the "i before e except after c" rule. Also, consider replacing with forms of simpler get. See get.
secure (v.) Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try get or set.
And here are related entries that give shorter, simpler alternatives to Long Words in Garbl's Concise Writing Guide:
Instead of ... Change to or try ...
access (as a verb) ... get, reach
acquire ... get, buy, win, gain, earn, pick up
attain ... reach, succeed, meet, gain, get, win, arrive at, grasp
obtain ... get, earn, gain, buy, exist, hold, stand
procure ... get, buy, gain, win, find
receive ... accept, get
secure ... get.
Casagrande's article is featured in the March 24 issue of my daily online paper,
Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Seattle boom an inconvenient truth for Republicans

While I was a newspaper reporter years ago, a colleague questioned my use of a made-up story to describe how a student's training in CPR saved the life of a heart-attack victim. I didn't reveal until the end of the article that the story was a description of what could happen, based on what I observed during the high school class.

I thought the article was effective, even accurate, and clear, eventually, about its "characters." I later wrote a similar story while working in PR. But I've wondered. ...

This article by columnist Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times takes that idea to another level, I think, by providing ironic quotations and attributing them to real people. It also reveals at the end that it's an imagined story. The subhead on the column subtly suggests its not true by concluding with the word "Not." I missed it when first reading the column.

Instead, I was astounded and overjoyed while reading the article until I reached its conclusion. There Westneat reveals that he had only imagined the story, except for this: 

The part about how Seattle with all its taxes and rules and supposedly socialistic groupthink is also one of the hottest spots for capitalism and jobs in the nation?
That’s true. Inconvenient to the politics of the day. But true.
Though I appreciate the point of irony Westneat was making, I question the method. I know I occasionally make up quotations now in Facebook posts to "paraphrase" politicians and pundits I don't like. But I'm not a reporter or a newspaper columnist. 

Am I hypocrite, wrong, or right in the concern I'm expressing?

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