© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Please share this link

This McCain video link was sent to me by a close friend. I am not endorsing the chain of links to additional videos and I do not recommend spending time following them. It amounts to negative campaigning. But this video is a good example of what skillful editing can do. (Editing isn't just about text.) Although I think that politically the video is accurate (it is, though, a little heavy handed at the end with it's pleading), I know a similar (or worse) video could be created for any of the candidates.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Common Errors in English -- Worth a Bookmark

In my post yesterday I put a link to a list of common errors in English. Since then, I've spent a little more time looking around the site. It was created by Paul Brians, a retired professor of English literature and has had over 10 million visitors since 1997. It's been widely noted and has won awards and recommendations from multiple agencies including Writer's Digest, BBC ONLINE, and Dictionary.com. (I only found it myself yesterday. Where have I been?)

At the top of the list of errors is a search engine that is very useful for finding a particular phrase, and I would recommend doing a search rather than scrolling through the list if you want to check a specific usage. At the bottom of the list of errors you will find a link to other pages with discussion of typical comments he gets, or phrases that aren't wrong, or background information, or additional errors, and more. On that page, Professor Brians asks that if someone creates a link to his site to please link to the home page. So here is the link to the Common Errors in English home page.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I should try and not pick on sports writers

What does "try and. . ." mean? The correct expression is "try to . . .". It's try not to pick on. Or it's try to find, not try and find. It used to be the only time I regularly saw "try and" in print was in student papers. It's a colloquialism that students pick up and carry over into their writing because it's what they've always heard. But I see it more and more in the writing from professional health writers that I'm editing. Then this morning on the Buckeyextra web site run by the Columbus Dispatch I saw the following sentence in an article by Dispatch sports writer Ken Gordon:

"Hines' ascension into a prominent role is just one example of how 14th-ranked Ohio State (3-1) has altered its defense to try and get more speed on the field."

You would think that even if the writer doesn't know the difference, the editor should have. There are a lot of other common errors that can rob sentences of meaning. There's also a very useful catalogue of those errors on the Washington State University web site.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In case you missed it the first time

Here's today's redundancy gem from another article I'm editing:

Ongoing clinical trials are being conducted . . .

I hate it when you're conducting trials that have stopped.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What It's Like To Be an Editor

I'm a good editor.
  • I know I am because my writers win awards.
  • I know I am because I see multiple requests for reprints of articles I publish in the magazine I edit.
  • I know I am because my writers tell me they appreciate the edits I made.
  • I know I am because I can tell a writer what to do to make a story better and expect to get a better story.
  • I know I am because other editors tell me I'm good.
  • I know I am because I look on line or look in a catalogue and there's a book I edited. The writer gets the credit, as it should be.
  • I know I am because for the most part, I'm invisible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Words I Don't Like

Language should be organic. It should be allowed to evolve naturally without the imposition of artificial "rules of rightness." That being said, good language, like a good garden, is planned or laid out with an eye always toward healthy standards. Some people use phrases -- like others toss chemicals on plants -- without thinking of the harm they're doing. Having said that, I want to to point out that certain phrases have no real purpose in a sentence:

That being said; having said that; after saying that ...

I have several writers whose work I've been editing for a project who seem to use some variation of "that being said" in almost every article, and sometimes multiple times in the same article. I hear correspondents and analysts on TV use some variation of that phrase to help them move to the next point. It's verbage. It's used without thinking, and the way you teach student writers not to use cliches is to help them be aware that when there is no thought on the part of the writer, there is no thought in the reader.

Most of the time when I see the phrase, it doesn't add anything to the sentence it starts. When it does, what the writer really means is "but." I'm not interested in the writer proving to me that he or she is clever enough to be aware of a paradox or is so smart that he or she is about to show why the statement that was just made is not accurate (then why did you make it?). If you mean "but" say "but" and get on with your thought. That's what I want to know--what follows the "but." And if you aren't really contradicting or countering what came before, I don't even need the "but."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Redundancy Repeated

I just found this heading in an article I'm editing:

"Should pregnant women undergo testing during pregnancy?"

Well, no. Only if you are a pregnant woman who isn't pregnant should you undergo testing.


Ohio State lost more than a football game Saturday night. See Tracy Wholf's Blog entry and the comments that followed it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Remember Sarah Haskins? She is definitely worth watching. This time she explains what a PANTHER is -- Proud American Needing Token Hillary Estrogen Replacement. Find out whether you're a panther or not at Target Women: Sarah Palin.

Friday, September 12, 2008


A long time ago, when computers and the Internet were still wedging themselves into our lives, I was amazed at how easy someone had made it for us to simply answer questions and upload information about ourselves online -- and how seemlessly we began doing it. Even just saying "yes" seemed ominous. I remarked to colleagues that somewhere in cyberspace someone was conditioning us to simply type in whatever we were asked to type in. Not that I heeded my own wariness. I was as eager as the next person to type in my name, place an order on line, answer a survey.

Now our Google toolbar will fill in forms for us and hand out credit card information without us even having to open our wallets. How many of us are paying a monthly $7.99 charge or $12.00 charge or. . . on our credit card statements that buys us some service we don't even remember we have? Who did we talk to when we ordered it, and who do we talk to to cancel it? And are we even sure all of those companies that are collecting the money are still in business?

We've given Microsoft free access to our hard drives because it's easier than trying to remember to download updates on our own. We let McAfee or Norton Utilities have free access. Who are they? And why can any of them simply shut down our computer at will to "reconfigure" the updates? Why does Dell want me to upload my hard drive to their server in cyberspace -- so I'll be protected when my system crashes? Do I know anybody at Dell? And why does Quicken check to see if I've got the latest financial tools and urge me to go to their website every time I start the program? For that matter, why do they want to pay my bills for me? Do I know anyone at Quicken?

What prompted this reflection was watching my local morning news today. The price of gas in Atlanta rose 11 cents overnight and another 4 cents in a half hour during the broadcast. It's because of Ike, and I just wish I had filled up yesterday. Wouldn't it be great if I could get some kind of warning? And then they said it. If you want instant alerts on what's happening with gas prices, all you have to do is sign up on 11alive.com and they'll send you an alert when there's going to be a change in the price of gas. I didn't sign up, but I assume they'd send it to my mobile phone if I asked. It seemed like it was the perfect solution to a serious problem. Thank God for the Matrix.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Which would you choose?

Here's an entry I made in my poetry journal I don't know how many years ago.

“… for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he [the poet] giveth a perfect picture of it in some one, by whom he presupposeth it was done. So as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind, an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description: which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul, so much as the other doth.” (Sir Philip Sidney, “An Apology for Poetry.” )

For Sidney, poetry had two primary functions—to delight and to teach—which made it superior to both philosophy and history. Philosophy presented truths and virtues unadorned, plainly, which made them non memorable. History was restricted by the necessity to show what was done rather than what should be or should have been done. That does not mean that philosophy or history do not have their value. But poetry can do what neither of them can. Sidney uses Christ’s parable of Dives and Lazarus—the one in hell, the other in the bosom of Abraham – to illustrate his point. Christ could have given a straight forward definition of greed or of virtue. But the lecture would not stay in the mind in the same way as the images of the stories he told. Because they delighted, they could also teach. [A particularly interesting phrasing and one that might bear more explication when looking at 20th century poetry is that philosophy teaches those who are already learned. Poetry teaches the innocent.] To illustrate his point about history, he asks where one would look for virtue -- to a historian's representation of Alexander, considering the historian is bound to tell both good things and bad things that happened, or to the poet’s representation of Ulysses or Achilles.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two contrasting reflections on poetry

Something to think about this morning:

“[G]reat poetry is not inevitable. . . .It seems to result from a providential gift of talent to an individual and to the patient cultivation of that talent by the individual.” (Timothy Steele, Missing Measures.)

“Surely there is good reason to avoid a definition of poetry. The clearer and more concise a definition is, the more poems it leaves out.” (Donald Stauffer, The Nature of Poetry)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Would you buy a used car from these people?

I got an email this morning from a company called Books4mobiles.com. They said they wanted to publish my books on their Web site for free. Then they would sell the books to people who want to read it on their mobile phone and I would get a 40% royalty. Here's a blurb from the email:

"This exciting new website allows you the valuable opportunity to sell your books with ease. We do all the work and you recieve a new income stream direct to your pocket."

So I went to take a look at the Web site. I took these quotes at random from multiple pages where they were telling me about this great opportunity:

  • Million of people have a mobile phones, why carry your favourite book,when you can read the book on your mobile phone.
  • When submitting your work for publishing either for the mobile phone or print, they are a few checks to be done.
  • The cost of publishing your work costs is Free.
  • Please contact of sales team if you are interest.

To be fair, they said the books that people submit need to be free of grammatical errors because they do not have a service that can check grammar.

Did you say Books4mobiles? Or was it Books4illiterates? Either way, please keep your stream out of my pocket.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Taking yourself off line

I was listening this morning to the radio show Speaking of Faith. Krista Tippett's guest was Esther Sternberg, author of the book The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health & Emotions. Sternberg's research examined the scientific underpinnings of mind-body medicine, or how our emotions can help make us sick or well. A lot of the conversation on SOF was about the stress response and it's potentially negative effect on the immune system. Stress is a necessary response to certain events. It enables us to react to those events in ways that are protective without needing to go through a thought process first. It does this by releasing certain hormones and chemicals into our system.

Chronic stress keeps those chemicals in our system, and our immune cells are awash in those chemicals, which has the effect of shutting off or tuning down much of the immune system. That, in turn, makes us vulnerable to all sorts of nasty conditions.

Part of the challenge in dealing with chronic stress is to first recognize it and then do something to shut it down. Sternberg's advice was to take yourself off line. Take a vacation. Meditate. Exercise. Do yoga. Do what gets you away -- spiritually and/or physically -- from the environment that's causing the stress response.

I like that image of taking yourself off line. She explained it in terms of rebooting a computer. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, I knew I needed to do something that would provide some sort of outlet for the anxiety and negative emotions. And I knew that as supportive as S is and would be throughout the ordeal of cancer, she couldn't be the outlet I relied on. It wouldn't be fair to her. So, even though years before I had decided I had gotten just about all I was ever going to get from counseling, I looked for a mental therapist.

I went into therapy in a way I had never done before. I viewed it as a chance to begin the process of creating a space for myself. I was very proactive about setting the goals for therapy. I told the counselor I wanted to explore what having cancer meant to me, and I wanted to take the lead in doing it. But that was just the beginning.

The counselor was in the Back Bay section of Boston. We lived in Attleboro, a 45-minute train ride from Back Bay. Despite the fact that I always seemed to be behind on meeting my professional deadlines, once a week, I took the train, and I read. I allowed myself enough time so that I had about an hour in Back Bay before my appointment, so I either went to the library and worked on my creative projects or I went to Au Bon Pain and continued to read while I had a pastry and coffee. Following my session with the therapist, I went out and treated myself to a nice lunch in one of the fine restaurants in Back Bay. I even occasionally met S for lunch. After lunch I'd walk for about an hour. And toward the end of my time in Massachusetts, I even started stopping in at the end of my walk at the First Church of Christ, Scientist on the Christian Science Plaza and spending about 15 minutes just meditating. (I am not a Christian Scientist. But the quiet and the light and the "lightness" inside the church was calming and restful.) And then I'd go home.

For those several hours on Thursdays, I took myself off line. Since we've moved to Atlanta, my level of chronic stress has steadily increased. S tells me she thinks I have an anxiety disorder. I work most weekend days. I seldom exercise. I'm too tired and stressed to meditate when I quit working for the day and feel too rushed and pushed to meditate in the morning. I have all but stopped working on anything creative. It's time to get back in touch with whatever I understood when I created that space for myself in Back Bay, and discover ways to do it here. I'm glad I listened to that radio show this morning.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Check these out

There are two great blog entries this morning. The first is by 45 and aspiring and the second is by Mommy's Nintendo. They're well worth reading.

I changed the music line up slightly. I find that lyrics get in the way of what I'm trying to read. I'm not much of a multi tasker.

It's football time in Buckeye Land. Wish I was there.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

45 and Aspiring forwarded me a list of metaphors found in high school essays, some of which she has posted on her own site. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites. But first a DISCLAIMER:

When I taught writing in college, faculty and grad assistants would sometimes share blunders that came from student papers and laugh about them. I found that offensive and counter to good teaching. It would be okay to laugh with a student, but never behind a students' back. Because to teach a student to write you need to try to understand what the student is trying to say. You can't do that if you're going to disrespect the student's effort to say it.

But these metaphors are different. They are funny, but they're not really blunders. In fact, they demonstrate the student made a real effort, not only to understand and use metaphor, but to say something original. So while these aren't metaphors I'd probably use, they're really interesting signs of progress toward writing well. Here's my list.
  • He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  • The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
  • The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  • The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

Monday, September 1, 2008

With Apologies to Yogi

Proof it's never over until it's over. Thank goodness for people who like what they do.