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Style Patrol

Friday, October 23, 2015

Style Patrol: Three Little Words With Identity Crises

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2015 at 2:33 PM

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Pop quiz, everyone! In each of these groupings, choose the sentence(s), if any, that use the bolded words correctly.

A1: Cathy honed her charcuterie skills working at L'Epicerie du Bordel in Manhattan.
A2: Scientists are trying to hone in on the causes of premature balding syndrome.

B1: His hands were calloused from his work restoring historic Vermont gravestones.
B2: The zombie apocalypse has not made Rick Grimes callous about human life.
B3: If you get a callous from snow shoveling, you know you're a true Vermonter.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Style Patrol: Who That?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 4:54 PM

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Seven Days recently received the following as a submission to our popular "WTF" column:

WTF is up with so many people, including talking heads, politicians, college types and tradespeople, speaking and writing "that" instead of "who" when referring to people?
Because "WTF" is generally devoted to the solution of local mysteries, I decided to take this one on in Style Patrol, instead.

Our grammar-minded reader appears to be referring to sentences like these:

Egbert is the first boy that I kissed.

They are the couple that gave me a ride to Hinesburg.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Style Patrol: All Your 'Based Arounds' Are Belong to Us

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 4:05 PM

DREAMSTIME.COM/ BRAD CALKINS
  • Dreamstime.com/ Brad Calkins
Many years ago, three Berkeley professors gave me an oral examination for a doctorate in comparative literature. When I mentioned that a certain text was "centered around" a theme, one of the profs — a well-known critical theory maven and quasi-performance artist — made a sour face. "It's centered on," she said. "I'm sorry, but people make that mistake so often. You can't center something around anything, because the center is in the center."

I've avoided the phrase "centered around" ever since — and, frankly, that may be the most useful instruction the professor ever gave me. I think of it every time I edit a story where the writer uses the equally baffling — and strangely popular — phrase "based around."

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Style Patrol: Should We Lay Down This Burden?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 4:00 PM

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Here's a sentence from a recent New York Times best-selling novel. (Character names have been redacted.)

I lay [Character X] on the beam and lash her into place.
And two more sentences from the same book:

I lay uselessly, unsure of what to do, when the [Y] decides for me.

… I lay in my pallet, staring at the pitted stone of my roof...

What's "wrong" with these sentences? Or is anything wrong at all?

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Style Patrol: Prepositions Are Creeping Up on Us

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 3:29 PM

DREAMSTIME.COM/ BRAD CALKINS
  • Dreamstime.com/ Brad Calkins

What's wrong with these sentences?

Maisie is obsessed with prom, so she volunteered to head up the decorations committee.

Every morning I rise up and brush my teeth.

When she makes an omelette, she adds in feta and fennel for an unusual flavor.

He despised the ruling regime, so he joined up with the resistance.

When Frank knelt down to look, he could see the floor was strewn with crack vials.

I'm guessing most readers don't see anything "wrong" here. When I edit stories for the paper, I see constructions like those bolded above all the time. And they're not incorrect — not in the sense that verb-with-preposition constructions such as "The desert lacks of water" and "We discussed about trade policy" are incorrect (for more examples of those errors, see here). All the verb forms above are familiar in colloquial English.

What they also are, in my view, is unnecessary. Cluttering. And more and more common in journalism and other writing.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Style Patrol: A Plethora of Plethoras

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 3:33 PM

Few readers may be aware of it, but in addition to writing movie reviews, I edit large sections of Seven Days. That means I spend a lot of time thinking (and lecturing, agonizing and grousing) about how writers use words, and how people in general use words these days.

Furthermore, I'm one of those weirdos who thinks arguing about style and usage is fun. (You better believe I ate up New Yorker copyeditor Mary Norris' "Confessions of a Comma Queen.") In that spirit, I present this monthly blog column devoted to style issues I've been noticing in our paper or elsewhere. (Am I using the vaguer word "issue" when I actually mean "problem"? Yes, like so many writers these days — but that's another issue.)

Feel free to comment, disagree and bring up style "issues" of your own — that's what this space is for.

Now to this week's topic: What exactly is a "plethora," and why do there seem to be so many of them in modern journalism?

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