Posted by: episystechpubs | January 23, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Parenthetical Expressions

Can I get a shout-out for parenthetical expressions?! Maybe not. Can I get a slight nod indicating partial interest? Thank you! You always come through for me.

I hope you realize that I am discussing “parenthetical” not “parental” expressions. This is not a missive on all the weird or confusing expressions you’ve heard from your parents, like “I’ll give you what for in a minute.” “You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face if you’re not careful.” “Don’t get smart with me!” and “We’re off, like a herd of turtles.”

No, I’m discussing information that is non-essential to the rest of your sentence. That’s much more exciting!

For those of you who’ve wondered, and for those of you who haven’t but still might be slightly intrigued, I’m going to clarify when to use commas, when to use parentheses, and when to use dashes for non-essential information (also referred to as parenthetical information or supplementary information) in your sentences.

For those of you saying, “What the heck is she even talking about?” I’ll start with an example of parenthetical information using commas:

  • Few people would know, or even be able to guess, what my middle name is.

In my example, the phrase “or even be able to guess” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. The phrase could be removed, and the sentence would still make sense. When you have a non-essential phrase like that, you need to set it off with commas, parentheses, or dashes. But the question you’re all dying to know the answer to is “How do I know which type of punctuation to use?”

With a little help from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), I’m going to tell you.

Commas are the most common of the three choices. However, commas usually only set off information that is flows grammatically with the rest of the sentence (like my example above); whereas, parentheses and dashes can set off information that has no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence. These examples from CMOS show what I mean:

  • Intelligence tests (e.g., the Stanford-Binet) are no longer widely used.
  • Our final sample (collected under difficult conditions) contained an impurity.
  • Wexford’s analysis (see chapter 3) is more to the point.
  • The chancellor—he had been awake half the night—came down in an angry mood.
  • My friends—that is, my former friends—ganged up on me.

The information is still non-essential, but the phrasing without the parentheses or dashes (which, by the way, are em dashes with no space before or after) would not be grammatically correct. The sentence would likely be hard to understand without the punctuation.

Now you’re probably asking, “But how, oh how do I know when to use parentheses and when to use dashes?” You ask all the right questions! So, here’s the scoop: they’re really kind of interchangeable, but em dashes are less common—we tend to use them more sparingly.

if you really want a differentiator, you can use parentheses to indicate supplemental context and you can use dashes to indicate a break in thought. You’ll see that my previous examples from CMOS follow that logic. Both parentheses and dashes are useful when you’re writing a complex sentence with several clauses, and introducing another comma would make the flow of the sentence hard to follow.

And there you have it: all you ever wanted to know, and more, about parenthetical expressions. I have nothing much more to say about parental expressions either. But I do have a few images.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | January 21, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Ergo

Dear Editrix,

Where did the word ergo come from and where has it gone?

Chip

Dear Chip,

The word ergo is Latin and it means “therefore.” Now that you mention it, I haven’t heard it for some time. I would say it popped up more during college classes than anywhere else, and, well, it has been a few years since I was in college.

Another place it might’ve “gone” is under an editor’s red pen. One of the rules we have here at Jack Henry is to use English rather than Latin, for common terms anyway. Latin abbreviations, such as i.e. (“in other words”) or e.g. (“for example”) sometimes confuse people, so we try to be more straightforward and use the English translation. Here are a few other common Latin terms and their translations, selected from the article 24 Latin Phrases You Use Every Day (And What They Mean):

Ad hoc: To this

In Latin, ad hoc literally means to this, which has been adapted by English speakers as a saying that denotes that something is created or done for a particular purpose, as necessary. Usually, one does something on an ad hoc basis (e.g., she answered questions on an ad hoc basis).

Alibi: Elsewhere

The word alibi is a Latin phrase that simply means elsewhere, which will make sense to all you crime drama addicts out there who are familiar with the term as used by police, investigators, and other law enforcement professionals. Nowadays, alibi commonly refers to evidence that someone did not commit a (usually) criminal act because he or she was elsewhere at the time the act was committed.

Bona fide: With good faith

Another common Latin phrase, bona fide literally means with good faith. The meaning has changed somewhat in English usage to mean something that is real or genuine (e.g., she was a bona fide expert in the social structures of humpback whales).

De Facto: In fact

De facto is a Latin phrase that, literally translated, means of fact. Nowadays, it is used to highlight something that is simply a fact or someone who holds a position, with or without the right to do so (e.g., she was the de facto leader of the book club).

Et cetera: And so on

Used at the end of a list to indicate that further items could be included, et cetera (or etc.) literally translates to and the rest.

Impromptu: Spontaneous

From the Latin phrase in promptu, meaning in readiness, impromptu is a common English adjective or adverb that describes something spontaneous (e.g., she threw an impromptu birthday party for her best friend).

Multi: Many

Multi is the plural form of the Latin adjective multus, meaning many. In English, it is used as a prefix to describe something that contains more than one of something else (e.g., multicolored, multifaceted, multicultural, etc.).

Quid pro quo: Something for something

A contrasting philosophy to pro bono is quid pro quo. It is an “eye-for-an-eye” type of saying that is used in English to signify a favor or advantage given in return for something of equal value. A popular saying with vindictive villains, quid pro quo literally means something for something.

Re: About

You probably use this Latin preposition every day without really understanding its meaning. Re simply means about, and in modern times, we see it used most often in responses to emails and in other correspondence to refer to an earlier topic of discussion. [KC – Hmm. I always thought this was an abbreviation for “regarding.” Fascinating!]

Status quo: Existing state of affairs

This straight-up Latin phrase literally translates to the state in which and is used in English to describe an existing state of affairs, usually related to political or social issues.

Verbatim: In exactly the same words

Derived from the Latin verbum, which simply means word, verbatim refers to repeating something word-for-word from the original.

Vice versa: The other way around

Vice versa is a Latin phrase that literally means in a turned position. In English, it is commonly used to indicate that two things are interchangeable.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | January 16, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Pipes and Barns

Dear Editrix,

Where do these two phrases come from?

  • Pipe dream
  • Barn burner

Ms. B

Hello, Ms. B. and thank you for the question! I was surprised at the answers. I think you will find them interesting!

From the Phrase Finder website, here is information on pipe dreams:

A “pipe dream" is an unrealistic hope or fantasy.

The phrase “pipe dream" is an allusion to the dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes.

Opiates were widely used by the English literati in the 18th and 19th centuries. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the best-known users, and it would be difficult to claim that the imagery in surreal works like Kubla Khan owed nothing to opium. [KC – “In Xanadu did
Kubla Khan/a stately pleasure-dome decree…”] Lewis Carroll, although not known to be an opium user himself, makes clear allusions to drug use in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has his hero Sherlock Holmes visit an opium den—although that was for research rather than consumption.

It’s strange then that “pipe dream” comes from none of these sources but has an American origin. The early references to the phrase all originate from in or around Chicago. The earliest I have found is from The Chicago Daily Tribune, December 1890:

"It [aerial navigation] has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years."

And from the Grammarist, we have this history of the phrase barn burner:

A barn burner is an event that is extremely exciting, or a person who is extremely exciting. Typically, barn burner is a term that is applied to intense sporting events. An American phrase, barn burner was first coined as one word, barnburner, to describe a certain type of politician in the mid-1800s. This early use of barnburner described someone who, when faced with a barn infested with rats, was willing to burn down the barn in order to get rid of the rats. American wildcat oilmen were the next to use the word barnburner, to describe a gusher oil well. Today, barn burner is almost always rendered as two words, hyphenated when used as an adjective, and is often augmented with the word real, as in a real barn burner.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | January 14, 2020

Editor’s Corner: And/Or

Hello, dear readers! I was just catching up on the monthly Q&A from the Chicago Manual of Style, and one of the questions touched on something I can get a bit peeved about: the use of and/or in writing. Here is the question and answer from CMOS:

Q. I am editing a brief in which the author has used “and/or” multiple times. I know that this term should be avoided, but I’m not exactly sure why. Is it because it’s confusing and ambiguous? What is The Chicago Manual of Style’s stance?

A. CMOS, in chapter 5, says to “avoid this Janus-faced term”. Janus-faced means duplicitous—in other words, appearing to say two contradictory things simultaneously. The problem is the slash, which is potentially ambiguous; for example, readers might choose to interpret “x and/or y” as meaning either x and y or just y—but not x alone. In fact, “x and/or y” is usually intended to mean “x or y, or both,” and where that is the case, section 5.250 recommends writing exactly that (take a sleeping pill or a warm drink, or both). In many cases, however, “or” alone would make the meaning perfectly clear. For example, “no cats or dogs allowed” means that no combination of cats or dogs—or cats and dogs—is allowed. In formal prose, including legal writing, such considerations of the precisely intended meaning are important. In casual prose, “and/or” can occasionally serve as a useful shorthand: bring your own beer and/or wine. No one will fail to understand the meaning of that.

Okay, so first: we are not generally writing casual material here for inviting people over for a booze-fest. If you want to be ambiguous and unclear about your party, be my guest. But when you are writing technical documentation or addressing clients, it is best to be as clear as possible. Don’t get lazy—a slash (/) may save you a few keystrokes, but it can also muddy the waters of your documentation.

If you write “Click the Koala icon and/or use the menu to navigate” I’m not sure if you want me to click the icon and then use the menu to navigate to something, or if you are offering me a choice—to navigate using the Koala icon or navigate using the menu. When a reader is looking at our instructions, we don’t want them to get confused or ask, “Huh?” while they’re reading. If you aren’t sure about the topic, find the answers first and then get more specific. Should it be and, or, or as they mention above, both? Be specific, stay away from slashes, and keep those koalas safe!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | January 9, 2020

Editor’s Corner: As, Because, and Since

Good morning to you! Today’s topic is a subtle but important one. While editing, I often find myself re-reading sentences due to a lack of clarity that stems from the misuse of the words as, because, and since.

While these words are often used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings and the following post from GrammarBook.com (one of my favorite online grammar resources) makes the distinctions clear. Read on, and enjoy the rest of your day!

American English is a rich, expressive language. At the same time, it includes words that sometimes appear to be alike but have slight distinctions. Without recognizing those subtleties, we might use one word when we mean another.

As, because, and since are three conjunctions that introduce subordinate clauses (those that cannot stand alone in sentences) connecting a result and a reason. A closer understanding of these words helps us write with greater clarity and emphasis in achieving this.

We use because when we want to focus more on the reason. We use as and since when we wish to center on the result.

Most commonly, the because clause emphasizing the reason ends the sentence; the as or since clause stressing the result starts the sentence.

Examples

Result: She got the promotion over four other candidates.
Reason: She knew the system best.

Sentence emphasizing the reason with because clause: She got the promotion over four other candidates because she knew the system best.

Sentence emphasizing the result with as clause: As she knew the system best, she got the promotion over four other candidates.

Sentence emphasizing the result with since clause: Since she knew the system best, she got the promotion over four other candidates.

The placement of the because, as, or since clause can be changed in the sentences above. Some writers might contend that only the shifted because clause maintains effective fluency while the repositioned as and since clauses sound more stilted. Moving the clauses will also change the emphasis by switching the order of the result and the reason.

Because she knew the system best, she got the promotion over four other candidates.

She got the promotion over four other candidates, as she knew the system best.

She got the promotion over four other candidates, since she knew the system best.

Because is more common than as or since in both writing and speaking, suggesting we typically emphasize reasons more than results. As and since also are considered more formal in usage.

Looking at the details of these conjunctions polishes another tool in our quest to be writers of precision and eloquence.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | January 7, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Use vs. Utilize

Hello, everyone!

I hope you all had a nice set of holidays and that you are ready to tackle 2020! Today I have a topic that several of you have written to me about: the words use and utilize.

Some of you have written saying that you hate it when people overuse the word utilize. Others have written me asking why people (like editors) often change the word utilize to use. Let’s have a look at these two words, from portions of an article on the Elite Editing website.

When should you use “use,” and when should you pull out that big vocabulary and use “utilize”?

Aside from sounding pretentious when using the latter, at first glance these words seem almost identical. The definition of use is “to put into action, employ, utilize.” Likewise, the definition of utilize is “to make use of, employ.” But utilize also carries with it an assumed strategy of employment.

What does that mean?

Utilize can be used when indicating that the application is beyond its original intended use. For instance, “I use my frying pan to cook with, but I have utilized it as a weapon.” The intended use of a frying pan is for cooking, so the proper word here is use. When employing a creative or unintended application, like using a frying pan as a weapon, utilize is the right word.

Here are some more examples of the two words head-to-head, in sentences that use them correctly:

  • I used bricks to build a new fireplace.
  • I utilized bricks to fight off swarms of termites trying to eat my house.
  • Jerry likes to use five-gallon buckets of white paint to mix in his own subtle colors.
  • Jerry likes to utilize five-gallon buckets of white paint as steps from his unfinished front deck to his driveway.
  • Shayna uses her laptop to work on spreadsheets.
  • Shayna utilizes her laptop as a doorstop.

I hope that helps. When you think about most of the time people say or write utilize, they are really talking about using something in its intended manner; save utilize for those rare occasions of “creative or unintended applications.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | January 2, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Rules for English Plurals

Now that we’re all settled in to 2020, we can sit back, take a little break from the revelry, and have a quiet chat about the rules of pluralization. Yep. We’re starting the year off with a slow grammar roll.

When you want to pluralize a word, the basic rule is to add an s. Sometimes, however, you have to add es, as my friend Jan. W. pointed out, which prompted me to look into the rules a little more closely. My research led me to a short list of rules for pluralizing many English words. I thought it would be a helpful reminder for you. I am not including the exceptions like child/children, person/people, etc. I’m afraid you’re on your own memorizing those.

So, which words are pluralized with es instead of s? The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) explains that we add es to words that end in ch, j, s, sh, x, or z. Who knew? Here are some examples:

  • torch/torches
  • raj/rajes (not many English words end in j)
  • lass/lasses
  • crash/crashes
  • tax/taxes
  • fizz/fizzes

Pluralizing names works the same way—you add s for most names, but you add es for names that end in ch, j, s, sh, x, or z:

  • Burcher/Burchers
  • Church/Churches
  • Jones/Joneses
  • Walsh/Walshes
  • Martinez/Martinezes (that’s a mouthful)

CMOS also provides this rule for pluralizing a compound word (with or without a hyphen)—you usually add s to the first word:

  • fathers-in-law
  • masters of arts
  • attorneys general

And finally, CMOS provided this list of words and phrases that sometimes create problems. Note that we do not use apostrophes for these plurals—that’s a common mistake that people make:

  • ifs ands or buts
  • dos and don’ts (there’s an apostrophe for the contraction don’t, but not for the plural of do)
  • threes and fours
  • maybes
  • yeses and nos (again, no apostrophe for nos)

CMOS didn’t mention the phrase to-dos, but Kearn L. and I would like to add it to the list above. Merriam-Webster spells it with a hyphen.

Happy New Year everyone!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | December 31, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Have a Hunky-Dory New Year!

Good morning, everyone. Happy (almost) New Year!

Usually we have a little breathing room at the end of the year, so I was hoping to have time to write about different “words of the year” and to do a little review of 2019. But this year our editing cups runneth over and I haven’t had time. Today’s Editor’s Corner is dedicated to the last article I had a chance to look into and write. I guess I will get to “words of the year” in 2020.

Happy New Year!

******************************

Dear Editrix,

What does it mean when someone replies, “everything is honky dory”?

Sincerely,

Ms. B

Dear Ms. B,

Where do I start? Okay, according to Merriam-Webster, the actual spelling is “hunky-dory.” It is an adjective that means “quite satisfactory” or “fine.” When someone tells you that everything is “hunky-dory,” it means everything is good.” Now, let’s look a little closer at this term.

I think, from your original spelling, you might’ve thought it meant something completely different. “Honky” is a derogatory term for white people, so I imagine that this could have been a bit startling if you thought that was part of the response someone was giving you. And a “dory” is a small, flat-bottomed boat. But really, the term hunky-dory has nothing in particular to do with insulting white people or small boats. No wonder idiomatic phrases are so difficult to understand!

Here is the etymology for the term hunky-dory, from the Online Etymology Dictionary. I apologize in advance to sailors, including my uncle:

1866, American English (popularized c. 1870 by a Christy Minstrel song), perhaps an elaboration of hunkey "all right, satisfactory" (1861), from hunk "in a safe position" (1847) New York City slang used in street games, from Dutch honk "post, station, home," in children’s play, "base, goal," from Middle Dutch honc "place of refuge, hiding place." A theory from 1876, however, traces it to Honcho dori, said to be a street in Yokohama, Japan, where sailors went for diversions of the sort sailors enjoy. [KC – Maybe they mean singing sea chanties?]

And finally, Hunky Dory is the name of a studio album by David Bowie.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | December 26, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day!

December 26 is not a significant day in the United States, but it is in the United Kingdom. Over there, and in the Commonwealth nations, they are celebrating Boxing Day today.

But what is Boxing Day all about? Well, I can tell you that traditionally, it had nothing to do with boxing matches or any other kind of fighting. It actually goes back to the Middle Ages, and it historically involves giving gifts to employees and people in need.

No one is sure how the day got its name, but it could be from the “Christmas box,” which was a clay box or container that was often placed in artisan shops in England. People put donations for the shop workers inside the box, and the day after Christmas, the box was broken, and the workers shared the contents.

Or, the term could come from the tradition churches had of collecting money in a designated box and distributing the money to people in need.

I have also heard that wealthy families and aristocrats who had house staff typically gave the staff at least part of the day after Christmas off, and they boxed up leftovers from the Christmas meal for them to take home to their families.

These days, Boxing Day is often associated with sporting events, especially soccer. In some African Commonwealth nations, prize-fighting contests are now held on Boxing Day. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that the day has also come to be associated with sales, similar to Black Friday.

At my house, we celebrate Boxing Day by opening the package my in-laws send to us from England. It usually includes PG Tips tea bags, huge creamy Cadbury chocolate bars, and other assorted favorite candies. Just a little taste of heaven.

I hope your Boxing Day is peaceful and delicious.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | December 24, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Happy Christmas and Merry Holidays!

In years past, I’ve done the 12 Day of Grammar and the 12 Days of English, but I’m not going to go there this year. Today, I’m going to take a moment to sip some sugar-free spiced cider, I’m going to inhale the scent of pine needles, and I’m going to admire the amazing Wonder Woman figurine that somebody left on my desk. (Best Christmas present ever! Thank you, Eric!)

Oh yes, I’m also going to shamelessly guide you to an article about words and the upcoming holiday, written by Meghan Jones—not by me or my sweet little elves. We’re taking a break!

Enjoy!

Why Do We Say “Merry Christmas” but “Happy” Everything Else? by Meghan Jones

The word "merry" isn’t one we use very often during the months of January through November. But as soon as Thanksgiving passes, you’re bound to start hearing and seeing it everywhere—on billboards, on decorations, in songs, and, of course, straight from the mouths of well-wishers. And after it, you’re almost certain to hear the word "Christmas." (Or the words "little Christmas," in the event of a certain holiday standard.) But if you wished someone a "Merry Birthday," or a "Merry Halloween," you’d probably get some weird looks! Likewise, if you wished someone a "Happy Christmas" (unless you live in England, where many people do say "Happy Christmas"). Why is Christmas the only holiday we hope will be "merry"?

Today, we use " merry" for Christmas the way we use "happy" for any other holiday, but the words themselves technically don’t have the exact same meaning. While "happy" suggests a more general emotional state of joy, "merry" can imply that there’s a bit of raucous revelry afoot. And before the 18th century, you could hear both "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Christmas." The most likely reason for this is the fact that, well, "merry" was just a far more popular word back then than it is today. The first written record of someone using "Merry Christmas" comes from a 1534 letter from a bishop to royal minister Thomas Cromwell.

But then, in the 18th century, "merry" started to tip the scales, largely thanks to one man: Charles Dickens. "Merry Christmas" was the phrase of choice in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a work that would have a major influence on the modern English-speaking world’s perception of Christmas. It was gaining popularity in carols as well. In addition, the language was changing and "merry" was falling out of fashion as a word on its own. It stuck around, though, in phrases like "the more the merrier" and—you guessed it—the now increasingly popular "Merry Christmas."

But, because of the potentially rabble-rousing connotations of "Merry Christmas," high-class Brits—including the royal family themselves—chose "Happy Christmas" as their default greeting. That’s why you’ll still hear it today in the U.K. This likely also helped cement the popularity of "Merry Christmas" in America—newly independent Americans were determined to specifically not do and say things the British way.

Now, of course, because of the popularity of "Merry Christmas"—and how little we say "merry" in other situations—"merry" now calls to mind a celebration that’s cozy, festive, and filled with gift-giving rather than one that’s overly revelrous and rowdy. And this is the most likely reason it would just sound…odd to use the word for any other holiday.

Happy Holidays!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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