Posted by: episystechpubs | May 23, 2019

Editor’s Corner: When You Have a Choice, Write Positively

Don’t worry. This is not a self-help article. I’m not going to remind you that your glass is half full or that everyone’s a winner (but it is, and they are, right?). I’m going to discuss how and why to avoid negative constructions in your writing. And I’m going to explain why you should.

A negatively constructed sentence is often harder to decipher than a positively constructed sentence. Negative constructions can also, believe it or not, can trigger subconscious resentment or resistance. People always respond better when they’re told what they can or should do as opposed to what they can or should not.

Look at these two sentences, for example:

  • Don’t make personal phone calls during work hours. (negative)
  • Make your personal phone calls during breaks or before and after work hours. (positive)

Rather than just giving an order, the second example actually provides more information by telling you when it is appropriate to make personal calls.

Here are some other examples. Notice the difference in tone. And also notice that the information is clearer and more instructive in some of the positive constructions.

  • Don’t use sexist language in your writing.
  • Use gender neutral language in your writing.
  • She does not talk much at parties.
  • She is typically quiet at parties.
  • You should not throw bottles and cans in the trash.
  • Please throw bottles and cans into the recycling bin.

Sometimes, people use negative constructions to purposely confuse you or trick you into answering incorrectly.

  • Is it not true that you forgot to take the trash out four days this week?

If you answer yes, are you saying that you did or did not forget? My husband still isn’t quite sure.

Lawyers do this kind of thing all the time:

Question: Is it not true that you were at the scene of the crime earlier in the day?

Answer: Yes, I was not there. I mean, no, I was not there. I mean, I was there at some time. I mean, I wasn’t there that day. I mean, aarrggghhh! I’m going down for this aren’t I? Tell my mother I love her.

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 | May 21, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Reticent and reluctant

I was talking to my dad the other day, and after some pleasantries he launched right into the kind of thing a dad might ask of his Editrix daughter. “Daughter,” he said, “I have a question for you about the words reticent and reluctant.” (Okay, he didn’t say “daughter”—it was probably “Kiddo.”)

His primary observation is that these two words are often used interchangeably, but that they shouldn’t be. He said reticent is more “quiet or reserved,” and that reluctant is more “hesitant.” I wondered if it was yet another set of words that were changing over time, like a lot of words in English. When I checked, I found he is not alone: his observation has been made by others. I found several articles on the internet discussing the differences, including Grammarphobia, World Wide Words, and The Grammarist.

First, the official definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • reticent: not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily.
  • reluctant: unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.

Now, about the words in general, from World Wide Words:

We are indeed witnessing an extension in sense that has been developing over the past four decades or so, originally in the US but now widely in the English-speaking world. While researching this answer a few days ago, I found an example of the related noun in the Guardian, a British newspaper: “Theatre critics habitually complain about artistic directors’ reticence to tackle untried repertoire.” A few US dictionaries have begun to notice it (recent American Heritage and Merriam-Webster, once regarded as dangerously permissive by purists, now note it as a subsidiary sense), though style guides suggest that it should be avoided and many language watchers are vociferous in disliking it.

Hmmm. So far, four points for Dad. His definitions match with the dictionary and the consensus of the “language watchers.” Now for the etymologies, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

  • reticent: from Latin reticentia "silence, a keeping silent," from present participle stem of reticere "keep silent"
  • reluctant: "unwilling," 1660s, from Latin reluctantem (nominative reluctans), present participle of reluctari "to struggle against, resist, make opposition," from re- "against" (see re-) + luctari "to struggle, wrestle"

I think that’s two more points for Pops. I’m with him and the “language watchers (who) are vociferous in disliking it.” The difference might be subtle to some, but looking at the definitions and etymologies, I think we should try to use the words as initially intended and defined.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | May 16, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Thank You

Donna is feeling a bit under the weather today, so you get a second helping of the Editrix this week!

Dear Editrix,

I don’t know if you do requests, but I have a question about saying “thank you.” A number of speeches I have heard and letters I have seen recently started out something like, “I want to thank…” or, “I would like to thank…”. Would it not be better to simply say “I thank…” or am I missing some meaning in the additional words?

Thank you, J.O.Y.

Dear J.O.Y.,

I take requests as often as your favorite DJ!

My first thought about this wasn’t about English, but about French. I remember learning our verb conjugations and being told that when we ask for anything, it is much more polite to use the conditional (or “conditionnel”) form and say “I would like,” instead of “I want.” But in the cases you mention, both “I would like…” and “I want…” seem to be used in a way to ease into the “thank you.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “we use would like or I would like to say politely what we want.”

To answer your question, though, just saying “thank you,” or “I thank the Academy” is more direct, and there is certainly nothing wrong with direct appreciation!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | May 14, 2019

Editor’s Corner: That’s All She Wrote

Dear Editrix,

I’m wondering about the phrase “That’s all she wrote.” It appears to be a simple thing, derived from the Dear John-type of letter. Any thoughts on this?

Keith

Dear Keith,

It appears there is no certainty about the origin of that phrase, but the common explanation is that it refers to Dear John letters written during the Second World War. More, from The Grammarist:

That’s all she wrote is a phrase used to express the sentiment that one’s plans have come to an abrupt halt, that something has ended and there is nothing else to be said or discussed about the matter. That’s all she wrote is an American phrase, and most attribute its origin to the Dear John letters sent during World War II. A joke made the rounds in which servicemen compare their Dear John letters, one being a pages-long good-bye letter, one consisting of a few sentences, and one simply saying, “Dear John.” The punchline being, “That’s all she wrote.[KC–War or no war, that’s a pretty lame joke.] Several Country and Western songs have been written containing the phrase that’s all she wrote.

An article in The Phrase Finder adds:

A more plausible source is a country music song titled “That’s All She Wrote,” recorded by Ernest Tubb and published in sheet music form in 1942:

I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two
She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you
That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more
She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.

Sorry I don’t have something more definitive for you!

Editrix

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | May 9, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Dead Pledges and Cramdowns

Oh boy, do I have some financial fun for everyone today! On this happy day of May, I would like to talk to you about the words mortgage and cramdown (or cram-down).

The other day as I was editing, I thought, “Where the heck did that ‘t’ in mortgage come from?” Apparently this wasn’t the first time I wondered, because I wrote about it a couple of years ago in Editor’s Corner. But I’m getting old, and I want to revisit it.

Most of us know what a mortgage is. It’s a deal between you and a bank where they loan you money to buy a property, and you spend what seems like a lifetime paying back that money (mortgage) plus interest. But what about that “t” in the spelling? What’s that?

The word mortgage is from the French mort gaige, which translates as “dead pledge.” As Wikipedia explains it:

The word mortgage is derived from a Law French term used in Britain in the Middle Ages meaning "death pledge" and refers to the pledge ending (dying) when either the obligation is fulfilled, or the property is taken through foreclosure.

Now you can take that trip to Paris and really wow them with your language skills! You’re welcome. J

And now for cramdown. This was a new term to me, introduced in another document I was editing. According to Investopedia, a cramdown is:

…the imposition of a bankruptcy reorganization plan by a court despite any objections by certain classes of creditors. A cramdown is often utilized as part of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing and involves the debtor changing the terms of a contract with a creditor with the help of the court. A cramdown reduces the amount owed to the creditor to reflect the fair market value of collateral that was used to secure the original debt. A cramdown provision (also known as "cram-down") is primarily used on certain secured debts, such as a car or furniture. Cramdowns are not permitted on mortgages for homes that serve as a primary residence.

Let’s stay away from cramdowns and concentrate on smackdowns instead!

Happy Thursday!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | May 7, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Ellipses Uproar

The other day, Joe Biden announced that he’s running for president in 2020. No comment from me about the politics, but I’m here to tell you about the uproar he caused in the world of grammar and punctuation. Here is his tweet:

So, what is it, exactly, that caused the punctuation police to go bonkers? Most of the conversation was about the overuse of the ellipses, though his attempted em dashes are a mess, too. First, a suggested rewrite of the tweet with more appropriate punctuation:

“The core values of this nation—our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America, America—are at stake. That’s why I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the US.”

But let’s talk about the ellipsis (also called the “suspension point”) and why it might irritate people with its overuse. Here is an excerpt from an article at Quartz Obsession (thank you, Joni!):

An ellipsis is defined as a mark indicating a pause, or “the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete,” according to Merriam-Webster. It can also imply a “sudden leap of one topic to another.”

Dashes can be employed to a similar effect. But, as Katy Waldman writes in Slate, “dashes—useful and lovely though they are—are not … ellipses. They excel at representing interruptions, trains of thought abruptly shorn off. Meanwhile, an ellipsis trails away gradually, delicately, all hesitance and apprehension.”

A symbol of hesitancy, apprehension, indecision, and more to come sounds tailor-made for the internet. As instant chat became more popular in the ’90s, designers began to use the ellipsis as a “typing awareness indicator.” While intended to reassure the person on the other side that a response was forthcoming…its unintended effect was an intense anxiety when a response was taking too long….

In actual text, ellipses have over time come to be misused to indicate…well, it’s unclear. “Hesitation, confusion, and apathy — they’re the most passive-aggressive of all the punctuation marks,” writes Paris Martineau for the Outline. It’s because ellipses can often be read to imply that something is missing or unspoken that their overuse drives readers crazy. “Leaving something unsaid at the end of a sentence is invariably full of potential danger,” linguist David Crystal tells Martineau.

The result of the discussion was that you don’t want to run for president and fill your statement with symbols of omission. Of course, we can also apply that to our own professional writing and make sure to use punctuation according to the standard rules and regulations. Punctuation marks have meaning. We shouldn’t throw them around like confetti. It makes people anxious.

If you’re interested in more facts about the ellipsis or you want to read the entire article, it is here.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
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Posted by: episystechpubs | May 2, 2019

Editor’s Corner: IM or Email

Although this isn’t technically a writing issue, it is a communication issue, and it is definitely a workplace issue. Several people have asked me to discuss the proper mode of written communication between work colleagues. The question actually is, when is it appropriate to use IM (or Skype®) and when is it appropriate to use email? The short answer is that IM is best used for short, quick conversations when you’re in a hurry. It can be disruptive, however, so when you are not pressed for time, email is usually the better option because it allows the recipient to answer at his or her convenience.

The long answer is provided in an article written by CBS News. It’s so long, that I took the liberty of abbreviating it for your convenience.

Instant messaging is best used when

  • It’s a simple question requiring a simple answer. You might use IM to ask, "What time is that conference call?"
  • Timeliness is the key factor in the communication. If you’re on a conference call and you want to give some information to the meeting leader without interrupting the speaker, send an IM.
  • You already have a working relationship and have developed some short-hand. Both parties know what’s going on and don’t need a lot of context.
  • Informality is appropriate. You probably shouldn’t IM the CEO.
  • It’s just the two of you. While you can IM with multiple participants, more than two people can get a little confusing.
  • You can truly multitask. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, IM is a great way to get informal information to people.
  • Both parties are working at the same time. The implication is that both parties are working, and it isn’t a big deal for the other person to respond immediately. If you’re not available and don’t want to be interrupted, set your status appropriately.

On the other hand, email can be the best option when

  • The answer actually requires thought or detail. One well thought out email can replace multiple panicky instant messages.
  • Documentation is important. Email gives you an easy-to-access history to verify your past correspondence.
  • You need to position the request, the information you’re sending, and who the heck you are. It’s only polite to introduce yourself and what you’re asking for before intruding on someone’s work day. Carefully laying out your request also makes it much easier for the other person to respond appropriately.

Enjoy your day!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

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

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
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Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.

Posted by: episystechpubs | April 30, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Greek Roots

Good morning!

This is part of a longer article about Greek words, from Daily Writing Tips. Last week, I talked about pandemics and epidemics, this week I have some more words with Greek roots. For the full article and list, see Daily Writing Tips.

1. acrobat
This circus performer who demonstrates feats of physical agility by climbing to the very top of the rope gets his name from the Greek words “high” and “walk,” with the sense of “rope dancer” and “tip-toe.”

2. bacterium
From a Greek word that means “stick” because under a microscope (another Greek word), some bacteria look like sticks.

3. cemetery
The Greek word koimeterion meant “sleeping place, dormitory.” Early Christian writers adopted the word for “burial ground,” and that’s why college students stay in the dormitory and not in the cemetery. [KC–And in modern Greece, the cemetery is called a

νεκροταφείο (pronounced nekro-ta-fee-o), and yes, you probably recognize the prefix “necro,” as in necromancy or necropolis.]

4. dinosaur
You may have heard this one before. Our word for these ancient reptiles is a modern (1841) combination of the Greek words for “terrible” and “lizard.

5. hippopotamus
The ancient Greeks called this large, moist African animal a hippopótamos, from the words for “horse” and “river.” In other words, river horse.

6. rhinoceros
Continuing our African theme, this large, dry African animal is named after the Greek words for “nose” and “horn.” Horns usually don’t grow on noses.

7. economy
The Greek word for “household administration” has been expanded to mean the management of money, goods, and services for an entire community or nation. But “economical” still refers to personal thrift.

8. planet
The ancient Greeks get blamed for everything wrong with astronomy before the Renaissance, but they were astute enough to notice that while most stars stood still, some wandered from year to year. The word planet comes from the Greek word for “wandering.”

9. grammatical
Speaking of grammar, the Ancient Greek word grammatike meant “skilled in writing.” Now it means “correct in writing.”

10.syntax
A combination of Ancient Greek words that mean “together” and “arrangement.” Syntax is how words are arranged together.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
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is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.

Posted by: episystechpubs | April 25, 2019

Editor’s Corner: A long E for Edith

My dear friend Edith, whose first language is German, always has a new question about English for me when I see her. During our last dinner, she asked me why the “eo” in people and the “oe” in subpoena were pronounced with a “long e” sound, but the “o” is there without a squeak.

I looked around for some helpful hints on spelling and pronunciation, and I found this: “When there are two vowels together in a word, and they are immediately next to each other, you usually pronounce only the first vowel, which is their long vowel sound.” Here are a few examples:

  • Boat: only the “o” is pronounced (with a “long o” sound)
  • Bait: only the “a” is pronounced (with a “long a” sound
  • Increase: only the “e” is pronounced (with a “long e” sound)

Unfortunately, there are a zillion exceptions to that rule. English is a combination of so many languages that we have the same sound for many combinations of letters. So, rather than get too far afield from the original “eo” and “oe” that sound like a “long e,” let’s look at something else I found.

I saw an article in Daily Writing Tips called The Six Spellings of “Long E.” While this didn’t address either of Edith’s examples, it did show six other combinations of letters that make the “long e” sound. Instead of pasting it all here, I have digested it, and now I am returning it to you (like a mamma bird) in a tabular format, with examples of my own. We will call this The Eight Spellings of “Long E.”

Letters Examples Sentence
e me, he, she He is a very angry little caterpillar.
ee heel, see, feel, tee, kneel, wheel When you see Jose, tell him he owes me a lunch.
ea heal, meal, read, lead, appeal, zeal, real It is with vim, vigor, and zeal that I approach the upcoming weekend in Aruba.
ei conceit, ceiling, receipt, receive I was staring up at the ceiling when the phone rang.
ie believe, brief, chief, retrieve, reprieve, priest, siege I went into the confessional, kneeled, and said, “Forgive me father for I have sinned.” The voice on the other side responded, “I’m not sure who you are, but I am not a priest.”
eo people, feoff My dog Bella prefers hanging around people more than she likes spending time with other dogs.
oe subpoena, phoenix, amoeba, onomatopoeia In high school, teachers always read Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Bells” to demonstrate onomatopoeia.
ey valley, key, alley, galley The stench coming from the alley was almost unbearable.

And lastly, this little bit on the word subpoena: some say the “b” is silent in American English but pronounced in British English. The “oe” is left over from the Latin. And from Merriam-Webster, we have this etymology:

If you think you recognize the sub- in subpoena as the prefix meaning "under, beneath, below," you’re on target. Subpoena arrived in Modern English (via the Middle English suppena) from the Latin sub poena, a combination of sub and poena, meaning "penalty." Other poena descendants in English include impunity ("freedom from penalty"), penal ("of or relating to punishment"), and even punish. There is also the verb subpoena, as in "Defense lawyers have subpoenaed several witnesses to the crime."

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
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Posted by: episystechpubs | April 23, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Different Demics

Hello everyone! I hope this finds you in good health. One of the disaster recovery specialists in our department sends us monthly preparedness information, and something he sent during flu season caught my eye. It was a tip of the week about endemics, epidemics, and pandemicsit doesnt get more exciting than that!

Today lets have a look at these words, where they are from, and the differences between them.

  • endemic (adj.): a disease with a constant presence in a region. From Greek en "in" + dmos "people

    Example: In North America, winter colds and flu are endemic; in large areas of Africa, malaria is endemic.

  • epidemic (adj.)

A sudden outbreak where the tally of new cases exceeds expectations for an infectious disease in a given region. From Greek epi "among, upon" + dmos "people, district.

Example: The article said that between 1988 to 1990, California experienced its worst measles epidemic in decades. The cause? People not getting the measles vaccine for their children.

  • pandemic (adj.)

A disease that exceeds expected case levels but may also spread over many countries or continents. From Greek pan- "all" + dmos "people"

Example: At first, the Black Plague seemed to be contained to a certain area of Asia, but by 1353 they estimate this pandemic killed up to 200 million people in Europe and Asia.

On that note, I hope you all have a very jolly day!

Spread of the Black Death (named for the lymph nodes that became

black and swollen after bacteria entered through the skin)

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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