Posted by: episystechpubs | November 8, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Acronym Refresher

Over the years, I think Donna, Jackie, Ben, and I have each written about acronyms and initialisms, yet they still seem to be a thorn in the side of many people. One of the largest complaints is that they are overused. Amen to that, brothers and sisters!

Another complaint is that when they are used, people do not explain what they stand for. My primary message today is that if you use acronyms and initialisms, you need to explain what they stand for the first time you use them.

But first, let’s have a little refresher. An abbreviation is the shortened form of a word, like “vs.” instead of “versus,” or “avg.” instead of “average.” Therefore, acronyms and initialisms are often considered abbreviations. Acronyms are abbreviations that are pronounced like words (EASE, HELOC, MICR). Initialisms are abbreviations that are pronounced by saying each letter (AIX, OS, PTO).

When you use an acronym or initialism that is not commonly known, the JHA rule is to spell it out the first time and put the abbreviation in parentheses. (If you aren’t sure how common it is, err on the side of caution and spell it out.) After you spell it out with the abbreviation once, you can use the abbreviation alone. For example:

  • We could all save money and improve the way we do things if we practiced continuous process improvement (CPI). CPI has cut costs in several departments and prevented waste in others.
  • Use the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) method to manage the new user experience (UX) project with single sign-on (SSO). We think people will really look forward to SSO because it is such a time saver.

While that might seem like a lot of “’splainin’ to do, Lucy,” imagine this: your email is being read by someone in another department, or possibly a new employee. It only takes a second to spell things out the first time so that your audience isn’t reading or hearing the acronyms like this the first time:

  • Use the PDCA method to manage the new UX project with SSO.

If you need some assistance, we have these Symitar resources:

If you would like to read more about acronyms and initialisms, you can revisit these Editor’s Corner posts:

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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Posted by: episystechpubs | November 8, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Tiger Team

Dear Editrix,

There’s a tiger team for Episys PowerFrame. There’s a tiger team for SEDB/SSDB. Every time I turn around, there’s a tiger popping up here at Symitar. Where did this term “tiger team” come from?

Signed,

On Safari

Dear Mr. Safari,

A couple of weeks ago, one of our fearless leaders asked me about the origin of the word copacetic. I found several answers, but professional etymologists did not give any of them the thumbs up. Today, you ask me about tiger teams, and I feel a little sad that, again, I cannot provide a definitive answer. But many resources claim they know the origin of this term, so we’ll look at those.

First, though, let me provide a definition of tiger team: a tiger team is a group of specialists that join together to solve a specific problem.

Second, I will tell you that I found several different branches of the U.S. military claiming it was theirs, including the Navy and the Marines. I guess that makes sense, since tigers are fierce. (Okay, that didn’t come out right.)

I found many more sites that pin it to NASA and the Apollo 13 team (1970). From a site called Trextel, here is the information I found, also repeated on other websites:

While the term originated at NASA, and the most famous instance is undoubtedly the Apollo 13 Tiger Team (they did, after all, receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom), the term is now generally applied to a high-functioning team of specialists who come together to complete a specific project.

Wikipedia mentions a paper written in 1964, as an earlier use of the term. It says:

A paper entitled Program Management in Design and Development used the term tiger teams and defined it as "a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem."

My favorite information, however, is a different comment from the same Wikipedia article:

Jane Goodall, [KC – English primatologist and anthropologist] among others, has noted that tigers are not cooperative animals and has suggested referring to chimpanzee teams because of the intense cooperation that occurs in chimpanzee social groups.

So, there you have it! I hope that satisfies some of your curiosity.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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Posted by: episystechpubs | October 31, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Revising Noun Strings

Good morning, writers and readers. It’s another fine day—a good day to think about noun strings (a definition is upcoming).

We all know that technical and business writing needs to be concise. Let’s face it, people aren’t reading this kind of material for pleasure (not sane people, anyway); they’re reading to get specific information or because they need to complete a task. Because the writing needs to be concise, writers sometimes make the mistake of trying to fit too much information into too few words. They often use long noun strings that are hard for readers to unpack; a noun string is a group of nouns jammed together, like this:

  • We will focus on front-office employee efficiency enhancement procedures development.

Now that’s a doozy! I count six nouns in a row (one of them hyphenated). If you tend to use noun strings in your writing, you’re not alone. Technical writing is rife with them. However, our goal is to ensure that our writing is easy to understand. And long noun strings hinder comprehension. That means you should break up long noun strings to two nouns in a row—three at most. And you can do that by reversing the word order.

Exactly how do you do that? When you need to revise a long noun string, a fairly easy way to do it is to start at the end of the noun string and work your way back. In our example (repeated below), the last noun is development:

  • We will focus on front-office employee efficiency enhancement procedures development.

So, we’ll move development up, but we need to change the form of the word development to a gerund (an “ing” word)—stick with me, I think this will start to make sense in a minute:

  • We will focus on developing…

There are usually multiple ways to revise. For instance, you could also say “We will focus on the development of…” I chose developing because it’s shorter. The goals are to break up the noun string and to be clear and concise.

Now we just continue moving backward—and the sentence kind of falls into place:

  • We will focus on developing procedures…

The next noun enhancement becomes a verb: to enhance:

  • We will focus on developing procedures to enhance…

Continuing backward, we add the word efficiency:

  • We will focus on developing procedures to enhance the efficiency…

And the final phrase front-office employees can stay as it is because front-office is working as an adjective that clarifies which employees we’re discussing. We end up with this:

  • We will focus on developing procedures to enhance the efficiency of front-office employees.

We could say “…to enhance the efficiency of employees in the front office” but again, I opted for the shorter revision.

If this seems a little confusing, don’t worry so much about the “form of the word” (noun, verb, gerund). Think more about starting at the end of the noun string and working your way back—that’s the trick. Let’s try another example:

  • I had to complete a workplace conflict management course.

Start at the end of the noun string:

  • I had to complete a course…

Now what makes sense when breaking up those last three nouns? You have a few options: you could leave conflict management together since it’s a common phrase, or you could break it up:

  • I had to complete a course on conflict management…
  • I had to complete a course for managing conflict…

And now just finish it off:

  • I had to complete a course on conflict management in the workplace.
  • I had to complete a course for managing conflict in the workplace.

This process takes a little practice, but after a few revisions, I think you’ll find that the writing gets easier. And I can tell you for sure that the reading will be easier for your audience.

If you’re interested, here are a couple more sentences you can practice on:

  • You must sign the information disclosure authorization form.
  • I found a useful online mortgage payment calculation tool.

Scroll down to see possible revisions.

  • You must sign the form to authorize the disclosure of information.
  • I found a useful online tool for calculating mortgage payments.

Thanks for sticking with me today. This was a long one. You get extra points for reading to the end. 😊

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 | October 29, 2019

Editor’s Corner: You

A few weeks ago, I announced Merriam-Webster’s addition of they/them/their as singular, non-binary pronouns. In response, my manager sent me an interesting article on the word “you.” It explains how we went from “thou” (second person singular) and you (second person plural), to just “you” to mean one person or many people. But the story doesn’t end there, and that is what this article is about. I had to cut pieces out because it was a little long, but if you want to read the whole thing, it is here: The Surprising Origins of the Phrase ‘You Guys’byAllan Metcalf.

… In addition to indicating an audience of two or more, the second-person plural (“you”) was trying to do double duty. It was becoming a sign of respect when addressed to one person. By implication, then, “thou” was stigmatized. If someone addressed you as “thou,” it became natural to assume that the speaker had less respect for you.

So over the course of around a thousand years, with plural “you” encroaching on the singular territory of “thou,” the latter finally gave up the struggle and yielded the singular second person to “you,” which was already the plural. Speakers and writers no longer could tell whether an instance of the second person was singular or plural.

For the next two centuries, people had to make do with this ambiguity, as they looked for a good way to signify a plural “you.”

They tried, for example, putting a plural “s” on “you,” making it “yous” or “youse,” both odd looking. Others tried adding a word after “you” to indicate plural: “you people,” “you folks” and “you ones,” or more colloquially “you-uns,” abbreviated “yinz.” Some added a word specifying the audience, like “you ladies.” None of these options had much widespread success, except for the special case of “you all,” also “y’all.”

Meanwhile, while no candidate was attractive enough to step into the shoes of “thou,” a word was born that would twist and turn on its way to success. It came from the terrifying near-success and utter defeat of the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to explode 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords in London on Nov. 5, 1605, when Lords and Commons and bishops and other nobility and royalty gathered in that one room for the annual opening of Parliament. The arch-villain who nearly succeeded in blowing to bits hundreds of leading officials of King James’ Protestant government…was an English Catholic gentleman and soldier named Guy Fawkes. He was in the basement under the House of Lords, ready to light the fuses, when a search party caught him just in time.

Soon his name was on everyone’s lips, as he was interrogated, tortured, tried, convicted and executed before the end of January 1606….

That led to the pivotal moment in the history of “guy”: Parliament approved a “Fifth of November Act,” that is, “An act for publick thanksgiving to Almighty God every year on the fifth day of November.” The new holiday would feature special religious services during the day and bonfires at night, lighting fires to mock the man who hadn’t succeeded.

In the fires they burned effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes and other archenemies of the moment. They referred to the effigies of Fawkes as “guys.” And then some people began to use “guys” to refer to actual people: men of the lowest and most depraved kind. This was early in the 18th century, more than 200 years ago.

Scarcely anybody noticed, but speakers and writers then began to view “guys” (not Guy) more positively. “Guys” began to shift meaning, to become a term for working-class men, then every human male, from baby boys to ancient men. Speakers and writers found it useful to have a generic term that didn’t require differentiating among categories of males.

Then by the middle of the 20th century, women began using the word too. They increasingly used “you guys” when addressing others in the plural, regardless of gender. More and more speakers unconsciously voted for “guys,” till that was that: it was the people’s choice.

In recent years, some concerned citizens have pushed back against the idea that it’s an egalitarian term, embracing us all—and it is of course possible that language could once again change. But regardless of our reasons, until an alternative gets enough votes to replace it, “guys” will retain the top spot in the second person plural domain of the English language.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 24, 2019

Editor’s Corner: What’s in a name?

Hello, my friends! I am up visiting my dad and working from my parents’ home office. I brought a lecture series up from San Diego—DVDs and a book on ancient Rome and the emperors, because I like a little light entertainment. My dad and I had a blast going through the first two lectures and I learned something I thought was very interesting. Without delving into the entire history of the Roman Empire, I thought I would just share a little bit with you.

Basically, after the death of Julius Caesar, and then the battle of Actium, Octavius took charge–but did not want to appear to be taking over, because he didn’t want to end up killed like his predecessor. Part of his cleverness was to give those around him supposed power and the illusion of choice—yet in the end, they all came back to him for approval.

Another amazing move he made was in choosing his new name and titles: Augustus, Princeps Primitatis, Imperator, and Pater Patriae. Here’s where it gets interesting word-wise.

Title Definition Details
Augustus Exalted, venerable, respected derived from Latin augere "to increase" Often associated with religion and holiness.
Princeps Primitatis First citizen

c. 1200, "ruler of a principality" (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French prince "prince, noble lord" (12c.), from Latin princeps (genitive principis) "first man, chief leader; ruler, sovereign," noun use of adjective meaning "that takes first," from primus "first"

Prince and principate are derived from this term.

People could interpret that this meant that he was just one of the citizens or “first among equals.”

There was enough ambiguity and people wanted to feel free and unencumbered by a king or dictator, so most looked at it as him calling himself “one of the guys.”

Imperator "absolute ruler," 1580s, from Latin imperator "commander-in-chief, leader, master," agent noun from stem of imperare "to command"

Emperor and empire are derived from this term.

When Octavius (now Augustus) was choosing terms, he had just won the battle of Actium and started bringing peace to the formerly warring factions of Rome. He chose this term as part of his win; he was inarguably the military leader, and commander-in-chief seemed only reasonable.
Pater Patriae “Father of the country.” Again, this could be looked at two different ways. In Ancient Rome, in the best-case scenario, fathers were known to love, protect, and take care of their children, and because of this they deserved respect and dignity.

In the worst-case scenario, fathers were ultimately in charge of the family and had the right to kill their children if they wanted to.

With his careful use of language and his choice of words, Augustus’ titles alone made people associate him with piety, citizenship, fearless military leadership, and fatherhood. It spread his “goodness” out over a lot of different areas that Romans cared about, and at the same time, allowed him to be one man in control of an empire. Many of his followers lacked his skills and talents, but that will be covered in the next few lectures we’ll watch. I hope this was as interesting to you as it was to me!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 22, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Copacetic

Dear Editrix,

This morning, I heard a ‘90s rock song with the following lyric: “And you just don’t get it / You keep it copacetic.”

I had only a vague idea of what “copacetic” meant, so when I got into work, I consulted Merriam-Webster. It gave the definition “very satisfactory; fine and dandy” and then, intriguingly, “origin unknown.”

Can you shed any light on the history of this word?

Rockin’ and wondering.

Dear Rockin’,

My first thought was that I’d heard this in a lot of movies, and I love mafia movies, so I was thinking maybe that where it was from. Then I realized I didn’t really have a clue, so I started digging a little deeper.

First, I started with my buddy at the Online Etymology Dictionary. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far. This is what he had to say:

copacetic (adj.)

"fine, excellent, going well," 1919, but it may have origins in 19c. U.S. Southern black speech. Origin unknown; suspects include Latin, Yiddish (Hebrew kol b’seder), Italian, Louisiana French (coupe-sétique), and Native American. Among linguists, none is considered especially convincing.

On the Stack Exchange, someone provided more information, but the question still wasn’t answered:

I once heard the late John Ciardi try to explain that the 1920s idiom, "copacetic" (meaning completely satisfactory), entered into the African-American vocabulary in Harlem from the days when Jews and African Americans lived there together. He argued that copacetic has the same meaning as the Israeli idiom "kol b’seder" which literally means "all is in order." The problem with that, said my Harlem-raised father-in-law, is that the Jews in Harlem spoke Yiddish and kol b’seder was not used in Yiddish. The dictionary I’ve got is not helpful. Can someone come up with a better explanation?

The answer was no.

A general Google search says this:

Copacetic is an unusual English language word in that it is one of the few words of unknown origin that is not considered slang in contemporary usage. Its use is found almost exclusively in North America. Its most likely origin comes from African American slang in the late 19th century.

I went a little further to see what Wiktionary said. It covers a lot of the different theories, including these (I have not made changes to the text, so it contains some errors):

  • Nard Jones in Seattle (1972) mentions copacete as Chinook Jargon. He was from Seattle and rather old by then, and seems to have had more than a smattering of Chinook Jargon. He discusses at some length people roughly a generation older than him who were fluent. I myself moved to Seattle in 1977 and I would say that "copacetic" was and remains pretty current here. Pretty sure I’d rarely, if ever, heard it before coming here…. So, whatever its origins, it may be mostly a regionalism.
  • The writer of The Disco Blog uses it annoyingly frequently and she appears to be American software developer.
  • It is mentioned in the song Dirty Frank by Pearl Jam, from their first album Ten. The song tells the story, in a humorous way, of a bus driver that is a cannibal. It is mentioned in this verse: Keeps it clean, keeps it copaseptic // The little boys and girls, their heads are all collected. The way it is used here implies a meaning similar to copiously clean, aseptic or antiseptic.
  • It is used in the Grateful Dead song "West LA Fadeaway" ca. 1982, in a phrase discussing the narrator’s job fencing stolen goods for the mob: "the pay was pathetic/it’s a shame those boys couldn’t be more copacetic."
  • The blues/jazz/swing musician, Cab Calloway, included it (spelled ”kopasetic”) in the 1944 edition of his HIPSTER’S DICTIONARY (subtitled LANGUAGE OF JIVE). He defines it as “absolutely okay, the tops.” I heard it often while growing up white middle-class suburban in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s.

So, the bottom line is that I didn’t find anything more definitive than the dictionary’s “unknown.” Interesting how many stories have come up to define it, however. I hope that makes this worth your while!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 17, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Fisticuffs

Happy Thursday morning to you!

I recently threatened my coworker, Ron, with fisticuffs if he didn’t accept my changes on a project we were working on. Ron responds well to two things: dessert and the threat of violence. I didn’t have anything sweet on me; so, you can see, I had no choice.

HR will be happy to know that Ron didn’t accept my challenge, but he challenged me in return to find out where the word fisticuffs originated. I first remember the word from the musical movie Oliver! (1968), which my husband and sons and I like to watch together every holiday season. In one of the songs, the Artful Dodger and Nancy sing these lyrics from a song called “I’ll Do Anything”:

I’ll do anything for you dear, anything, for you mean everything to me.

I know that I’ll go anywhere for your smile, anywhere, for your smile, everywhere, I’d see.
Would you climb a hill?
Anything!
Wear a daffodil?
Anything!
Leave me all your will?
Anything!
Even fight my Bill?
What? Fisticuffs?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, fisticuffs originated sometime around 1600. It’s a compound of two nouns: fist (a hand with fingers doubled into the palm) and cuff (to strike with an open hand). It’s often pronounced fisty-cuffs, and the Merriam-Webster definition is “a fight with the fists (boxing).” I love the sound of this word. No matter what it originally meant, a fisticuff doesn’t sound like a serious fight. It sounds like a fight Sheldon Cooper would have with Barney Fife.

If you remember the movie Oliver! and you’d like to relive the song and the amazing choreography of “I’ll Do Anything,” click this link. It’s brilliant. And don’t worry about me and Ron. We’ll make up. I’ll bring cookies.

Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger

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 | October 15, 2019

Editor’s Corner: English as a Second Language

Good morning, mes amis, mis amigos, and οι φίλοι μου!
One of the tasks assigned to us editors is mentoring those at Symitar who are in need of some additional help with writing English. Generally, we meet with coworkers who speak English as a first language, but who just need to brush up on a few things. Occasionally, though, we have people who speak English as a second language. Teaching English is really an entirely different task than learning some rules here and there, as many of you bilingual learners know. My goodness, I’ve studied two foreign languages, picked up pieces of a third by spending time in Greece, and you would be shocked at some of the things I’ve said or asked shopkeepers for!
This Editor’s Corner today is for those of you who want a little more help than we can give you with learning English. And it is for those of you, like me, who left high school with several years of whatever language you studied, and yet you would still starve to death in the countries that speak that language. The following information is from an article in Daily Writing Tips, called “The Best Mobile Apps to Learn English.” You can also use them for other languages. I have chopped it down quite a bit to give you the basics, but for more information such as the pros and cons of each, you can click here. The following list is alphabetical, not in rated order. Oh, and all are available on Android™ and iOS, except the one that I marked.

#1: Babbel

Babbel offers bite-sized language lessons, which are connected to one another and work progressively to build up your knowledge. The lessons are engaging and aimed at beginner to intermediate students. [KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Varies, but if you want to pay monthly, it’s $12.95/month.

#2: Beelinguapp

This app is designed to help you to read texts (and to some degree to help you with listening to spoken word). It takes an innovative approach, compared with most other language-learning apps: it shows books and other texts in your native language plus the language you are studying, side by side, and reads out the language you are studying, too. [KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Free, but you’ll need to pay for access to many of the longer texts. (You can pay about $1 per text, or $1.99 for monthly membership, or $24.99 to remove all ads and unlock all current and future texts.)

#3: BBC Learning English

The BBC Learning English app simply brings together lots of different lessons into one place. It includes transcripts and quizzes, and you can watch the videos with subtitles. The lessons appear on the app before they arrive on the website, and there’s new content every weekday. [KC – English only.]

Cost:

Free, with no ads.

#4: Duolingo

You’ve almost certainly heard of Duolingo, which can help you learn a large number of languages, including English. It’s designed to be fun (and addictive!) with bite-sized lessons and a system where you earn points for correct answers and “level up” once you’re doing well enough. You can earn virtual coins, unlock new levels, and see your “fluency score” rise. [KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Free, but if you want to remove ads and download courses to use offline, you’ll need to pay for Duolingo plus, which is $6.99/month.

#5: FluentU

FluentU takes a different approach to language learning, using videos sourced for YouTube with captions so you can immerse yourself in hearing and understanding the language. [KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Free trial, then $30/month (which includes all languages).

#6: Hello English

This beginner-friendly app has instructions in your native language (with 22 different languages to choose from here). It’s easy to get started with, and you can select your level of English from “beginner”, “intermediate”, or “advanced”. [KC – English only, but as it says, you have instructions available in 22 different languages.]

Cost:

Free; the pro version is $59.99/year. You can also make in-app purchases for a wide range of advanced features (e.g., access to live tutors.)

#7: Lingbe

Lingbe takes a very different approach to most other language learning apps. Instead of watching videos or matching photos to words, the app connects you with a real native speaker of the language you want to practice. [KC – I think it is for multiple languages, but it is not easy to tell from the website.

Cost:

Free, so long as you’re happy to act as a teacher of your own language too! You can purchase coins to buy minutes to talk with native English speakers.

#8: Memrise

Memrise is another app with a bit of a difference: it’s a learning platform which has thousands upon thousands of different courses related to language and vocabulary. Most of the courses are created
by users, rather than being provided by Memrise itself.
[KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Free (and doesn’t even have ads) at the basic level. You can pay for a Pro version if you want more features, though, which is $9/month.

#9: MindSnacks:

While it’s aimed at US college students rather than people learning English as a second language, mindSnacks is a great app to try out if you’re already reasonably good at English and you want to improve your vocabulary. Like Duolingo, it takes a gaming approach. The SAT Vocab and Kids’ Vocab apps are both fun ones to try. [KC – Offers multiple languages. Offered for iOS only.]

Cost:

$4.99 per app (or $19.99 if you want all the MindSnacks apps).

#10: Rosetta Stone

Once the most popular language learning software out there, Rosetta Stone has been displaced for many English learners by other software. Many users still find it really useful, though, especially if they’re travelling. The app links with the full version of Rosetta Stone, which isn’t cheap. [KC – Offers multiple languages.]

Cost:

Varies.

Whatever language you choose to study, they recommend a minimum of 10 minutes a day to make progress. I hope some of you are willing to give it a try!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 11, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Special Edition

Hello there, folks! Over the years, we in the Symitar Editing group have been watching, listening, and waiting for the world to produce a gender-neutral pronoun. What am I talking about? I’m talking about when we are writing, and we want to refer to an individual without any reference to the person’s gender.

Well, my friends, the wait is over. No, there isn’t some newly invented term. Merriam-Webster has officially approved the word “they” as a singular pronoun (instead of he or she).

Now as a grammar geek and word nerd, I was hoping we’d come up with something new and exciting, you know, like Esperanto. You don’t know Esperanto? Exactly. But you do know “they” and “them” and “their.” And a lot of people already use those pronouns accidentally when talking about a single person.

For example:

  • The person in Accounting takes the spreadsheet and forwards it to their manager.

Formerly, this would be rewritten, to the following:

  • The person in Accounting takes the spreadsheet and forwards it to his or her manager.

Let’s look at some other examples of what will now be considered correct:

  • Chris wants you to review the paper they wrote.
  • “Each employee must fill out their forms,” instead of “Each employee must fill out his or her forms.”
  • If Terry wants it, give it to them.
  • The employee finished their project ahead of schedule.
  • The librarian’s friend came with them to the luncheon.
  • The soccer player gave their teammates a high five.
  • Jack asked their coworker not to wear perfume to work.

To read the entire article from Merriam-Webster, click here. For a good rule of thumb going forward, when you are writing and come to a place where you’d normally write or say “he or she,” you can use “they.” When you’d normally use “him or her,” you can use “them.” And lastly, when you might use “his or hers,” you can use “their.” It may sound odd at first, but in the end, it will make a lot of people happy: people who already use the formerly incorrect pronoun, nonbinary people, and people paid to update dictionaries and other written materials!

The Jack Henry Style Guide will be updated in the upcoming months, complete with examples of this new standard.

And, as today is National Coming Out Day, I am happy to announce that JHA’s newest business innovation group (BIG) is here! PRISM@JHA is designed particularly for LGBTQIA+ employees, but everyone is welcome to join. Send an email to PRISM for more information.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 10, 2019

Editor’s Corner: All of a Sudden

Good morning, dear readers. Today’s topic is about something I remember my mom correcting a very long time ago when my brother was telling a story. It was a tale about frogs named Papa San Franco and Baby San Franco (yes, he was a creative child). He got to the action scene and said, “Then all of the sudden, whoop, bing, bang!” (And I don’t remember from there what happened with the San Franco frogs.) When he was done with his story, my mom said, “It’s not all of the sudden, it’s all of a sudden.”

Here, from Grammar Girl, is an explanation of the phrase and its history. The full article is on her web page.

First, “all of the sudden” is definitely a phrase you should avoid.

Garner’s Modern English Usage includes an entry on “all of the sudden” and pegs it at stage 1 on the language change index, which means “rejected.” In other words, still totally wrong.

The correct phrase in English is “all of a sudden,” not “all of the sudden….”

These “Sudden” Phrases Go Back to the 1500s

The evolution of the phrase is kind of interesting…. It was originally “the sudden,” but it lacked an “all” in front. For example, the first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1570, and it’s “of the sudden.” Here’s one from Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” published around 1616. By then, it had become “of a sudden”:

Is it possible that love should of a sudden take such hold?

It’s not until 1686 that “all” come into play, and from there on “all of a sudden” seems to be the standard.

There was a similar phrase that the OED says was very common between about 1560 and 1700 and it could use either “the” or “a”: It was “on the sudden” or “on a sudden.” And as I read the citations, I found that they did have an old-timey feel to me. Here’s one from “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe:

My Crop promis’d very well, when on a sudden I found I was in Danger of losing it all again.

More recently looking at a Google Ngram chart (that is how often a phrase appears in published books scanned by Google), what most people consider the incorrect form—“all of the sudden”—slowly starts increasing around 1960 and then really takes off around 1985…. So it looks like this really is a relatively new phenomenon.

“All of a Sudden” Is an Idiom

Finally, you might be wondering why one is wrong and the other is right since they’re the same grammatically. For example, a listener named Melissa mentioned that when she asked about the two phrases. Someone corrected her, and she accepted that she was wrong, but said she “couldn’t understand what would make ‘the’ less correct than ‘a.’" And she has a point.

“A” and “the” are both articles, and we can usually use them both before any noun. “All of a sudden” is just what we call an idiom, which is a fancy way of saying “that’s just how it is.” It’s right the way it is because that’s how people are used to hearing it. There’s no rule or grammatical reason for it. It just is.

That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: The correct phrase in English is “all of a sudden,” not “all of the sudden.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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