Latest Peeves and Perps
- This ...
Don't start a sentence with a "This" of unclear referent. Your prose
might seem to flow along nicely when you write it, but the
reader often doesn't know what you mean: which previous
noun, idea, situation, or piece of the current paragraph are
you pointing to with "This"?
The vague sentence-starting "This" is quite a common problem in scientific writing:
I dealt with it rather academically
in the original pet peeves doc., but the fix is easy.
SIMPLY NEVER start a sentence with
"This" unless the next word is a noun, and even then you have to be careful.
So "This shows that...", or "This means..." or
"This caused..." are BAD. "This problem..." could be OK as long as there is
no ambiguity about which problem you mean
(maybe several were mentioned previously).
- "It's" for "its."
Pernicious and ubiquitious. Easy slip to make but also easy to
search for and eradicate.
I certainly do it now and then: I've seen it in
expensive advertising copy and
best-selling novels, most recently one by Neal Stephenson. Remember,
"his, hers, its; NOT hi's, her's, it's".
- Beg the question. If you hear, read or (sorry) use this expression,
chances are about 95% it's being misused. It does NOT mean "suggests
(forcibly suggests, demands an answer to) the question". It's a lame
translation of petitio principii , the classical (we're talking
Cicero's time) logical fallacy of appealing to (hence "begging") the
principle (hence "question") in order to prove the principle. Best
known example of question-begging:
"Have you stopped beating your wife?" begs the question that
wife-beating has taken place. Considering the issue of how much trial
lawyers' fees should be increased begs the question that they should get
fees at all (instead of getting shot, for instance). Sample perpetrators:
well, I haven't seen it used right in the last 10 years, so everyone.
- "Crescendo" for "climax" . How did this get started? Typical
misuse: "The argument reached a crescendo." Crescendo is the process of
getting louder, not some sort of high point. Wall St. Journal
obnoxious perp here.
- "Spectrums, millenniums, datums," for "spectra, etc."
Gimme a break. This sort
of insult (along with split infinitives) is why I stopped subscribing to
the Scientific American. .
- "Going forward" for "in the future". Actually, this is something
people say but not something people tend to write. Let's keep it that way.
All of a sudden this business-speak
has replaced a perfectly good prepositional phrase.
It's quite common, especially in
talks by deans and CEOs. There's even a UR bureaucrat who says (I'm not making this up)
"On a going forward basis". Yikes.
- "Everyday" for "every day". Presumably not a problem in scientific
writing but you never know. The former is an adjective meaning
'used, fit for, or coming every day', as in "great for everyday use".
"Every day" is an adverb, meaning 'quotidian', or 'daily'.
WSJ gets this wrong all the time.
- "Circa" for "a date in the past" For example, "This
winery was built circa 1786", or a sign on a B&B: "Circa 1821".
Circa means "around" in the sense of "approximately" and
is used when the exact date is unknown. Thus one tends
to round to the nearest decade, half-century, or century, depending on the
Page Maintained by CB
Last modified: 6/29/11