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Thursday, August 22. 2013
It's very simple, and you wordsmiths out there might already employ it subconsciously.
I had a perfect example just the other day, which prompted me to write this piece. I had written in a post:
I pondered whether it was a common enough acronym to leave out the periods, like 'NASA' and 'NBC', but I knew it was one of those things the 3-Notice Rule would catch, so I left them in. This was the first 'notice'.
I finished up the post and hit the 'Save' button, then the 'Preview' button to proofread it. I got to the above line and hesitated, thinking it might look better without the periods, then read on. This was the second 'notice'. I knew what was coming, but rules are rules.
Then I posted the article and gave it one more proofread (the actual Web page is wider than the editor, so things look a tad different) and noticed it again — that is, the sentence just didn't flow like it should have — and that was it.
I popped open the editor and changed it to:
Then I read it through again and this time I flew right through the line without hesitation.
I guess you could say I'm quantifying a bit of common sense here. By making it a 'rule', though, you're forced to stop at that third 'notice' and change the damn thing, no matter how trivial it is. In other words, yes, it's a pain to open the editor just to change one tiny little thing, but this is about readability — which overrides everything else — including our own inherent laziness. So, if the 3-Notice Rule catches it, you're obligated to fix it right then and there — or throw the damn rule out.
More examples below the fold.
When I proofread it, I wondered if I should leave in that 'breath comma' (a comma where you'd pause if you were speaking it out loud, but doesn't belong by the rules of English), and the third time I hit it I said, "That's it" and removed it.
And the main point is that the converse could also have been true. I could have left out the comma originally (following the rules of English), then, every time I read it afterward, it might have seemed like there ought to be a slight pause there and, after the 3rd notice, I would have put the breath comma in. I normally don't like breath commas, simply because they're not 'correct', but every now and then a sentence just works better with one. That is, you want that little pause there so the reader can get mentally caught up and thereby receive the full import of the second half of the sentence.
And here's another example:
No more than one washer load of clothes can be kept available
I had first written it "washerload", but the spell-checker said it was mixspelled so I dutifully changed it to the above. Then, after the third time I noticed that it looked a little awkward, I went over to Google and:
"washer load" = 633, 000 hits
I changed it to "washerload" and told the spell-checker to "Get with the program, buddy."
Another example. Catch this subtle difference:
...then they have to be either thrown away or put in a box in the attic.
After the 3rd notice, I changed it to:
...then they have to either be thrown away or put in a box in the attic.
I guess you could say that both are right, but the flow is everything.
To sum up, let the 3-Notice Rule be your guide. If you hit a hesitant moment like in the above examples, just type it out one way or the other and rely upon the 3-Notice Rule to sort things out later. If you're still catching it on the 3rd 'notice', it's changed.
Screw the rules of English, and screw what the spell-checker says. In the real world of conveying a thought, readability is everything.
Posted by Dr. Mercury in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 10:00 | Comments (31) | Trackback (1)
Tracked: May 31, 11:28
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Excellent post, doc, I do the exact same thing. I typed "I.R.S." the other day, trying to be acronymically correct, but it looked funny on the re-read so I changed it to just "IRS".
"Screw the rules of English, and screw what the spell-checker says."
You old radical, you. :-)
"Screw the rules of English"
Let's hope Coyote didn't read that. :)
Yes, it would be heartbreaking for the lad to see such blatant hypocrisy right before his very eyes, especially with his skin still burning from the glare of the spotlight I cast upon him last week. But that's why we bloggers are tough, to handle such incredible and unexpected adversity that would almost mentally dissolve a normal person.
KJW - I sat here for a couple of minutes thinking about 'radical', and decided that by today's standards, almost nothing would be considered 'radical' -- outside of "Screw the rules of English". Go pick some 'radical' thought and it'll turn out there are 300 web sites out there preaching the exact same thing. Maybe I should have added it to my 'Meaningless Words" post?
"Screw the rules of English"
Had someone ask me, having spoken for some time..."Don't U know the Queen's English"?
What did I say in response...?
I'm a big "breath comma" proponent.
Much to the annoyance of my grammar teacher.
My husband writes novels...and I am the person who does the first rough edit of his day's work. I run into these things over and over in his output. I stress readability always.
Not to be pedantic with regard to the FCC, but F.C.C. was incorrect anyway. It's FCC and has been since it created by Congress with the Communications Act of 1934 which took the responsibility away from the Interstate Commerce Commission or ICC (also without the periods).
Side bar factoid: It turns out that there is actually a protocol for using descriptive alpha characters without periods. The rule is if the government agency is described as follows: Federal Communications Commission (FCC), then FCC is the accepted descriptive name (or shortened name) as shown in the parenthesis. On the other hand, if the description is Federal Communications Commission without the (FCC), then the appropriate descriptive is Federal Communications Commission fully spelled out.
A bit of arcane trivia that comes from reading too many CFR rules and regulations. :>)
Great post by the way, but I'd like to point something out that you missed - a lot of problems come from word choice based on sound rather than reading. According to numerous researchers, the average person has a vocabulary of 45,000 or so words - in practice, they only use about 1,200 or so of those in regular conversation.
Your selection of washerload based on "looks" would be incorrect from a grammar standpoint because washerload is not a word recognized by any English dictionary. Washer load was the correct choice as those are words.
However, it is considered correct from a practical standpoint because the process is called portmanteau - or blending two words into one to convey a particular meaning - which to bring full circle, sounds better than two separate and distinct words. Sadly, people don't enunciate properly either which is the main cause of this.
You last point about either is a good one, but again, it is based on sound rather than good writing practice. Either is redundant in that sentence because it already describes and implies a choice - no need for the word either. The sentence should read "then they have to be thrown away or put in a box in the attic."
Fun with words - who knew? :>)
"because washerload is not a word recognized by any English dictionary."
Did you see the Google stats? What is this strange "dictionary" thing of which you speak?
Good point on the "either", since "or" says the same thing, I guess with the difference being that 'either' specifically denotes only two choices, whereas 'or' could be a handful, so it's just a tad more specific.
"who knew? :>)"
I've been meaning to talk to you about getting you to a rhinoplasty expert. There are two other styles of smiley faces up above and neither of them display the monstrous beakage that you do. Must make for some absolutely thunderous sneezes. Anyways, just thought I'd mention it. Help is just a rhinoplasty expert away.
Well, I wasn't thinking of function so much as image. I'd hate to see people calling you "Old Honker" behind your back. But as long as you don't mind the scorn and mockery and tee-heeing and giggling and-
On the other hand, something else just occurred to me.
Maybe it's a secret message to the girls. :>)
Yes - well, let's just say that I wear a twelve and a half shoe - if you get my drift - wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more.
You forgot to mention how smart I am for figuring out your devious ploy.
"Either" is unnecessary? No, for it's lack leaves us with a false dichotomy (a fairly simple and inexpensive operation; ask your medical professional). There ARE other ways to move or dispose of these items: Ebay, Craig's List, want ads, yard sale, payload for a model rocket (mine is modeled on Gina Lolabrigida)... And, why a box?
Strictly speaking [oh, boy], the 'or' condition is 'satisfied' logically when both results obtain. For instance, if you ask a child whether they would prefer to have a piece of cake OR a piece of pie, if they would prefer to have both, then their correct answer is "Yes".
In terms of logic you would need to ask the child "Would you prefer to have a piece of cake OR a piece of pie AND you cannot have a piece of cake AND a piece of pie."
[A v B] & -[A & B]
So in normal language we tend to insert the 'either' to indicate the second part of the 'argument' that is left unspoken -- that it is one or the other and not both.
I tell my government students that the only correct answer to any political question that contains an 'or' is "yes".
To have an opportunity to apply the 3-notice rule one must build the habit of proofreading.... and proofreading.... again... again... and again.
If it is a particularly important bit of writing one should also have someone else proofread it.
I have long been flattered when my wife and daughters ask Dear Old to proofread the documents they classify as important.
I 100% agree that having someone else proofread it is the best choice. We all have blind spots.
I'd also suggest, assuming it's on the computer, re-reading it with the page size narrower than the original, re-word-wrapping the paragraphs. I once had a document that I must have proofread a hundred times over the years, then one day added a few words near the beginning of a paragraph, which re-word-wrapped it, I re-read it, and there was an "and and", big as day. One 'and' had been at the end of a line and the other at the beginning of the next line, and the eye just never caught it.
Good post. I've been playing around with poetry lately because the world desperately needs another bad poet, so I can tell you why the third example didn't sound right. There were too many stressed syllables in a row. Usually English is unstressed/stressed, unstressed/stressed, and so on (or if you want to be trochaic about it, stressed/unstressed, stressed/unstressed...).
But when you want to emphasize something, you can go all crazy with the stresses.
A scan of that third example might be (YMMV):
... then they have to be either thrown away or put in a box in the attic.
Sorry for using up all your bold.
"Look up when you converse with me",
She did most emphasize;
"You know I wear this plunging V
For showing off my eyes."
LOL --reminds of Dorothy Parker's
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am the Queen of Romania.
Now there is something I haven't thought about in a long time - well, actually university in fact when I took Western Literature - Appreciation Of Poetry to close out one of my Humanities requirements. I hated it of course because it was filled with long haired, hippie type pinko....ok, I'm sure you get the idea.
Trochaic tetrameter - tetrameter" meaning the poetic schema has four trochees - trochee is a long syllable, or stressed syllable, followed by a short, or unstressed one as our good friend John O said.
Which leads to curiosities like the following:
Peter, Peter pumpkin-eater
Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
I prefer the poetry of mathematics. :>)
"Dr. Mercury's Periods of Doubt Force Identity Confession: He is actually 'Dr Mercury'!"
--Questioned within the mind of a reporter as to whether confession is really good for the Sole, Mercury replied, "Well, I DO feel shorter. And sort of flat, and like both my eyes are on watch topside and my relief can't spell me."
Little known factoid:
Dr. Mercury's real name is...
Wait for it - wait for it.....
Dr. Mer C. Ury
Finally - this burden I've held close for all these many years is finally gone - I'M FREE - I'M FREE - I'M FREE TO BE ME!!
Now that's poetry son.
Actually, I had it legally changed to the Quadratic Formula a few years ago. I'd type it out here but I can't find the "oversized square root" key.
--it's over here --i'm slurpin' a oversize square root beer float
You mean: x = [ -b ± sqrt(b2 - 4ac) ] / 2a?
No square root symbol needed.
Must make for an interesting signature on documents though.
The most difficult thing in writing, I've found, is writing as if you are speaking. While there shouldn't be much difference, there usually is a significant difference. Many people (myself included) do not speak and write in a fashion that is exactly the same. When speaking, I will tend to use much more slang, I will sometimes alter the syntax (because it sounds better), and engage all sorts of shortcuts. Most of us do these things.
Then, when I try to write, I will write as if I'm speaking. But seeing the words on paper, mirroring how I most likely would speak, looks awful. Then I have to do rewrites.
I've had a number of articles published in trade magazines, and I'm regularly commended on my writing skills by peers. However, I think that says more about their command of language than it says about my 'skill' as a writer. I know I'm not a particularly good one.
As a case in point, I had a professor who only handed out an 'A' if a paper was capable of being published. I happened to receive an 'A' from him (the paper represented 100% of the grade in this graduate level course). His comments, however, outlined what he thought of my writing. I knew the subject, made it appealing to read, very good grammar and spelling (before computers), but my writing was geared "more toward Radio or Print, rather than an Academic Journal. As a result, you would undoubtedly be published, though most likely for public consumption rather than within our academic circles."
I suppose this makes sense, since one portion of my undergraduate degree was in screen and script writing.
For the purposes of clarity, "do not speak and write in a fashion that is exactly the same" should be "will speak and write in a manner which is very similar but not exactly the same."
I would have changed your last example to "have either to be thrown away or put in a box in the attic", but that's probably not the way I would say it. The editors I work for (but almost never actually speak to, in case you're wondering) are picky that way.
To come late to the game and be overly pedantic FCC is not an acronym. NASA is.