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If you find a particularly terrible sentence somewhere, post it for all to see (go here and put it in the Comments section).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Criminal Sentence 636: Don't Pour That On Me!

From the book I'm editing: 

"The Simulation Supervisor and his evil team of training personnel would pour over all the procedures and rules."

I was starting to like this sentence because it had a little color (are training personnel over at NASA evil?). Then I got to "pour over." I started humming "Pour Some Sugar on Me," an 80s tune. 

Oh, wait. You didn't mean that someone poured a liquid on the procedures! You meant the people studied the procedures closely: pored. Glad we cleared that up!

Criminal Sentence 635: Take My Advice

This morning, I found another reason to dislike paying bills. This instruction is on the outside of an envelope:

"Enclose the remittance advise with your payment."


"Advise" is a verb, as in "I advise this company to check its spelling."

"Advice" is a noun, as in "Will you give me a discount if I enclose the remittance advice instead of the remittance advise?"

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Criminal Sentence 634: Ooh, excuse me!

From something I am editing (about the Space Shuttle):

"It took 20 months before the engine was capable of a 5-second burp at 100 percent."

A 5-second burp sounds fun--if you're 12!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chicago Tribune mention--Anyone see the missing quotation mark?

The link doesn't work so well (,0,4792270.story), so here is the text:

By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
February 20, 2013
We were going to spend today discussing sequestration, a word springing from the lips of politicians left and right and begging to be more clearly defined.
Then we read Time columnist Joel Stein's explanation, upon which it's impossible to improve: "The situation in which the federal budget will be different if something doesn't something before something."
Which leaves us room to discuss a word springing from the lips of actual people, much to the dismay of other actual people.
The word is "that." For all its banality, "that," has an impressive ability to irk folks.
"My pet peeve is 'that,'" writes Words Work reader Gene Keefe. "'The judge felt that it took too long.' 'The hearing officer ruled that it was too far away.' 'I heard that you are too tall to shoot pool.'"
"Where you have a verb and 'that' after it," Keefe contends, "it makes the sentence longer without any change."
It's a complaint we hear with some regularity, often from readers lamenting an undisciplined wordiness creeping into much of our discourse.
But 'that' has its share of vocal defenders.
Jay Heinrichs, author of "Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever" (Three Rivers Press) and one of our favorite language dudes, calls himself "a that guy."
"'That' does make a sentence longer by an entire, often annoying, syllable," Heinrichs says. "But it serves to pin down the object of a sentence.
"Our unraveling grammar needs all the pins it can get."
Bonnie Trenga, author of "The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing" (Writer's Digest Books), wrote a blog post titled "When to leave out 'that.'"
Her conclusion? Sometimes.
"Some people think adding 'that' improves the flow of the sentence and makes it easier for the reader to understand," Trenga writes. "Others believe they should delete every seemingly unnecessary 'that' because they want to maintain an economy of words.
"I'm all for cutting unnecessary words," she writes. But I often like to keep my 'that' if it helps the rhythm of the sentence. You'll have to judge whether using 'that' in your particular sentence improves or hurts its flow."
Trenga agitates for 'that' inclusion in the case of "garden path sentences," linguist Steven Pinker's term for sentences that appear to be going in one direction but wind up in another.
"Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is too big," Trenga offers as an example.
"Without a 'that,' the reader is initially led to believe that Aardvark maintains, as in mows, Squiggly's yard," she writes. "If you add in a 'that,' it's clear from the beginning that Aardvark just has an opinion: Aardvark maintains that Squiggly's yard is too big."
You could turn to the grammar big guns on this one, but they hardly put the issue to rest.
The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White's style guide by which many writers swear, lists as its seventeenth principle of composition: Omit needless words.
In each of Mr. Keefe's sentences, "that" does appear to be pretty needless.
The Associated Press Style Book, on the other hand, argues for keeping the word in your toolbox:
"There are no hard-and-fast rules, but in general:
•That usually may be omitted when a dependent clause immediately follows a form of the verb to say: The president said he had signed the bill.
•That should be used when a time element intervenes between the verb and the dependent clause: The president said Monday that he had signed the bill.
•That usually is necessary after some verbs. They include: advocate, assert, contend, declare, estimate, make clear, point out, propose and state.
•That is required before subordinate clauses beginning with conjunctions such as after, although, because, before, in addition to, until and while: Haldeman said that after he learned of Nixon's intention to resign, he sought pardons for all connected with Watergate.
"When in doubt, include that," AP says. "Omission can hurt. Inclusion never does."
Twitter @heidistevens13
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Criminal Sentence 633: Nice Broach??

From a weird story about using TP as a fashion accessory:

"Not your grandmother's broach: One model sports an antique pin with a tissued twist while others rock cocktail rings that are simply 'Charmin.'"

The problem here is "broach," which is a verb: He broached the subject at lunch.

The writer meant "brooch," a piece of jewelry.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Criminal Sentence 632: Thrifty vs Spendthrift

From an article about a man who finally started saving for retirement:

"My wife is thrifty and our combined incomes were well over $100,000 a year. With her spendthrift abilities we were able to pay off all of our credit card debts."

I had to laugh at that. He called his wife a spendthrift when he meant to repeat she was thrifty.

Thrifty = saves money well
Spendthrift = wastefully extravagant

Criminal Sentence 631: Less vs Fewer

A headline in today's paper:

"Less New Year fireworks in badly polluted Beijing"

That would need to be "Fewer ... fireworks."

If you can pair "many" with the noun, you use "fewer"; if you pair "much," you use "less."

We'd write "many fireworks," not "much fireworks."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Criminal Sentence 630: Let's Review Apostrophes!

From something I edited today:

"Our monthly column let's you dress like a star, for a fraction of the cost."

Oh, dear. Let's pretend we aren't using contractions and see how this sentence reads:

"Our monthly column let us you dress like a star, for a fraction of the cost."

Hmmm. That isn't so great. 

Let's = let us
Lets = a verb: He lets me eat as much candy as I want. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A pen that detects errors?

Hi, all. I hope you've been well.

I saw this interesting article today about a pen in development. I wonder how accurate it would be.

What do you think of it?