Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A licence to practise

Practice, practise; licence, license.

This one is for Canadians only. Americans, I really don't understand your use of the two words, but I do know that you, through your printed and computer dictionaries, don't help the matter north of the border.

Up here, I see it wrong more often than not. Many of the young writers I've seen seem to have just given up and play the odds -- they know they have a 50-50 chance of getting it right.

For Canadians, though, it's pretty simple: use the 's' version for the verb form and the 'c' any other time.

My hockey practice is at 6 a.m. In order to get better, you must practise.

A doctor's practice. He practises quack medicine.

Driver's licence; licensed to kill.

Got it?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hot for teacher

Who says learning about words can't be fun? Check out Marina Orlova, a Russian-born philologist (word historian) who was voted World's #1 Sexiest Geek. Her YouTube channel, HotForWords, boasts more than 170,000 subscribers. All of them wanting to learn about words.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kill the redundancy

Here's another one from the department of redundancy department: "humanely euthanized." Once again, people who don't fully grasp the words they are using throw an adjective on top of a word where it is not needed.

Like "forever home" and "first-ever," the meaning is already there in the original word. No need to modify it, so please, please don't.

euthanize |ˈyoōθəˌnīz|
verb [ trans. ] (usu. be euthanized)
put (a living being, esp. a dog or cat) to death humanely.

(right now there are 50 stories with "humanely euthanized" popping up on Google News)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A first is a first is a first

Sunday, Sept. 2, 1990. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb threw his first no-hitter (and to this day the only no-hitter for the Jays) in a 3-0 win over Cleveland.

First. Pretty simple concept, really.
But even back then there were newscasters saying "first ever" and my father wouldn't stop.

"First means first. No modifier needed -- it's the first. What's so hard to understand?"

I'll never forget that and to this day use the Stieb example when trying to get writers to understand the proper usage of the word.

From the trusty Apple dictionary:

first |fərst|
ordinal number
1 coming before all others in time or order; earliest; 1st : his first wife | the first of five daughters
• never previously done or occurring : he threw his first no-hitter.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A home is already forever

Heard this on a radio advertisement for my local SPCA. They have animals waiting for a "forever home." Nothing grates on my nerves more than someone thinking a perfectly good word needs some sort of modification because they believe the general public doesn't understand the original one anymore.

It's different in a cheesy ad for a chocolate bar or something, but for a serious institution to do something like this, well, someone has to say something. Home means permanent already -- no need to modify it.

Just like they way anniversary is wrongly used, let's not allow "forever home" to take hold.

From my trusty Apple dictionary:

home |hōm|
1 the place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You can make your "point" without "quotation marks"

You can see them everywhere: Somebody "somewhere" who thinks "quotation marks" are "required" for people to "understand" what is "important" in a "sentence."

In the news business, we get all sorts of submissions with totally wrong use of quotation marks. Most of the time, it seems people use them for emphasis of what they think are the key words, when what they really should be using is italics.

Of course, they usually want to emphasize nearly every word, not understanding that people will understand it better without the confusing and wrong punctuation.

Bethany Keeley has been pointing out the misuse of quote marks for a few years now. For a few laughs, spend some time checking out The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'll start using cold-mageddon when hell freezes over

Before Christmas, some genius (or just bored forecaster trying a social experiment) at Environment Canada thought it would be good to describe three or four days of snow in the lead-up to the holiday as "snow-mageddon."

Inevitably, the media picked up and ran deep with the term. For days it was all you would hear about it newscasts and weather forecasts. While it may be a fun new word, it was surprising the play it got since any weatherman worth his salt would be able to explain that this was far from a disastrous event. Blizzard of '77 -- that was a snowmageddon. Four days spread out over a week with a few inches on each of them and high winds on one of them did not a blizzard make. It really wasn't anything more than a typical Canadian winter.

Today, with high winds and double-digit lows in the old five-day, I expect to hear about cold-mageddon. Hopefully not, as the need to create words like this belittle those who have real problems in the world.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Yous guys are killing me with you're errors

Thankfully, while many people may say something like "yous guys," either for fun or thinking it is the proper plural of you, that slang/error hasn't seemed to make it into writing with any great regularity.

Mixing up your and you're, however, is another matter. Why can't people get it right? We see it wrong quite often (here are a couple of funny, though extreme, "you're place or mine?" and "you're car is on fire."

Your, a possessive adjective, is a lot different than you're, the contraction of you and are. Let's also mention yore, as in days of yore.

Just like who's and whose, the best way to get it right is to take a moment and sound it out fully before you write it. If you really mean "you are" then by all means use you're.

We won't even get into Net/text/slang like UR or yer.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who's this guy whose blog you're reading?

Here's another homonym pair that mixes up many a writer, even professionals. Proper use of who's and whose is a little tricky, but like the rest of the rules of English it's not that difficult to get it right with a little thought.

(You can see an example of MSNBC getting it wrong -- it should be whose life, rather than "City Worker Meets Family Of Man Who's Life He Helped Save")

Who's is the contraction of who and is. Whose is possessive. If you want to get it right, just sound it out fully before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) -- if you mean "who is that guy" or "who is going to write that," then use who's. Otherwise, whose is probably the word you are looking for.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

You can lead a horse to water but cannot make an intern think

What's the most common homonym error? I don't have stats on it, but judging from what I read in print and see on TV it's probably using lead rather than led when writing the past tense of the verb lead.

Ex.: Stephane Dion led (not lead) his party to defeat.

One place you will often see it is in the crawler at the bottom of the screen on newscasts (I an example on CBC Newsworld right now). Based on the number of mistakes you see in those little news tidbits, I think they must have half-asleep interns at the switch.

It's an easy enough error to make when in a rush -- the heavy metal lead is pronounced the same as led (though one never sees a Led Zeppelin fan spelling the band's name wrong) -- but during a quick self-proofing one should be able to catch the error.

Just remember:

lead (led): a heavy metal
lead (lēd): show the way (present tense)
led (led): showed the way (past tense)