Frequently Asked Question: “Its” vs. “It’s”

Itsy bitsy, or it’sy bit’sy? Or eensy weensy? (Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Why do so many people confuse “its” and “it’s”?

Apparently this mix-up happens a lot on Twitter, and even big news agencies and nationwide brands sometimes get it wrong. Read the rest of this entry »


Between vs. Among

OK, so a mistake here isn’t going to make or break you, but there is a difference between “between” and “among,” so why not learn it? If all of the following sentences sound right to your ears, read on.

A. It came down to a contest between Sally, Greg, and Consuelo for class president.
B. I couldn’t decide between lavender and strawberry scented air freshener.
C. Neil Armstrong truly was a giant among men.
D. Katniss decided that the forest was the safest place; she could easily hide among the trees.

Read the rest of this entry »


Leaving the Body

This has nothing to do with astral projection or any other form of out-of-body experience…but, inspired by a recent article in Discover magazine, here are five ways for writers to “leave the body.”

  1. Kick with your feet.
  2. Listen with your ears.
  3. Look with your eyes.
  4. Smell with your nose.
  5. Think with your mind.

All five of these verbs describe actions performed with, or processes involving, a certain part (or parts) of the body. The crossed-out part goes without saying. So don’t say it! This is what I mean by leaving the body: if the body part that’s doing the action is self-evident or can be guessed at with a bit of common sense, leave it out of your writing. Read the rest of this entry »


Somebody IS Watching You. (Grammar Geeks.)

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m not one of those grammar fascists who corrects other people’s speech. I don’t point out when a speaker should use “whom” instead of “who.”

Or at least, I don’t do it that often, and not to people’s faces. That would just be obnoxious. (I’m not saying I haven’t done it in the past.) I feel that people coming up with language on the fly should be given more latitude than if they were writing it down, where it had a chance to be analyzed. Colloquialisms are okay when they are uttered and forgotten, when they don’t exist for longer than the seven seconds of a listener’s short-term aural memory. If you use “me” instead of “I” in conversation, I probably won’t chastise you—although, for my amusement, I can and will imagine you talking with a Jamaican accent. If you say, “Me and John are going to get a beer,” my mind will superimpose dredlocks on you and play, “Me gwan to get a Red Stripe, mon.”

When you’re writing, on the other hand, you have the chance to look over your work and make it as clear and correct as it can be. So there I hold you to a higher standard. That includes speechwriting, copywriting, and songwriting. Read the rest of this entry »


Copy Righting

I understand that folks who work in advertising and marketing sometimes really want to drive home a point. As a hammer is to a carpenter, so repetition is to a copywriter. It’s a recognized tool of the trade and often the one that works best. Repetition is totally valid as a writing strategy. Even poets use it.

I have no beef with the following fake ad, for example:

When you come down to Hamm’s Burger this Memorial Day weekend, buy any two burgers and get a third one free! That’s right, you can get three burgers for the price of only two! A trio of burgers at two-thirds the normal price. That third burger is yours 100 percent free. It costs you nothing! A 90 percent lean all-beef patty is yours 100 percent free! Just throw it away if you want to! It’s gratis! We’re giving away burgers to folks who buy two! But you have to get here before we close! Otherwise we won’t be open! So get on over to Hamm’s Burger and choose from any of our twelve mouthwatering, delicious, savory signature burgers! Right next door to Frank’s Hot Dogs! Hamm’s Burger, Hamm’s Burger, Hamm’s Burger!

This is an example of saying the same thing in different ways and using simple repetition. However, copywriters often commit two terrible offenses: Read the rest of this entry »


“Co-” Incidents

This week’s entry concerns the use of the prefix “co-.”

Because I’m separated from my son’s mother, I am a co-parent. I co-parent my son. However, his mother is not my co-parenting partner, and I don’t co-parent my son with her. She is my parenting partner, and together we parent our son. That’s because “partner,” “with her,” and “together” already speak to the cooperative nature of our parenting, making “co-” redundant.

In other words, neither Rodgers nor Hammerstein had a co-writing partner. I wouldn’t even say that Lewis and Clark co-explored the Louisiana Purchase, any more than I’d assert that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong co-landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Read the rest of this entry »


A Couple Shades of Gray

My wife enjoys reading popular novels of the day, so it was no surprise when I saw a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James lying around the house. The paper cover was bent, however, revealing to my casually roving eye the author bio on the first page. I was only looking at it absentmindedly, but I guess a couple of problems drew my full attention toward it.

The first sentence reads: Read the rest of this entry »


Gems Are Made by Cutting

This week’s is a quick but timely entry (I also plan to add to an earlier post, “Adieu to ‘you’ but more of ‘your'”).

The other day, I heard a radio spot for a well-known local diamond retailer (okay, why not? The Shane Company) talking about how—if I recall correctly—similar diamonds can receive different grades “depending on where the occlusions are located inside the diamond.”

Two problems with this. Read the rest of this entry »


Extra Words


This week’s blog entry has to do with words that sometimes we just don’t need. I’m not talking about words that create redundancies, as in “PIN number” or “past history”; that’s a blog entry for another time. I’m talking about “filler” words. These words aren’t meaningless, but they’re not necessary either. Often, the writer’s meaning is completely clear without them. Read the rest of this entry »


Exhibiting a Pattern of Beating in the Immediate Vicinity of the Bush but Not Beating the Bush Itself

I’m concerned with the use of what I call “tentative language.” Tentative language is language that seems afraid to make a statement, is unnecessarily indirect, tries to be all-inclusive, or is overly helpful rather than instructive. If you follow the logic of tentative language, it tends to be circuitous. It avoids getting to the point.

I find that this kind of language crops up often in nonfiction and self-help books that I work on. As an author, why should you avoid “tentative language”? Read the rest of this entry »