Who? or whom?

Do you ever wonder when to say or write “who” and when to say or write “whom”? Nowadays in informal speech or writing, most people just use “who.” Perhaps most people don’t care, but sometimes it matters. If you are writing a graduate thesis or dissertation (or even an undergraduate term paper), chances are the faculty will care. If you write for Internet content sites where a human editor chooses what to accept, chances are the editor will care. You can’t get away with not knowing the difference. There is a very easy way to know with certainty which is … Continue reading

FYI: initialisms in OED

What have texting and its conventions, abbreviations, and shortcuts done to our language? And what does it mean that some of them have even ended up in the Oxford English Dictionary? The end of civilization as we know it? Calm down! Can’t the spate of common initialisms be traced back at least as far as the New Deal? Isn’t the Oxford English Dictionary itself known as the OED? Granted, finding LOL, IMHO, FYI, BFF, and the gang in such august company as antidisestablishmentarianism and floccinaucinihilipilification is a bit of a departure. I have lately managed to reconnect with lots of … Continue reading

This is not a subject; neither is that

This is not a subject. What kind of sentence is that? A bad one. Why? Because the subject of a sentence and the object of a preposition or verb ought to be a noun. “This” and “that” are adjectives. Sending an adjective to attempt to do the work of a noun is a kind of bad writing. I had a professor in graduate school who used to bleed red on everyone’s papers, mostly crabbing about the writing. At least once on every paper I turned in, he wrote, “this what?” At first, I thought it was a pretty stupid question. … Continue reading

Three Dubious Rules of English Usage for Writers to Ignore

I generally admire William Safire’s views on language and the way he uses “fumblerules” to illustrate his points, but occasionally disagree with him. He considers that split infinitives, prepositions at the end of a sentence, and conjunctions to start a sentence always represent poor usage. I’m offering three counter-rules: Be willing to split an infinitive if necessary to really communicate. Prepositions are good to end a sentence with. And you can start one with a conjunction. Scholars and authors of the seventeenth century, John Dryden for instance, found the Anglo-Saxon background of English somehow uncouth and tried to remake formal … Continue reading

Basic writing skills for term papers and Internet writing

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] Everyone probably learns some basic writing skills in high school and college English. In my experience, if they don’t promptly forget these skills, they are at least reluctant to apply them to other classes besides English. Nevertheless, we’re never finished with the need to write and do it well. Teachers of other subjects besides English expect well-written term papers. So do people who read Internet content. Here are four basic skills that every writer needs to know: paraphrase, summary, critique and synthesis. When a paper or article requires research, the writer must reproduce the ideas from … Continue reading