JaniceHeck

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Archive for the tag “common errors in writing”

A to Z Challenge, 2014: C is for Calendar Quirks

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error

Important date coming up on my calendar: April 4th, my birthday. Nothing quirky about that! But in our house, April is Birthday Month with little presents arriving daily. (Hmmm, maybe I could extend this to Birthday Season. I’ll try that idea out on my husband. I’m sure he’ll agree.

Photo: sugar delicious online

The cats always manage to sneak into this blog! They are shameless in their desire for attention.  Photo: sugar delicious online

Seriously, though, one error that pops up frequently in draft articles for our community newsletter is the use of capital letters on the seasons.

Names of months, days of the week, and holidays all begin with capital letters, but, alas, the generic four seasons do not receive any special recognition so do not get capital letters.

When you write for academic or journalistic purposes write your seasons like this: spring, summer, fall (and autumn), and winter.

Of course, there are times when you should capitalization the seasons.
1. When it is the first word in a sentence or quote. (Duh.)
**  Summer is my favorite time of the year, but winter in Florida is nice, too.
**  Many of us use a mnemonic device to help us remember when to change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, “Spring ahead; fall behind.”

“Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz.
I wonder where the flowers iz.”

2. On titles of articles
**  Here is an article that does it right: “Spring Equinox Desert Reborn.” A season is capitalized in the title but not in the body of the article.

3. When it is part of a formal titlefarm_to_fork_logo
**  Winter Olympics
**  Autumnal Equinox Celebration & Official Farm-to-Fork Week Kick-off (Soil Born Farms, Sacramento, CA)
**  Spring Semester 2014
**  2014 Spring Jazz Fest, Cape May, New Jersey

Sorry,  summer vacation, though it is, indeed, a very special time of the year for many people, does not merit a capital letter.

4. In poetry, when a season is given human qualities (personification).

The Greeks and Romans and other ancients loved the seasons, often attributing human qualities to them, a technique called personification,  and when they did, they used capital letters.

mmm

This second century limestone mosaic depicting Summer and Medusa, wearing a crown of wheat stems, can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid, Spain.

mmm

This second century Tunisian mosaic features Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter (in the four corners) garbed in seasonal attire. This piece can be viewed at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia.

 

Finally, remember, in the most common usages of the seasons in writing, do not use capital letters.

Your turn:  What quirky errors do you find in writing? Which ones annoy you the most?
Janice Hall Heck is a retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ.

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A to Z Challenge, 2014. B is for BBQ and Buffalo Chips

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error

On Monday night, we celebrated (okay, we didn’t celebrate, we mourned) the end of our second snowbird stay in Florida by having dinner at Hogbody’s Bar and Grill in North Fort Myers, Florida.

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As you might guess, Hogbody’s is not an elegant restaurant. Rather, it has, shall we say, a somewhat western look with red and white siding, a weathered-white porch, white wooden benches and red folding chairs for waiting guests, and rails for tying up your horses. And for more fun, right next door is the Horsin’ Around Deli.

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Of course, we all know that a fancy setting is not necessary for eating good barbecue. Some of the best barbecue joints are tin shacks down in the deep South or smoky pavilions alongside a country road.

All the tomfoolery at Hogbody’s got me thinking about all the variations in spelling of barbecue: BarBQue, Bar-B-Q, Barbeque, bar-be-cue, barbeque, Barbq, or just Barbie. And don’t forget the abbreviations of barbecue: BBQ, B-B-Q, bbg, and Bbq. It probably has a many spelling variations as Albuquerque!

Despite all these differences in spelling, the official, correct spelling is barbecue. But who cares? Regardless of whether you use the most popular variation (BBQ) or the official correct spelling, barbecue is just finger-lickin’ good.

Just for fun, I had to try the buffalo chips and the fried dill pickles. Buffalo chips? Yes. Deep-fried slices of baked potatoes smothered in melted cheese. Oh my, the calories, but oh, so good. Of course you could also try sweet corn fritters, fried okra, and fried green tomatoes along with your rack of ribs. A veritable country feast!

By the way, if you want to have some good country fun, check out Hogbody’s Annual Wing Eating Contest and Lawnmower Tug-o-war Contest in mid-September. What could be more fun than that?

And remember to get your Hogbody’s T-shirt. My husband loves his. It’s real uptown.

Oh, and don’t forget the correct spelling of barbecue. Hogbody’s knows both how to spell it and how to cook up some mean barbecue ribs.
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Your turn:  What quirky errors do you find in writing? Which ones annoy you the most?

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Janice Hall Heck is a retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ.

A to Z Challenge 2014: A is for Ampersands. Right or Wrong?

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

A to Z Challenge: Oh Heck! Quirky Errors in Writing

ampersand 2

Pretty, aren’t they? Ampersands can be artsy and fanciful depending on the fonts you use and the purpose you have in mind.

But beauty aside, how useful are they? And why do I call the use of ampersands  a quirky error in writing?

Ampersands are twisty little symbols that look somewhat like the salty pretzels (Auntie Annie’s Ampersands?) that you buy at the mall.

The ampersand is shorthand for the word “and.” Blame this funny little symbol on the Roman scribes of the first century AD who chiseled lofty inscriptions on their blocks of marble, joining two letters to save a bit of room on their fine craftmanship. After all, you wouldn’t want to shortchange an emperor would you? The consequences could be deadly!

Despite its noble and historic beginnings, the ampersand  has persisted through the centuries to modern times even though we rarely write on marble these days.

Today the ampersand has its friends and foes, each arguing eloquently for why or why it shouldn’t be used in writing. That little mark has blogs, books, and websites dedicated to it. Who would have guessed that this little squiggly would have such power?

Well, friends and foes of the ampersand, there are times to use the ampersand correctly and times when it should not be used at all.

Now the ampersand is fine on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest;  in thank-you notes to your mom or loaded missiles to your significant other; on attention-getting T-shirts and tattoos on your pecs and abs; and even on the doodles you draw in the margins of your notebook in your boring stimulating English class. But, please, don’t use ampersands in more formal writing of term papers, journal or newsletter articles, or fiction or non-fiction books.

Being a picky newsletter editor, I get irritated when I see the ampersand in articles repeatedly substituted for the perfectly fine “and.” Why bother to reach up and hit shift and the number 7 key to type an ampersand (&) when you could type the word and just as quickly and be done with it.

Yet, to be fair, there are times when the ampersand may be desired and even required!
1.  On book titles:
**  Marty & Me,
**  Eats, Shoots & Leaves,
**  Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers
** 
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent the Eager, & the Doomed

And now a book whose characters are influenced by the ampersand:Sons-David Gilbert
**   & Sons,
by a novel by David Gilbert about a reclusive writer who wrote a YA novel called Ampersand. (It’s a bit tricky doing a search on a book title that begins with an ampersand! Hint: Put in the author’s name and the title.)
2. On movie titles:
**  “The Truth about Cats & Dogs”
**  “Fast and Furious”
**  “Batman & Robin”
3. On the legal name of companies:
**  AT&T,    Johnson & Johnson,   New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Ben & Jerry’s, Barnes & Noble
4. On names of clubs and institutions:
**  Texas A&M, Boys & Girls Club of America
5. On movie credits where the use of the ampersand attempts to show levels of input each scriptwriter has had in the development of the screenplay. Look for it in the credits the next time you go to the movies.
6. In bibliographies in cases where the & is part of the official title or publisher’s name (as in the examples above).
7. In trendy graphics designs. (Trend-setters can get away with almost anything. Let them have their fun!)

Hungry now? How about a nice salty pretzel ampersand? Mustard or cheese with that ampersand?

 

ampersands pretzels

Your turn:  What quirky errors do you find in writing? Which ones annoy you the most?

=<^&^>=
Janice Hall Heck is a retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ.

K is for Kernel Sentences: Nouns and Verbs Control the World

a-to-z-letters-2013Today is K-Day in the A to Z Challenge. It is also Friday. Yippee! My kitty friends are happy about that.

Today we will focus on some easy grammar:

kernel sentences.

A kernel sentence is one type of base sentence structure on which longer sentences can be built. It has a pattern that looks like this:

__________________    __________________
Subject                                               Verb

For now, fill in the slots with one noun and one verb and you will have a kernel sentence. These two words can easily be expanded into longer sentences at another time.

One way to do have fun doing this is to write S-V list poems.

Begin with a title, then add specific, present-tense, active verbs to expand the topic. Repeat the title at the end, perhaps adding a twist.

basketballBasketball
Mario dribbles.
Maria screams.
Manuel shoots
Jose dashes.
Jorge pants.
Cole sweats
Larry scores.
Sasha cheers.
Latitia swoons.
Basketball Romance!

paradeParade
Hands clap.
Feet stomp.
Men march.
Sirens wail.
Balloons float.
Flags wave.
Drummers bang.
Buglers blow.
Ladies dance.
Children cheer.
Popsicles melt.
Lines overflow.
Bodies jive.
Parade

Be creative and have fun with this. Brainstorm topics with students, then let them have a go at it. You will be surprised at the results.

So what. Who cares?

When students get a very firm handle on nouns and verbs, grammatical problems eventually disappear.

Teachers can teach the following concepts in very simple form using kernel sentences. It is much easier to see the patterns in two-word sentences. When students master the concept in the simplest form, they can then move on to expanding sentences.

  • subject-verb agreement
  • verb tense consistency
  • active verbs
  • parallel structure
  • vocabulary nuances

A firm handle on nouns and verbs will later help students reduce long sentences down to kernel sentences. If students can do this, they will be able to straighten out some of the most common errors.

  • sentence fragments
  • fused sentences (comma splice)
  • run-on sentences
  • lack of agreement between subject and verb
  • verb tense shifts in sentences
  • faulty parallel structure
  • punctuation errors

Of course, any programs designed to improve students’ speaking and writing must have lots of opportunity for conversation and creative and academic writing.  Writing subject/verb poems is only one aspect of a much larger focus on language, but it can help those students who are unsure of basic sentence structure concepts.  Spend a few minutes each class on grammatical structures and your students will learn patterns that will help them improve in both speaking (ESOL) and writing.

The Last Meow

I have only one word for you all:

cats FridayMeow for now.    =<^o^>=

G is for Great Gobs of Gramma’s Grammar Goodies and Goofs

a-to-z-letters-2013Today is G-Day in the A to Z Challenge. So how about some grammar?

I admit it. I love grammar.

Ever since the third or fourth grade when we had to do those error hunts in our English book, I have loved grammar. Of course, those error hunts are considered so out-of-date now. Even so, some schools persist in this textbook approach.

My daughter knows of my love for grammar and when the grandkids get stuck on their traditional grammar assignments, she calls me to help work through the problems. She knows that Granny Jan knows the answer!

Good Posts on Grammar

I keep a look-out for good posts on grammar. Here are a few of the best I have read or viewed recently.

Writing Techniques

1. Metaphors. Catherine Johnson posts an excellent video of ancient Chinese poems set to music with exquisite background scenery. Scroll down to see the video. It’s 14 minutes long, but well worth watching.

2. Writing for the Web. “What Hemingway Can Teach You About Web Writing” by Robert Bruce.

Editing

1. Edit, edit, edit. “Edit the Blasted Book” by Grace @mosaicmoments.blogspot.com

2. “Change Tense to Highlight Weak Verbs” by Tim Kane.

3.  Change -ly adverbs into active verbs. “Adverbly yours” by Julie Bird.

4. Use commas correctly. “The Comma from Which My Heart Hangs” by Benjamin Samuel.

Common Errors

1. Common errors and grammar Nazis. This 14-year-old blogger has something to say! By Amanda @quirkyblogger.

2. Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly . Visual by CopyBlogger and Blue Grass.

3. Common errors. Victoria Grefer’s pet grammar peeves.

Instruction in Grammar

1. Don’t do it like this.  “G is for Grammar Lesson” poem posted by Scott Thorbury. Use this poem in your English class.

2. Watch the prepositions. “Grammar Student Wrestles Bear” by Sharon Doyle.

happy-lol-cat-grammarThe Last Meow

Cats have their own grammar, too. Here’s an example: I haz…a happee.

Read about Official Cat Grammar Rules by Anil Dash. You, too, can be a copycat.

But, of course, Grumpy Cat (aka Tardar Sauce) has to have the last word. If it’s not his idea, he doesn’t like it.grumpy cat despises cat grammar speak

Common Errors or Effective Writing?

Sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences have gotten bad raps having been labeled as (heaven forbid)

common errors in writing.

But these two style elements should have a place in every writer’s paintbox.

Developing writers rely on basic sentence patterns in their writing because they haven’t yet developed the ability to write more complex sentences, nor have they learned common revision techniques such as sentence combining. Unintentionally, they use sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences in their stories, reports, and essays.

The result? Boring, ho-hum, unsophisticated, first draft writing.

Yet effective writers deliberately use sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences to make their writing stronger. What’s the difference? Check these examples from Sandra Cisneros and Shammai Golan.

Sandra Cisneros (1954-         )

Although born in poverty in Chicago, Sandra Cisneros, celebrated Mexican-American writer, did not remain there. Encouraged by her mother, a voracious reader, and mentored by teachers, Cisneros rose above the impoverished conditions that hold so many back. She graduated from Josephim Academy and Loyola University in Chicago, and then earned a master’s degree at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop program.

But college life was not easy for Cisneros. As a Chicano in primarily white college classes, she rebelled against the traditional reading assignments that just did not relate to her early life experiences as a Mexican-American. Out of frustration and anger, she chose to write about what others could not—her life growing up in a poor, urban, predominantly Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood in Chicago—a place significantly different from those she read about in her college literature classes.

The result? Cisneros developed a highly distinctive voice that reflected her Mexican-American heritage, the voice of a poor, female child of Mexican parents growing up in big-city America. Speaking through Esperanza, Cisneros writes,

Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carol’s hair is thick and straight. He doesn’t need to comb it. Nenny’s hair is slippery—slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur.
—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, “Hairs”

Here’s another piece from “A House of My Own.”

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.
—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, “A House of My Own”

Cisnero’s writing captivates. It is conversational, warm, and comfortable, as if she speaks directly to you. Her fragments and short, choppy sentences slide out in a steady, smooth stream, but they fit her intended purpose—to reflect the natural conversational tone of her childhood. Just kids sitting on the front stoop, swinging their bare-feet, and talking about life and hope. Subject these pieces to an academic sentence-combining activity and the charm, rhythm, and honesty disappear. Her writing is not unsophisticated. It is a social commentary, rich in description about the truth of life in poverty. She uses sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences effectively for her own writing purposes.

Shammai Golan (1933-           )

Israeli writer Shammai Golan uses sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences with an entirely different effect.

Golan moved to Palestine (pre-Israel) as an orphan at the age of fourteen (1947), leaving Poland and the difficult years of World War II behind. In 1951, he joined the Israeli Army in the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict, the background for this disturbing and powerful account of an Israeli’s soldier’s agonizing death.

In this brief quote, Golan conveys fear, shock, disbelief, and horror using fragments and choppy sentences to describe the last thoughts and minutes of a soldier’s life.

The Uzi’s a good weapon. Effective. For defense. For attack. In face-to-face-fighting. But today’s Friday. And there’s peace at the borders. And I’m only on watch over their road. They fired. Suddenly. Why’d they fire, suddenly? In war one fires. People get wounded. Killed. In the War of Independence. . . .
I’m breathing. With difficulty though. That’s because of the blood. I’m all wet. Maybe it suddenly rained. Sometimes it rains in September. Even before Yom Kippur. And I’m already damp. And flowing. All is flowing. And all is vanity. And you can never enter the same river twice. The Philosopher teacher. A great sage. . . .
And the leaves fall over my body. Soft. Purple. Like the water under my belly. Soft. Warm. How long can one flow like this. An hour. Two. Three. . . .
—Shammai Golan, “Ten Centimeters of Dust” in Laurel Holliday, Children of Israel, Children of Palestine: Our Own True

Golan communicates the gravity of this tragic situation as the soldier moves in and out of consciousness, hallucinating, remembering, regretting, wondering. Truncated sentences and stream of consciousness thinking create a stunning emotional impact on the reader. This must be what happens when someone thinks he is dying.

Bad Guys Turn Good

So, yes, there are rules for writing, but good writers often ignore these rules in order to develop their own style. Short, choppy sentences and sentence fragments can be effective in writing for specific purposes. Consider your purpose in writing when you use them.

Narrative writing with dialog seems especially suited for these two stylistic devices. People do not normally speak in full sentences in conversation. Instead they use body language, clipped sentences, repetition, and reliance on commonly known information to carry their meaning. They speak in fragments and in short, choppy sentences.

Academic writing, on the other hand, is not the place to overuse these structures. Teachers and professors prefer the more complex sentence structures that demonstrate higher levels of thinking and organization.

Sentence fragments and short, choppy sentences are not such bad guys after all.  But use them wisely, as part of an overall strategy to vary your sentence structure. Tell your teacher or editor I told you so.

YOUR TURN:
When have you used short, choppy sentences or fragments as stylistic strategies in your writing?
What authors have you read that use these two stylistic strategies effectively?

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