Friday, February 28, 2014

All Good Things...

When I started this blog a few years back, it was a way to release my frustrations about the innumerable typos and bad writing that plague modern-day writing.

Since then, many things in my life have changed - some for the better, some not so much. The only thing that hasn't changed is the state of the English language in today's society. In fact, it appears to me that everything has gotten worse. I had come to expect missing, misspelled, and misused words in certain news outlets and on social media, but now the writing plague has gone viral. Typos and writing mistakes litter just about everything I read, whether it's print or digital, national outlets or small markets. There is no lack of fodder for this blog.

However, because of the aforementioned life changes and a reshuffling of life priorities, I will be discontinuing posts here effective today. The World Needs a Proofreader has been a lot of fun, but it's also been a lot of work - unpaid work I no longer have the time or energy to support. And since this blog is not really contributing to my long-term life goals, it's time to say goodbye.

I will still be writing and editing; there's never a lack of projects in a writer's world! In fact, if you want to keep up with me you can check out my new blog about firefighting, Advance the Line, at

This blog will remain live for at least the next few months until I figure out what to do with it.

Until we meet again, my fellow word warriors...

Colorado Sunset. Photo by Robin Widmar. Copyright 2013.

Monday, January 20, 2014

More is Not Always Better

There are a lot of people who feel that using more words in a sentence makes them look smarter or more important. I don’t have statistics, but I don’t think hard research is necessary – you and I have both seen them, spoken with them, and worked with or for them.

A number of years ago, I worked for a person who felt it necessary to close business correspondence with something like this:

“If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at the number reflected below.”

I promptly changed the business letter template to read:

“Please contact me if you have any questions.”

Short, professional, and to the point.

Truth be told, in most instances that line isn’t even necessary. Believe me, if someone has a question, he or she will let you know! But since I wasn’t in charge, I had to make a few compromises to keep the peace.

In my experience, wordiness can be a sign of insecurity (“Hey! Look at me! I know lots and lots of words, and I can use them all!”) or simply inexperience as a writer. I’m guessing the following sentence fragment from an online story falls into the latter category:

“…police say there is not believed to be a threat to the community.”

How about: “…police believe there is no threat to the community.”

Or:  “…police say they believe there is no threat to the community.”

 Words. Use them wisely.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Trends (Part III)

Recently I’ve noticed that some reporters are ditching more formal writing styles for “guy/gal on the street” vernacular. I call it:

The “Let’s Chat Over a Beer” Trend

From a crime report on a local news website:

“Another officer went to make contact with the guy.”

“Guy” should only be used if it’s part of a quote from someone the reporter has interviewed. Otherwise, just say “man” or “suspect,” or whatever term applies.

From a weather-related story by a national news outlet and republished on a local news website:

Rigs jackknifed and passenger cars slid into rigs, causing chain-reaction crashes and an enormous backup…”

Not only is this usage of “rigs” repetitive, it’s slang. The AP Stylebook, which is the guiding standard for most journalistic publications, recommends that writers avoid slang, which it calls “highly informal language…outside of conventional or standard language.”

Just like the first example, unless it’s part of a quote, other common terms should be used, e.g. “semis” or “tractor-trailers.”

Keep in mind that these are examples from actual news stories, not the comments sections!

I can only speculate that this informality trend is an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic that a) is not as attached to formal news reporting as some of us who have been around awhile; b) is bombarded by information from all directions, and thus suffers from a short attention span.

The problem is that people of all ages and backgrounds read this stuff.

While informality may be acceptable for publications that have intentionally adopted such a style, I personally don’t like seeing it in journalism. Yes, styles change over the years – just Google old issues of any newspaper or magazine and see how they differ from modern writing. I believe, however, that a writer can be readable and relevant without stooping to excessive informality.

Click here to see Trends (Part I)
Click here to see Trends (Part II)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top English Language Pet Peeves of 2013

It wouldn't be the end of the year - or the start of the new year - without top-whatever lists. Here is a list of the top ten English language annoyances of 2013 according to Grammarly via Facebook:

Users also noted the following usages (or mis-usages) that drive them nuts:

  • Loose/lose
  • Then/than
  • To/too/two
  • I/me
  • Pacifically/specifically (I'm not sure the former is even a word!)
  • Are/our
  • Literally/figuratively
  • For all intensive purposes...
  • Unnecessary quotations marks
  • Unnecessary commas
And the list goes on. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year's Gift...

...courtesy of an Oakland fan at Sunday's Broncos-Raiders game.

May your 2014 be filled with peace, prosperity, and correct punctuation/spelling/grammar.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trends (Part II)

One thing that some Internet users love to do is loudly proclaim their superiority over others, particularly in comments sections of online news stories. Unfortunately, this trend has taken hypocrisy to new heights. I call it the:

“I’m Better at Grammar Than You Are” (But Not Really) Trend

This first example comes verbatim from the comments for a story on a major news website:

“I've seen so many grammar mistakes in online news lately. I, maybe foolishly,expect more from some of these big orgs”

Perhaps those big orgs foolishly expect more from their readers.

But to add insult to insult, here’s a response to that comment:

“I too have seen many ‘grammatical’ mistakes in comments”

Maybe he/she should be paying more attention to using commas and periods...

Then there’s this one, from a different story on the same website, in which the commenter is responding to another’s misuse of “who” and “whom.”

“ ’who had never flown’. whom is the objective not the subjective”

You know that adage about people who live in glass houses? Yeah. That guy.

And now, the final gem in our examination of hypocrites who think their writing doesn’t stink. From the comments section of an online article about People magazine naming Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine as the “sexiest man alive”:

“I this is the sexiest man alive, I'm submitting my photo next year! He's a girl in a males body!”

The response, again verbatim:

“First take a gramamr class. It's male's not males”

I suppose we should all be grateful that at least some people are trying to make the written world a better place. With writing like this, however, I’m not quite ready to jump on that bandwagon.

Click here to see Trends (Part I)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Do the Math

Colorado’s recent disasters will continue to have ripple effects for years to come. That’s no laughing matter, and yet some reporters insist on going for the comedic approach.

Story headline:

Almost half of Royal Gorge workers let go”

First sentence of story:

“…The Royal Gorge Company of Colorado laid off 24 of its 41 employees…”

Here’s some breaking news: “Almost half” is not a synonym for “nearly half.” More than a week later, the error remained as written.

Writers may not like working with numbers, but this is just ridiculous.