Saturday, February 26, 2011

Altogether Different Meanings

Here’s another fire story for you. A teenager was arrested for setting fire to some stuff in a Wal-Mart garden center. On its web site, our top-notch local news station reported this:

“…Wal-Mart reported to the fire department an estimated loss of $150,000. That is based on fire and water damage and lost business. 

There’s no typos here, but take note of that last sentence. The monetary loss includes actual damage and lost business.

The problem came from one of the station’s own top-notch news anchors, who reported on that day’s broadcast:

“…the fire damaged $150,000 in merchandise.”

Whoa! There’s a huge difference in meaning between these two reports – actual damages plus lost business as opposed to damaged merchandise. Yet they are from the very same station.

Accuracy in reporting. What a concept.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Typos and the College Student

I'm taking some college classes, so there will be intermittent blog silences for the next few months as I tackle the world of academia.

To be honest, I don't quite know what to make of my college experience so far.

The majority of my instructors over the past year have been adamant that homework, research papers and online discussions must be written with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation (hooray for the Write-It-Right crowd!). Yet these very same instructors put out assignments, discussion posts and e-mails that are anything but perfect. Sure, I expected an occasional typo here or there - sadly, typos are becoming the norm for our society. But the errors I'm seeing go beyond "occasional" and are straying into "frequent" territory. "Do as I say, not as I do" is not a good example to be setting for students.

Even so, my current instructors are no match for a copy editing instructor I had several years ago. She had so many typos in her handouts that I corrected them and returned them to her for extra credit points! True story.

That class still ranks as my most disappointing college experience. I paid good money for that class, which was supposed to extoll the virtues of good, error-free writing and teach me something new. All I got was more experience editing someone else's work (for free, no less) and another box checked for my degree track...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"More Than" or "Over"?

Today I would like to direct your attention to this online article from Writer's Digest in which Brian A. Klems discusses the use of "more than" and "over":
More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?
Like Mr. Klems, I was taught that "over" was not a suitable replacement for "more than." Turns out we're wrong - well, at least in the modern day writing world. Multiple sources confirm that "over" and "more than" are, indeed, interchangeable. The choice is a matter of style, not grammar.

I'll probably still use "more than" in my own writing, just because it's what I'm used to doing. But at least now I can refrain from cringing every time I hear "over" used in conjunction with a numerical amount.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Then There's Too Much Clarity...

...or, perhaps, a tad too much lunacy stemming from frivolous lawsuits.

One of the most noticeable results of legal issues in the modern world is that Everything Must Be Labeled. I understand that some labels are necessary to alert allergy sufferers of potential hazards hidden within a product or a manufacturing process. But I often think we've gone too far. For example:
  • Disposable coffee cups bearing the warning "Contents May Be Hot." I guess no one's figured out yet that no label will keep klutzy drivers from spilling their steaming beverages while they're texting in rush-hour traffic.
  • The wrapper of a peanut crunch candy bar stating "Contains Peanuts" as if we couldn't tell by the photo on the wrapper. The name of the snack usually contains some form of the word "nut," but if someone can't (or won't) read the name, they sure as heck aren't going to read the warning!
Then there's this little gem:

Roast flavored roast. Really?

I suppose I should be glad that I didn't inadvertently pick up a salmon-flavored pork roast. That would have just ruined my dinner plans.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Importance of Being Clear

One of the casualties in modern writing seems to be clarity. Take, for instance, this article from the Summit Daily News:

A human-triggered avalanche on Uneva Peak, near Vail Pass, on Saturday afternoon resulted in waist-deep burial and injury of a rider in a party of four.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports that the rider was covered for about 10 seconds…

The lengthy article goes on to describe the subsequent rescue efforts and provides information on other similar avalanche incidents. Nowhere in the body of the article does it state what type of rider was injured. Snowmobiler? Snowboarder? Horseback rider?

I eventually found the answer (snowboarder) in a sidebar to the story – not in the article itself.

The only thing that’s clear is that the writer assumed her readership will know that her use of “rider” equates to “snowboarder.” That’s fine and dandy for a niche audience, but in this Age of the Internet, all sorts of readers will link to that story. Readers like me who aren’t familiar with snow sports vernacular won’t have a clue what the writer means.

Be clear. Be concise. Write on.