A Redundancy

Writing concisely saves your reader time and effort (and irritation), because when you don’t repeat yourself, your reader doesn’t have to read the same thing twice. I’ve written about redundancy before. Use the search box in the upper right corner to find more on this subject.


He could have said:

  • Get the sign painter back!
  • Get the sign painter here!
  • Get the sign painter again!

That sentence would be correct if the sign painter had already been there more than once, though.

When you write, don’t repeat yourself!

This post first appeared on The Writing Rag.

A Correct Double Negative

Ordinarily, good English avoids using two negatives in a sentence. I’m thinking of sentences such as these:

I ain’t got none.
It don’t make no never-mind.

But we do have a way to use two negatives, when it’s what we mean. I’d say it’s a kind of understatement. I ran into a nice example the other day:

Meanwhile, there’s little reason to think that stealthy, sophisticated hackers aren’t already exploiting BlueKeep in secret, says Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker and founder of the firm Rendition Infosec.


You can get away with a sentence like that if you want to sound “literary,” but when you’re into being clear and concise, something like this is better:

We think that sophisticated hackers are already exploiting BlueKeep in secret.

Not as colorful, perhaps, but more to the point. And that’s what you want, isn’t it?

A Nit Pick

The mistake is in the first panel. I bet you won’t see it. I’m not referring to the false subject (there’s) either:


Here’s the goof: technically, “slower” is an adjective, and she’s using it as an adverb, to modify “drive.” You can have a slow driver, but you drive slowly, or in this case, more slowly.

Ah, idiomatic spoken English is so full of solecisms…

New Texting Abbreviation

A quickie today. I’ll let the comic speak for itself.


I wonder whether anyone ever texts “SPEBSQSA.”

(Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America)

This post first appeared in The Writing Rag.

Tech Writer’s Lament

One of my five rules is that documentation should be useful. Some places where I’ve worked are over-thorough. Like this place:


If you follow the link, it’s in the upper right corner of the comic.

And if you want to learn more about usefulness, get the free article I mention on the right side of this web page.

PS—Normally I use “such as” when I give an example, but I used “like” at the end of that first paragraph because it’s not a place I worked at, just similar.

Singular Form, Plural Meaning

I’m not talking about ordinary single words such as “fish,” which can have a plural meaning.

Two phrases just occurred to me that are singular, but always connect to a plural meaning.

  • Next of kin
  • Head of cattle

I just read a news item about an auto accident. The last line said ” Next of kin has been notified.” “Has” is singular, and it doesn’t sound right, because we presume that people have more than one next of kin. (Ahem. Unless we say there’s only one.) Another example: “My next of kin are in Ireland.” You wouldn’t use the singular verb in that sentence, would you?

And cattle is plural, okay, but it’s the object of the preposition. “Head” is a singular, and I have never heard the phrase used to refer to one bovine without spelling out the number. (Mah kid’s whole herd is one head that he got from 4-H.) Farmer Jones always means more than one when he says “head of cattle.” And he never says “heads of cattle.”

Related image
Five head.

Can you think of any other phrases that are singular but mean plural?

A Tricky Sentence

“Not” is an adverb. It negates the verb, adjective, or adverb that it refers to. So far so good. “Not” does not modify nouns or noun clauses.

Cover the bottom sentence in the picture, then read the top sentence, then think about it.

That can’t be right! Discernment has something to do with knowing the difference, right? Now read the bottom sentence. Aha!

Let’s go back to the top sentence. “Not” doesn’t modify “knowing,” it modifies “is”! Having “not” modify the wrong word is an easy mistake to make without the context of having that bottom sentence. To make the top sentence unambiguous, you need to separate the “not” from the noun clause, which happens to start with a present participle. (Present participles are verb forms, so “not knowing” feels okay.)

You could do the separation four ways.

  • Put a colon after the “not”:
    Discernment is not: knowing the difference between etc.
  • Put the noun clause in quotes. Do this to both sentences to make them parallel:
    Discernment is not “knowing the difference between etc.” It is “knowing the difference etc.”
  • Reorder the sentence:
    Knowing the difference between right and wrong is not discernment.
  • Speak the sentences, and pause after the “not” in the first sentence.

Myself, I’d repeat the word “discernment” rather than use “it” as the subject of the bottom sentence. But who am I to tell Charles Spurgeon how to write? Of course, Spurgeon was a preacher, and he probably first said these sentences in a sermon, and someone wrote them down to make the poster. So maybe I’m not criticizing Spurgeon after all.

Verbing a Noun Comic

Every now and then I mention this habit of our English language taking nouns and making them into verbs. Some are so common we don’t even think about them. “Race,” for example, and “cup,” and “jump” to mention only three. In fact, “mention” is another example!

Some of these, however, we curmudgeons disapprove of, and this comic is about one of them.


We already have a perfectly good verb to use in this situation. it’s “give.”


“Whom” Comic

First the comic…


Two lessons here. Maybe three.

  • First: first panel. She’s actually asking “Who is it?” That’s correct. “Who” is the subject of the implied sentence.
  • Next: third panel. He misstates her question, but “whom” is okay in his sentence. “Whom” is the object of the preposition.
  • Finally: Her displeasure is appropriate, I suppose, but she should have used “who” because it’s the subject of the sentence.

I guess the moral is to be careful about whom you play video games with.

A Grammar Lesson with Two Small Errors

This can be called a style issue, or maybe even a good taste issue, but it’s a readability issue.

Here’s the lesson. You probably won’t see the errors:

  • First, you should put quotes around “Me” because you are referring to the word itself. Using italics is okay, too, depending on what your style guide says. The comic is funny because the cartoonist didn’t put the quotes around “me” in the first panel, leading you to think the horse was going to talk about himself, not the word.
  • Second, that slash between “him” and “herself.” Use “or.” (Or use “and” if that’s appropriate.) Many people use the slash when they can’t decide which conjunction to use. Don’t be lazy! Decide!
  • sigh. I may as well mention a third possible mistake. When you have two (or more) compound words and want to mention the second part only once, put a hyphen after that first separated part. Write “him- or herself.”