Test Answers 1

Back in March of 2017 I posted a writing test. If you missed it and are curious, follow this link before you go any farther.

I’d have posted the answers sooner, but someone asked me to send the test to their dad first. Well, Dad never responded, and I got distracted by other things, hence the tardiness.

So here are some of the questions. More in another post.

  1. “The technology,” he wrote, “is not limited to only aviation.”
  2. Best known of the two is Enrico Fermi, the Italian intellectual giant who escaped from fascist Italy to America after winning a Nobel Prize for his research in nuclear physics.
  3. On February 23, 1997, NBC broadcast the film in its three-and-a-half-hour entirety, uncut and uninterrupted by commercials, as per Spielberg’s request.
  4. Who do you think you match with?
  5. 1856   The Republican Party holds it’s first national meeting.  (© Ducksters.  I wasn’t going to embarrass them, but they put a copyright symbol on it. Used without permission)

And here are the answers.

  1. In English you can split an infinitive, but this sentence is better if you don’t. It should be “…only to aviation.”
  2. When you’re comparing two things, use “better.” “Best” is for when you have three or more.
  3. This one really irritates me. It’s “per” not “as per.” Per means according to, so as per would mean as according to. Nonsense. A good example of being too fancy, which, in writing, I call a pretentiousism.
  4. Everybody has trouble with “whom,” especially in questions. Turn the sentence around: Do you think you match with him? The “m” is the give-away. Whom is the object of the preposition; objective case.
  5. Arg! I can’t believe a professional writer got this wrong. It’s ITS! no apostrophe in the possessive! His, her, its.

So there’s your dose of self-righteousness for the day. You knew all those, right? If you didn’t before, go take the test.

The Courts Have Spoken: Use the Oxford comma!

News about this item appeared in March of 2017. It’s the outcome of a court case between a dairy in Maine and the company’s drivers, and it all hinged on the Oxford, or serial, comma.

I’m pretty sure, if you are the type to read this blog even occasionally, that you know what an Oxford comma is: When you have a list of things with an “and” between the last two items in the list, the comma before the “and” is called the Oxford comma. (This applies to lists with “or” too.)

Here’s a link to the appellate court’s decision.


I don’t really recommend you bother to read it, but the gist is that the drivers were entitled to extra goodies because the last two items in a list were combined, as implied by the lack of a comma before the “and.” So the “missing” comma, even though it’s considered grammatical to leave it out, cost the company money.

Here’s the rule as I phrase it:

Without the Oxford comma, sometimes you can be misunderstood. With it, you are never misunderstood.

Since I advocate that expository should be clear, I say “Always use the Oxford comma!”

Getting Figuratively Literally Correct

Here’s the comic, Dustin:

Dustin - 08/29/2017

So. A little reminder: Literally means it actually happened; figuratively means it didn’t actually happen, just something like it happened. In informal speech we tend to use “literally” as a way to emphasize what we’re saying. That’s okay, but when you’re writing to explain something, use the correct word.

I suppose in that last panel she could have said, “You both are literally annoying me.”

I must add that I could have left “literally” out of the title of this post, and the title would still be literally correct, and I could have put an “and” between the words and it would also be literally correct. And maybe easier to read, even.

And so we come to the hidden lesson here: if something is so, it is also literally so. Hence the word “literally” is often unnecessary, especially in expository writing.

In, Into, and Even In To

German has in, but nothing exactly equivalent to into. The reason is that German uses case to indicate motion or lack of motion. In with the dative case means the same as English in; in with the accusative means into, because the accusative (among other things) implies motion.

Okay, in English and German, here’s a simple example:

I climbed into the car;  ich steig in das Auto.
I did it in the car; ich habe es in dem Auto getan.

However, you can also use in and to next to each other as two separate words, and your spell checker is even likely to get this wrong! It’s when you use a separable verb (aka phrasal verb) followed by a prepositional phrase or infinitive. Here are some example separable verbs with in: give in, put in, break in, chip in, fill in.

An example of getting it wrong, from a passage at history.com about Son of Sam:

On Christmas Eve, 1975, he gave into these internal voices and severely wounded 15-year-old Michelle Forman with a hunting knife.

And getting it right:

I chipped in to help the cause.
I shouldn’t break in to their conversation.


So be careful: this is easy to get wrong.

A Quine!

Willard Van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as “one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century.” Wikipedia

I’m pretty sure you never heard of him, but he created a stir of sorts in intellectual circles a while back because of some of the things he thought up, one of which is a type of self-referential statement. I’ve mentioned Gödel’s Proof a couple times (here and here) and his proof involves self-referential statements, so I ran into Quine’s stuff while I was studying Gödel. I think the reference to quine was in the April 1962 issue of Scientific American or Gödel Escher Bach, but I don’t remember for sure, and I don’t have a copy of either publication handy to go look.

Okay, so what’s a quine? Mainly you find them in computing circles. It’s a program that creates a copy of itself. To refer to Wikipedia again,

quine is a non-empty computer program which takes no input and produces a copy of its own source code as its only output.

But it doesn’t have to be a computer program. Sometimes you can make a sentence that refers to itself in the manner of a quine, and here I found a comic that gives us a nice example. Hey, sometimes comics are pretty sophisticated!

At least I think it’s a quine…

We’re Leaving Latin Behind

Here’s a sentence from a science article by a writer for The New York Times. If anybody ought to know that the plural of millennium is millennia, he (and his editors) ought to. So this has to be deliberate.

And there is no doubt that thawing of the full depth of permafrost would take millenniums.

And I have seen plenty of places where the “singular” of criterion appears as criteria, its plural. Especially in computer-geek circles, certainly not an unintelligent crowd.

Pretty soon I won’t be able to harrumpf about it.

Why Your Writing Needs to be Accurate

A few years back I wrote an article about how important it is to write responsible documentation. It’s here: https://ezinearticles.com/?Writing-Good-Instructions—Sometimes-a-Matter-of-Life-Or-Death&id=2640549

The article is about some tech writing in the apollo program that was careful work and made a material contribution to the rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Here’s an example of someone who didn’t do quite as well:

Three years ago, according to a former D.O.E. official, a federal contractor in Los Alamos, having been told to pack the barrels with “inorganic kitty litter,” had scribbled down “an organic kitty litter.” The barrel with organic kitty litter in it had burst and spread waste inside the cavern. The site was closed for three years, significantly backing up nuclear-waste disposal in the United States and costing $500 million to clean, while the contractor claimed the company was merely following procedures given to it by Los Alamos.

Shall I repeat my mantra?


I’ve Mentioned Fluff Before

Actually several times over the past several years. (Search on redundan or fluff to see more.) Extra words go contrary to my rule about good expository writing, to be concise. So I suppose I don’t really need to mention it again, but this Wrong Hands comic has some good examples of what not to do. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

My Favorite Non-science Blogger Writes about Grammar!

(Another shameless plug for someone else)

Mike Peterson is a journalist who writes a blog named Comic Strip of the Day. Usually he uses comics as starters for political and social commentary. (Mike, if you see this, I hope you think that’s a fair description.) I frequently use comics too, but to make points about grammar and writing, mostly expository writing.

This time he started with a Non Sequitur comic that fits well here (see below) and he writes about grammar! Go read the whole post; it’s good, though I don’t know the rule he refers to regarding “may” and “might.”

Here’s the comic:


Someone Gets Fewer and Less Right!

It’s even in the punchline, so you can read the whole Pajama Diaries comic with a clear conscience!

Remember the rule? With things you measure, you use “less” and with things you count, you use “fewer.”

Pajama Diaries - 08/07/2017