Get Lend and Loan Right!

“Lend” is a verb. It’s something you do.

“Loan” is a noun. It’s a thing. 

This guy (panel 2) has it wrong.

Don’t do that! It’s “did I lend you a book”! harrumpf

Part of Speech Comic

Been a while since I posted a comic, so here’s one:

Rule of thumb: Prepositions are especially tricky when you have to translate something into another language. Always get a native speaker to check your work.

More Fluff

I haven’t mentioned fluff in writing for a while. Fluff is one or more unnecessary words in what you (or someone) writes. You can also call this redundancy in writing. I hear people say “tiny little” a lot, as if it were one word. Here’s something similar:

Meteors are tiny dust-size particles of rock and metal that Earth passes through as it orbits the Sun.

Take out “tiny”! Or take out “dust-size.”

If I may also wax astronomical, I shall add that the sentence describes particles that are too small. I don’t think a dust particle has enough molecules to create a flash of light bright enough to make a streak seen over a large area dozens of miles away.

In Which I Wax Philosophical

This post isn’t exactly a lesson, but it is about writing. After you read the post, I invite your comments. 

Here’s a passage I ran across:

Plants need three things to grow: air, water, and nutrients. Farmers usually take care of the last bit by fertilizing their fields.

The first sentence mentions three “things.” But the last thing in that list is a plural! That means more than three, right? Maybe the writer should have said “three categories.” But are air and water mere categories? ehh… “Nutrition” is a singular, but it’s not quite parallel with the rest of the list. Maybe ignore the subtle incongruity and leave the plural in there? After all, in the next sentence, the writer referred to nutrients as a “bit.” Maybe re-write the sentence: Plants need air, water, and nutrients to grow. That eliminates the incongruity, but the sentence isn’t as dynamic; makes for a weaker beginning for the article.

So. Hmm. Uh, well, er, what do you think?

Cute Grammar Pun

Here it is, folks. Got it from a friend off Facebook. Don’t know whether the link still works, but the source appears to be something called Captain Grammar Pants.

Too bad the guy on the left isn’t a monocle. Then I wouldn’t have thought, “should be ‘corrective lenses.’ “

Watch out for Irregular Verbs

People seem to play fast and loose with irregular verbs. They use “snuck” when they should have used “sneaked,” for example. And they tend to use the wrong form when the verb is irregular. Even professionals do it (for shame):

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will have a 25-foot golden mirror that will be able to collect light from the first stars and galaxies that sprung to life just after the Big Bang.

It’s spring sprang sprung, guys. Simple past is sprang!

While I’m complaining, here’s another grammatical goof from the same article:

In recent months, much of the focus has centered around the telescope’s primary contractor Northrop Grumman.

You center on something, not center around. I even wrote about this. Twice.

I like to put pictures in my posts, so here’s one of the telescope.

Even the caption to this picture has a goof, though a subtle one. Here’s the caption:

An artistic rendering of what JWST will look like in space

Artistic? This is a caption, not an opinion piece. Remove the word. Keep things factual. Harrumpf.

Is “None” Singular or Plural?

“None” is is derived from “not one” and since the “not” is an adjective, you can ignore it; all that to say that “none” is singular. So this sentence from an NBC news article is correct, even though it feels wrong.

None of the 103 people on board — 99 passengers, two pilots and two flight attendants — was killed.

“Was killed” feels wrong because of attraction, which was permitted in classical Latin, but not in modern English. Attraction is when a word picks up its grammatical form from a nearby word rather than from the “correct” word. And this sentence has a whole lot of plurals for “was killed” to wade through before you get to the subject, and “none” isn’t a strong singular anyway (People tend to give it its number from the context. When they talk about plurals, “none” becomes a plural, even though it isn’t.).

Nobody’ll criticize you if you get this construction wrong, but you’ll score points with the experts if you get it right.

Subtle Use of a Comma

Normally, a comma indicates a small pause of some kind in a sentence. And using a “from-to” construction indicates a range. I just ran into a usage where a comma changed the type of range in a from-to construction. It’s a headline to an article about a hockey team:

From underdogs, to National Champions

Without the comma, the headline might be above an article listing teams starting with low skill and ending with the top-of-the line team. But with the comma, the meaning changes to a passage of time for one team.


A Writer’s In Joke

Mark Anderson of Andertoons does a pretty good job of creating cartoons with an intellectual bent (as opposed to. say, scatological), and he even sells them for use in business and school presentations and the like. Check out his website.

Anyway, maybe today’s comic has two points. Do you get them both?

I’m pretty sure everybody can get the obvious joke; P.M. Roget wrote the Thesaurus, used by generations of writers to make their writing more lively, hence the list of synonyms for “peace.”

The second punchline isn’t exactly funny, perhaps. I haven’t opened my copy of his book for years. It’s too easy to go online, including here. And here. And here. And here. Where, ahem, I can also find Roget’s version.  Not to mention typing “synonym for [word]” in the address line of my browser.

So it’s a fitting epitaph, eh?

What is Metadata?

You’ve probably seen the word “metadata” in articles about computer security, such as references to the government collecting only metadata from phone calls.

Metadata is a description of something, a title, if you will, but not the actual data itself.

Clickbait is mainly metadata. Here’s a Bizarro comic with a lot of metadata bumper stickers. The comic has enough of them that it should give you a good feel for what metadata is. [Side note: “clickbait” has become so common a word that it’s no longer written as “click bait.” But my spell checker hasn’t caught up yet. It still says I should use “click bait.”]

Today’s rule of thumb: The place for metadata in expository writing is in headings, not in the content.