Little language tip: Distressed, distraught

I spotted this on a site which shall remain nameless*.

In an article about a musician who had killed two people in a car crash was this phrase, used as a subhead:

“Singer takes to Facebook to express his distraught”.

Distraught is an adjective and can’t be used in that place in the sentence. The verb “express” needs a noun, and the right one here would be “distress”. The singer, on the other hand, can be distraught (or distressed).

  • I never mention the sites or names of authors where I spot mistakes. My purpose is not to name and shame or score points.

 

 

 

How to learn new things

Letters showing the word yes

Assume you are capable of learning new things. Picture: Stephen Tainton, freeimages.com

My first foray into the world of training could not have been more fraught.

It was the mid 1990s and the afternoon newspaper on which I worked as a sub-editor was about to make the change from one production system to another. Editorial staff were already working on computers (the Atex system) but the newspaper was still being made up by human hand. Now, people were going to move to a fully electronic system, on Apple Macs, using the Quark system.

I volunteered to be part of the transition project, specifically as one of the people who would train colleagues to use the new system. We had a small training room (with Arctic air conditioning), six Macs and hope in our hearts. Continue reading

Why I am a grammar cheerleader

The Twitter list I have for people who post about editing and grammar this morning alerted me to the fact that the United States celebrates March 4 as National Grammar Day. Grammarly, in particular, is very excited:

Though I don’t really hold with awareness days, my Friday morning thoughts meandered to grammar, and why it has such a bad reputation (even though Grammarly is working so hard to make it sexy).

When I was at school, South African education was going through a phase when children were not taught formal grammar. The only reason I know anything about grammar is because I did Latin in high school. My son, who has spent much of his primary school career being taught about things like subjunctive tenses and gerunds, would probably envy my school career. There’s no way round it, grammar as taught in school can be dead boring. And once you’ve made it out of school, there’s always the awful chance you may encounter someone who corrects your grammar for you, as you speak. For most people, the mere thought of grammar is a complete turn-off.

Speech bubbles

Because grammar rules (and “rules”) are often used by those “in the know” as a cudgel to shame people or shut out voices, a lot of people have a negative perception of grammar. Picture: ilker, freeimages.com

But grammar is important. My job for many years consisted of editing the writing of others, and that sometimes involved correcting their grammar. They didn’t like it – but in the end, good relationships were forged around a central understanding: writers and editors are working together towards articles and books that communicate with clarity and elegance and beauty.

And grammar (in any language) is the bedrock on which communication is founded.
An interview by Andy Bechtel with Lisa McLendon, co-ordinator of the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas and author of “The Perfect English Grammar Workbook: Simple Rules and Quizzes to Master Today’s English”, expresses this very clearly:

Q. In the book, you write that you prefer “grammar cheerleader” over “grammar cop.” What do you make of debates over grammar on social media and elsewhere?
A. I’m glad people are talking about language. Healthy debate is good, and anytime people (myself included) can learn more about language and how it works, it’s a good thing. Anytime people think about making writing more clear and accurate, it’s a good thing. Because grammar rules (and “rules”) are often used by those “in the know” as a cudgel to shame people or shut out voices, a lot of people have a negative perception of grammar. That’s why it needs a cheerleader instead of a cop.
But like it or not, we DO get judged by our language, especially online, where the vast majority of communication is written, and often that judgment will override any information someone is trying to convey or point someone is trying to make. Understanding grammar can help someone gain credibility and write authoritatively.

So tomorrow, March 4, I will be raising a glass to grammar and to being a grammar cheerleader.

When to use the word alleged? Some simple rules

One of the most apparently difficult things to get right in news journalism is the correct use of the word alleged.
A Facebook post this morning from a local radio station illustrates the point:

“A shocking video has emerged online of an alleged taxi driver hitting a woman in a taxi at a CBD rank.”

See that alleged? It’s in the wrong place (and in fact is not even really needed) – and the sentence is just clumsy. Here’s what I would have done: Continue reading

How to get into journalism

Library books

Join the library. Picture: Liz Ashe, freeimages.com

Last year, I wrote a column declaring my passion for journalism.Over the last week, I’ve had a Facebook message and then email exchange that I think might be worth sharing.

So why, when in response I had a Facebook message from a young freelancer asking for advice on how to get into mainstream journalism, did my heart sink a little?

In that column, I noted that the media is in the process of cataclysmic change. I hesitate to recommend it as a career path for that reason. But of course, I understand the pull of the craft. So I gathered myself together and gave the best advice I could. And thought it might be worth sharing here. Continue reading