Monday, October 25, 2010

Been There Done That: Common Errors in English

Yes, I think I've probably made most of these common errors in English.

They are worth checking out - if only because of their wonderfully pithy explanations. For example:

Some people suppose that since “premises” has a plural form, a single house or other piece of property must be a “premise,” but that word is reserved for use as a term in logic meaning something assumed or taken as given in making an argument. Your lowly one-room shack is still your premises.

Oh, and how many times have I been told to write in the active voice? I'm tempted to print this explanation out and post it next to my computer:

There are legitimate uses for the passive voice: “this absurd regulation was of course written by a committee.” But it’s true that you can make your prose more lively and readable by using the active voice much more often. “The victim was attacked by three men in ski masks” isn’t nearly as striking as “three men in ski masks attacked the victim.” The passive voice is often used to avoid taking responsibility for an action: “my term paper was accidentally deleted” avoids stating the truth: “I accidentally deleted my term paper.” Over-use of passive constructions is irritating, though not necessarily erroneous. But it does lead to real clumsiness when passive constructions get piled on top of each other: “no exception in the no-pets rule was sought to be created so that angora rabbits could be raised in the apartment” can be made clearer by shifting to the active voice: “the landlord refused to make an exception to the no-pets rule to allow Eliza to raise angora rabbits in the apartment.”

Hmmm, maybe the Internet and Blogging won't be the downfall of the written word. Maybe giving people a platform to write, and the resources to learn to write well, will actually make for better writing?

Update: And, to help us all from taking any of this too seriously, I present to you Stephen Fry's take on language (thanks to Paul for sending me the link!):

Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography - Language from Matthew Rogers on Vimeo.

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