Monday, February 27, 2012

Squeaking Chalk on the Blackboard

On a piece of paper write the numbers 1-6. Beside each write Y or N to indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following.

1.      An ellipsis consists of three dots which are separated by spaces.
2.      Use the ellipsis for a thought that trails off. To avoid a time-consuming discussion, I agreed, but wondered ...
3.      When expressing a thought discontinued due to strong emotion or an abrupt change, use an em dash. A second after I agreed, I remembered that conversation. I stood up and shouted—  
4.      In an article KittyCat indicated he didn’t like to have his nails trimmed. There’s a word for his ordeal: exungulate, pronounced eg ZUN gyou late.
5.      The solidus, a punctuation mark formed by a diagonal line, is also called a slash or slant mark. A common use of it is with the words and/or.
6.      The word critique is a not used as a verb in standard English.

If two up-to-date style books or grammar guides were a part of your library, would you find definitive answers to all grammatical questions? No. Therefore, relax. Study the basics. Aim for the use of standard English in your writing, but don't obsess over it. Discussions on the subject can be fun. If you have opinions about the following, please express them in the “Comments” box. 

1.      An ellipsis (plural: ellipses) indicates omitted words. As a punctuation device in today’s usage, the ellipsis is usually written as three dots with no spaces between them. Certain references still adhere to the form as three dots each separated by a space (. . .). Look hard enough, and you can find the ellipsis written to indicate a half space between the dots, but that relates to squiggles once written on manuscripts for communication between authors and typesetters.
2.      Did you notice the “trailing off” ellipsis does not require further punctuation?     
3.      Tricky. Number three is factually correct, but not well expressed. Isn’t this better? When strong emotion or an abrupt change interrupts a thought, emphasize the unexpressed words with an em dash. 
4.      Most grammar guides would use italics when writing the word exungulate. Note: the first letter of a word following a colon is in lowercase, unless the word should otherwise be capitalized.  
5.      As used in #5, there is no reason to italicize the word solidus. But, when a word is used as a word, as it is in this comment, it is italicized. Just for fun, look up the word look up the word virgule.
6.      OK, let’s not be stuffy. Thirty years ago, I might have offered to criticize a friend’s manuscript. Today, since criticize has a negative connotation, I would offer (albeit incorrect) to critique the writing, and keep the friend. Until dictionary usage panels allow the word’s use as a verb in standard English, a better word choice is evaluate.

Express yourself. If in your youth, you missed some training because you covered your ears when chalk squeaked on the blackboard, start fresh. Join a writing group, buy an updated stylebook, and have fun. A publisher who thinks your work will turn a profit, knows where to find a good editor.  

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

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