Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spell check doesn't catch these

As I used to tell my students, if you are using Microsoft spell/grammar check as your proofreading method, than you are not proofreading.

What Spell Check Doesn't Catch

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wikipedia finally starts to change

The article below details the change in policy at Wikipedia. Teachers at all levels have for years told their students that Wikipedia is NOT a valid source for research, as its user-generated content is not checked and often incorrect. While this change does not completely solve the problem, it is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Punctuation, Style Guides, and Rules

Our dear friend Rachel wrote a few months ago with this question: "OK - here it is - how many spaces between sentences - one or two? At work they insist it is two (and it was two when I was in high school), but when I go to publish scientific literature it is one. Who is right?"

Well, Rachel, they both are right. Bad answer, huh?

Here's the longer answer:

Academic, scientific, and news publications all have writing style guides that they use. These vary widely. Most of us are taught writing in high school English classes, and those classes use MLA, or the Modern Language Association, standards. MLA calls for two spaces between sentences. But there are many other standards out there (below I've included links to some of the more popular style guides). On top of that, many journals modify a particular style to their own requirements. I just recently submitted an article for publication in an archaeology journal and ran into the same problem as you, Rachel. I am MLA trained and have yet to get used to the styles used in the archaeology world (here is a hint: use the Microsoft "Find and Replace" option when you are done writing to change two spaces, ". ", to one space ". " It saves a ton of time!).

It is one of those frustrating realities that, for each place that you write, you will need to adhere to its requirements. No one is right and no one is wrong. Typically, though, most people are used to two spaces. I suspect many publications go with one space to save space in their journals.

Here are links to three of the more popular style guides:

MLA: The Modern Language Associate does not offer a free version online, but the OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Perdue has some of the material available on their fabulous website:

APA: The website for the American Psychological Associate has a lot of helpful information on this commonly used style:

Chicago: The Chicago Manual of Style also has a very useful online site:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Foriegn Language Goof

We love it when they goof up in another language; in this case, all seems to be well with just a few friendly jokes!

Russian media teases Clinton over 'reset' button

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian media has been poking fun at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she gave her Russian counterpart a "reset" button with an ironic misspelling.

Clinton's gift to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at their meeting in Geneva on Friday evening was meant to underscore the Obama administration's readiness to "to press the reset button" in ties with Moscow.

But instead of the Russian word for "reset" (perezagruzka) it featured a slightly different word meaning "overload" or "overcharged" (peregruzka).

Daily newspaper Kommersant put a prominent picture of the fake red button on its front page and declared: "Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton pushed the wrong button."

A correspondent for NTV television called it a "symbolic mistake," pointing out that US-Russian ties had become overcharged in recent years due to discord over such issues as missile defence and last summer's war in Georgia.

"The friendly US gesture was upturned by a small amusing incident," the news website wrote in an article posted late Friday evening.

"Yet this curious episode did not stop Clinton and Lavrov from pushing the button in front of television cameras."

US Vice-President Joe Biden spoke of pressing the "reset button" on relations between Moscow and Washington during a speech in Germany last month. It has since been repeated in various forms by both US and Russian officials.

Taken from:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy National Grammar Day!

It's National Grammar Day, 2009! The Syntax Sisters are asking you all this month to share your favorite grammar blunders in our blog; you can email us at or post it in our comments section. We'll be posting our own favorites there soon!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Fun with Words: Banned Words

The Syntax Sisters love when the new year comes around, as everyone starts posting lists! Here's the first one we've seen, and we have to agree that we would not miss some of these words...

Banned words list offers no 'bailout' to offenders

DETROIT – A movie about a "maverick," his journey "from Wall Street to Main Street," his "desperate search" for a "monkey" and a "game-changing" revelation about his "carbon footprint" probably would make the nation's word-watchers physically ill.

Especially if it were the "winner of five nominations."

All those words and phrases are on Lake Superior State University's annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. The 34th version of the list was released Tuesday, which means, "It's that time of year again."

The school in Michigan's Upper Peninsula selected 15 entries from about 5,000 nominations.

Despite the year's economic meltdown (which itself wasn't banished but don't rule it out for next year), the most entries came from the environmental category — for "green" or "going green."

"If I see one more corporation declare itself 'green,' I'm going to start burning tires in my backyard," wrote Ed Hardiman of Bristow, Va., in his submission. Nominators also had their fill of "carbon footprint" — the amount of greenhouse gases an individual's lifestyle produces.

The list wasn't overrun with politics despite the national election — no "change," for instance — but one simply couldn't escape the critics' wrath.

"I'm a maverick, he's a maverick, wouldn't you like to be a maverick, too?" offered Michael Burke of Silver Spring, Md., in his entry for the label embraced by unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Also knocked was "first dude," a term adopted by Todd Palin, husband of McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Words related to the economy led to a few meltdowns.

"I am so tired of hearing about everything affecting 'Main Street.' I know that with the 'Wall Street' collapse, the comparison is convenient, but really, let's find another way to talk about everyman or the middle class, or even, heaven forbid, 'Joe the Plumber.'" wrote Stacey from Knoxville, Tenn. She provided only a first name in her bid to eradicate — or at least separate — Wall Street" and "Main Street."

Although this year's sluggish economy and record rise in gas prices may have kept people closer to home, the word coined for it, "staycation," is "idiotic and rootless," says Michele Mooney of Los Angeles.

An emoticon made the list for the first time. The strings of characters used in e-mails and text-messaging commonly represent a face — like ;-) or :-0 — but the school singled out an emoticon heart, formed with a "less than" symbol and the number 3.

"Monkey" was on the list because of what some see as its rampant use as a suffix. "Especially on the Internet, many people seem to think they can make any boring name sound more attractive just by adding the word 'monkey' to it," wrote Rogier Landman of Sommerville, Mass.

The school's annual quest to throw lexicon logs on the fire always gets some end-of-the-year attention for the school in Sault Ste. Marie, the last stop before Michigan's northern border crossing with Canada. But the list is more about letting off steam and offering laughs than performing any verbal vanishing act.

"We get several nominations for the same word or phrase, and we still get nominations for words and phrases that have been on previous years' lists," said university spokesman Tom Pink.

"'At this point in time' was on the first list in 1976 and it continues to be nominated every year. People still hate it."

Think these gendarmes of jargon should "get a life"? Watch it, kiddo. That phrase was banished in 1997.


On the Net:

Lake Superior State University's banished words:

Article from;_ylt=ApycA4Qw_lxT5ERaIB_Z2dAazJV4

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Apostrophes are used to show possession (never plurals! I always make my students recite "I will not use an apostrophe to make things plural!"), but sometimes remembering the right way to use apostrophes can be confusing. Eddie wrote to us asking how to help explain to his 8 year old son how to use the apostrophes that appear in a few words on his son's spelling list. Excellent question!

To show ownership with a singular noun, add an apostrophe and then an "s"

e.g. My sister's hat is pretty. (Without the apostrophe, we would say "The hat of my sister is pretty.")

To show ownership with a plural noun, put the apostrophe after the "s" that is already there.

e.g. My two sisters' hats are very pretty. ( Without the apostrophe, we would say "The hats that belong to my two sisters are pretty.")

When the plural word does not have an "s" ending, just add the apostrophe and the "s" like you would with a singular word.

e.g. The children's hats were very pretty. (Without the apostrophe, we would say "The hats of the children were very pretty.")

Finally, if you have a singular name that ends in an "s" you still need a second "s" after the apostrophe.

e.g. Chris's hat was not pretty. (Without the apostrophe, "The hat that belongs to Chris is not pretty.")

Exception: Famous historical/religious figures sometimes get away without the second "s"

e.g. Jesus' deeds were described in the homily this week. (Without the apostrophe, "The deeds of Jesus were described in the homily this week.")

If your son has difficulty determining whether the sentence wants a plural word (no apostrophe) or a possessive word (apostrophe), have him try the "of" test. If you can insert "of" in the sentence, like I have done with some of the examples above, then you want an apostrophe. If you cannot, then the word is just plural, and there is no apostrophe needed.

And, of course, apostrophes are used to make contractions, like "I'm," "don't," and "can't."

Pop quiz for all you smarties out there: Why doesn't the possessive form of "its" take an apostrophe?
Post your response in the comments section!