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Friday, 09 October 2009


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Quote: "Hey your right. Where is everbody? Look's like there loosing interest...!"

If I read that on a well-known British photography forum-cum-magazine site, I would probably think that the overall standard of literacy had improved!

Au contraire, mon ami. There's something altogether looser in their grammar, if not in other aspects of their communication.

Write on!

On a positive note there are not any Internet style shortcuts or emoticons...


It drives me nuts, because I'm like Seinfeld's Soup Nazi.

True story: someone lost me as a customer because of their copy on a website. It was on their "About Us" page; I could not stand it, and decided to look elswhere.

I simply thought 'If this is how they write, what is their work like?'

You will notice, when I send you private e-mails, they are carefully crafted. It's not "just an e-mail," and so I can be careless. I am hoping for a serious reply, which you have always given me, and so I approach it accordingly.

Whenever I find something on the "New York Times" site, I send an e-mail to their Public Editor.

A NYT reporter: "This person, who's work..."

A NYT commenter: "That car is really sheik..." I sent an e-mail: "It's 'chic' - French."

And yes, I do bother with "e-mail," instead of "email." It's not a German boy's name, Emil.

I used to be a proofreader for a magazine and a related professional journal with international contributors.

It didn't take long until the job nearly drove me nuts. I especially loved the discussions/debates with editors and other proofreaders over such thrilling subjects as the proper use of semi-colons. Even better were the arguments between British and Americans concerning appropriate comma rules.

On top of all the "normal" grammar rules, we had the magazine style guide to follow that had its own rules for grammar and punctuation, as well APA guidelines. Naturally, there were zillions of case-by-case decisions which we had to try to keep track of too. After all of that, the writer had the final say on many of our "suggestions."

We were always short of proofreaders which is somewhat odd considering the number of folks who were happy to write in and complain about errors or perceived errors and all those still willing to do it free on the Internet.

I very happily left that job years ago. It sorta permanently cured me of worrying about others Internet writin errors.

I don't usually pick grammatical nits on the internet, but it is a post about grammar. Shouldn't that be "other people's prose" there in the first paragraph, unless you're talking about native peoples or something, but I doubt it.

Another Mike,
An interesting question. Well, a fair one. I've always written it like that, and I had a copy editor once who insisted it was "peoples" with no apostrophe at all. We used to argue over it regularly enough that I would recast sentences where the possessive of people occurred. Some copy editors would prefer "people's" and you're right, they're probably in the majority, but I've seen it argued both ways. Probably depends on what Style Manual you cut your teeth on.


The only widely-respected style guide I know of is The Elements of Style.

Mike, can you recommend any other writing guide for those of us wanting to improve ourselves?

Ow! It hurts my eyes...

Like the first 3D movie I ever saw and I took the glasses off to see what it was like. Everything went cross-eyed.

Mike and Another Mike
See, that is why I rarely attempt to correct other's prose. As sure as God made little apples I'll make a mistake in my attempted correction.
Its the Merkin (and yes I do know what that is ) spelling that can really grate. Esthetics for aesthetics. Sets my teeth on edge. It just ignores the origin of the word. (Can't do the grapheme)

Paul Mc Cann

The issue in language, is always not "is it correct", but is it "useful" as well as "usable/useable". That is the payback for distinguishing "their" and "there" and "they're" - the reader isn't accidentally lead down the completely wrong interpretative alley.

The possessive of plural words is an interesting one, and again some "use" aspects come into play. There are different rules in compound use, also signage (and headlines) often omit apostrophes. Example: a clothing store may have a childrenswear department that sells children's clothing. The "peoples" one is interesting, because there is a useful distinction between two senses of this word. People is lots of individuals. A people is a self-identifying nation. Two peoples already means two nations, so it seems confusing to re-deploy this spelling for the possessive of people (group word). Words ending in S that do not have an apostrophe, are normally not possessives, so there is an expectation difficulty there. Yet we might still override this to avoid a counter-awkwardness - such as an odd looking apostrophe in the middle of a sign.

I recall an advertising mogul's wry comment about slogans on posters - that people had started writing these like sentences with a full stop (period) at the end. Why have an ugly big blob on your poster, just to tell the public "stop reading here"?

Much as I sympathize with you, the next generation are crafting their own means of communication (not that the sentence you quote was an example), whose syntactical rules appear to be designed as an ironic response to your strictures:


Finding this stuff is no fun anymore. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

The first commenter used italic style to start the quote, but neglected to end the style, thus rendering the rest of the page in italics. Rather annoying.

You definitely invited this one :) there is a sixth error you didn't mention. It should be "Looks as though they're losing interest...!" The bonus, of course, is that your "contributor" managed to reach the fabled 50% rate.

Long live pendantry!

"The first commenter used italic style to start the quote, but neglected to end the style, thus rendering the rest of the page in italics. Rather annoying."


TypePad has just totally reworked its entire UI behind the scenes, and we're all still getting used to it. One of the flaws of the new system in my opinion is that there is no longer an easy way for me to see HTML in comments before they're posted--I have to go looking for it if I want to see it. This has lead to numerous instances of open-tagged italics. I don't see an easy solution, except, when anybody notices it, just let me know and I'll fix it. I don't actually see the comments section as I moderate comments.


What usually drives me nuts is the people who omit the possessive 's' at the end of surnames ending in 's'. Like "Jones' car", for instance. The person in question is not called "Jone" nor the car belongs to a family called "Jone", for heaven's sake... It's "Jones's car".

The greengrocers' apostrophe is another perennial favourite.

Yes, Mike, you're right. It's a professional deformation.

> keep in mind not everyone's native language is English

I doubt that the type of errors pointed out here would be made by a non-native, because as a learner or second language writer your (hah!) much more consciou's (huh?) of spelling and grammar. In fact, I have noticed that the more proficient I be came (oh!), the "native speaker" error's have crept in.

As a bit of an editor myself, I am often surprised about the quality of texts written by native speakers.

James -- You might try the Chicago Manual of Style ($30 at Amazon). It's a reference book, so you won't read through it the way you would The Elements of Style. But it's nice as an authority to cite.

"ain't nuthin never bin got but what weren't bin went out after."

Not photography related, but possibly the best internet posting of all time.

(The featured reply is in English, and if you try hard enough, you can figure out most of what she is saying)

Imagine how it is for us "English" spellers then, having to read all the "American" spellings on the internet: *shudder*. When ever I find mistakes on professional, and even some personal, web sites (one word or two?) I advise them using their contact page, it's the nice thing to do!
And how do some people get "should of", or "could of", from should've or could've?

I disagree with Matt's argument that we should "keep in mind not everyone's native language is English". I think people whose primary language is not English are much less likely to commit these mistakes, precisely because they had to learn a different language, and take more care when writing it than someone who (so to speak) has been immersed in it from birth. I am French, English is not my first language, and I cringe every time I encounter these egregious mistakes. Especially on a well known photography forum, where one of the moderators regularly engages in long posts where he systematically uses "there" for "they are", "than" for "then" etc. - at least he is systematic. I don't know how it is for native English speakers, but for me at least this makes for a very unpleasant and arduous reading experience.

This is nice, but let's correct Rana's "featured" post. It should read: What I tell my students is that, when it comes to grammar, typos and writing, correcting errors ...

Good writing should encourage the reader to finish the sentence.

I go back to the generation that was taught "if you can't write, you probably can't think". My experience tends to support this. The vast majority of nonsense and idiocy out there is also badly written.

It's certainly true that sometimes valuable ideas come poorly written. It's just not very common; and when the overwhelming problem of people today is finding time to read all the potentially-interesting things available to them, it's very important for any writer to avoid giving readers an excuse to turn away.

I am far from perfect when it comes to avoiding errors in writing. At the same time, I may have an obsessive compulsive disorder of noticing errors. Rana's Featured Comment had this: "That said, I make a distinction between formal writing and causal writing, .....".

Shouldn't that be "casual" instead of "causal"? Sigh ...

In common usage, an apostrophe is nothing more than a warning that an 's' is coming soon.

Close to Mike's podiatrist comment, I've taught inline skating for years. My particular disease began with the "automatic analyst" that dissects the form of random skaters out-and-about. Over time, this has progressed to an acute awareness of balance and efficiency in walking, running, and even casual movement. Watching someone with an awkward gait can be downright painful!

There's nothing wrong with the aspiration to clearly be understood.

I think people whose primary language is not English are much less likely to commit these mistakes,

I was thinking much the same; the errors Mike listed tend to be sins of arrogant carelessness; in my experience, those to whom English is a second language do not tend to perpetrate pseudo-homophonic errors.

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