You don’t say!

Welcome to another edition of “You don’t say!” when we examine expressions and sayings often confused or misunderstood. Here are some favorites.

  • If you think that, you have another thing coming.
  • She made a 360 degree change in attitude.
  • We’ll play irregardless of the weather.
  • I could care less.
  • Supposably that’s his real name.
  • He intended to extract revenge if it took every dime he had.

If you write or say any of these, stop! Your meaning is confused or contradicted. Here are the corrected sayings.

  • If you think that, you have another think coming. (As in “think again.”)
  • She made a 180 degree change in attitude. (360 gets her all the way back where she began)
  • We’ll play regardless of the weather. (Irredgardless isn’t a word. Period.)
  • I couldn’t care less. (Otherwise, you care because you could care less)
  • Supposedly that’s his real name. (There’s no such word as supposably.)
  • He intended to exact revenge if it took every dime he had. (I guess one could extract revenge, but it’d be messy.)

What incorrect sayings do you see or hear?

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Writing Product Reviews–Specifics Help

Have merchants asked you for a review of a recent purchase? I try to leave reviews, on everything from kitchen tools to bedding and books. I often read reviews left by others to help me decide on a purchase. Through the years, I’ve read some reviews that needed an editor’s attention because of ambiguity.

Here’s an example as quoted from TV: “The [service providers] I’ve found on Angie’s List have literally blown me away.”

This is found in a shopping club membership ad: “The money we save with the membership is unreal.”

First, why would businesses advertise these useless testimonies? They offer no helpful information. I may be “blown away” by bad service or good. If the money I save with a membership is unreal, it’s not for me. I want real savings.

When you write a product review, remember the purpose of your feedback is to guide potential buyers. What information would you find useful in a review? I want specifics, not vague “performs beautifully” or “this totally sucks” reviews. 

“My savings in belonging to [Buyer’s Club] exceeds my annual membership fee.” Or “Every service provider I’ve found and used on Angie’s List has been dependable and affordable” are specific and helpful comments. If you have a negative, be specific but don’t trash everything and everybody. “The knife sharpener performed as advertised, although the suction cup didn’t hold it steady. When I complained, the company replaced the sharpener, but the new one had the same issue. If you don’t mind holding the knife sharpener with one hand while running the knife through the blades, this product delivers.”

The same advice holds true for book or movie reviews, with an additional caveat: Don’t give anything away without prefacing it with SPOILER ALERT or SPOILERS. What buyers find helpful are genre information, comparisons to similar books or films, and level of adult material. For instance, here’s a good example of a review of the film The Crew:

If you saw Goodfellas, you’ll get a kick out of The Crew. It spoofs it with an Over The Hill Gang twist.Richard Dreyfus and Burt Reynolds give strong performances as two retired wise guys living in South Beach, Florida, with two other retirees from their “crew” from back in the day in New Jersey. When they scheme to take back their apartment building from greedy landlords, they soon find themselves back in the game, but with surprising–and comedic–consequences. Rated PG for mild profanity and adult situations.

Don’t shy away from writing reviews. They help other buyers. But please give thought to what you write before you submit it.

 

Dialog Punctuation and Style

Last month I posted about the wrong way to punctuate and format dialog. This post is about the right way. (FYI I’m addressing the American rules for dialog; the British have different rules for formatting dialogue.)

With tongue firmly in cheek, let’s start with these examples:

“I can’t believe I ate that whole pineapple!” Bob said, dolefully.
“I haven’t caught a fish all day,” Mike said, without debate.
“I won’t let a stupid flat tire let me down,” Steve said, with despair.
“I keep banging my head on things,” Marty said, bashfully.
“That is the second time my teacher changed my grade,” Donna remarked.
“The fur is falling out of that mink coat,” Steven inferred.
“That’s the second electric shock that I’ve gotten today,” Stew said, revolted.
“I’ll just have to send that telegram again,” Samuel said, remorsefully.
“I’ve been sick and lost a lot of weight,” Rachel expounded.

These are examples of dialog tags formatted correctly (I do hope you’ll resist the adverbs ☺). What the character says is within quotation marks, including punctuation. But what about dialog within dialog? Or interrupted speech? Relax. There are rules for formatting complex dialog issues, too. Here are a few basics:

  • If you’re switching speakers, you need a new paragraph. However, a line of dialogue within a paragraph of narrative is not technically wrong. Use your judgment. You don’t want an important speech lost in a lengthy passage of description. When in doubt, err on the side of what printers call “white space.” It makes your text more readable.
  • Interrupted speech is formatted with the em dash or double hyphen; Trailing speech is formatted with three periods.
  • A tag follows a comma (or question mark or exclamation point) with he said or she said. You’ll see hundreds of variations of this tag, everything from “he responded” to “she answered” to “she replied.” What you shouldn’t see is anything that’s physically impossible or implausible, such as “she laughed” or “he snorted.” You can’t laugh or snort words. If you want your speaker laughing or snorting, fine. Make it a sentence of its own.
  • A statement of action (complete sentence) is not a tag and should not be preceded by a comma.
  • Double quotation marks surround the entire speech, including punctuation. Single quotation marks are for speech-within-a-speech. For instance, “How dare he call me ‘Queen Victoria!'”

Remember, dialog is a good way to move the story, as long as you don’t fall into the “As you know, Bob” trap. That’s a rookie mistake that goes something like this:

“I can’t believe I ate all the pineapple!”
“As you know, Bob, your father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather owned pineapple plantations. It’s natural you’d overindulge.”
Bob huffed an impatient breath. “You’d think I’d know how to control myself.”
“You’ve had a rough year, remember? You’re going through a particularly nasty divorce, which has been tabloid fodder all year.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”

Exactly! Tell Bob something he doesn’t know, not a bunch of backstory for the reader’s benefit. Use dialog to reveal character values and traits, not backstory the character already knows.

Any other dialog issues challenging your writing? Leave me a comment.

The Bike’s named Ralph?

An encore of an earlier post:

A common syntax problem for writers involves misplaced modifiers. MMs can also occur as dangling participles. Either can cause your reader to burst out in laughter even if you aren’t writing a comedy.

Watch for sentences like: Eager to be starting their married life together, the wedding was held at the courthouse. The wedding was eager?

Here’s one from author Elizabeth Sinclair, whose young daughter rushed into the house declaring, “I just saw a deer riding my bicycle!” Her older sister asked, “A deer was riding your bicycle?”

As a child, I puzzled over Davy Crockett and how he “killed him a bear when he was only three.” Was the bear three? If so, how did Davy know his age? If Davy was three, how did he manage to kill the bear?

I’m sure the newscaster wasn’t trying for a chuckle when she said: The police officer arrested the man who had tried to carjack the couple brandishing a weapon. Brave carjacker!

Finally, here is my own example. In reviewing the draft version of Reclaim My Life, my critique partner caught this MM: “Are you familiar with a mentally challenged young man who rides a bike named Ralph?” She wrote in the margin “The bike’s named Ralph?” Too funny. See, the Grammar Cop isn’t perfect, either. Thank God for my critique partner!

To avoid misplaced and misleading modifiers, identify the subject and verb of your sentence. Then be sure your modifier refers back to the subject. If it doesn’t, you need to re-word.

Cheryl

Forward or Foreword?

I recently read a book that began with a Forward. I don’t know who edited the book, but I suspect the writer intended the page to be a foreword, which is a noun that means preface. Forward is an adverb meaning onward or advancing.

The same mistake could happen with afterward and afterword. An afterword appears at the end of a book and is, as its name suggests, a postscript by the author. Afterward is an adverb meaning later.

When in doubt, consult a dictionary.

What Is A Near Miss?

I heard it again last night on network news. A pilot had a near miss. Hello? Isn’t that a hit? Since when did “near miss” become the acceptable jargon for a close call?

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Grammar Cop is at its original home. Its previous site had a near miss when I installed updates. In other words, it was hit and demolished! I lost a lot of old articles, but never fear. We’ll soon have this site populated with your favorite grammar topics.

Be sure to send, post, or tweet me your questions. The Grammar Cop is always on duty.

😀

The Case of the Misplaced Modifier

A common syntax problem for writers involves misplaced modifiers. MMs can also occur as dangling participles. Either can cause your reader to burst out in laughter even if you aren’t writing a comedy.

Watch for sentences like: Eager to be starting their married life together, the wedding was held at the courthouse. The wedding was eager?

Here’s one from author Elizabeth Sinclair, whose

young daughter rushed into the house declaring, “I just saw a deer riding my bicycle!” Her older sister asked, “A deer was riding your bicycle?”

As a child, I puzzled over Davy Crockett and how he “killed him a bear when he was only three.” Was the bear three? If so, how did Davy know his age? If Davy was three, how did he manage to kill the bear?

I’m sure the newscaster wasn’t trying for a chuckle when she said: The police officer arrested the man who had tried to carjack the couple brandishing a weapon. Brave carjacker!

To avoid misplaced and misleading modifiers, identify the subject and verb of your sentence. Then be sure your modifier refers back to the subject. If it doesn’t, you need to re-word.

Happy summer!

Cheryl