Today, a tip sheet on accuracy in language, based on what readers tell me bugs them.
1. Do not describe something as "very unique." Unique means one of a kind; it does not come in degrees.
2. Don't say "utilize." Keep it simple: Say "use."
3. More simplicity: Instead of "at this point in time," say "now."
4. Proper form: "all right," not "alright."
5. Is it "every day" or "everyday"? You go to work every day; your everyday tasks define your job. "Everyday" is an adjective modifying a noun, in this case, "tasks."
6. Similarly, you may have a back yard, a place where you can throw a backyard party.
7. Many people say something like, "I'm looking forward to John helping me." What they're looking for is not John, but his help. Proper form: "I'm looking forward to John's helping me."
8. Anxious? Or eager? If you say you're anxious to go on vacation, it means that you dread the experience. If you're joyful about it, you're eager to go.
9. When you return from vacation, if it was a joyful one, don't say, "Every day was better than the next." What makes sense? "Every day was better than the last."
10. Avoid jargon: "This is not my first rodeo, but that's above my pay grade, so at the end of the day I'll circle back so we can think outside the box, drill down to increase our bandwidth, gain traction and move the goal posts."
When I was in sixth grade, our English teacher, Miss Moore, drilled us and drilled us and drilled us, including in such matters as the pluperfect. We mastered all of it. But if you asked me today about almost all of it, I'd draw a blank.
What I've relied on, instead, is developing my ear for language by following the writer Pete Hamill's advice for writers. One word: "Read."
Please let me know about other things that bug you about language. I answer every email from readers; I learn something valuable from all of them, and we often have lively exchanges.
Gilson conducts writing workshops online. He can be reached through www.writebetterwithgary.com.