Former Founder?

May 18, 2017

From this morning’s top-of-the-hour national news about the passing of Roger Ailes, one thing has become awkwardly evident to me: The reporters at ABC Radio have no actual understanding of the proper usage of the word “former.”

All morning, they were identifying Ailes as the “former founder and chairman of Fox News,” which made me go pawing through my utility cabinet in search of duct tape – to prevent I.C.E. (imminent cranial explosion).

I’m guessing a few folks are scratching their respective heads and wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, once you’ve been established as the founder of something, that particular designation can never be taken away – so Ailes could not possibly have been the news organization’s “former founder.”

How might this have been remedied? Well, for starters, ABC News could employ writers with a more-precise grasp of the English language. Beyond that, I’d recommend phrasing the sentence so the adjective “former” modified “chairman.” The correct way to identify Ailes (who resigned last year) would be “founder and former chairman of Fox News.” His designation as former chairman of Fox News had no bearing whatsoever on his status as its founder.

On a personal note, this obvious gaffe brought back memories from my nearly ten years as board secretary for the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. In emails, at monthly meetings and in what came to be known as the unofficial “Blue Minutes” from those meetings, we’d often refer to founder Brian Jud as CAPA’s “former founder” – with his full understanding that we were being intentionally goofy with that title.

However, to earnestly call someone the “former founder” of anything shows a basic lack of awareness. It’s akin to referring to someone as a “former graduate” of a college (and yes, I’ve heard that phrase so often my dentist is planning to fit me for a dental guard so I don’t grind my teeth into piles of enamel dust). Either you’re a graduate of an institution or you’re not – you can’t suddenly become no longer a graduate. There’s no need for an adjective. Still, if you must use one, consider “past.”

Think I’m making too much of this whole “former” issue? Go ahead and refer to a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps as a “former Marine.” I will assume no responsibility whatsoever for your resulting injuries.


CAPA-U 2011

May 5, 2011

This Saturday, May 7, I’ll be speaking at the eighth annual Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association professional-development day for writers. CAPA-U (short for CAPA University) will be at the Hartford Steam Boiler Conference Center, One State Street, Hartford, CT.

I’ll be part of a panel discussing what to expect when working with an editor, and how to get the most from the author-editor relationship. We’ll likely touch on word choice, style, punctuation, spelling, grammar… perhaps even the funny side of the editing process – and, of course, we’ll set aside time to answer your questions.

Your admission gets you the day-long conference, complete with a choice of fifteen different workshops, keynote address, agents’ panel and a one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to discuss your work. A delicious buffet lunch is included… as is secured, indoor parking on site. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet and talk with other authors, hear some informational and inspiring speakers – and possibly win a refund of your registration fee. Not a writer but know someone who is? A ticket to CAPA-U makes a great Mother’s Day present!

There’s still time to sign up for CAPA-U… but don’t delay; registrations are filling up fast! Hope to see you there!


Not the Write Time?

February 19, 2010

Okay, it’s been two-plus weeks since my surgery; my oncologist would get tremendously upset with me if I were to say, “since he gutted me like a fish,” – because, apparently, it’s self deprecating… so I won’t say that. It’s been fifteen days since my surgery (albeit only four since that teensy weensy oozy setback) and I keep feeling like I ought to be back to writing by now. Except that (yes I know this is a sentence fragment; hey, I’m under the influence of Percocet, leave me alone, okay?) every time I begin to think about writing, I decide it’s time to take another nap.

Well, I guess I should enjoy them while I can – the naps, that is. I mean, I seriously doubt my employers [no matter how fond they are of me] would not take kindly to me snoozing beneath my desk. Kind of evokes odd memories of George Costanza from Seinfeld, doesn’t it?

I had been hoping to rejoin the working world this coming Monday… but that depends on a number of factors:

1) whether I’m feeling sufficiently energetic after my followup appointment with the doctor that day;

2) whether my darn company-issued laptop plans to cooperate and recognize the VPN this time (hey, the ubiquitous “they” always tell us the third time’s the charm); and

3) whether the words will actually cooperate and come out to play when I call upon them – and not just spend the afternoon lollygagging about in my cranium until I threaten to coax them out with a crowbar. Okay, so I wouldn’t really do that; who in her right mind (write mind?) would use a crowbar to dislodge adjectives and prepositions? Everyone knows you’re supposed to use a small claw hammer.

What? You were expecting additional factors? Wasn’t three enough for you? I distinctly said it depended upon “a number of factors”; is three not a number?

Okay, okay… in case you find yourself in desperate need of a fourth factor, how’s this grab ya?

4) whether “Take a nap” supersedes everything else on my to-do list.

It occurs to me that each of those four factors may be boiled down, in essence, to one overarching reason: Good writing cannot be forced, cajoled or bribed. When it’s not the right time, it’s not the right time. Period.

That said, it’s probably time for another nap.


Speaking Engagement

May 28, 2009

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and, in case you were wondering, the session at CAPA-U went really well.

I’ve just gotten another speaking engagement. I’ll be a guest presenter at the Rocky Hill Re-employment Group on Thursday, June 18. My topic will be “Grammar 101: How Not to Blow the Interview When You Open Your Mouth.”

This idea arose from my having to sit through one too many presentations by sales professionals who should know better – folks who say things like, “Me and my partner went to a seminar last month,” or “Him and me are going to talk about red widgets…” or the dreaded, “On behalf of my colleague and myself…”

Are you sensing my frustration here? Hang on a second while I thump my head against my desk in futility.

I’ll probably also veer off a little into the need to proofread your resume carefully. After all, you don’t want to send off your resume to a potential employer only to realize later that you listed your last job as “Pubic Relations Manger.”

I may be wrong, but that kind of thing seems awfully specialized… and I’m not sure many folks are hiring mangers these days, pubic or otherwise.

All levity aside, I must admit, I’m a smidgen anxious about getting up in front of people who are really there; my background is in radio – I’m used to talking to people who aren’t there. Really! I used to spend five or six hours a day in a 10×12-foot room, talking into a microphone to people who weren’t there! Now, I could reasonably assume someone was listening (if only my mother… and Scruffy, my cat), but I had no logical way of knowing someone was actually tuned in and paying attention to what I was saying.

And now – well, I just spend my days sitting at a computer, typing words… granted, I’m building pretty things with those words, crafting all kinds of fun structural stuff and making folks go, “Gee, I really want to buy that, now that you’ve described it so nicely!”

But addressing a group of live human beings? Not so much my comfort zone.

If you speak in front of people, how do you get up there and do it? What are your tips, your suggestions, your tools of the trade that make you not want to squeak, “Eep!” and hide behind your lectern?


CAPA-U… Seven Days and Counting

May 2, 2009

Next Saturday (May 9, 2009), I’ll be taking part in an editors’ panel at CAPA University, a day-long professional-development day for writers; I’ll be part of a three-member panel of experts. This sixth annual event is sponsored by the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association.

Some of the topics we’re sure to discuss will be word usage, spelling, grammar, punctuation, general editing and proofreading.

What are your thorniest proofreading/editing concerns? If you were to attend this panel discussion, what burning question would you most like answered or addressed?


When to use “They’re,” “their” or “there”

April 12, 2009

Question: Which sentence is correct?

“There putting they’re stuff over their.”

– or –

“They’re putting their stuff over there.”

Answer: The second one is correct.

I was going to put “Obviously” at the front of that sentence, but it’s all too clear that the answer isn’t obvious.

It seems so simple, yet it’s an issue that continually plagues everyone from middle-school students to business executives. Let’s tackle this one with a few simple examples.

Basically, if you’re attempting to replace the words “they are,” you’d use “they’re,” which is a contraction of those two words.

If you’re giving directions, that one’s easy. Just think of it this way: “I just have to put a “t” on the beginning of ‘here’ to get to ‘there.'”

And “their” is a possessive pronoun. So “their stuff” means “the stuff that belongs to them.”

With that in mind, our second sentence could be reworded thus: “They are putting the stuff that belongs to them not here, but in that place.” Or something like that.

What are your spelling bugaboos? Have you got a word you chronically misspell? Talk to us… maybe we can help you come up with a simple solution to remember the correct spelling.


“Should Have, Could’ve, Would Of?”

March 10, 2009

A writer friend asked me recently to discuss one of her pet peeves: the butchery of the phrase “would have.”

So often people run the words “would have” together into the perfectly acceptable contraction “would’ve.” But since the “ve” sounds an awful lot like “of,” many folks mistakenly believe the phrase is “would of,” not “would have” or “would’ve.”

This has long been a major irritant for me… it’s about as annoying as having one of those pesky, stray eyelashes jabbing you in the eyeball and not being able to remove it. Yeah, it’s that annoying.

But it’s not just the “would of” that gets me… it’s the improper usage of the correct wording, “would have” when “had” is appropriate.

Many moons ago (how many moons are there in 20+ years, anyway?), while I was working on air at a suburban Connecticut radio station – okay, it was early 1987 –  Chicago released a song entitled, “If She Would Have Been Faithful.”

Hip adult-contemporary rotation aside, I despised playing that song – mainly because of the incorrectly used phrase “would  have” in the title… never mind that I just out-and-out hated the song. Every time that horrid dreck came up in rotation during my air shift (and it pains me deeply to say this, because Chicago really is one of my favorite bands), I would grit my teeth and play the silly drivel, knowing I’d have to backsell the darn thing afterward.

Even though the wording itself was – technically – correct, what galled me was the improper usage of the phrase “would have.” The grammatically correct title for this song is, “If She Had Been Faithful.” But, of course, metrically, that wouldn’t have worked out, so I can almost understand the literary license the lyricists took here. But still, understanding it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So the lesson here is this: Next time you’re faced with saying, “If I would of taken the highway, I would of gotten there half an hour sooner,” you need to do three things.

First, look over your shoulder to make sure I’m not standing behind you with a club, waiting to scream and pummel you senseless.

Second, realize that you should replace your first intended “would of” with “had.”

And third, know that you should replace the second intended “would of” with “would have.”

Your sentence then becomes, “If I had taken the highway, I would have gotten there half an hour sooner.” And that makes your Persnickety Proofreader happy. And, after all, isn’t that all that really matters?