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.


How Cold Was It?

January 25, 2011

I love the internet. From the comfort of my home or office, I can readily access information that in years past was stored only in the library (if it was there at all); I can chat in real time with far-away friends and relatives… I can even listen to radio broadcasts from all the way at the other end of the country (and, I might add, send snarky comments to the on-air announcer with just the click of a mouse).

Yesterday, Jeffrey T. Mason from KOOL-FM (94.5) was commenting that while they were enjoying perfectly lovely weather out in Phoenix, it was far colder on the East Coast. I’ll say it was!

So, how cold was it? Funny you should ask. Read his post [in which he reprints the email I sent him] here and find out. I particularly enjoyed the title of his post – and even emailed a screen shot to several friends with the subject, “In case there was any doubt…”

Now, who’s ready for another 6-12″ of snow Wednesday night into Thursday? Yeah, me neither. Happy writing!

To Tweet or Not to Tweet… That is the Question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

April 21, 2009

Okay, I’m about to expose my online naïveté. I admit it: I don’t know the first thing about Twitter.

But in the interest of striding boldly into the 21st century (and only nine years behind schedule; how d’you like that?!), I’m thinking of taking the plunge — pushing myself out of the nest, as it were.

But before I do something I might end up deeply regretting (like my 58-year-old friend Stella’s hummingbird tattoo that she got when she was 18 and which now looks sort of like a vulture on Prozac), I want to hear from you: What should I know about Twitter before I go and get myself in over my head?

I caved in to the pressure from my pal John and got on Facebook about four weeks ago — and now I spend my free evenings looking for a good 12-step group to get myself unstuck (before I come unglued, that is).

Talk to me… and soon. I’m almost hoping one of you will talk me out of it.

I’ve Had It!

April 1, 2009

I’m giving up.

I’m threw with this.

They’re doesn’t seem two be any point, too going on. People dont change there spelling, speeking and punctuation just because some crazy woman harps incessantly about it. I wish I would of considered that before I wasted my thyme; putting up this sight. Their are to many other things I could of focused my energies on.

Im going two look into being an an elevator operator… but I’ve herd even that has it’s ups and downs.

Good buy crewel whirled.

“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?

Welcome to Daylight Saving Time

March 8, 2009

Well, here we are again… the second Sunday in March. Let me be the first to welcome you to Daylight Saving Time.

Notice I didn’t say Daylight Savings Time. There’s an excellent reason for that: There’s no final “s” in Saving. Never has been; never should be. Well, not under ordinary circumstances. Not when you’re talking about time zones, at least.

If you were going to the bank to deposit your paycheck (although, not into your checking account) and the bank is only open when the sun is out, I guess the time at which you go to the bank could be considered your own personal daylight savings time… but that’s the only instance I can think of when adding the final “s” is proper. Otherwise, if you’re referencing the results of the annual “spring ahead” activity, it’s always Daylight Saving Time.

Nuff said. Now I’m going to go take a nap while I adjust to this DST thing. Did you notice we “spring ahead” earlier now than we used to in years past?

Have a great day… hope you get over your own DST lag soon.

The Weakest Word in the English Language

February 21, 2009

To keep your writing as flat as matzo and even more bland than week-old white bread, be sure to pepper it with the word “very” as frequently as possible.

I can practically hear you squawking now: “This is a professional writing site; where do you get off saying something like that? That’s dreadful writing advice!”

Well, of course it is. It’s also the best way to ensure dull, unimaginative prose – stuff that’s guaranteed to make your readers want to jam pencils in their eyes. But it’s an ideal way to illustrate the point I’m about to make. Stick with me here.

The word “very” is – quite possibly – the weakest word in the English language. It’s the literary equivalent of adding sand to your tea. It offers zero in the way of nutritive value and even less in the way of flavor to your writing.

When contemplating the use of the word “very” in your writing, stop and ask yourself, “What word or phrase could I use instead to better convey my meaning?” If you’re describing a “very big rock” in the middle of the road, you could instead term it a “gargantuan boulder.” Or a “metamorphic monstrosity,” a “hulking sedimentary mass” or maybe even an “igneous behemoth plunked right in my path.”

Get the idea?

Don’t just look for the easy way out. Go deeper. That’s what writing for expression is all about: knowing what you want to convey and being able to communicate your meaning in a way that resonates with your reader.

For example, saying there’s a “very big rock in the road” means nothing, because it’s so doggone vague! Exactly how big is a “very big” rock? Each reader will have a different interpretation or idea of the word “big.” Stuart Little’s concept of a “very big rock” would be vastly different from, say, Andre the Giant’s. You need to give your readers some frame of reference. Is this rock bigger than the proverbial bread box? Smaller than a German shepherd? Roughly the size of a puma? Just how big is very big?

If you say, “The rock could barely fit into a milk crate,” that’s much better. It gives your readers a decent concept of the rock’s mass. A milk crate-sized rock is certainly large; but try this one on for size: “It was bigger than my ’71 VW Beetle.” Now, that’s big!

Another way around this adverbial quagmire is fairly straightforward: Toy around with different adverbs… like “extremely” or “tremendously.” Granted, that is kind of taking the easy way out, but it helps you neatly elude the “very” trap.

In my own writing, there are only two instances in which I use the word “very”: in nonfiction, when directly quoting another person; and in fiction, only in dialogue – when my control over what those independent and often-headstrong characters say is absolutely nonexistent.

So, if you find yourself with the opportunity to use the word “very,” politely decline it in favor of something a little more… meaty and substantive. Something with spice. Something with flavor. Something tasty!

Now get out there and get writing!