Archive for the ‘Language’ Category


Word – Pt 2

September 5, 2015


Just now this photo and link showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. It’s always good to know others (who are smarter and better writers) feel the same way!

Word (Pt 1)



August 29, 2015


Since I enjoy reading and writing, words are important to me. Intellectually, I know that the concepts attached to words are fluid since there really is not such thing as the Language Police to reign us in for meaning-shift violations.

I get it, but I don’t like it.

With use words suffer entropically, losing a great deal of specifity. (Yes, I did just alter two common words for my own purposes.)

For instance, anxious used to describe a gnawing fear. This meaning lives on in the related form: anxiety. Today, however, when someone says she is anxious for Christmas, she doesn’t mean she has a Christmas phobia, she means she is eager for Christmas to arrive. How did we get from fear to eager?

Another word issue that’s annoying is when people make up a word when we already have a good one. Signage is someone’s self-aggrandizing effort to dress up signs.

We don’t need more words when we already have a good one (word clutter), and we need descriptive words to retain their specific meaning instead of becoming generalized. These are two of my hot-button word-issues.

The most annoying of all, however, is overuse. When words are captured by popular culture, we all lose. Imagination sits on the cliff watching culture lemmings run en masse over the cliff. Why? It’s easier to throw out a word in vogue; no work required. I think those who fall to this practice think they will be seen as something appealing– trendy, in-the-know, novel, and maybe even culturally superior.

In actuality, running into these types of words makes a part of my interest in reading an article die. I find myself working a little harder to read something peppered with throw-away or gratuitous words because I to into editing mode. “What word would work better here?” “What, exactly, is the writer really trying to convey?” I usually give up and move on to a piece more interesting.

Here is my current list of word speed bumps:

  • epic (rarely is something that grand)
  • awesome (if everything is awesome, nothing is)
  • badass (“take note because I’m rebellious, naughty, or reckless,” no, you’re just a lazy writer!)
  • does that make sense? (state your case, don’t ask me, and edit until your point is clear!)
  • out of the box (meant to show originality that is anything but)
  • on the same page (the book writers take this from has run out of pages)
  • passion, as in “I have a passion for _____” (this intense word suggests you would die for your passion; use sparingly– or be prepared to die)
  • literally (verbatim, not to a great extent)
  • absolutely (not a term of agreement, but, well, an absolute!)

Ah…. For now I can rest with this rant purged from my mind.

Until I find another one!


Venti Exaggeration

March 27, 2013

My lunch came to work with me in a Starbucks bag which now sits empty on my desk. While I downed pico de gallo on multi-grain chips with slices of colby-jack cheese, I read the text on the bag. The photo below is from the bag’s side panel. And it has a problem.


Grammar Lesson

Re-wording this poorly constructed sentence makes the meaning clear:

Making this bag out of 100% post-consumer material saves 48,000 trees.

Here’s why this is a problem: The dependent clause after the comma modifies the verb, made. Only one bag is made in the original sentence. The rewording above makes the relationship

between made and saving clear, exposing an impossibility–

Grade School Story Problem

How many bags can be made from one tree? I have no idea, but we need a figure to do the math. Let’s use the round and easy figure of 100, for surely one tree can produce that many small bags.

Question 1) How many times would the bag sitting on my desk have to be re-used to save 48,000 trees in one year?
Answer: 4,800,000 times. (100 bags in a tree x 48,000 trees.)  That’s one very durable bag!

Question 2) If an average person lives to be 85 and starts carrying a lunch to school and work at age 5, how many lunches will use a bag in his or her lifetime?
Answer:  20,800 lifetime lunches. (52 weeks x 5 days a week = 260 lunches a year; 260 x 80 = 20,800)

Question 3) How many friends would you need to help use your bag to save 48,000 trees?
Answer: 229 — with 16,000 uses short. (4,800,000 total uses ./. 20,800 lifetime lunches per person = 230.769231 people. Since you are one person, you would need 229 friends.)

Extra credit: Do the above math using the figures 150, 200, and 400 bags from one tree.

Grammar Correction

I think what Starbucks really means is:

Making all of the bags we use at Starbucks this year out of 100% post-consumer material will save more than 48,000 trees.

Using the same figure as above (which I’m sure is way lower than how many bags can really be made out of one tree) means that Starbucks uses 4,800,000 bags in a year. For a business where most customers don’t require a bag, this seems a little suspect.  And if a tree yields 150, 200, or 400 bags (which seems more likely than 100) the total bags used in a year increases to 7,200,000;  9,600,000; or 19,200,000 respectively.

Seems like a venti exaggeration brewed and served with a dollop of poor grammar.

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