Monthly Archives: May 2013


Language Note of the Week 35

Four little tips this week (skip to number four if you’re in a hurry and about to write a test):

1) Changing the tried-and-true word order adds life to your prose.

If you (as many students do) write “however” several times in your essays, switch it occasionally to the second position:

“However, I do not use the word too often.”
“My brother, however, has serious issues with ‘however.'”

Similarly, instead of writing “such as” all the time, try something like this:

“In my spare time I watch such cartoons as ‘Tom and Jerry,’ ‘The Smurfs,’ and ‘South Park.'”

2) Here’s one that you all know but that native speakers are forgetting. (Taken from a Toronto Star article.)

“The Canadians sleepwalked through the first period and trailed by two goals against the Slovenians who came ready to compete.”

Hmmm. Was the Canadian hockey team somehow leading against a second Slovenian team that did not come “ready to compete”? Were there two Slovenian teams on the ice?

3) Put your name on your essays. Half – got that? HALF!!! – of the essays I have received as e-mail attachments over the past two weeks had no name.

4) If you have the option of choosing questions on a test (e.g. “Answer four of the following five questions.”), do not answer more than you have to. If I ask for seven answers, I grade the first seven given. Not more.

A good test-taker might write answers for nine (instead of seven), then cross out the ones that sound weakest.

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Language Note of the Week 34

“Just” is a useful and slippery term.
It can be an intensifier (“Just stop it!”) or a synonym for “fair-minded” (“He’s a just man, but a pain to deal with”).

“Just” can often sound dismissive – as in “It was just one of those things.”

Consider this example:

“Adjudicators are just people and they mark candidates accordingly.”

Two problems:
1) does “just” mean “righteous” or “equitable”?
2) if “just” is an intensifier – which is the more likely possibility here – is there a suggestion that “adjudicators” should be MORE than “people”?
3) (but who’s counting?) …perhaps this is a transfer error from Slovenian.


“Adjudicators are ONLY HUMAN and they mark candidates accordingly.”

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Language Note of the Week 33

The first sentence is crucial for setting the tone (see “Reminder” at

Consider the tone set by these first sentences from real (but slightly changed) motivation letters:

1) “I would like take a chance and participate in study program called Zembla Study Tour – „Thinking Zambla“ in September 2013.”
(TONE: What the heck, why not give it a whirl.)

2) “I wish to apply for the participation in the Zembla Study Tour, because when I noticed advertisement for this tour on my university’s website I already knew this is the program I would like to be part of.”
(NOTE: Know that the adjudicator cares not one whit how you found out about Erasmus, etc. Don’t mention it.)

3) “I, Randy Raoul, currently in my second year of bachelor studies of English Language and Literature at Philosophical Faculty at Trondheim University, and in my first year of diploma studies of English Language and Geography at Pedagogical Faculty at Honolulu University, would like to apply for a spot on the one-month Zembla Study Tour – “Thinking Zembla”.
(COMMENT: Too much information. It also sounds like a legal document.)

4) “Being to the point, what my biggest motivation is, I would use Lawrence Martin’s words: ,,He pondered and suffered a good deal but he lacked the courage to dare – the first requisite of a practitioner.””
(QUESTION: Is this “To the point”?)

5) “You should provide a convincing explanation as to why you wish to participate in the study tour, what particular contribution you feel you might make to the success of the tour, and what you anticipate will be the benefit of taking part in the tour.”
(CLICHE: Little things matter. This candidate clearly uploaded the wrong file.)

6) “I found this quote which maybe show my vision. „The best way to predict the future is to form it.” Pavel Smythe.”
(SPOTLIGHT: This “Pavel Smythe” sounds fascinating – oh, he’s not the candidate! In other words, avoid starting with a quotation. You want the spotlight on yourself.)

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Language Note of the Week 32

Two short ones:

1) “This is because the 13th-century Italy was unusual.”
“This is because 13th-century Italy was unusual.”

Drop the definite article when you use AS A NOUN PHRASE “13th-century Italy” or “19th-century France” or “x-th-century whatever.”

2) “In the 13th century…” – no hyphen.
“In 13th-century Italy…” – hyphen.

In other words, hyphenate “13th-century” if you use it adjectivally (admittedly, not all editors follow this rule. In any case, be consistent. If you hyphenate on page four, also hyphenate on page 31 of your essay).

DO NOT hyphenate “In the 13th century…”

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