Monthly Archives: October 2014


Language Tip 4 (2014-15)

Once upon a time, one of us had a job teaching sugar-charged Mexican kids English. “Maestro” was the charming term they used (as in, “Maestro, Pedro won’t stop hitting me!”).

Slovenians have their own difficulties with “teacher” or “professor,” so please read these tips carefully.

1) Teacher vs. professor: In English, only university teachers are ever called professor. For generic situations “teacher” is a better expression to use. If you’re not sure, ask your instructor.

2) In e-mails, both “Dear professor X” and “Dear prof. X” are wrong. Do not abbreviate, but do capitalize “Professor” in e-mails.

In other words, capitalize “Professor,” just as you would capitalize “Mr.” or “Dr.” (for more on this, see Tip #73 at

3) Realize, please, that “Mr. Jason” or “prof. Uroš” verges on the barbaric. At the university level this gaffe is inexcusable.

4) According to the Chicago Manual of Style, abbreviated titles before a full name are more common than only before only a last name (e.g. “Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand” vs. “Senator Gillibrand”). “[W]here space is tight,” the abbreviation “Prof.” “may precede a full name.” E-mails do not qualify as cramped writing quarters.
(At the risk of harping, in the last ten e-mails one of us received, only a single student managed to get the salutation right. This is a little matter that matters a great deal – if you botch the “Dear” in a scholarship or job application, rejection is almost guaranteed.)
Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 3 (2014-15)

Do not mix up “motive” and “motif.”
In English, a “motive” is what compels you to commit a crime.
A “motif” is a recurring idea or image in a work of literature (or a thrice-heard theme in music).

Because “motif” is a technical term, it sounds funny if you get it wrong – the mix-up has a whiff of malapropism.
Put differently, writing “motive” for “motif” is like confusing words in a set expression, like writing “Don’t get a wasp in your bonnet” instead of the usual “bee.”
Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 2 (2014-15)

E-mails are both difficult and easy to write. You know why they are easy to write, but why are they difficult? That’s a topic for an MA thesis (“Bad E-Mails: When Technology Meets Old Epistolary Conventions”).

When writing emails in a formal educational setting, the best way to start is with Dear + title (to keep it simple, use Dr. if the person has a PhD, otherwise use Mr. or Ms. as appropriate) + last name. Only use the teacher’s first name if they’ve given you leave to do so. “Hey” is too chummy and “Yo” is completely out. “Greetings” sounds curiously quaint. Use it at your own peril (one of us likes it, the other doesn’t).

A few other tidbits:
1) “Dear” in English is slowly losing currency. It is an empty salutation and nowhere near as intimate-sounding as “Dragi/Draga”
2) Formality. A good way of showing that you are annoyed is to increase the level of formality in your e-mails. Keep this in mind if you are not annoyed but suddenly sound formal in your e-mail exchanges. For example, if you conclude “Cheers, Johnny” in E-mail 1, do not conclude “Sincerely, Johnathan Bartholomew Cubbins” in E-mail 2 – unless you are seriously peeved.
3) Keep ’em short.
4) Be very, very careful with the auto-correction function on smartphones.
A very funny link:

A not very funny link:
“E-mail ettiquette” (Tip 2) at


Language Tip 1 (2014-15)

Here’s the first of a series of language tips (prepared by Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir):

Especially in formal writing, avoid using “way” as a synonym for “very.”
Consider this example:

“This is because the alloy has a distinct appearance or morphology WAY different from other alloys.”

(We understand only the register clash in that sentence.)


“This is because the alloy has a distinct appearance or morphology VERY different from other alloys.”
Way for emphasis: The word way can be used to add emphasis to what you are saying, but you need to be careful about two things: (a) it’s a synonym of far, so you can say way/far behind and way/far better, but not way/far good; (b) it’s used in informal language only.