Monthly Archives: January 2015


Language Tip 17 (2014-15)

The slash…

Try not to use it to separate synonyms:

“I went into the woods and saw a giant/huge toad.”

A sentence like that leaves the reader wondering:

1) What is there a difference between “giant” and “huge”?

2) If there is no great difference, why are both words needed?

3) Isn’t it the author’s job to choose the right word?

If you are signalling an alternative, remember that no space is needed before and after the slash (there are exceptions to this rule):

e.g. “he/she

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language tip 16 (2014-15)

Using expressions from other languages is risky and fine and replete with an “I don’t know what.”

A well-placed French or Latin or Slovenian expression can contribute to the impression of a well-educated writer.

However, there are other dangers.

First, you might sound pretentious (like you’re lording your knowledge of Ancient Greek over your reader).

Second, you might sound hackneyed. Phrases such as carpe diem, je ne sais quoi and crème de la crème are overused to the point of cliché.

Third, italics. When to use them? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “Italics are used for isolated words and phrases in a foreign language if they are likely to be unfamiliar to readers.”

Fourth, it can be obvious that we simply can’t think of an English word…

Fifth, you need to be careful to write the word correctly, including accents. “garcon” [sic] is best avoided if you can’t find the cedilla on your keyboard.

Sixth, plurals can get messy. For example, if you order a “panini” (rather than a “panino”), you will not go hungry. If you speak of “tempos” after going to the opera, the chattering classes might wrinkle their collective noses. When it doubt, check the dictionary!

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 15 (2014-15)

Patterns with consider…

The verb “consider” is normally transitive, but the usage depends on the meaning:

1) “He considers me stupid” means “He thinks that I am stupid.”
2) “Please consider me as a partner” means “Please think about making me a partner.”

As you can see, mixing up the two can easily result in misunderstandings.

In terms of non-finite complementation, the usual pattern would be to say something is considered (i.e. believed) to have a healing effect (“…but you might consider having another child, for instance”).

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 14 (2014-15)

The best of … construction: It’s perfectly ok to say “under the best circumstances” or “under the best conditions,” but this is not the best possible way of expressing this idea.

In these particular cases, you can up the level a bit by using an of-phrase: under the (very) best of circumstances.

The challenge, of course, is how to think of such catchy phrases; one possible and surprisingly productive way of doing that is googling e.g. “under the best”.

Three examples

“We were working under the best of conditions.”

“We parted under the best of terms.”

“I studied under the best of tutors.”

(N.B. the overwhelming majority of hits will be for “the best of conditions” or “the best of circumstances”)

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir


Language Tip 13 (2014-15)

Media as a plural noun – Originally, the Latin singular used in English is “medium,” and the plural is “media.”

Nowadays common usage prefers “media” as a singular noun, although it is still recommended to use it as a plural noun in educated written style. After all, your work may be graded by a stickler, so don’t take a chance.

One of us predicts that “the media are” will soon die out (even in academic circles), at least if these searches mean anything:

“social media are” – c. 1 million hits
“social media is” – c. 27 million hits

In any case, the form “medias” is not normally used by normal people.

Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir