Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Quote unquote."

When I write blog posts, articles, and even books, I operate largely on intuition and feel. That is, I can't articulate the rules of the English language -- such as where to use a dash or a semicolon -- yet somehow I have a decent idea of what to do. And when it comes to speaking, I, like most people, use language in a fairly sloppy manner, at least compared to my writing. So, given my own imperfections -- which I admit are deep and many -- I am very tolerant of the blogs, articles, and books that I read, and even more tolerant of the podcasts to which I subscribe. But there are a few things that bother me like a fly buzzing around my ear. Let's start with the phrase "quote unquote."

1.  Quote unquote. Why do people say this? It makes no sense at all; there is nothing between the quotes. I was just listening to APM's Marketplace and I heard it twice in one podcast. For example, the host reported that some politician "was going to quote unquote stall the nomination of the Janet Yellen." The host never would have written such a thing; instead, he would have written that the politician was going to "stall" the nomination of Janet Yellen. Note that the quotes -- to the extent they would be needed at all -- surround, rather than precede, the word in question.

2.  There, they're, and their. This is a problem with the written, rather than spoken word. Just watch Henry Fool's lesson for this one. As an aside, notice the Oxford comma after "they're," above. An Oxford comma should be used to separate the last two things in a longer list, otherwise the sentence's meaning (in some cases) could inadvertently be changed.

3.  Say v. write. People don't say things in letters. They write things in letters. Alec Baldwin explains this to Nicole Kidman at the 6:00 mark of this video clip.

4.  Less and fewer.  As a rule of thumb, less refers to something that has not been divided into units, and fewer refers to something that has been divided into units. For example, "I wish judges would drain less of my energy and life-force when I come to court." As another example, "I wish judges would steal fewer hours of my time when I appear for court hearings." Energy and life-force are not easily divisible, whereas hours are identifiable, measurable units.  

5. Throat clearing.  Unless you are the next Christopher Hitchens (which is possible and hopeful, but unlikely), throat-clearing phrases and unnecessary words are unavoidable in spontaneous discussions, oral arguments, and presentations. However, these things should be avoided when communicating in writing. Here's an example, adapted only slightly from an actual book (the strike-outs are my own): "It should be noted that these tests themselves have been criticized, but as we noted earlier, there is no clear consensus."

6.  Me and I.  People often confuse these two. "Knightly and I walked to the park" is correct. Sometimes, however, using I is wrong, as in this sentence: "He gave the hamburger to Knightly and I."  What's the difference? Take out the other person (or in this example, the canine), and test the sentence. "I walked to the park" sounds correct, and it is. On the other hand, "he gave the hamburger to I" is wrong. Rather, he gave the hamburger to me. Therefore, simply reinsert the other person (or the canine), and the correct sentence would be: "He gave the hamburger to Knightly and me."

I'm just saying -- or, more accurately, writing.   

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