Writing for Business

April 11, 2013  12:48 PM

Torturous path or tortuous?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Poor Apple Maps. It took a ________ path, full of twists and turns that were not adequately described in the directions, ending in firings and apologies.
a. torturous
b. tortuous

Continued »

April 5, 2013  11:41 AM

Weasel words and their BFF, the passive voice

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Occasionally, you want to own up to something without really taking the blame. You want to indicate that you know there’s a problem without indicating that you caused it. The passive voice can be very helpful.

Here’s the classic example: Mistakes were made.

You’re hoping that will come across as calm acceptance of the fact that something has — somehow! — gone wrong. In reality, it translates to “I made some mistakes but I’m a pompous twit and cannot admit to it. Furthermore, I think you’re such a dimwit that you won’t realize.” It’s like having your mom walk into the room where you stand alone, empty glass in hand and puddle at your feet, and say “Milk was spilt.”

There are times when the passive voice is the best option but that’s not when you’re trying to wriggle out of taking responsibility for something.

If you say mistakes were made, you’re making another one as you speak.

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April 4, 2013  12:38 PM

Can you figure out what this sentence means? (No, you can’t.)

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

What does this sentence mean?
As a result of the accountant’s oversight, the company was sanctioned.

a. The company got approval because the accountant missed something.
b. The company was penalized because the accountant missed something.
c. The company got approval because the accountant was keeping an eye on things.
d. The company was penalized because the accountant was keeping an eye on things.
Continued »

April 3, 2013  11:37 AM

Weasel words: issue

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Due to a configuration problem, your email servers are down and users have no access. How should you describe the problem?
a. Our email servers are down.
b. We are dealing with configuration issues.
c. Users are experiencing connectivity issues.

Continued »

March 25, 2013  12:13 PM

There’s a word for it: The spiteful behavior of objects

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
My computer kept rebooting, Siri kept mocking me, and the printer was emitting nothing but a low mechanical drone and the occasional beep. It seemed that all the devices in my study had been infected with ______________.
a. resistentialism
b. nidulation
c. curmurring

Continued »

March 19, 2013  12:33 PM

Is that your queue to leave or your cue to leave?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
When the wedding DJ puts on Macarena, that’s my ______________.
a. queue to leave
b. que to leave
c. cue to leave

Continued »

March 18, 2013  8:20 PM

What does “welp” mean — and why do we say it?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?

My mom signed up for WordPress… ___, I guess blogging is officially over.
a. Welp
b. Wellp
c. Whelp

Continued »

March 13, 2013  1:20 PM

Do you turn your nose up or down?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
According to some analysts, the main reason people turned their noses ___ at the Zune media player was that Microsoft just isn’t considered cool.

a. up
b. down

Continued »

March 4, 2013  2:01 PM

Is that a bonified labtop? Big surprises on the grammar blog

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

I have had quite a few surprises since I started writing this blog, back in 2008. Some posts were inspired by surprising facts and others by surprising use. In fact, had I just gone into search and looked for posts with the word “shocked” in them, I might have put this list together more quickly. But it was kind of fun to browse through posts and relive all those moments of discovery, which I offer here for your potential interest and amusement.

1. There are a significant number of people out there surfing the interwebs on a device they think is called a labtop. Yes, a labtop.

2. Bonified is a word. But it probably doesn’t mean what you think it does.

3. A newt was once an ewt and an apron was once an naperon. It’s because “an” was once the article used with all single nouns. And then things got a little strange

4. As Ivy Wigmore discovered, there’s a word for the practice of referring to yourself by name.

5. We also found that there’s a word for referring to yourself as if you were a plurality.

6. Threshold has one H but withhold (which I discovered I’d been misspelling forever) has two.

7.  It’s OK to say healthy foods rather than healthful foods.

8. The word factoid can mean either something that’s trivial but true or something that a writer made up and presented as a fact.

9. I would have guessed that the word wow originated, at the earliest, in the 1920s but it’s much, much older than that.

10. A lot of people seem to think they’re devote Christians.


Have you come across any big grammar or spelling surprises? I’d love to hear about it.  Let me know in the comments or tweet me @tao_of_grammar.


February 20, 2013  10:26 PM

Metaphors, malaphors and Yogi Berra

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Malaphor is not a word yet but it’s a useful term that may yet get there. The term itself is a portmanteau — a word combined from parts of two other words — of malapropism and metaphor. Lawrence Harrison coined malaphor, back in August of 1976, in a Op Ed piece in the Washington Post. Harrison’s article isn’t readily available so I’m not sure exactly what he said, but most people writing about malaphors define the term as a mixed metaphor as, for example, “let’s burn that bridge when we come to it” combines “don’t burn your bridges” with “let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.” It seems to me that we already have “mixed metaphor” to describe that kind of mashup, but if we define a malaphor as a screwed-up metaphor, then a mixed metaphor would just be one type.

A malapropism is the use of a mistaken word that bears some resemblance to the correct one, usually to comic effect. A malapropism is not quite an eggcorn, which is a wrong word that sounds the same or almost the same as the word it replaces). It comes from Richard Sheridan’s 1775 play, “The Rivals,” in which a character, Mrs. Malaprop,  is prone to fairly hilarious errors, like saying someone is “the very pineapple of politeness”  or “as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” As @Guy_in_PEI pointed out, Sheridan named the character for the French phrase mal à propos, meaning inappropriate. We’ve since adopted the term as one word, malapropos (as we have its opposite, apropos).

Metaphor is the use of words or phrases to suggest something else, for a more vivid effect. Here’s an example: The moon was a ghostly galleon. The moon was not actually a ghostly galleon, of course, but that phrase conjures a poetic image much better than “the moon appeared to be large and was somewhat obscured by clouds.”

There’s lots of good fun to be had from mixing metaphors but I find myself thinking about Yogi Berra and some of his deathless quotations, like “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I can’t think that we should exclude Berra from the ranks of malaphor creators, just because he managed to get as much fun out of a single metaphor as most people can with two. In fact, many of his remarks weren’t even based on a metaphor, so they wouldn’t qualify as malaphors anyway. Maybe we need a different word to refer to them.

The Malaphor King collects prime examples of malaphors.

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