Author Archives: Catherine Spicer

Grammar Hammer: Happy National Punctuation Day!

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Punctuation day

Get your red pens ready grammar enthusiasts, because this September 24 marks the 10th celebration of National Punctuation Day! Former reporter Jeff Rubin founded National Punctuation Day as an outlet for his frustration with the egregious errors he noticed every morning in the newspaper. It was declared an official holiday when Rubin secured a listing in “Chase’s Calendar of National Events” in 2004.  To commemorate this important day, Rubin offers the following suggestions:

  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.

Sage advice, Mr. Rubin. Thank you!

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Is That Adverb Necessary?

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In honor of back to school season, ABC aired a special ranking the best episodes of Schoolhouse Rock of all time.  I’ve shared my affection for Schoolhouse Rock before, and I am happy to report that my personal favorite, “Conjuction Junction” took the number 1 spot! Another one of my favorites, which also claimed a spot on the countdown, is “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” about a family-run business selling adverbs. “Lolly, Lolly” has inspired the subject of this week’s Grammar Hammer.

Adverbs modify other words such as:

  • A verb
  • An adjective
  • Another adverb

Adverbs will tell you how, where, when, in what manner, or to what extent an action should be performed. The easiest adverbs to identify are the ones that end in ly, but just because a word ends in –ly, it’s not necessarily an adverb. Also, not all adverbs end in –ly, and there are adverbial phrases that don’t end in –ly. Back into the grammatical minefield we go!

My biggest tip for using adverbs in writing is to consider whether or not you need them. Very popular adverbs like “really,” “very,” “quite,” “extremely,” and “severely” are intended as intensifiers. Consider whether or not what you’re trying to communicate needs to be intensified.

For example, saying “The house was severely destroyed by the fire,” doesn’t add anything to the prose. The house was destroyed by fire. Saying it was severely destroyed invokes more emotion, but is it necessary to what you’re trying to say?

Grammar Hammer, at your service… indubitably.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Two Spaces or Not Two Spaces?

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two spaces

I’m of the age that one of the classes I took in high school was typing. Putting two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence was drilled into our heads as a best practice with no rhyme or reason for why this was necessary. Recently, a heated discussion over whether this practice is correct or incorrect surfaced on my social media feed, a subject I felt was worth discussing in this week’s Grammar Hammer.

There is some history to the “two space” practice. I’d always thought it had to do with the art of typesetting and those who manually set each letter and block. The “modern” convention of one space following the end of a sentence is traced back as far as the early 1920s.

In today’s digital world, two spaces is unnecessary, and as such I’ve discontinued the [space space] habit pounded into my brain from my younger years. What are your convictions on this subject? Are you a die-hard two spacer? Or have you adapted to the freedom that digital media provides and go with the single space after your sentence’s punctuation?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: ICYMI, Catfishing and Brick Have New Definitions

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Oxford Dictionary

The Oxford Dictionary just unveiled the newest additions to their dictionary, and I have to admit that I was caught quite off guard by some of the entries. Apart from some buzz-wordy jargon that I could see in professional writing (pharmacovigilance), most of these words are ones I would only expect to see in more casual styles of writing or slang phrases like “hot diggity” and “spit take,” but I did learn a few interesting new things:

Catfishing- a concept recently made famous by MTV, means “to lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.”

Brick- what I originally only thought of as a rectangular block made of clay used to build things is now also a reference to early-model cell phones that were large and heavy or to mobile devices that no longer work and just sits there (like a brick).

I also finally learned the meanings of acronyms typically used in text messaging or social media such as:

SMH – shaking my head

ICYMI – in case you missed it

YOLO – you only live once

What are your thoughts on the recent additions to the Oxford English Dictionary? See Oxford’s list here (http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/08/oxford-dictionaries-update-august-2014).

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: All Day “Every Day” or “Everyday”?

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everyday vs every day

A suggestion from a loyal reader inspired this week’s Grammar Hammer. Is everyday one word or two words (every day)?

Both variations refer to an activity that occurs on a daily basis. As usual, the best way to determine which version to use depends on the context. If I am discussing the routine activities that comprise my life, I would call those “everyday activities,” because in this instance, “everyday” is used as an adjective to describe those activities.

Examples:

  • I found the best shoes! They are perfect for everyday wear.
  • When it comes to hosting the big holiday meal, I don’t use the everyday dishes, instead I use our finest china.
  • “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is not a word that you hear in everyday speech.

Remember: when using “everyday,” think of commonplace or ordinary things

If I’m telling you something that I do each day, I would say, “I have to fix my cup of coffee every day before I even think about tackling email.” I’m using “every” as an adjective in this instance to describe the noun “day.”

Examples:

  • One thing that makes my house smell fresh and clean is to scoop the cat’s litter box every day.
  • Every day, I try to walk 10,000 steps.
  • I have an uncontrollable urge to nap every day at 2:41 p.m.

Remember: if your variation of everyday/every day can be replaced with “each day?” you need the adjective + noun formula of “every” and “day.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Elicit vs. Illicit

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Elicit v IllicitElicit and illicit might sound similar, but technically they are not homophones and their meanings are vastly different.  The words are occasionally confused due to their similar pronunciation and spelling , which is why they are the focus of today’s Grammar Hammer.

“Elicit” is a verb that means “to obtain.” It can also mean “to draw out, to extract, or to evoke.” For example, “The community advocate elicited hundreds of signatures to prevent the destruction of neighborhood landmarks.”

“Illicit” is an adjective that means “disapproved for moral reasons.” For example, “The IT department scanned all computers for illicit activity.”

To help you remember – use “illicit” if you are describing something that is typically against the rules. Use “elicit” when you are (or aren’t) receiving something (a response, etc.).

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Justice is Served for Common “Word Crimes”

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I would be remiss if I didn’t spotlight Weird Al Yankovic’s latest hit, “Word Crimes” as the star of this week’s Grammar Hammer. Off his newest album, “Mandatory Fun,” the viral sensation tackles the most egregious grammar errors of all time and proves once and for all that you can be a stunningly creative songwriter and still employ the rules of grammar to get your point across.

To my delight, I counted ten grammar topics mentioned in “Word Crimes” that I have also covered via Grammar Hammer:

  • Verb tense
  • Nouns and prepositions
  • Less vs. Fewer
  • I could care less
  • Oxford comma
  • Homophones
  • Who/Whom
  • Quotation Marks
  • Good vs. Well
  • Literally vs. Figuratively

I also gained a few more great suggestions for future posts, which shows that we have a lot of work left to do when it comes to fighting bad grammar. At PR Newswire, the Customer Content Services Team thoroughly reads each press release that crosses our wire and catches around 4,000 errors per month. It’s slightly embarrassing (but more delightful) to think about how often I engage in conversations about grammar with my team.

Tweet your favorite #wordcrimes to me @cathyspicer or drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

You might also want to check out Grammarly’s exclusive interview with Yankovic about the song and the challenges of proper grammar in songwriting.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.