If it’s January, then it must be Festivus

By Joe Diorio

Time for my annual celebration of Festivus, when we air out grammatical gripes – my own and my readers.

Run-on sentence of the year does not go to CNN

Some readers asked if there can be a “Run-on Sentence Award” and that Maeve Reston of CNN be given the inaugural honor.

Ms. Reston, writing about the January 5 U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia, penned this lengthy one-sentence tome: “With the eyes of the political universe, focused on turning out voters in Georgia — where the two runoff elections will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate — the President’s relentless attacks on the state’s voting apparatus, its tabulating process, and its Republican secretary of state are prompting handwringing among GOP strategists and state leaders who fear those attacks are eroding confidence in elections at a time when they need to turn out as many of their voters as possible to reelect Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on January 5 and hold onto their firewall against a Democrat-controlled House and White House.”

Funny thing: Reston did NOT write a run-on sentence. The strict definition of a run-on sentence is when two sentences are smashed together without a coordinating conjunction or proper punctuation. Reston’s sentence, while long and having the potential of leaving the reader exhausted from reading it, would not draw a “tisk-tisk” from Miss Thistlebottom since it is properly punctuated and holds together from a grammatical standpoint.

That missive COULD have broken into separate sentences. Like this:

“The eyes of the political universe are focused on a turn out the vote effort in Georgia. That’s where a January 5 runoff election will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Senate. President Trump’s relentless attacks on the Georgia secretary of state and the overall voting apparatus might erode confidence in elections precisely when incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue need that confidence. If voters believe Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, then they may stay home on January 5, thereby hurting Loeffler and Perdue’s chances of victory. Their loss would hand the Senate to Democrats.”

Interchangeably? I think not

“Can we get reporters to stop using ‘uncharted’ and ‘unchartered’ interchangeably?” one reader asked.

Both are adjectives, but the similarity ends there. The word “uncharted” means an area not mapped or previously surveyed and is normally but not exclusively a nautical term. Conversely, “unchartered” means having no charter or constitution. Once again, in nautical terms “unchartered” would refer to the part of that famous three-hour tour where the Minnow wound up on a heretofore “uncharted” island.

An unnecessary rush to the finish line

Kudos to copywriter Jessica Shepard for her advice on not being lazy when trying to finish a writing project. Her wisdom was shared on her LinkedIn page.

“When you’re writing … long form sales page or a home page, by the time you get to the CTA (Call To Action), you’re spent, right? So ya get lazy. You write ‘Learn more’ or ‘Sign up,’ then push your chair back and take a much-needed walk.

“But, um, here’s the thing: CTAs are sooooo important. They can make or break your conversions! They deserve more.

“So make the next step clear, risk-free, and irresistible for your customers. Pro tip: Write your CTAs in the first-person and finish this sentence your button copy: “I want to ______.”

Miscellaneous miscellany

From Mark Ankucic, a content marketing specialist at 3P Learning: “Read what you have written out loud. If you find a snag, edit it. If you run out of breath, shorten it. If it sounds insincere, delete it.”

A nurse at a COVID-19 vaccine site said to the patient, “Can you roll up your sleeve?” He probably can, but the proper grammar would have been, “Would you roll up your sleeve?”

Believe it or not, there are a few recipients of A Few Words About Words® who decide they don’t like the newsletter and opt out of the distribution list. Yes, I’m shocked too. One person, back in August, opted out by writing, “Too many emails. I grt over 100 a day.” Apparently, none of those emails are about proofreading.

Pandemic quotes I can live without

According to the Yale Book of Quotations, “Wear a mask,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci was the number one quote of 2020. I do wear a mask, but there is no shortage of pandemic quotes I will be glad to see disappear from everyday conversations in 2021: covidiot, maskne, you’re on mute, abundance of caution, false negative, and – one that may wind up in the dictionary – doomscrolling.

The typo of the year

This one goes to The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee. In April the Lego company, doing its part to help during the pandemic, announced it would stop making plastic toy bricks and would instead start making plastic face shields. The headline in the Tennessean read, “Lego s___s gears to produce 13,000 face visors.” Yes, I “bleeped” myself; think “number two.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Happy New Year and let’s write carefully out there, people.

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