A TRIFECTA OF AWARDS FOR A BOOK ABOUT GRAMMAR

Joe Diorio’s first book (and he’s 66 #NeverTooLate) wins Music City Gold Pen award for writing

A Few Words About Words: A common-sense look at writing and grammar by Joe Diorio, has won a Music City Gold Pen award for best writing from the Nashville chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

The award recognizes the book, published in August 2021 through Beaufort Books, as the best in the category of writing.

“Writing is a pure communication skill, so it is an honor to receive this recognition,” said Diorio, who wrote the book while living in Nashville. “The basis of any social media post, TikTok video, or any other communication is good writing.”

This is the third award the book has received. It has already been recognized as a notable title in the Shelf Unbound 2021 Indie Best Awards competition, and it is a bronze winner for humor in the from the 2021 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year competition.

It is Diorio’s debut book and takes a serious but humorous look at writing. Readers describe the book as “William Safire meets David Sedaris.” It is based on a monthly blog of the same name and talks about writing and grammar through the eyes of someone who had to teach himself the rules of grammar.

Excerpt: “I’m a master at writing around a grammatical problem. Do I need to say someone looked at the ceiling? Rather than tying myself up in knots over the ‘I before e’ rule to spell ceiling correctly, I’d just write, ‘He looked above.’ Is something effective or affective? ‘It really works,’ I’d write. Form the plural possessive of a noun? Don’t.”

The book has its share of practical advice, too like how not to start a social media post in which the writer wants to brag about an accomplishment:

“A quick scan of my news feeds on Twitter and LinkedIn shows the text in each post possesses the same banal monotony – ‘We are so proud,’ or ‘Today I had the chance to,’ or ‘This is super interesting,’ or ‘Humbled by (insert accomplishment).’ People, people, please stop! We can do better.”

A new resident of Fort Myers, Florida (he and his wife moved here from Nashville in May), Diorio has been a writer all his life. He wrote comic books as a kid (illustrated them, too), was a stringer for a local weekly newspaper in high school, worked for the college weekly newspaper, was a reporter for local daily papers in Connecticut, and he wrote speeches for executives with IBM and DuPont.

To help promote the book Diorio hosts a periodic Zoom-based “game show” where contestants answer a single question about grammar.

Available wherever fine books are sold, publisher Beaufort Books describes A Few Words About Words as the “go-to-grammar guide you pick up and can’t put down.”

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Quietly mailing it in

By Joe Diorio

September 12, 2022 – Joe H. was a fellow IBM employee at the Bethesda, Maryland office where I worked in 1982. He used the same response whenever someone would say hello to him, “Hey, I got nine years left, buddy.” In other words, it was nine years until he retired, so he was not putting up with any malarkey.

Nowadays we would say Joe H. had quietly quit his job. Back then we were saying he was mailing it in.

The concept of quiet quitting – also known as working to rule, lying flat, or basically declining to go above and beyond what one is paid to do – has seen its share of ink or digital presence recently, so I won’t spend too much time on it here, other than to say the equal and opposite reaction to quiet quitting has been severe. Forbes magazine carried an article explaining how to spot someone who has quietly quit their job. On September 1 The Washington Post ran a story about employers’ subtlety undertaking efforts to quietly fire those who decide to mail it in.

I left IBM in 1988 so I don’t know if Joe H. ever made his personal finish line. Perhaps he quietly mailed in his retirement paperwork.

Vendor or vender?

A story in the July 18 issue of The New Yorker discussed, in a level of detail only The New Yorker can do, the burgeoning popularity of pickleball, that table tennis on a tennis court game that continues to gain popularity among the north of age 60 population. No, I have not played the game – yet.

I was less smitten by the story about pickleball than I was about writer Sarah Larson’s use of the word “venders” rather than the more current spelling, “vendors.” Her excellent prose was referencing merchants selling goods at a pickleball tournament. I confess to being unfamiliar with that spelling. Merriam-Webster says it is a correct, albeit out-of-date spelling.

I reached out to Larson via Twitter and email to ask about her selection of the older usage. Sadly, an off-the-wall random inquiry about a single word in an article containing upwards of 10,000 words (I didn’t count, I Googled it) did not generate a response.

In his book, “Dreyer’s English,” author Benjamin Dreyer pokes fun at The New Yorker, explaining that the magazine most likely has a style and usage guide so cumbersome that it can probably be seen from outer space. The spelling of venders may be a part of that tome. 

New words

Speaking of a tome, Merriam-Webster just added 370 words to the dictionary. Some, like janky (poor quality) and sus (suspicious) have been around for a while. The process of adding words to a dictionary takes time. Kory Stamper, in her book about dictionaries, “Word by Word,” takes the reader through the mysterious, bureaucratic, and whimsical process of deciding if a word is, well, a word.

Back to school or back-to-school

Late August marks the start of a new school year in many communities. Stores run their share of back-to-school sales while print, online, and broadcast news outlets carry multiple stories about going back to school.

Wait, did I just use the term two ways, once with hyphens and once without? Yep, and I was right both times. Back to school should be hyphenated when it precedes a noun, allowing it to act as an adjective. But if you are not talking about a back-to-school sale, story, or event and just jawboning about how the kids are going back to school, then no hyphens are needed.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His award-winning book, A Few Words About Words. A common-sense look at writing and grammar is available wherever fine books are sold.

We are … trademarked!

By Joe Diorio

A colleague was a cheerleader in college. Each year she and her squad would go to a weeklong preseason camp attended by cheer squads from other colleges and universities. One of the teams in attendance was from Penn State University. Every morning at breakfast, the camp cafeteria would erupt with the Penn Staters shouting, “We are … Penn State!”

A good showing of school pride, I suppose. But by the last day of camp all the other cheer squads had their fill of the cheer and would respond to that chant with, “We aren’t. Shut up!”

The “We are … Penn State” is a familiar chant in college sports and has been etched in stone as a part of Penn State University, which successfully filed a trademark for the cheer. Heaven forbid some other school hijack that ditty.

Before anyone rolls their eyeballs, consider that the trademark of a collegiate chant is not limited to a full phrase. On June 23, Ohio State University, after several attempts, trademarked the word “The.”

Yes, just the word “The.” After three years of trying to get a trademark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the school’s application.

“The” is deeply ingrained with Ohio State University alumni. In addition to the “O-H-I-O” chant, Ohio State fans can be heard yelling “THE Ohio State” during football games.

Now, no one should run to their laptop and start putting the trademark symbol next to every usage of the word. The trademark only applies to sales of Ohio State University clothing, so it’s a rather narrow trademark.

Gender neutral pronouns

I confess to not thinking much about using gender neutral pronouns until I was working in higher education, and someone explained their value this way, “it’s a show of respect.” That is good enough for me.

That said, it was disappointing to read that Argentina has imposed one of the world’s first bans on gender-neutral language. The argument is that this degrades the language.

Welp, I am not a linguist, and I am no expert in Spanish, despite three years of high school classes and one semester in college (I’m a slow learner). But I do know that language is an evolving thing. We would sound a bit off if our language never evolved. Consider this exchange between Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and a night watchman named Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) in the movie, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

Amelia Earhart: “Crimey, we’re jimmy-jacked!”

Larry Daley: “Jimmy-jacked?”

Amelia Earhart: “It’s the way I speak.”

Larry Daley: “Yeah, but that sounds made-up, even for you …”

Amelia Earhart: “’Oh, no, our path has been blocked by bad people.’ What’s the fun in that?”

Larry Daley: “Yeah, you’re right. We are …”

Amelia Earhart: “Jimmy-jacked.”

Change is the one constant in language. I won’t cry for Argentina. But I won’t applaud this decision either.

New Poet Laureate

Kudos to Ada Limón, who on July 12 was named by the U.S. Library of Congress as the 24th U.S. poet laureate, officially called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. “Poetry is a way to remember our relationship with the natural world is reciprocal,” Limón says. “It’s having a place to breathe and having a place to pay attention.”

Language talk reminder Remember, I will deliver an online talk on Saturday, August 13 at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of Language. My talk will be about writing, grammar, and how a love of words led to a book. Please join me. It’s via Zoom and I’d hate to feel like I’m talking to myself.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His double award-winning first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.

Run the gantlet/gauntlet?

By Joe Diorio

FORT MYERS, FL, July 11, 2022 – Writing in the June 15 edition of The New York Times Victor Mather mused about the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League managing to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the third straight year. Mather said that “postseason play is a grueling gantlet to run.”

Some may question if Mather committed icing (Icing is a hockey penalty, please don’t ask me to explain it.) in his choice of words; should he have said “gauntlet” instead?

Welp, gantlet is the original spelling. It refers to a form of punishment where people armed with sticks are arranged in two lines and beat a person who must travel between them. Armed with sticks sure sounds like hockey, doesn’t it? Gauntlet is an alternative spelling and usually refers to someone having to endure punishment to reach a specific milestone.

If he was writing about the Tampa Bay Lightning specifically – which he eventually did, but not in that sentence – then he probably should have said gauntlet. Kudos to him for putting the right word in between the pipes. That’s another hockey term for scoring a goal.

Preregistration for a free pass

Hats off to all teachers. They have managed to navigate a pandemic, conducted hours of remote learning, and let us not forget they must run active shooter drills. So as a modest thank you Sea World in Orlando, Florida is offering free passes to teachers. A story on local TV news said teachers must “preregister” for the tickets.

Preregister is one of those words that can easily be misused. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a special registration period (as for returning students) prior to an official registration period.” Unless Sea World is asking everyone to register rather than simply buy tickets, the teachers being honored simply have to “register” for their free passes.

From the department of redundancy department

News flash: Heavy winds in Lee County, Florida knocked down a large tent where fireworks were sold. “The tent was completely destroyed,” said the TV reporter. 

“Completely destroyed” is a term that Jeff Butera, author of the wonderful book Write Like You Talk: A guide to broadcast news writing calls “journalese,” or terms that get used so often they are accepted as the gospel of the spoken word. Something either is destroyed, or it isn’t. There is no need to modify it.

“Young journalists […] see and hear them being used and assume it’s the style they’re supposed to use. So they begin to adopt these non-conversational words and phrases, perpetuating the cycle,” Butera, a television news anchor in Southwest Florida, writes in his book.

His lament is echoed by a colleague in Philadelphia. Vince DeFruscio, a news editor for a Fox affiliate in the City of Brotherly Love, keeps a list of words and phrases he hopes news professionals will just stop using, like “a slew of laws,” “brazen crimes,” “iconic moment,” and “black smoke billowing.”

Butera’s book is a must read for anyone working in the broadcast news business, and for anyone who just wants to express themselves in clear and concise language.

And while I am doing book shout-outs, kudos to Wordshine Man: Tips for polishing words until they sparkle by Tom Madden. A veteran public relations professional, Madden’s book is 175 pages of solid advice for polishing, revising, and re-revising your writing until … well, until it sparkles.

Regionalism in language

Last month I wrote about John Fetterman, a candidate for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania, using the term “yinz” in one of his email messages. That prompted more than its share of responses.

“I’m from Pittsburgh,” one reader says. “There we are sometimes referred to as ‘Yinzers’.”

“In Cleveland they used to say ‘yoonz,’ as in ‘yoonz guys better watch it,” a second reader said.

Speaking of regionalism, the National Museum of Language has a terrific online exhibit on regional language

And while I’m talking about the National Museum of Language, please mark your calendar for Saturday, August 13 at 2 p.m. That’s when I will deliver an online talk at the museum about writing, grammar, and how a love of words led to a book.

And … and, since I am talking about my book did I mention it received a Bronze medal in the FOREWARD Reviews 2021 book awards (Humor category)? Well, if I haven’t, then I have now.

Item last (almost)

I’m running Zoom seminars for individuals or groups on improving one’s writing. Hit me up if you are interested in learning more.

Item last (really)

I was the guest on the July 1 edition of “Friday Morning Coffee,” a regular show on the Writer’s Bone podcast. Care to listen?

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His book, A Few Words About Words, is available wherever fine books are sold.

A politician for yinz

By Joe Diorio

John Fetterman is running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. Just recently he sent out a campaign email containing the line, “sending yinz a quick note.”

“Yinz,” as the six-foot-nine-inch Fetterman used it, is a piece of slang unique to parts of rural Pennsylvania. (Fetterman is from Springettsbury, a tiny town northeast of Hanover.) The Urban Dictionary says it is the Pittsburgh equivalent to “y’all” used to address two or more persons.

Interestingly, “yinz” is not recognized by either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford dictionaries, whereas “y’all” is identified as a variant of “you all.”

Well, considering how big a guy Fetterman is, I’m not telling him he cannot use a word that is not found in the dictionary.

Farewell Roger Angell

The book I have owned the longest is a 1972 paperback (with a $1.50 price tag on it, proving I have owned it for a while) copy of The Summer Game, Roger Angell’s first collection of his New Yorker columns about baseball. Angell, who died May 20 at the age of 101, was a master writer and storyteller. He just happened to ply his craft writing about a game.

His superior use of words is unforgettable. Writing about the Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk coming out of a crouched position, Mr. Angell wrote how Fisk looked like “an aluminum extension ladder stretching for the house eaves.” The Baltimore Oriole relief pitcher Dick Hall pitched “with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud.” Writing about the 1969 New York Mets he penned, “Instead of resembling a real ball team, the new Mets reminded me most of a Hollywood cast assembled to play in another unlikely baseball movie.”

Baseball fans would say Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson could hit. Jackson would say this about Angell: “Roger Angell can write.” Indeed, he could.

Have you learned that yet?

Recently someone asked via Twitter, “If I said, ‘that’ll learn you,’ do you know what I mean? The Urban Dictionary defines this as Southern slang. Most of the responders agree.

“It’s a double yes for me. I understand what the character is saying, and I have an idea where the character is from.”

“I was raised by Southern parents. I absolutely know what this means.”

“I have heard it in the Southwest, but mostly as a teasing remark.”

Let me know if you have heard the phrase and your thoughts on its origin and appropriate usage.

Local TV. Need I say more?

A Fort Myers, Florida television reporter was reporting a story about training for first responders and said the type of training being undertaken is “tantamount.” Not tantamount to something. Just tantamount.

Tantamount is an adjective, meaning the same as. It would modify a noun. But there was no noun in the reporter’s sentence to modify. 

The way the reporter framed the word makes one think the word they meant to use is “paramount,” as in the training is more important than anything else.

Yes, watching local TV can sometimes makes me crazy. But then the same news program, in the very next story, mentioned that a group of stingrays is called a “fever.” Good recovery guys.

I am a museum piece

Read this. You’ll write better.” That’s the title of a talk I am scheduled to deliver at The National Museum of Language on Saturday, August 13, 2022, at 2 p.m. (ET). It’s all being done via Zoom so please join me. I hate feeling like I am talking to myself.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.