Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Today's Word: rebus, and a bonus word!

rebus: A riddle consisting of pictures of objects and symbols whose phonetic or alphabetic parts combine into a representation of a word or phrase. For example:

pilcrow: That double-stemmed backward P symbol used (most often in proofreading and editing) to indicate the end of a paragraph and the beginning of a new one. Or, more succinctly, the symbol in the above rebus. Wired magazine sometimes uses the pilcrow character (in a lighter color) to mark the end of a paragraph without actually breaking to a new line. A great space-saver.

One thing I don't understand about the pilcrow: Why doesn't the word appear in either Webster's New World Dictionary or Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Making a Change in Your Writing

There's nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence:

When Donald discovered that his images were to be scrutinized by his son's fourth-grade class, he made a change to them to eliminate some of the more erotic imagery.

Nothing technically wrong with this sentence, but stuff like this gets me every time. To make a change to means the same thing as to alter. You know what else means to alter? To change.

Sixteen times out of seventeen, the make, a, and to in the phrase make a change to simply serve no purpose other than to fill space. And the text usually flows more smoothly and eloquently without them. Isn't it nicer to change your outlook than to make a change to your outlook? Isn't it more economical to change the budget than to make a change to the budget? Wouldn't you rather change the way you write instead of making a change in the way you write?

I think it's grammatically accurate but unnecessarily verbose phrases like this that led Strunk and White to their controversial codification, "Omit needless words." (The controversy, of course, centers on two ideas: (a) what exactly does needless mean in this context; and (2) is this "rule" to be followed in every case, to the extreme end, wielding the red pen like a Sith lightsaber in the Jedi library?)

I'm sure, with a little thought you can come up with perfect examples of when to make a change to is preferable to to change. I won't argue that. But generally, in your writing and editing, this phrase can be routinely squelched.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

With Apologies from Webster's Dictionary

A recent fun little romp through changes in the dictionary, brought to you by MadTV:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Today's Word: velocipede

velocipede: Any light vehicle propelled by the user's feet. A useful word that covers not only bicycles and tricycles, but big wheels, toy cars, scooters, skateboards, and the Flintstone's car.