Monday, May 9, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: I

A cluster of textual problems that annoy me to no end, each fronted by the 9th letter of the alphabet.

i.e. vs. e.g.

If you don't know how to use these, don't. See e.g. vs. i.e.


Impact ought to be reserved for craters and wisdom teeth, and it ought to remain a noun and an adjective.

I started writing a long bit here full of examples of how people use impact to mean "have an effect on," but I thought better of it. Just trust me: Every editor and avid reader and listener of the English language will be a little bit happier if everyone stopped using impact as a verb.

Hell, if you really love the word impact, you can still use it. Just say that something "had an impact on" something else. That's fine. It's ambiguous and unoriginal, but it's fine.

And don't even get me started on impactful.

Heed my words: If you continue using impact as a verb and impactful as anything, the only listeners who won't immediately tune you out are those who are just one incentivize away from a Corporate Jargon BINGO.

In a ______ fashion

The English language has evolved to include an ingenious little animal that lets you bypass this four-word prepositional phrase — indeed, any number of lengthy prepositional phrases — with a single word. That animal is known as an adverb. You should learn about adverbs.

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you might have already deduced that I am a big fan of efficiency. Though I'm not a fan of how they phrased the "rule," I completely understand the sentiment behind Strunk and White's admonition to "Omit needless words" in The Elements of Style. Many word nerds have misconstrued this "rule," I think unfairly, to mean that any word that isn't needed to convey the meaning of the sentence should be deleted, and then attacked the concept based on that misconstrual.

I think this is a much too limited definition of needless. There is, after all, more to a string of words than just their meaning. By that limited definition, all redundancies, for example, are "errors" and should be eliminated. And indeed, if you were to eliminate all redundancies, the stark meaning of a sentence would be clear, and the words would be efficient. But then so much would be left out — ironically, what most people would refer to as a writer's style. "His mother made him clean up all the popcorn he spilled," conveys the acts, but it has no style. It isn't as telling as, say, "His mother hovered over him as he painstakingly picked up every last, little speck of the spilled popcorn, which, like in the moments following the Big Bang, seemed to have spread with inconceivable speed to the four corners of the room." The difference between the former and latter sentences isn't just needless words.

Lest I preempt my own discussion about redundancies (it'll come when I get to the Rs), let me curve back around to the foul phrase at hand: "in a ______ fashion." There's certainly nothing grammatically wrong with this phrase, and in a few cases it might even be the best choice. But, overall, I think it contains a lot of needless words that ought to be omitted.

Don't place your doilies in a dainty fashion; place them daintily. Don't harvest your coffee beans in an ethical fashion; harvest them ethically. Don't plop onto the couch in an exhausted fashion; just collapse on the couch, exhausted.

Sometimes, you save only one word but create a much stronger sentence. Imagine Rush Limbaugh crawling around on all fours in a dog-like fashion. Nuh-uh. He's crawling around on all fours, like a dog. (See how that conveys not just what Rush Limbaugh is doing, but how you I feel about Rush Limbaugh?)

This is not a call to cease using "in a ______ fashion" completely. If you're obfuscating, deflecting blame, or intentionally and intensely trying to maintain neutrality, "in a ______ fashion" might be the way to go. But if you're writing something that you want people to show some interest in (e.g., fiction of any type), "in a ______ fashion" is a cop-out. It leaves the interpretation up to the reader, and that interpretation may be the opposite of the story that you're trying to tell.

If you want your readers to see and feel a certain thing, you can't do it by equivocating.

Yes, it means more work. But if you find yourself typing "in a ______ fashion" (or its feeble brother, "in a ______ way"), take a second look at it. You can probably build a stronger, more streamlined sentence.


I still don't know what the hell this word means, whether it's the employees who are incentivized or the desired outcome that's incentivized. Or something else. This word sucks. Don't use it.

If you're thinking about jumping down into the comments and giving me a definition for incentivize, don't. I don't want to know what you or anyone else thinks it means. There's nothing you can say about this word that will convince me that it has any worth.

Look, I'm a huge fan of wordplay. I love taking words apart and putting them back together like Legos. But all neologisms are not created equal.

Read that again: All neologisms are not created equal. New words are created every day. Some rise to the top and are adopted by the masses; others sink to the bottom and disappear. Incentivize is down there deep with mondo, shibby, and phat, only somehow it refuses to die.

Do us all a favor and kill it whenever you can.

Inflammable vs. flammable

There really is no "vs." here. They're on the same team. See flammable vs. inflammable.


I won't be so irrational as to declare that irregardless isn't a word, or that it has caused irreparable damage to the language, but it would be irresponsible of me not to mention this irregular, irredeemable little editorial irritation.

I don't entirely understand why this piss-ant of a word has become so irrepressible as to become irremovable from the lexicon. But that's irrelevant. You can find plenty of irrefutable evidence that irregardless is the wrong word choice, unless you really want to sound stupid (or irreverent). The word you want is regardless.

And if you're still irresolute about using irregardless, feel free to use irrespective instead.