Monday, June 20, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: O

An onslaught of editorial odiousness in my continuing series of editorial peeves.

On a Daily Basis

On a daily basis is unnecessarily wordy. Cut it. Do things daily or every day instead.

"Daily" isn't the only "basis" to watch out for. Instead of doing things on a regular basis, on a similar basis, or (perhaps the worst) on a one-time basis, do them regularly, similarly, or once.

In fact, whenever you can replace a prepositional phrase with a single adverb, it's worth considering. It can make your writing more efficient and less bulky.


Place an adverb as close as possible to the word or phrase it modifies. This applies to all adverbs, but only is the worst offender. Consider these sentences:
  1. Only I eat Bibles on Thursdays.
  2. I only eat Bibles on Thursdays.
  3. I eat only Bibles on Thursdays.
  4. I eat Bibles only on Thursdays.
  5. I eat Bibles on only Thursdays.
  6. I eat Bibles on Thursdays only.
Notice how the placement of that one word, only, changes the meaning of the sentence:
  1. I am the only person who eats Bibles on Thursdays.
  2. I might read Bibles on Wednesdays or build forts out of them on Fridays, but on Thursdays, I only eat them.
  3. On Thursdays, I eat nothing but Bibles.
  4. If I'm eating a Bible, it must be Thursday.
  5. This one is just awkward.
  6. This means the same as #4, which proves the point: When only modifies "on Thursdays," it should be right next to it. Since "on Thursdays" appears at the end of the sentence, you can put your only either before or after it.
When you're speaking, you can get away with "sloppier" adverb placement because the spoken word has something that the written word doesn't: emphasis. When you're speaking, you very clearly, and without thinking about it, emphasize words in such a way that people understand which modifiers go with which words, even if they aren't according-to-Hoyle in the "right" place.

But with the written word, you can and should be more careful. Your readers will appreciate it.


Totally personal choice: I don't have any problem with "opting in" to something, like e-mail newsletters, but I really can't stand it when someone "opts for" something. You really don't sound smarter when you "opt for" one choice over another, so you might as well just "choose" it.

If only to make me happier.


Bill Bryson, in Troublesome Words, writes:
Orientate is not incorrect, but it has nothing to recommend it over the shorter and simpler orient.
I'm not going to argue with him and say that orientate is actually incorrect. But it ought to be. Don't use it.

And while you're at it, try not to conversate, administrate, or certificate.