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Posts within the category: Grammar and usage
September 6, 2011
It's back-to-school season, even for those of us who did not get a new lunchbox, science teacher, or dorm room this year. In honor of students everywhere, and in support of your ongoing efforts to refresh those writing skills, here are links to 20 online grammar and spelling quizzes. Try them all to see if you'll make the grade.
- Online Grammar Quizzes - Cengage Learning
- Online Grammar Test - Dr. K. Siegel, Mount Mary College
- Interactive Online Grammar Quizzes - City Univ. of Seattle
- Grammar Review - Newsroom101.com
- Online Grammar Quiz - Plain English Campaign
- Quiz: Are You a Grammar Geek? - Harvard Business Review
- Grammar Mastery Test - GrammarBook.com
- Triangle Grammar Guide Quizzes - NewsObserver.com
- Online Spelling Bee - Visual Thesaurus
- Spelling Bee Hive - Merriam Webster
Are you smarter than an 11th grader?
We make our kids take them, but can you pass the grammar and usage sections of these tests for teens?
- Identifying Sentence Errors - SAT Practice Test
- ACT Practice Questions
- GED Sample Test Questions: Language Arts, Writing
- Sentence Diagramming Practice (The tony St. Albans School in Washington, DC still teaches diagramming??)
Could you cut it as an editor, teacher, diplomat, or technical writer?
- For editors: Twenty Questions: A Quiz on the AP Stylebook and Test Your Editing Skills: Chicago style
- For teachers: Praxis Pre-Professional Skills Test: Writing and Check Your Spelling
- For diplomats and other international types: Subtest IV: Grammar - United Nations Language Proficiency Exam
- For technical writers: Klariti Technical Writing Test
Have an online grammar quiz to share? Post a comment or e-mail me.
November 16, 2010
I recently came across an article about 115 forbidden words and expressions compiled by Randy Michaels, CEO of the Tribune Co. The company owns the Chicago radio station WGN, and Michaels forbid radio anchors and reporters from using these words. Among forbidden words and expressions are some that make me cringe as well.
- 5 a.m. in the morning
- at this point in time
- close proximity
- fatal death
- in harm’s way
- completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
Following up on Michaels' directive, WGN’s news director Charlie Meyerson circulated the list to on-air talent. He directed his staff to report co-worker infractions, noting the precise time and date on "bingo” cards.
That got me thinking about overused and misused words and expressions that I’d like to outlaw. Here are my baker's dozen. Some of them have been around for a long time and are worn out. Others have worn out their welcome in just a short time. (None are on the WGN list.)
- Special. You’d have thought that Dana Carey’s SNL parodies of “isn’t that special,” in the 1980s, would have put this on the endangered list. But despite The Church Lady, it's now applied to almost every person, gift, event, activity, organization, and promotion. The result: special is no longer special.
- Awesome. The Grand Canyon and Taj Mahal are awesome. Most everything else is not.
- Absolutely. Perhaps the most overused expression in the English language. Explains CNN'S John Blake: "It's a verbal virus that's spreading unchecked on TV, radio and in print. Want to sound certain? Want to remove all doubt? Want to be a commentator on TV? Absolutely."
- Issues. A nicer way of saying problems: I have issues with this plan. He has commitment issues. She has health issues. Why not just say problems?
- Cool. This is a relic from the 1950s. Beatniks were cool.
- Guys. You guys. Those guys. This expression jumped genders and now refers to any group of people. I particularly hate it when my waiter says, “I’ll be serving you guys.”
- Throw under the bus. Shorthand for sacrificing a person for political gain. Among those who were or weren’t thrown under the bus by President Obama were Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and Obama’s grandmother. Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod was thrown under the bus for an out-of-context remark then pulled out from under the bus when it became known that she was a civil rights activist. On the Republican side, Scooter Libby was thrown under the bus by Vice President Dick Cheney.
- Not so much. Edgy satirist Lenny Bruce used this phrase in the 1960s. But the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart popularized it. When asked which Democrat he saw stepping forward to lead the party: "I like this guy John Kennedy. Since him, not so much."
- My bad. This one grated on me from the time I first heard it, and it continues to feel like chalk on a squeaky board. (Talk about outdated expressions! Marking pen on a white board?) While historians trace this back to Shakespeare, it came into the mainstream with the 1995 movie Clueless. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) swerves to avoid hitting a bicyclist. “Whoops, my bad.”
- It is what it is. This bit of Zen philosophy has come to mean whatever you want it to mean. Among the meanings: screw it, that’s the way it is, nothing we can do about it, and que sera, sera. It normally puts the brakes on discussion. What can you say in response?
- Not that I’m. . . (prejudiced, racist, homophobic, sexist). This almost always precedes a statement that shows prejudice. Explains Rational Wiki, "These words are spoken in the mistaken belief that simply saying 'I'm not prejudiced' is enough to exempt the speaker from responsibility for the offensive comment they are about to make."
- Get it. He gets it. She doesn’t get it. These phrases express exasperation at someone's failure to understand something. It owes its popularity to the great communicator Ronald Reagan. In a 1980s presidential debate, then candidate Reagan chided his opponent, President Jimmy Carter: "You just don't get it, do you?"
- Shellacking. Okay, this is a preemptive strike. President Obama used it to describe the Democrats' heavy losses in the 2010 mid-term election. But I’ve heard it enough times since then to merit its inclusion in the list.
Alas, I’m not the head of a large media conglomerate. I don’t have the power to enforce or humiliate those who use my outlawed expressions. Compliance is voluntary; I can only plead.
What's on your list of overused and abused expressions? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I'll compile the list and post it.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
May 18, 2010
Today, I was an invited speaker at the National Association of Government Communicators' annual Communications School conference in Bethesda, Maryland. Before my session, I attended a wonderful presentation: "A Market You Can’t Miss: People with Disabilities" by Juliette Rizzo (Director, Exhibits and Agency-wide Outreach, U.S. Department of Education) and Valerie Suber (Public Information Director, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities). Valerie distributed a handout on People-First Language, "a way of communicating that reflects respect for people with disabilities by choosing words that portray them accurately."
Though I wasn't able to find Valerie's handout at her Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities site, I did find an excellent guide, which presents many of the same concepts, at the Arc of Washington State site. This handout, The Missing Page In Your Stylebook: People-First Language, offers tips for reporting on people with disabilities, such as:
- "Do not define individuals by their disabilities. Put People First, not their disability."
- "Do not portray successful people with disabilities as superhuman. This raises false expectations that all people with disabilities should be high achievers."
- "Do not sensationalize a disability by using such language as 'afflicted with, 'crippled,' 'suffers from,' 'confined to a wheelchair,' 'wheelchair-bound,' etc."
The handout also offers a list of People-First Language Preferred Expressions:
|Say/Write ...||Instead of ...|
|Child with autism||Autistic|
|Adult with Down Syndrome||Mongoloid|
|Person who has ...||Suffers from ...|
I am eager to learn how you and your organization strive to use People-First Language. Let me know or post a comment here.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
March 30, 2010
The most fun response to my post Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing came from fellow writing instructor and consultant Rosemary Camilleri:
“Your Mac users may not know it but they have a ‘Speech’ feature built into Mac OX 10.4, 10.5, and following. It's called Text to Speech. Their computer will read any text aloud.
Furthermore, the Mac will read text at the speed you choose, in the voice you choose (Alex? Bruce? Vicki? Victoria? Agnes? Princess? Bubbles? Bells? Boing? Bad News? Hysterical? Zarvox?).
This feature is great: I turn it on so that, as I proofread, I hear the honest truth about what I typed (computers have no mercy).”
As luck had it, I recently bought an iMac, so I took Text to Speech out for a spin, running a few paragraphs through a variety of voices: deep-and-droning Ralph, robotic Vicki, muffled Whisper, the back-from-the-dead Bahh, and the melodious Cellos. I settled on easy-listening Alex.
Rosemary was right about using Text to Speech as a proofreading tool. My ear did hear the grammar and spelling errors, a left-out word, or the wrong word. And because Alex was reading, my eyes saw punctuation and capitalization errors as I followed along.
Want to try it out? Here are instructions for a Mac:
- Click on the “Apple icon” in the upper-right hand corner of the screen.
- Select “System Preferences.”
- Select the “Speech” icon under Systems.
- Select “Text to Speech” from the pop-up.
- Select a “System Voice” from the drop-down list.
- Click the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” box.
- Click “Set Key”
- Enter a “Key Combination” to activate Text to Speech.
To have your computer read in the voice you’ve selected, highlight the text and press your chosen key combination. (Mine is Control+V). Sit back and listen.
I checked out the Text to Speech feature on my Windows XP computer. It has an accessibility feature that can be configured to read text, but it seemed complicated to set up and use. I don’t know whether Windows 7 has a Text to Speech feature similar to Mac. (Any Windows 7 people out there? Let me know!)
This was proofreading made fun. I found that I was making spelling errors on purpose, so I could see if Alex caught them.
Last word: All of the voices mispronounced my name. (Mar i lynn e Rud ick instead of Marilyn Ru dick). You can imagine how they mangled Leslie O’Flahavan!
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
March 29, 2010
My Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing post keeps generating feedback. Most recently, Cate Newton sent me a link to the writing resource page she compiled for the Guide to Online Schools website.
Cate wrote: “We are trying to build up useful resources for students of all ages…. We’ve compiled a list of the most useful grammar, proofreading and writing style guides on the Internet into one, easy-to-navigate article.”
Her writing resources are indeed a treasure trove. Among the gems on her list:
Proofreading tips, practice exercises, and quizzes to test your skills. I aced the Level C (Superstar) proofreading test. But I admit that the question prompts and the multiple-choice format helped me catch errors I might have missed.
The Online Grammar Guide
The comprehensive guide to English grammar created by Jack Lynch, associate professor at Rutgers University, provides an alphabetic listing of grammar and word choice issues. Lynch offers this consoling take on the difference between that and which.
“Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know. If the subtle difference between the two confuses you, use whatever sounds right. Other matters are more worthy of your attention.” He then offers a clear and pithy explanation of the difference.
The University of Ottawa
An online grammar course that covers the parts of speech, punctuation, pronouns, verbs, modifiers, clauses, sentences and spelling. This course lets you brush up on English grammar in the privacy of your office or cubicle.
The Ultimate Style Guide Resources for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE
A list of good Internet style guide links. If The Chicago Manual of Style is your style bible, you’ll love the CMS Crib Sheet that summarizes the manual’s most important topics and rules.
School House Rock
And finally, if you need a break from the rigors of correct usage, head over to Grammar Rock for animated music videos that teach the rules and make you smile. Busy Prepositions makes sense of the confusing rules for prepositions. You’ll spend the day humming the tune (guaranteed!).
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
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