Practicing pronunciation, germ-free

During this morning’s Skype lesson with Elena Kostyuchenko, now back in Moscow after spending 2018 as the J-school’s international journalist in residence, I noticed tiny droplets hitting my laptop screen when I demonstrated how to move her mouth to say the difficult thw combination in thwart. Luckily for Elena, that screen and nearly 5,000 miles […]

Prepositions and phrasals revisited

I Accidentally Turned My Dad Into Immigration Services, read an op-ed headline in The New York Times. I burst out laughing. Was the author a magician?    Whoever wrote that headline apparently didn’t know from phrasal verbs, as we say in New York. (“The phrase he doesn’t know from (something), meaning ‘he doesn’t know about […]

Loaded words

Words matter, as every journalist should know. But in a field that strives for objectivity, many words seem more innocent than they really are. We call these “loaded words,” and journalists should do their best to avoid them, or at least think twice before using them. The Free Dictionary defines a loaded word as one […]

Taking out, putting in

It’s not often that punctuation makes news. But in an Oct. 2 article about the White House whistleblower, The Washington Post noted certain irregularities in the now-infamous Ukraine call: Current and former U.S. officials studying the document pointed to several elements that, they say, indicate that the document may have been handled in an unusual […]

Growing pains

  Three recent business-news headlines from The New York Times: U.S. Economy Grew at 3.2% Rate in First Quarter China’s Home Prices Rise Faster in March Aided by Policy Support In Context, Health Premium Increases Don’t Look Like Increases Note the trend: all three stories concern something going up, or getting bigger. But what’s the […]

More time words

As noted in How to make the most of coaching, it’s always useful when students asking for help tell me their deadlines. But sometimes they get more than they bargained for: If you have time today until about 9 p.m. could you please correct it? Will it be possible to receive it back from you […]

Focus words and appositives

One definition of the verb focus is to pay particular attention to something. In speaking or writing, focus words direct attention to a particular part of a sentence. Think of using a magnifying glass to focus light on a single spot. The sunlight is the reader or listener’s attention, and you want to focus it […]

How to make the most of coaching

Coaching should be an integral part of your strategy for surviving J-school, and even learning. What it’s not intended to be: an afterthought and a free edit. The J-school offers the services of a number of coaches: Tim Harper for writing; Deb Stead and me for English language and writing; Ricardo Reif for Spanish; and various […]

Laying Bush, and confusion, to rest

“As President George H.W. Bush now lays in state in the U.S. Capitol . . .,” Amna Nawaz intoned on “PBS Newshour” the other night. Really, PBS? Lays in state? The nation’s grammar nerds cringed. “And was the flag at half-mast?” we may have grumbled. (Maybe it was, somewhere, since Bush had once been a […]

Singular or plural? Revisited

The New Yorker is legendary for its meticulous copy editing. So when it deviates from established grammar, as in Larissa MacFarquhar’s Oct. 8 article “The Memory House,” it’s an event. The piece repeatedly used plural verbs and pronouns with singular nouns like a person or each patient. A few examples: Each patient wore a nametag at all times; there was […]