Making comparisons

Good, better, best Never let it rest Until the good is better  And the better best. That old saying, attributed online to everyone from St. Jerome to basketball star Tim Duncan, strikes me as very American: self-improvement is a cornerstones of our culture. While we should constantly strive to better (yes, it can be a […]

Affect or effect?

In English, one little letter can make a big difference. Take compliment (praise) and complement (something that completes something else), or principal (main, primary; or, head of a school) and principle (fundamental truth or basis of belief). These pairs are homophones — words that sounds alike but have different spellings and different meanings. Perhaps the […]

Ours not to reason why

I’d guess that CUNY journalism students have been reading Tennyson, except who reads Tennyson anymore?  In “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” he wrote: Not tho’ the soldier knew Someone had blunder’d: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die . . . Tennyson comes to mind because […]

Fall harvest

I knew it was time to resume this blog when I saw, in big letters on a local TV newscast: TAKING BACK THE REIGNS Either no one at the station proofread this phrase before putting it on the air, or whoever did doesn’t know the difference between reign and rein. They are homophones — words that […]

Final exam

It’s the end of spring semester — time to review. (You want to look good on your internship,  don’t you?) Here’s a quiz on what you’ve learned from this blog. What’s wrong with the following sentences written by students this academic year?   1. But it took one year for the European Union to sign it. 2. […]

Punctuation points

Victor Borge (pronounced BOR-guh) was a Danish pianist and comedian who combined those talents in a way that made him a star of American television in its early years. Among the many topics Borge explored in his sophisticated brand of stand-up (and often sit-down, from the piano bench) was punctuation, as in this video: Phonetic Punctuation […]

When a home is not a house

Housing is news. Sales of new and existing homes are an important indicator of the state of the economy. And in New York, a city of tiny living spaces, housing is practically an obsession. (So is its cost. “The New York question” is “How much?”) When you’re covering  housing issues, it’s important to get the […]

A good time was had by all

That sentence used to end small-town newspaper reports on  church socials and other gatherings. Today it makes us laugh — or should — because it’s such a backwards way of saying what it means: everyone had a good time. Written in passive voice, it sounds pretentious. It would sound far less so in active voice. […]

Why style changes

While the market was recovering in 2013, the prices in cities like Las Vegas and San Francisco recorded a year-over-year gain of over more than 20 percent.  “Humor an old lady,” I told the student who wrote that sentence. “When you’re talking about numbers, make it more than.” As of last week, she doesn’t have […]

Prepositions and phrasals

The J-school is at 219 West 40th Street, but on 40th Street. It’s in Manhattan, but on the West Side. Students live in apartments or buildings anywhere they can afford. On this island, they live in the Village, SoHo or TriBeCa; on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side; in Morningside Heights, Harlem, Washington Heights or […]