Refresher course

This post was meant to be headlined “End of the Semester,” but final projects and internship applications came first. (You know who you are.) No matter; refining your English was probably the last thing on your mind over the holiday break. Now, back to work.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Phil Corbett down the street at The Times was plagiarizing me in early December when he posted When Spellcheck Can’t Help on his blog “After Deadline: Newsroom Notes on Usage and Style” (which should be required reading for everyone in the J-school). Echoing my Nov. 26 post on the same subject, Corbett gives some examples of words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings: flair and flare, site and sight, wave and waive, and more.

A few more examples, from student work at the end of last semester:

Buses versus busses. The thing you ride is a bus; more than one are buses. Buss is an old word for a kiss (often a big, wet, sloppy one), and its plural is busses.  If you’re covering transit, you need to get it right, or the copy desk will laugh at you.

It’s predecessor, the Monster Board, was the first job search site on the Internet. You mean its, the possessive form. It’s = it is.

In my country we are to shy to speak with foreigners. You mean too (the adverb) shy. But to speak (an infinitive, to + verb) is correct.

Collaboration with several travel websites was a grate way to earn page views for us. That’s the kind of error that will really grate on your future editors. What you meant was great.  Grate is a verb, not an adjective; you grate carrots or cheese. The phrasal verb grate on, as used a couple of sentences ago, means to annoy or, in another idiom, get on (someone’s) nerves.

It needs less heating because of good isolation. In this case, the word is insulation. Both come from the Latin word insula (island). Isolate means to cut off, seclude or segregate, as in: I felt very isolated when I lived in Riverdale. Insulate can sometimes mean the same thing, but in this case the writer was talking about heating and cooling. Insulation is what builders put inside the walls of a building to keep heat in (in winter) or out (in summer).

If any of these mistakes was yours, don’t let it ruin your day. Even The New Yorker occasionally falls into such traps. From the Oct. 22 Talk of the Town: “I have more vigor and vim and gusto then I ever had before.” It should, of course, be than.

Finally, one nuance in related words: since you’re in the news business, you need to be clear on what keeps your medium afloat: advertising. That’s the collective term for all the individual advertisements your newspaper/website/station carries (and generally the name for the department that sells ad space). Advertising is also an entirely separate industry, the ones that produces the advertisements. (See “Mad Men.”)

Clear? If not, leave a comment here, or come to office hours, this semester on Friday afternoons. If so, add these words to your vocabulary list, and keep them straight. I’ll be watching.

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