Running on at the mouth

A student working on two stories this week was quoting a lot of sources but having trouble rendering those quotes correctly. Three examples: “It is not the responsibility of the city to enforce an immigration policy, that is the responsibility of the federal government.” “Even for the businesses here, they have to start paying the […]

Block that metaphor!

The New Yorker may be a bastion of long-form journalism, but some of its funniest content is very short: those column-fillers whose headline this post has borrowed in homage. They’re poorly edited quotations from small-town (and sometimes big-city) newspapers, government documents, police blotters and such, collected with one purpose: to make readers laugh. From the […]

Too simple, too complex

A 2013 post, Embracing complexity, showed how complex sentences can add variety and rhythm — both highly desirable in English. “Complex sentences can make your writing smooth and sophisticated,” I wrote then. As illustrations, several recent passages from student work jumped out at me. From a late-breaking capstone: Jazz writer James Hale is also drawn […]

Grammar points to ponder

Since the semester is just a couple of weeks old, writing assignments have yet to begin rolling in. (And they’re likely to be fewer as first-year students branch out from Craft I into broadcast and interactive.) In this slow season, let’s review some recurring grammar points. Ages Is the following sentence, from student work, correct […]

Between . . . and, from . . . to

Between now and the end of the semester — and that’s not far away — I’d like everyone to master the difference between two constructions commonly used to indicate ranges, especially in business stories that report changes in revenue and earnings over time. One student wrote this semester: The latest data on the world cocoa […]

Another reason why not

As I wrote on Oct. 20 in Ours not to reason why, it’s redundant to use reason, why and because in the same sentence referring to the same cause or explanation; generally, one of those words will do. Here’s a trifecta of redundancy — a sentence that unnecessarily uses all three. In the Nov. 10 issue […]

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 […]