Editing the editors

Elena Popina, a frequent (though usually anonymous) contributor to this blog, e-mailed me the other day: “Below are some  excerpts from the WSJ and Bloomberg which made me wonder why the author chose to write this way and not the other.” Actually, Lena, you mean . . . WSJ and Bloomberg that made me wonder […]

Sex and pronouns

When a child is whining at the dinner table for a gadget or quietly asking for a touchscreen because the toddler is bored, he doesn’t need an Ipad. He needs you. “Should it be he or she?” the writer asked as we were going over his or her piece. Good question. In the distant past […]

The idiom box

In “Metropolis” (Random House, 2005), a novel about immigrants in late 19th-century New York, Elizabeth Gaffney has some fun with a recently arrived German’s problems following American English. In one passage, he’s at an employment agency when a clerk tells him: “Anyway, you’ve had your beauty sleep, and I think I can tell from looking […]

Why style matters

In journalism, there’s style, and then there’s style. The style to which you probably aspire is a distinctive style in your writing — what’s often called the writer’s voice. It’s the personal flair in choosing your words and expressing your ideas that sets you apart from every other writer. That kind of style is not […]

Odds and ends

As the semester winds down, the quality of English I’m seeing in student writing is way up. No wonder: by now, you’ve been living in New York for the better part of a year, and there’s only one better way to pick up a language: have a significant other who’s a native speaker. You may […]


This week, students in the business concentration were gearing up for  Friday’s monthly jobs report with blog posts about what the news was likely to be. They used words like expect, estimate and predict — not always correctly. It wasn’t the meaning of the words that was off, but rather the constructions that followed them. […]

Further reading

Like most New Yorkers who subscribe to The New Yorker, I’m generally behind in my reading. So I’m a week  late in calling to your attention John McPhee’s piece in the April 29 issue:  “Draft No. 4,”  the latest in McPhee’s occasional series on writing. If a year in journalism school hasn’t introduced you to […]

More parallels

Continuing last week’s post, here are two more examples of sentences that cry out for parallel structure, courtesy of an international student who has graciously shared her work.  . . . they wanted to know how this union would affect their income. How would Russians benefit from teaming up with a country on the brink of […]

Drawing parallels

      If you studied geometry before taking up journalism, you know the definition of parallel: “Being an equal distance apart everywhere,” as the Free Online Dictionary puts it. The word applies to grammar, too, though the same source’s definition is a bigger mouthful: “Having identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases.” […]