This time next week, if all goes as planned, I’ll be on my third day in the office after more than a year of working remotely. (As I prepare this for the blog tonight, it’s looking like I won’t be in the office next week. We shall see.) There will still be days I’ll need to do some work at home, but for the most part I imagine life will continue much as it did before.
Except for that having to talk to strangers thing. I can do without that. Introverts gotta introvert, ya know.
Not that pandemic life has been that different, even though some things were better; marking up proofs on my iPad instead of paper has been infinitely easier, and not having to wear pants on a daily basis has been heavenly.
But some people still feel the need to bully to get their way, can’t seem to do the simplest thing without causing a stink, and refuse to accept that they’re wrong or behaving improperly. Others remain secure in the knowledge that if you treat others as you want to be treated, you will be treated in kind most of the time. There are always exceptions, but I remain convinced that most people are inherently kind.
Jerks will always be with us, but I think we outnumber them; they’re just louder. Jerks are like that.
Other things haven’t changed, either. Among them:
🚫 People still use words interchangeably when they shouldn’t.
Editorials, op-eds or columns, articles, ads and letters are not the same thing. When I was on the clerks’ desk, I was constantly having to figure out what callers were referring to so I could transfer them to the appropriate place, and it wasn’t always an easy task. Again: Editorials are considered to be the newspaper’s opinion, and are written by staff editorial writers, not random people. Op-eds or columns are signed opinion pieces, which may be written by staff or guest writers. Articles are news, sports, business or feature stories. Ads are advertisements or solicitations for goods or services. Letters are written by newspaper readers. Save news clerks some frustration and make sure you know which is which.
It’s not just newspaper terms. I know of one reptile expert whose head nearly explodes if you use poisonous and venomous in willy-nilly fashion; according to National Geographic, venomous creatures bite or sting to release their toxins, and poisonous creatures do so passively as a defense mechanism, or by being eaten.
There are also words like averse (having a feeling of distaste or dislike) and adverse (harmful), affect (usually a verb meaning to have an impact or change) and effect (usually a noun meaning the result of a change), and verses (lines of a poem or song) and versus (against) that shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
They especially shouldn’t be used interchangeably if you’ve ticked off your editor too many times.
✍️ People still write like they’re being paid by the word.
Believe me, I know “professionals” who suffer from this affliction. If I drank, they would be the reason why.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever seen is the title of educator and writer Ben Yagoda’s 2006 book: “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It.” (You can order it a lot of places, but if you don’t want to pay much, try ThriftBooks here; you only have to buy $10 worth of books for free shipping.) Yagoda notes that writer, editor and critic William Zinsser said most adjectives are unnecessary, and, “Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.”
I’m all for well-written literary prose, but if I have to wade through 20 adjectives and adverbs in a single paragraph, I’m likely to find something else to read, as over-reliance on those parts of speech makes reading tedious. And if you’re writing with the thesaurus open so you can infuse your writing with 23 different synonyms for bad, fine; just don’t expect me to keep reading, and don’t use them in the same sentence.
Yes, that actually happens. You don’t want to be around me when it does … unless you like hearing expletives.
I don’t always agree with Yagoda (he’s more of a prescriptivist than I am), but he is very wise regarding adjectives, though I disagree on intensifiers used with words like “unique” in most cases. He’s not anti-adjective, really, but more an advocate for judicious use of the language.
Yagoda says we should show rather than tell:
“The root of the problem is lazy writers’ inordinate fondness for this part of speech. They start hurling the epithets when they haven’t provided enough data—specific nouns and active verbs—to get their idea across. It’s easy—too easy—to describe a woman as “beautiful.” It takes more heavy verbal lifting, but is more effective, to point out that the jaw of every male in the room dropped when she walked in. And establishing that someone kicked an opponent who was down, stole $17 from a Salvation Army collection kettle, and lied to partners about having sexually transmitted diseases precludes the need to call him terrible, awful, horrible, horrid, deplorable, despicable, or vile. …”
“Generally speaking, it’s the attributive adjectives that are abused; the predicative ones, coming after a verb, tend to encourage more thought and selectivity. Certainly, attributive adjectives are a feature of cliches and catchphrases. Have you recently heard of a bystander who wasn’t innocent, a lining that wasn’t silver, or a break that wasn’t lucky? This isn’t a new thing, either. In his 1930 book ‘Adjectives-and Other Words,’ Ernest Weekley noted that after an assassination attempt on Mussolini, ‘the President of the Irish Free State congratulated him on ‘providential escape’ from ‘odious attack,’ sent his ‘earnest wishes’ for a ‘speedy recovery’ from the ‘infamous attempt’ that had caused ‘utmost indignation,’ etc.’ ‘There are people,’ Weekley observed, ‘who seem to think that a noun unaccompanied by an adjective has no real signification.’ A line of journalism quoted by Fowler in Modern English Usage — ‘The operation needs considerable skill and should be performed with proper care’ — illustrates the point. The adjectives considerable and proper not only are unnecessary; they actually weaken the writer’s point. Yet one can understand the impulse to put them in, for it has been felt by all of us.”“When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It,” Ben Yagoda, 2006, first-chapter excerpt in The New York Times, March 11, 2007.
Editors, though, are usually struck with the impulse to take them out, as well as the bulk of those $10 words with which you’re trying to impress someone. It’s usually for the best.
🤨 Some people still act as if they and people like them are the only people in existence.
I’ve seen a meme posted several times that sums up the problem with those who refuse to follow pandemic protocols because, you know, FREEDOM!! In the story, a man on a boat decides to dig through the floor of his cabin, and when other passengers complain because water is now coming in, he says it doesn’t matter because it’s his cabin. The point is that personal choice can only go so far when we’re all on the same boat.
One of the reasons we have laws is that too many people, left to their own devices, will forget or ignore that their actions can have consequences for people other than them. Our laws are a common code we must all abide by or face the consequences. Not everyone will like every law, but the intent is to protect the greater good for the whole. (Well, that used to be the intent; now too many legislators have decided that laws are created to protect only the interests of their base, to hell with everyone else. This is not good government.)
If what you’re doing adversely affects the greater community, rethink what you’re doing. Or be a jerk. It’s your choice, after all, as it is our choice to snub you.
Some things will never change. There will always be people who complain about everything (but not anything worth really complaining about, like injustice or inequality), and those who are just thankful to be alive. We’ll always have those who see the world as a terrifying hellscape full of demons and monsters out to get them, and those who see the world for how it really is—a bit broken, but capable of rehabilitation.
But we will also have those who want nothing more than to leave the world in a better place than they found it. They recognize that society evolves (ooh, including political parties!), and want to make sure that all have the same rights and privileges.
I hope that we can be the more realistic and idealistic of these. If we can at least be less jerk-ish, though, I’ll call that a win.