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Monthly Archives: March 2013
20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes
I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I am grateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery.
As someone who slings red ink for a living, let me tell you: grammar is an ultra-micro component in the larger picture; it lies somewhere in the final steps of the editing trail; and as such it’s an overrated quasi-irrelevancy in the creative process, perpetuated into importance primarily by bitter nerds who accumulate tweed jackets and crippling inferiority complexes. But experience has also taught me that readers, for better or worse, will approach your work with a jaundiced eye and an itch to judge. While your grammar shouldn’t be a reflection of your creative powers or writing abilities, let’s face it — it usually is.
Below are 20 common grammar mistakes I see routinely, not only in editorial queries and submissions, but in print: in HR manuals, blogs, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even best selling novels. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve made each of these mistakes a hundred times, and I know some of the best authors in history have lived to see these very toadstools appear in print. Let’s hope you can learn from some of their more famous mistakes.
Who and Whom
This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” and “they.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with “him,” “her,” “it”, “us,” and “them.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g., I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.
Which and That
This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring. e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential. e.g., I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. e.g., The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine.
Lay and Lie
This is the crown jewel of all grammatical errors. “Lay” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is “lay” (e.g., I lay the pencil on the table) and its past tense is “laid” (e.g.,Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table). “Lie” is an intransitive verb. It needs no object. Its present tense is “lie” (e.g., The Andes mountains lie between Chile and Argentina) and its past tense is “lay” (e.g., The man lay waiting for an ambulance). The most common mistake occurs when the writer uses the past tense of the transitive “lay” (e.g., I laid on the bed) when he/she actually means the intransitive past tense of “lie” (e.g., I lay on the bed).
Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.
Continual and Continuous
They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that’s always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. e.g., The continual music next door made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.
Envy and Jealousy
The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over your good-looking friend.
“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means “and not.” You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions. e.g., He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus).
May and Might
“May” implies a possibility. “Might” implies far more uncertainty. “You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes” implies a real possibility of drunkenness. “You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk” implies a possibility that is far more remote. Someone who says “I may have more wine” could mean he/she doesn’t want more wine right now, or that he/she “might” not want any at all. Given the speaker’s indecision on the matter, “might” would be correct.
Whether and If
Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if.” It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.
Fewer and Less
“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g., The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.
Farther and Further
The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can’t always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.
Since and Because
“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. e.g., Since I quit drinking I’ve married and had two children. e.g., Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit.
Disinterested and Uninterested
Contrary to popular usage, these words aren’t synonymous. A “disinterested” person is someone who’s impartial. For example, a hedge fund manager might take interest in a headline regarding the performance of a popular stock, even if he’s never invested in it. He’s “disinterested,” i.e., he doesn’t seek to gain financially from the transaction he’s witnessed. Judges and referees are supposed to be “disinterested.” If the sentence you’re using implies someone who couldn’t care less, chances are you’ll want to use “uninterested.”
Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re “anxious to see your friends.” You’re actually “eager,” or “excited.” To be “anxious” implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.
Different Than and Different From
This is a tough one. Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives, and are used to show comparison with the preposition “than,” (e.g., greater than, less than, faster than, rather than). The adjective “different” is used to draw distinction. So, when “different” is followed by a preposition, it should be “from,” similar to “separate from,” “distinct from,” or “away from.” e.g., My living situation in New York was different from home. There are rare cases where “different than” is appropriate, if “than” operates as a conjunction. e.g.,Development is different in New York than in Los Angeles. When in doubt, use “different from.”
Bring and Take
In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”
It isn’t a word. “Impact” can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). “Impactful” is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this.
Affect and Effect
Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., Facebook’s effects can also be positive). “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. e.g., My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. e.g., His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.
Irony and Coincidence
Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a “coincidence.” “Irony” is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. “Coincidence” is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be “ironic” if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”
Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.
If you’re looking for a practical, quick guide to proper grammar, I suggest the tried-and-true classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. A few of these examples are listed in the book, and there are plenty more. Good luck!
North Korea Reportedly Entering ‘State Of War’ Against South Korea
By SAM KIM 03/30/13 04:23 PM ET EDT
Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, noting that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years. But the North’s continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgment between the sides could lead to a clash.
In Washington, the White House said Saturday that the United States is taking seriously the new threats by North Korea but also noted Pyongyang’s history of “bellicose rhetoric.”
North Korea’s threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid. North Korea’s moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong Un strengthens his military credentials.
On Thursday, U.S. military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on an uninhabited South Korean island as part of annual defense drills that Pyongyang sees as rehearsals for invasion. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets if provoked.
North Korea said in a statement Saturday that it would deal with South Korea according to “wartime regulations” and would retaliate against any provocations by the United States and South Korea without notice.
“Now that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have entered into an actual military action, the inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war,” said the statement, which was carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Provocations “will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war,” the statement said.
Hours after the statement, Pyongyang threatened to shut down the jointly run Kaesong industrial park, expressing anger over media reports suggesting the complex remained open because it was a source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded by calling the North Korean threat “unhelpful” to the countries’ already frayed relations and vowed to ensure the safety of hundreds of South Korean managers who cross the border to their jobs in Kaesong. It did not elaborate.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said the country’s military remains mindful of the possibility that increasing North Korean drills near the border could lead to an actual provocation.
“The series of North Korean threats – announcing all-out war, scrapping the cease-fire agreement and the non-aggression agreement between the South and the North, cutting the military hotline, entering into combat posture No. 1 and entering a `state of war’ – are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.
“We are maintaining full military readiness in order to protect our people’s lives and security,” he told reporters Saturday.
In Washington, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, noted the “reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea.”
“We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies,” Hayden said. “But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats, and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern.”
The White House has stressed the U.S. government’s capability and willingness to defend itself and its allies and interests in the region, if necessary.
“We remain fully prepared and capable of defending and protecting the United States and our allies,” Hayden said.
The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Naval skirmishes in the disputed waters off the Korean coast have led to bloody battles several times over the years.
But on the streets of Seoul on Saturday, South Koreans said they were not worried about an attack from North Korea.
“From other countries’ point of view, it may seem like an extremely urgent situation,” said Kang Tae-hwan, a private tutor. “But South Koreans don’t seem to be that nervous because we’ve heard these threats from the North before.”
The Kaesong industrial park, which is run with North Korean labor and South Korean know-how, has been operating normally, despite Pyongyang shutting down a communications channel typically used to coordinate travel by South Korean workers to and from the park just across the border in North Korea. The rivals are now coordinating the travel indirectly, through an office at Kaesong that has outside lines to South Korea.
North Korea has previously made such threats about Kaesong without acting on them, and recent weeks have seen a torrent of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang. North Korea is angry about the South Korea-U.S. military drills and new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear test last month.
Dozens of South Korean firms run factories in the border town of Kaesong. Using North Korea’s cheap, efficient labor, the Kaesong complex produced $470 million worth of goods last year.
Associated Press White House reporter Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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An occasional post of strange or unusual things you would kind of like to have, but don’t really need. Enjoy!
‘De-Extinction’ Of Woolly Mammoth & Other Ancient Animals Could Become Reality, Scientists Say
Posted: 03/16/2013 1:03 am EDT | Updated: 03/25/2013 10:13 pm EDT
Published: 03/15/2013 05:22 PM EDT on LiveScience
Biologists briefly brought the extinct Pyrenean ibex back to life in 2003 by creating a clone from a frozen tissue sample harvested before the goat’s entire population vanished in 2000. The clone survived just seven minutes after birth, but it gave scientists hope that “de-extinction,” once a pipedream, could become a reality.
Ten years later, a group of researchers and conservationists gathered in Washington, D.C., today (March 15) for a forum called TEDxDeExtinction, hosted by the National Geographic Society, to talk about how to revive extinct animals, from the Tasmanian tiger and the saber-toothed tiger to the woolly mammoth and the North American passenger pigeon.
Though scientists don’t expect a real-life “Jurassic Park” will ever be on the horizon, a species that died a few tens of thousands of years ago could be resurrected as long as it has enough intact ancient DNA.
Some have their hopes set on the woolly mammoth, a relative of modern elephants that went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago and left behind some extraordinarily well preserved carcasses in Siberian permafrost. Scientists in Russia and South Korea have embarked on an ambitious project to try to create a living specimen using the DNA-storing nucleus of a mammoth cell and an Asian elephant egg — a challenging prospect, as no one has ever been able to harvest eggs from an elephant. [Image Gallery: Bringing Extinct Animals Back to Life]
But DNA from extinct species doesn’t need to be preserved in Arctic conditions to be useful to scientists — researchers have been able to start putting together the genomes of extinct species from museum specimens that have been sitting on shelves for a century. If de-extinction research has done anything for science, it’s forced researchers to look at the quality of the DNA in dead animals, said science journalist Carl Zimmer, whose article on de-extinction featured on the cover of the April issue of National Geographic magazine.
“It’s not that good but you can come up with techniques to retrieve it,” Zimmer told LiveScience.
For instance, a team that includes Harvard genetics expert George Church is trying to bring back the passenger pigeon — a bird that once filled eastern North America’s skies. They have been able to piece together roughly 1 billion letters (Each of four nucleotides that make up DNA has a letter designation) in the bird’s genome based on DNA from a 100-year-old taxidermied museum specimen. They hope to incorporate those genes responsible for certain traits into the genome of a common rock pigeon to bring back the passenger pigeon, or at least create something that looks like it.
A few years ago, another group of researchers isolated DNA from a 100-year-old specimen of a young thylacine, also known as Tasmanian tiger. The pup had been preserved in alcohol at Museum Victoria in Melbourne. Its genetic material was inserted into mouse embryos, which proved functional in live mice. [Photos: The Creatures of Cryptozoology]
Now that de-extinction looms as a possibility, it presents some thorny questions: Should we bring back these species? And what would we do with them?
Stuart Pimm of Duke University argued in an opinion piece in National Geographicthat these efforts would be a “colossal waste” if scientists don’t know where to put revived species that had been driven off the planet because their habitats became unsafe.
“A resurrected Pyrenean ibex will need a safe home,” Pimm wrote. “Those of us who attempt to reintroduce zoo-bred species that have gone extinct in the wild have one question at the top of our list: Where do we put them? Hunters ate this wild goat to extinction. Reintroduce a resurrected ibex to the area where it belongs and it will become the most expensive cabrito ever eaten.”
Pimm also worries that de-extinction could create a false impression that science can save endangered species, turning the focus away from conservation. But others argue that bringing back iconic, charismatic creatures could stir support for species preservation.
“Some people feel that watching scientists bring back the great auk and putting it back on a breeding colony would be very inspiring,” Zimmer told LiveScience. The great auk was the Northern Hemisphere’s version of the penguin. The large flightless birds went extinct in the mid-19th century.
Other species disappeared before scientists had a chance to study their remarkable biological abilities — like the gastric brooding frog, which vanished from Australia in the mid-1980s, likely due to timber harvesting and the chytrid fungus.
Gastric brooding frogs come in two species: Rheobatrachus vitellinus and R. silus (pictured above and last seen in 1985). These frogs had a unique mode of reproduction: The female swallowed fertilized eggs, turned its stomach into a uterus and gave birth to froglets through the mouth. Timber harvesting and the chytrid fungus are the main suspects behind their extinction.
“This was not just any frog,” Mike Archer, a paleontologist at the University of New South Wales, said during his talk at TEDxDeExtinction, which was broadcast via livestream. These frogs had a unique mode of reproduction: The female swallowed fertilized eggs, turned its stomach into a uterus and gave birth to froglets through the mouth.
“No animal, let alone a frog, has been known to do this – change one organ in the body into another,” Archer said. He’s using cloning methods to put gastric brooding frog nuclei into eggs of living Australian marsh frogs. Archer announced today that his team has already created early-stage embryos of the extinct species forming hundreds of cells.
“I think we’re gonna have this frog hopping glad to be back in the world again,” he said.
My favorite ironic phrase is still – A vegetarian is devoured by a man-eating plant. Here is some more irony: