Adjectives describe something in more detail. A green car. A first job.
A compound adjective isn’t any fancier, it just takes two words to do one job. A blue-green car. Some first-hand experience. Really, we intend it to be a single descriptor—one word, really—so we use the hyphen to make it so. Without the hyphen, the reader can me misled: is a wild animal trainer someone who trains wild animals? Or an animal trainer who goes crazy at parties? Calling her a wild-animal trainer tames the sentence. It’s really a single description: what kind of trainer? The wild-animal kind.
So if you see a man eating chicken, ask for a bite. If it’s a man-eating chicken, you’re the one who’s going to get bit.
In September 2019, Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, installed a solid gold toilet. Two days later, it was stolen.
The pretty potty is the creation of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, and was meant to be his comment on excessive wealth. It had spent the previous year on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where it was intended to be, um, used. The toilet, worth about 1.25 million dollars, was titled, “America.”
Investigators report they have nothing to go on.
Okay — that’s a really old joke, stolen from a story about a toilet that had gone mysteriously missing from a police station. In the actual Golden Toilet Caper, the thieves were caught in just days.
What is all this talk about prepositions for?
This story isn’t about toilets or art or Churchill. It’s about ending a sentence with a preposition, just like I did there in the subheading right above this sentence. Or in the sentence, they have nothing to go on. There’s a rule against it. Some people spit and snarl and gnash their teeth when they see one, others say it’s fine in certain contexts.
The punchline above: “they have nothing to go on” — how else are you going to say it? They have nothing on which to go? Ugh. Get outta here. Grammatically it’s better, stylistically it’s worse. There are idioms — ways we say things — and it’s no fun to mess with those.
I suggest you get out of the jam this way: throw out the whole sentence and start over. If you find yourself struggling over good grammar versus sounding right, you’re already in trouble. In the punchline above, you might say instead, “They have no clues to follow.” Of course, you’ll ruin the joke, but you get the idea.
“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”
— Winston Churchill
Of course if you’re one of those who think there’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preoposition, try this — a sentence that ends in no less than five prepositions. With a little mental calesthenics, it makes sense too:
On his way upstairs for bedtime, a little boy asked his mom, “What are you bringing that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?
This screen shot came from our local TV station. Take it from me: if you’re giving advice about spelling and quality, maybe you should spring for a proofreader.
That said, I had to look up “counterfeit” to see whether it was spelled correctly. That word looks wrong even when it’s right. (It is. That’s not the problem here.) I have the same problem with “foreign.” No matter how many times I write it, I have to double-check the spelling.
And then there’s “fair.” I can’t spell it correctly on the first try even when I’m writing this paragraph about how I can’t spell it correctly on the first try. I know how to spell it, but my fingers insist on typing “fiar.” (And holy craziness! When I went to spell it wrong for you, my fingers spelled it “fair.” C’mon!
I got an email from my beloved Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. A new location was about to open, right in my neighborhood. Hooray! Right after that email, I received this emergency follow-up:
Just as an update, the $5 tickets was a miscommunication and we will be charging FULL PRICE tickets for Soft Opening except on $5 Tuesday. We apologize for the type and lets push forward!
Un-hooray. But I had to laugh: one typo in the message, but dang — what an exquisite typo. They misspelled typo.
It’s bound to happen when you rush out a correction, and it’s double-painful. So, Alamo, want some tips to help you mind your p’s and q’s?
Minding your p’s and q’s
That catchy phrase makes sense. Lowercase p and q look a lot alike. But the cliché originated in letterpress days where it was especially appropriate. When setting blocks of type, a printer has to remember that all his letters are backwards. If it looks like a p on the block, it’ll be a q when it gets printed to paper.
Ooo-ooo-oooo! And let me digress some more! Letterpress days also gave us the description uppercaseand lowercase. Capital letters were generally kept in the top drawer — called a case — while the matching lowercase letters were kept in a lower case.
Did I say cliché? That word has printing roots too, although it’s a long walk. When a big block of type was to be used often, printers would save time by setting the whole thing in a single metal casting. Then they could release all those individual letters for other jobs. This was called stereotyping,and you were sure to get predictable, cookie-cutter results. While most of Europe used this technique for full pages of text, the French experimented with using smaller blocks of repetitive or useful phrases. They called these clichés, which literally means click, because a typesetter could just click the phrase into place without having to redo all the individual letters.
Oh yeah. Typos.
That’s where I started with this, huh. I promised to give you some tips to catch all your typos so I don’t spot them and make fun of you.
It’s just that I love a good typo. To prove I’m not just being arrogant, I’ll share with you my most impressive goof. Years ago I released an album of 13 original songs, titled Used Without Permission. It had been out for two weeks before a friend called to tease me that I had spelled my own name wrong on the album cover. Besides being a musician and a graphic designer, I’m a professional proofreader. I know how to spell my name, so I just called him a liar.
Then I looked. There it was. It was such an exquisite mistake that I decided to leave it. (You can go look. It’s still there.) Oddly, not one person has noticed it since.
Oh yeah. Typos!
So here are my suggestions (finally) to help you catch more typos:
Use your spell-checker first. One in four manuscripts I proofread have mistakes an automated checker would have caught. Spell-check doesn’t get everything right, but it can tease most typos out in an easy flash round, leaving you more brain energy to catch the trickier stuff.
Don’t proof your own work. You know what the words are supposed to say, and your brain will help out by subconsciously fixing misspelled words. Like your own name.
Read in incandescent or LED light. Flourescent light has a very slow flicker rate, which wears out your eyes faster. That’s why everyone in your office is happiest sitting by the window.
Follow with your finger. Or use a ruler guide. I’m a little dyslexic, so my eyes have to really focus. But you more perfect mortals tend to read in chunky blocks. Your marvelous brain processes all that data in a Gestalt kind of way that forgives errors. A pointer keeps your focus on a smaller spot.
Read aloud. It slows down your brain and keeps you from scanning.
Proof backwards, or from the bottom up. This won’t catch grammar errors, but it’s a great way to keep your brain from auto-correcting, by forcing you see each word individually.
Put it to paper. Nobody knows why. Editing on screen is convenient, but people are far more effective when proofing from a real live sheet of paper.
Knock it off after 40 minutes. Proofing is terrible on your eyes as well as your brain. After every half hour, give yourself a break for ten minutes or so. Focus on something distant, preferably something moving, like traffic or that protest across the street. This resets and stretches your eyes back to a more natural state. Cave men didn’t proofread.
Sleep on it. This is the best way to catch clumsy or unclear sentences. Things make sense when you know what you meant. Come back later and you’ll find yourself saying, “Wait — what?”
Publish it. Nothing makes a typo jump out at you like seeing it in the final product.
Follow this advice, and if you’re careful, and prepared, and skilled, and don’t have any typos, you’ll make a good impression.
Yep, that’s another phrase from the printing industry.
"Mick" is Michael Campbell, a book designer, graphic artist and writer. His humor column, The Dumpster, closes every issue of Food & Spirits Magazine. Author of Are You Going To Eat That?, and the new 2017 book of seventy hilarious all new essays, Of Mice and Me.
A singer songwriter too. New CD My Turn Now is available now!