Do you want to improve your vocabulary? Some people find the use of big words pretentious. However, there is nothing wrong with wanting a better vocabulary. If you have a vast store of words at your disposal, you’ll be able to hold your own in any conversation and express your opinions succinctly. What’s more, having a good vocabulary gives you more choices when speaking or writing. After all, there are occasions when one synonym works better than another. So how do you improve your vocabulary? Read on to find out more.
It seems that I have found another author to put on my “Do Not Buy From” list. This article, originally titled “Advertising campaigns in niche markets, using Google AdWords”, was part of a pack of 15 articles that I had purchased one week ago from someone on the DigitalPoint forums posting under the username of “webmaster400.” After going back through my private message (PM) folder at the forums, I found that this author had sent me some writing samples beforehand, which actually looked good compared to the quality of writing that I have seen from most of the other authors.
However, earlier today when I looked at the Word file that I had been sent, I quickly discovered that the article quality was nowhere near what I had seen in the sample. In fact, the quality was almost as poor as the example of mangled English that I posted about last week. Fortunately, I did not pay a very high price per article, but I pretty much got burned on this one. I’m tempted to request a refund through PayPal or even negotiate directly with the author, but at this point it’s probably not worth the hassle. I might be able to tweak the other articles for keywords and put them on an “info dump” site like a free Blogspot blog in the hopes of getting a few AdSense clicks from them over the long term. However, they would require too much rewriting to be worth the time that it would take to prepare them for serious human consumption.
Earlier today I received an article on the topic of AdSense from someone who identified as Bilal Haider according to the email moniker. This was presumably the same person who was posting under the username of george.UK in the BST (Buy, Sell, and Trade) section of the DigitalPoint forums and selling articles there. I had purchased this article yesterday from this george.UK seller in the hopes of building up a reserve of good content that would allow me to spend less time on writing and research and more time promoting this site so that I can actually start making some serious money from it.
As you can see by reading the article text, I was in for quite a surprise when I opened the file in Notepad and actually looked at the content. Although it technically meets the advertised promise of “100% unique and Copyscape passed” (I checked several phrases of the article for duplicate content at Google and this much passed muster), the English is so badly mangled that it is unlikely to have been written by a native speaker as the “UK” in the username would suggest. It reads much like an article that was originally written in another language and run through an online translator before being sold on the forum.
In freelance writing, it is always important to make sure that your prose is grammatically correct. However, it is also important to make it as clear and concise as possible, especially if you’re trying to meet word count limits. One of the ways in which our writing can become annoyingly long-winded is through the use of redundant words and phrases that may be grammatically correct but would read (or sound) much better if they were shortened to more concise variations. Here is a list of common English redundancies, beginning with redundant acronym phrases and followed by other types of wordy phrases along with suggestions for improved versions.
Redundant Acronym Phrases:
- ATM machine: This is probably the most common redundancy I have encountered, especially if we include spoken English as well as the written form. ATM stands for Automated (or Automatic) Teller Machine, so the word “machine” in this phrase is unnecessary — just say “ATM.”
- SEO optimization: This one is far less common in popular culture and is not even listed as a redundancy on most other websites, but I encounter it quite frequently in my daily reading. It is gradually becoming a pet peeve of mine because SEO already means Search Engine Optimization, so we are actually over-optimizing by adding the word “optimization” to it.
Earlier this week, one of the Entrecard members sent me a message asking about the correct usage of bear and bare. Specifically the query involved the common phrase “bear with me”, and the person was asking about which form of the word was the proper spelling. Since I have not posted an English usage topic for the past few weeks, I figured that I might as well pass on the information to the rest of my readers in case anyone else is still confused about this issue. Afterward, I will list some other uses of both bear and bare that fall outside the scope of the above query but that you may want to know for future reference. Here is a redacted version (irrelevant portions of the text have been removed) of my response to the Entrecard member:
The issue of using dashes as punctuation marks can become somewhat complicated. However, in this article I will attempt to simplify things as much as possible while still providing a sufficiently detailed explanation for the proper application of dashes and examples of correct usage.
First of all, it is important to distinguish dashes from hyphens. The hyphen is relatively short in length and is usually used to form compound words. It is also traditionally used in typography to indicate that a word has been split by a line break. By contrast, dashes are longer and have different uses in English sentences where a hyphen would not be entirely appropriate.
There are two major types of dashes. The first is the en dash, which is so named because its original length was supposed to be equal to that of a lowercase letter n. This dash is most commonly used to indicate an interval of some sort. It can also be used to connect points of geographical destinations and in rare instances of compound phrases where it is necessary to have a stronger separation than a hyphen. For example:
Parentheses are punctuation marks that enclose supplementary material such as explanations, clarifications, or afterthoughts within the text of a sentence or paragraph. In standard English prose, an enclosed parenthetical expression provides the reader with information that is interesting to know but does not change the meaning of a sentence in which it is included. Depending on dialect and location, parentheses are sometimes referred to by other names such as brackets, rounded brackets, oval brackets, curved brackets, or parens.
The main rule to remember when using parentheses is that any other punctuation marks such as commas, periods, or semicolons that immediately follow the parenthetical material are placed outside of the right parenthesis as long as the material is part of another sentence. For example:
Following up on last week’s lesson dealing with the correct use of the colon, we will now move on to usage of the semicolon, a punctuation mark that dates back to the 16th century. This article will be relatively short because there are fewer uses for the semicolon than for the colon; there are also no other common meanings for the same word.
The semicolon has four basic uses in English:
- Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses (in other words, two groups of words that can stand alone as complete sentences) together without using a conjunction such as and or but. Note that the two sentences should be relevant to each other:
- I submitted my comment on the other blog; it was immediately placed in the moderation queue.
In many parts of the world and on the Internet, the English language has become a common standard for international communication. Of course it also has its fair share of quirks and eccentricities, as many of the quotes in the list below will attest.
I was somewhat surprised by the relative paucity of attributed quotes about the English language I was able to find from Internet sources. Many of the quotes that I found were actually about England or the English people, but not necessarily the language itself. I have included a few of these other types of English quotes here in order to round out the list at 50; however, I am planning to reserve most of the famous sayings about the country and culture of England for another post.
Meanwhile, if you are from a non-English speaking country or are simply trying to improve your skills with the language (and I can tell from the comments so far that many of you are), you can access one of the best resources on the subject, a book called The Least You Should Know about English: Writing Skills, here.
- The two most beautiful words in the English language are “check enclosed.” — Dorothy Parker
- If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur. — Doug Larson
- The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. — James D. Nicoll, (1990-05-15). “The King’s English”
- A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it’s two-tired. — English Proverb
- Here will be an old abusing of God’s patience and the king’s English. — William Shakespeare
- The quantity of consonants in the English language is constant. If omitted in one place, they turn up in another. When a Bostonian “pahks” his “cah,” the lost r’s migrate southwest, causing a Texan to “warsh” his car and invest in “erl wells.” — Author Unknown
- We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language. — Oscar Wilde
- If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers. — Doug Larson
- If the French were really intelligent, they’d speak English. — Wilfred Sheed
- The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. — Derek Walcott
Although most of the lessons in our English usage series thus far have focused on homonyms and homophones, after doing some keyword research earlier today I discovered that many of you have been searching for information on the correct usage of different kinds of punctuation marks. The correct use of apostrophes is one of the most popular, but since I have already covered this, we will move on to the next most popular in terms of search volume, which is “correct use of colon.”
It turns out that the colon actually has a significant number of uses, which I will describe below followed by an example of each. Afterward, I will briefly deal with other uses of the word colon that do not involve its use as a punctuation mark. The purpose of this is to clear up any confusion that readers may have about the word, also known as disambiguation.
After running across a news article published by Reuters and considering the possibility that it might be a hoax, I confirmed from other sources today that there is a university lecturer in the UK who is seriously suggesting that obvious English errors should now be accepted as legitimate. Interestingly, the Reuters article that I read first appears to have been truncated somewhat, along with many other copies of the same article that appear on other news sites. This version from GlobeAndMail that I found later appears to be the full article.
In any case, I found it quite astonishing that this
misguided fool maverick professor actually thinks that we can solve the problems of teaching English by legitimizing incorrect usage. Here is an excerpt from his comments:
“Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students’ atrocious spelling,” Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
“Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I’ve got a better idea,” he wrote. “University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell.”
To kickstart his proposal, Dr. Smith suggested 10 common misspellings that should immediately be accepted into the pantheon of variants, including “ignor,” “occured,” “thier,” “truely,” “speach” and “twelth” (instead of “twelfth”).