Writing good is hard, y’all.
I should know, and my editor knows I know [editor’s note: heeeeeyyyy].
Fortunately, I can count on him to gently correct my mistakes or shoot me a message saying, “Can you not use these words in those ways anymore? Thanks.”
Recently, another editor with the patience of Job started a Twitter thread about some common grammatical mistakes.
Laura Helmuth is the health and science editor at The Washington Post, so she’s clearly seen some funky English in her time.
Her list was not only fantastic, but many of her followers, grammar nerds in their own right, chimed in with other ways they see people butchering the English language.
Helmuth listed some good ones:
- “Enormity” means something really bad, not something really big.
- “Japanese/Brazilian/Finnish/Australian researchers discovered…” Science is the most international endeavor in human history. Any team that makes a discovery worth covering almost certainly includes people who aren’t citizens, so instead say: “Researchers in Japan/Brazil/etc.”
- “Men and women” in almost all circumstances should be “people.” The world is over-gendered enough as it is.
- “Famous” is a word you almost never need. If a person or event is known to your reader, you don’t need to tell them it’s famous. If your reader DOESN’T know something, calling it famous risks making your reader feel ignorant or unwelcome in your story. (One exception, as a follower pointed out, is to say someone was “famous in her time” if it’s someone who is relatively unknown now but was a big deal back in the day.)
- It’s spelled “impostor” rather than “imposter,” which I learned only after being quoted in a story about impostor syndrome.
- It’s fine to use “spawn” metaphorically in some cases, but keep in mind that it literally means fish or frogs ejaculating eggs or sperm. Think twice about “seminal,” too.
- Avoid “so and so believes” because you don’t know what they believe, only what they say.
She finished up with:
Other editors and writers added their own grammar pet peeves.
- Putting “The fact that” before something is never necessary.
- Just deserts. Yes, it sounds like desserts, but it’s spelled deserts as in deserves.
- Toward never needs an ‘s.’
- “In order to.” Just “to” does the same job.
- The use of “I” when the object pronoun “me” should be used. E.g. “He took Jean and I to the store.” The trick to knowing what’s right? Take out the other person in the sentence. “He took I to the store” just doesn’t sound right.
- Trying to eliminate “actually” from my vocabulary, mostly speaking vocabulary. Adds nothing.
- “And the reason why is…” is redundant. Just say, “and the reason is…”
- Unique means one of a kind, it is absolute and there are no degrees of uniqueness. Very unique, more unique, most unique etc., are all meaningless.
- I find the word “different” is often unnecessary—12 different people…
Many more goodies were mentioned – check out the thread for the rest.
You will either feel smug or ignorant after reading it, but I bet either way you’ll learn something new.