Talking Chairs
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26 Latin phrases and expressions

In a scene from my favorite TV show, “Freaks and Geeks,” teenager Lindsay Weir has been caught skipping class. In trying to justify her delinquency, she says, “Daddy, I skipped Latin.” He replies, “Oh. Well, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to learn about that. It’s only the building block of our language.” Whether we realize it or not, Latin terms are everywhere in business and corporate communications. Below are some common ones, along with their translations and definitions (definitions are from Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries): 1. A priori...
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Hilariously misplaced modifiers and othe...

How many of you snicker when you see a sign that says something like this: “Caution heavy pedestrian traffic” In a previous PR Daily article, I wrote about modifiers and why their location in a sentence is important: When used correctly, modifiers add interest and depth to your writing. When modifiers are used incorrectly, the reader may not understand the details of the sentence. A misplaced modifier occurs when a word or phrase is placed too far from the word it describes. Because of this separation, it’s not clear what is being described in the sentence. They can...
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19 of literature’s best first line...

I recently reorganized my books. As I took the titles off the shelves, dusted and reordered them, I was struck by how much I had loved reading them. It was like spending time with every friend I ever had. Whenever I find myself struggling with a writing project, I turn to fiction for inspiration. By revisiting all the books I love to read, I found inspiration in their opening lines—enough to get me through any writing project. Here are several of my favorites: 1. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with...
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17 unconventional words to describe peop...

In the words of author Philip Pullman: “People are too complicated to have simple labels.” We are all guilty of superficially labeling people. We like to take shortcuts, make assumptions, classify and categorize. English is full of words that capture the depth and breadth of the people in our lives. Below are 17 such words. How many do you recognize? 1. Ailurophile: A person who loves cats. My mom prefers “ailurophile” to “crazy cat lady.” 2. Bel-esprit: A person of great wit or intellect. My favorite bel-esprit is John Oliver. 3. Cognoscente: A person with...
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11 simple rules for capitalization

As writers and editors with years of experience in the corporate communications fun house all have stories about the crimes against the English language that we encounter. My latest crime story involves capitalization. I have documents to edit filled with words that shouldn’t be capitalized—such as “federal,” “state,” “statutes,” “cyber,” “laws”—but are uppercase. I have documents to edit filled with words that should be capitalized—such as “West Texas” and “Supreme Court”—but are not. When did random capitalization become acceptable?...
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9 troublesome word pairs

Confusing word pairs are everywhere. I’ve been writing about them for years, and I had thought I had the topic well covered. Apparently I don’t. Here are nine more pairs to pay attention to: 1. Can vs. may Use “can” when referring to the ability to do something. Example: “I don’t think your brother can make you unconscious just by looking at you.” Use “may” when asking for permission to do something or when referring to the possibility of something. Example: “You may not throw knives at each other.” Example: “Your excessive use of exclamation...
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11 examples of exclamation-point abuse

There’s a “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend over his failure to use an exclamation point. If you don’t remember it, Elaine’s boyfriend had written down some phone messages, one of which said that her friend had a baby. Elaine found it “curious” that he didn’t think someone having a baby warranted an exclamation point. “Maybe I don’t use my exclamation points as haphazardly as you do,” Elaine’s boyfriend tells her: I’ve had several conversations recently about the overuse, abuse, and misuse of exclamation points. These...
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How do you deal with nitpicking co-worke...

If you’ve had co-workers and execs who think they can complete communications tasks better than you do, you’re not alone. Though from a designer’s point of view, a comic from The Oatmeal titled “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” chronicles the pain that know-it-alls inflict on PR pros and communicators. Projects can easily get derailed when executives, managers and random co-workers feel obligated to make changes to your work—all so they feel like they’ve done their job. How many times have you heard something like this? · “I made an A in my college...