language & style terms & abbreviations

The wisdom of skipping an exam you’re going to fail

the boss will see you now

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

Recently, Vancouver awoke to news that centered on obscure legal terms. The media spent the next news cycle explaining prorogue and in camera.

Oh to be a fly on the wall during the conversation between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister whose request was granted to suspend, or prorogue, Parliament rather than face a vote of no confidence. Over 300 comments accompany the prorogue article in The Globe and Mail.

One wonders why politicians meet privately. Our city councilors did just that to approve $100-million for completing the 2010 Olympic Athletes Village. Word leaked and days later taxpayers voted in a different council.

grammar & speech language & style


Threading has more than one meaning and I was curious why the neighbourhood manicurists advertise ‘threading’.

My new hairstylist informed me that threading refers to an eyebrow treatment. I envisioned a steady hand painlessly sewing threads to the skin. A sparse brow nicely filled. Oh no, she corrected. Threading trims the brow by removing a row of hairs at a time. According to her client with the best-looking brows the technique involves a flying thread, strong teeth and head/hand coordination.

eybrow threading
eybrow threading

Now I wanted threading and everything I wanted to know was answered quite thoroughly on YouTube.

grammar & speech

Follower types

Passionate followers of John McCain are called McCainites but I wondered what name is given to Obama followers? Try pronouncing ‘Obamaite’. Is it 3 or 4 syllables? Do people just make up names?
A new site called The Global Language Monitor talks about trends and words and has an article about ObamaSpeak.

language & style

Explicit useless info

Speaking of explicit lyrics, the Stones nail it in Satisfaction when they sing about “…some useless information, Supposed to fire my imagination”.

That got me thinking about explicit and implicit information. Explicit useless info is the .00 cents in the $389,900.00 house listing. It’s the ‘left’ and ‘right’ identifiers for two-subject captions.

Explicit helpful info is the last exit before toll, last exit before construction, last gas for next 100 miles/km.

design & typography lists & tables

Housekeeping–a starter kit

There’s this little detail about housekeeping called TMI. Too much information goes something like this. Master the art of potato peeling in the following three ways.

  • slicing
  • dicing
  • grating

And that list is fine until you append fourth and fifth ways to skin a spud. Now you, or more likely someone else, will have to update “three” to another number. The person inheriting the list becomes responsible for TMI. Good housekeeping avoids referring to a finite number.

Speaking of finite items, once there were nine, now there are eight planets. That housekeeping detail was massive, very necessary, and had to be updated everywhere immediately.

writing & editing

Free the verbs

While verbs do the job of denoting action, some sentences challenge us to find a pulse. Luckily, there’s a way to reveal those hidden actions. Here’s how.

Locate an equipment warranty or similar document that has conditions and clauses. Now look for a verb form that ends in –ance, –tion, or –ment. These suffixes tip-off actions that will spring to life after a simple rewrite.

For example you can probably spot the word ‘agreement’. To free the verb agree simply lop off the verbal suffix then rephrase the sentence. You’ll go from… ‘We must get to the agreement stage…’ to ‘We agree to disagree’.

language & style

Style guidance on numbering

Today’s news reported that Sen. Kennedy’s surgery was successful. His surgeon told the press, “The surgery lasted roughly three and a half hours and is just the first step in Senator Kennedy’s treatment plan. One article reported that the surgery took about 31/2 hours. Notice there’s no space between whole number and fraction.

Another report said he was awake during the 3 1/2-hour procedure.

I suppose another report states the duration as 3.5 hours.

Whether using a fraction or decimal, each way shows how company style guides can and do differ. Clearly, the duration in the reports is the same; one style just writes it clearer.

grammar & speech tech light

Building credibility

I’m reminded of a conversation with a neighbour who decided to become a corporate trainer. This was in the early days of the web. He was telling me about “HMTL”. Yes, you read it as he said it, H-M-T-L.

Whoa! Do I tell him he meant HTML? Yes, I decided. To protect the reputation of training professionals everywhere, I will tell my neighbour that HTML means hypertext markup language.

His pet-sitting credibility remained intact.

authors & audience

Scanning v reading

I came across a business article that reads in part, “… we will use a link from XI — our [acquired] platform — to our [existing] platform …”.

Hmm? How does the author want us to pronounce the word “XI”? Possible options are:

  • Eleven
  • Ex-Eye
  • Zee

Does pronunciation matter? Perhaps not so much in scanning. But when you’re pitching a product, knowing how it’s pronounced matters big. However, anyone reading the article might find it helpful to know that “XI” refers to, let’s say, the eleventh release.

If your product name matters, then treat it like your own name. Don’t make me guess it wrong.