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"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein
|Avoiding Ambiguous Wording, Part III|
Avoiding Nonstandard English
Standard English is the language used according to its rules. It's the language of businesses, media, and educational institutions. Sometimes nonstandard English is acceptable, even appropriate, such as in casual conversations and fiction writing. For formal writing and speech, however, avoid the following pitfalls.
Slang is language that has meaning only within a particular group. Because of its specific nature, slang changes constantly, and can be confusing to the uninitiated.
Slang: During this morning's meeting, Al got
very ticked off.
Colloquialisms are the most informal use of the language. They are usually found in casual conversations.
Colloquialisms: My supervisor is really
into hockey and hits the ice on weekends.
Colloquialisms include idioms. These colorful phrases are often confusing to someone unfamiliar with the language. Read the following paragraph and try to imagine what it might mean to someone who knows English only as a second language.
Thanks for the heads up. It appears that Len has some kind of chip on his shoulder or an axe to grind. It further appears his supervisor has his head in the sand, so I appreciate your ability to keep your nose to the grindstone during this trying time. I will try to sift out the chaff over the weekend and come to a plausible solution.
To someone who looks at the language literally, the idiomatic phrases create a very confusing picture. Avoid using idioms, especially when dealing with a multicultural audience.
Avoid using the phrases "off of" or "from off."
Incorrect: We got the books from off
The phrase "up on" can sometimes cause redundancy, as it does in the following example.
Incorrect: Put this file up on top of the
USING THE WORD AND IN PLACE OF TO
Avoid making this substitution.
Incorrect: Please try and find all the
statistics on that project.
You know that old phrase "two negatives make a positive"? Technically, it's true, but it can confuse the reader.
Double Negative: She was speaking so softly I
didn't hardly hear a word she said. (The double negative makes it
sound like you did hear what she said.)
Be especially careful if your negatives are separated by other words or phrases.
Incorrect: I don't believe none of
those solutions are adequate.
JUST FOR FUN
---William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"
The preceding tips are
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