Friday, 21 October 2011

Don't do as I do …

Anyone who writes articles about correct language usage is naturally expected always to produce articles that are error-free in every respect. Yet it is frighteningly easy to make some of the very mistakes, whether grammatical or stylistic, that one is constantly warning others against! (Or should that read "… against which one is constantly warning others"?)

I was again reminded of this little occupational hazard a few weeks ago when I received a humorous e-mail titled "Rules for writers", in which each rule was written in such a way that it exemplified the very error it was urging careful writers to avoid. Despite having seen some of these, or similar ones, before, I still find them amusing – perhaps partly because they are so close to home (especially the last one … or make that the last two).

1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Don't use no double negatives.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. Avoid clichés like the plague.
5. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary and will (or could) interrupt the flow of a sentence.
6. Also, too, never use repetitive redundancies.
7. Contractions shouldn't be used in newspaper articles.
8. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
9. Never write a rule in the negative form.
10. The passive voice should never be used if the same thing can be said in the active voice.
11. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
12. As a writer one must not shift his point of view.
13. Avoid rhetorical questions. Who needs them?
14. Use the correct words, irregardless of whether others around you do or not.
5. DO NOT EVER use capital letters and exclamation marks to emphasise something!!!
16. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
17. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
18. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
19. Proofread very carefully to if you any words out.

Despite the inherent contrived contradictions, these "rules" can certainly help us. Not all of them represent absolute no-nos, of course – numbers 3 and 7, for example, can simply not be regarded as rules. But the non-absolute ones are certainly helpful in this sense: if one finds one’s copy liberally sprinkled with the constructions concerned, it could be indicative of at least a potential weakness in one’s style or ignorance of one or more grammar rules. – ws –

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