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Archive | Grammar tips

Nouns for the masses

Noun words are members of an extensive family, but their variety can be confusing. A while back, I spoke with a friend who came to English later in life, her first language being Mandarin. We were collaborating on a writing project, and she wondered why it was ‘two pieces of fruit’ and not ‘two fruits’. […]

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Where words go when they die

The current online version of the Macquarie Dictionary lists 138,000 words and 210,000 different definitions. According to an online survey of 2 million (admittedly self-selected) people, the average adult has a vocabulary of 20,000–35,000 words. Which begs the question, what happens with the rest? Some words are part of industry jargon or have a technical […]

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When word choice becomes a political act

Part of our job as editors is to tweak any language that might make readers feel excluded or stereotyped – for example, changing ‘firemen’ to ‘firefighters’. In theory, this could be seen as a political act, but these days ‘some firefighters are women’ is hardly controversial, and we wouldn’t expect any pushback. So it is […]

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The unexpected history of ‘Mrs’

The use of ‘Ms’, once controversial, is now mainstream. But it’s not so long ago it was viewed as political correctness gone mad. Personally, it’s bizarre to imagine that complete strangers ever felt entitled to know whether or not I am married. Picture a news article beginning ‘The unmarried CEO of BHP Billiton today announced…’ […]

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The truth about texting

Are you really committing a grievous error by using correct punctuation in text messages? A recent study out of the US getting a lot of media attention seems to suggest exactly that. But how much can we really read into their findings? ‘Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging’, by Binghamton University, […]

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Barbarous mutilations

Text messaging, tweeting and other electronic communications have led to an increasing use of abbreviations over the past few years. Some of us might grumble at this informality, but it was ever thus – the ancient Greeks and Romans shortened words to save space and time, even when chiselling into a stone tablet, as did […]

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