Worst Sentence of the Month!

Wow! Jaw-droppingly horrible.

A drama based on the elite crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona who battled a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ Iin June 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of their members.

  1. Crew is a singular noun, so you can’t say “their” members.
  2. Comma after “Arizona.”
  3. Kinda awkward with that second “AZ,” which should be spelled out, and needs a comma when it is.
  4. Misspelling: Iin…
  5. “Their” should be “its.”

Here we go, with editorial suggestions in addition to punctuation/grammar corrections:

A drama based on the elite crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona, who battled a wildfire in nearby Yarnell in June of 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of its members.

I kind of like “an elite crew,” rather than “the” elite crew, but, hey, who’s nitpicky? Not moi!

A quick lesson about proper noun phrases and capitalization

Rule: When two proper noun phrases are joined, if a word that is part of both phrases becomes plural and is not a proper noun, it’s not capitalized.

Correct:

Hurricane Irma: School closures and event cancellations in Sarasota and Manatee counties

See the lowercase “counties”?

You could also say “Sarasota County and Manatee County,” but why would you?

Incorrect:

BNI SWFL serves Charlotte, Collier, De Soto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Monroe, Lee, Manatee, Polk and Sarasota Counties.

Now, you’d still write “Bowdoin College and Harvard University,” or “Temple Avenue and Collier Road,” but it’d be “the intersection of Darwin and Temple avenues.”

Easy!

Why this dog won’t hunt.

As I’m sure you know by now, I love finding mistakes on sites that belong to “internationally famous” and “global best-selling” authors. Here’s a dandy sentence I just found:

This talk goes behind the scenes of some of the most beloved companies in the world to offer a blueprint for any brand or leader to find their voice, craft a better story, and share it with the world.

Why is this incorrect? Yes, I know it’s mushy, but why is it incorrect? Well, it’s the old bugaboo of international best-selling authors: the infamous noun-pronoun mistake, but this time there’s a little twist. To what does the plural pronoun refer? Well, at first blush it’s “companies,” since that’s the only plural noun within spitting distance.

But, not so fast. “Their” really is referring back to “any brand or leader.” Ooops! It’s the “or” that presents the problem. When two nouns are separated by “and,” they create a plural “unit,” in the sense that there are two nouns, which require a plural pronoun. But! When two nouns are separated by “or,” the verb and the pronoun agree in amount with the noun closest to them, and, in this case, the noun is “leader.” Singular!

But this is extra tricky, because you really can’t say “his or her voice” when you have “brand” in the mix. The work-around here is “…every brand and every leader.” One noun plus one noun equals two nouns: plural pronoun. You could also, I think, write “all brands and all leaders” and be correct.

As it stands now, unfortunately, that dog won’t hunt.

A really bad sentence.

I’m writing two books right now—Comma Common Sense and Happy Hyphens (a tentative title)—and am collecting examples of how not to use commas and hyphens. Where could I go to collect examples faster than to the referral organization to which I belong and look at its members who do “website development” and “content marketing”?

You know me: I never publish names and identifying information. (Well, 99.9% of the time I don’t!)

Here’s a really nasty sentence from a “web developer,” and this sentence is in the part of the site where the content writing prowess of “the team” is being extolled.

Our staff have been featured in some of the largest publications in the world, and we pride ourselves on education and learning more everyday.

What do you see? I see two things that are absolutely wrong. Absolutely. Wrong. How the heck did this get by “the team”?

Got me.

The new trite: an update on “uppity” nonstarters.

I’ve noticed an uptick in “up” words that are, well, they are stupid. We’ve already discussed the inanity of “up-skill.” Who thought up that gem?

Just now, however, on a deplorably messy site, I found another “uppity” nonstarter: up-level. Perhaps it’s not as stupid as “up-skill” (you’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to one-up “up-skill”!), but trust me folks, these words don’t make you look like a “thought leader”; no, using stupid words make you look…stupid. It’s just that simple.

If you were curious, here’s how to use “up-level” in a sentence. You’ll notice that sometimes the person uses a hyphen, and sometimes not, probably depending on how she’s feeling at the moment. Myself, I’m fed up!

Why not both up-level your brand with this program and save $$.

The Total Package WILL Help You
Up Level Your Personal Brand

For XYZ, it’s about up leveling the whole experience, starting with one’s personal brand.

This package is perfect for the successful professional who is ready to brand their persona, build a new brand, or simply up-level the fine details of their image and show up in a bigger way.

She is a ‘cut to the chase’ kind of woman who doesn’t like to waste time, so in this book she has made it simple and clear how to up level your personal brand.

(And someone should tell her about quotation marks.)

Jaw-dropping doesn’t begin to describe…

You know, I’m beyond “over” smug people who are “authors.”

You watch someone swank around saying, “I’m a published author,” or “I’m a bestselling author,” and then you pick up his or her book and the book is littered with mistakes!

Or you visit some “coaching” site, a site that is simply stuffed with “global thought leaders,” where (of course) everybody is a best-selling author, and then you see this:

Thursday, August 31, 2017 — PUBLISH YOUR BOOK. Yes, you really CAN tell a book by it’s cover. Learn when to call in the expert book designers, illustrators and photographers, and why DIY is not always in your best interest. Cathy@DavisCreative.com

I mean, what the F*CK? How can this happen? On a website with “international” and “federation” in its title.  I’m just not getting it. A keynoter at a conference has hundreds of mistakes in his book. A workshop presenter at the same conference has hundreds of mistakes in her book. A gal who sits near you at lunch passes you an 87-page manuscript that SHE SAYS has been edited and the 87-page manuscript has THREE HUNDRED AND NINE mistakes in it.

I was applying to present a program in New Zealand, and the organizers wanted the program to be along the lines of “How to Write a Book and Why You Should.” My first draft was titled “Everyone Can Write a Book, But Not Everybody Should.” Humph, maybe not. Then I tried this: “Not Everyone Should be an Author, and That’s OK.” Better.

Introduction: Got something to say? That’s great, because so does everyone else. The commitment of authorship is considerable, because writing a book isn’t easy. Writing a book can take months, if not years. Most books nowadays are poorly edited, unoriginal crap. Most claims to “best-seller” status are bull. Do you feel you should be an author? Do you have what it takes to write an important, worthwhile book with a clear, original, and valuable message? Do you really feel you have something to say, or are you just feeling peer pressure? Let’s find out!

I finally decided that if the point was to get invited to New Zealand, I’d have to be much, much, much more chirpy. So, here’s what I finally came up with:

The EXPLOSIVE Power of the Published Speaker

La, dee, da, everybody’s a friggin’ author, but nobody can write.

 

The #1 Mistake.

Sure, taken individually, the #1 editing mistake is not knowing its from it’s. That’s a super-sloppy mistake, since spellcheck invariably places a gee-I’m-just-a-computer-so-you-should-probably-check-this blue line under the its/it’s, and only the most arrogant of writers make that mistake.

But, here’s the deal: writing is collective, a series of sentences that build paragraphs and (sometimes) build pages. And because writing is “collective,” by its very nature, we arrive at the #1 mistake made by writers, and that is continuity. Or, lack thereof.

Backstory. When I was at that conference I mentioned in a couple of earlier blogs, the highest, most sustained emotion I felt was fear. It wasn’t physical fear, of course, since we were listening to speakers in the hyper-air conditioned splendor of a Disney hotel; no, it was fear of a let-down. The speaker was telling a story about his father, and I felt a bolt of fear: was his father going to be like my father? Oh, no! Thankfully, there was a happy ending, but, as a speaker myself, I can recognize and appreciate that high-water mark in terms of the emotion that you elicit in an audience member. There were lots of laughs, lots of good laughs, during the conference, but those few seconds of fear are what I remember the most.

So I went out and bought this guy’s book (not paying $28, but $3, which, as an author myself…well, what can I say?). Since we all know that I (almost) never post identifying information about where my quiz and other materials come from, I am not going to be able to write much about what subject this guy writes about, except to say that it is in the first line of what I write about. (!!) In fact, when he began to speak, I elbowed my business partner to show her that specific word in the very first line of my online profile for this particular organization.

ANYWAY! I started to do a pretty serious edit of his book, which is hardcover, traditionally published (though I’ve never heard of the press), and laid out in a really attractive way that makes it plain that a lot of thought went into the look and feel of the book.

That’s a shame, because the editing (the first word that came to mind was “sucked,” but we all know that that word is inappropriate for professional use) was terrible.

There were mistakes on the back flap. Mistakes on the back cover. Mistakes throughout the book. Mistakes in the bibliography. Mistakes on practically every page. In summary, here are some of the most common mistakes he made:

Noun-pronoun agreement. Singular nouns were most often accompanied with plural pronouns, but that was not consistent. Sometimes both singular and plural pronouns were used to refer to the same noun in the same paragraph. This happened most often when he was referring to a company, and calling it “they,” but also, for example, when he’d call “a client” or “a customer,” or “someone” a “they.”

Rule: The noun drives the bus. There is no circumstance when a company is referred to with a plural pronoun, like their or they, unless you are referring to you and the company, like “We” are doing this or that. A company is an it. The possessive of it is its. You can, if you want, talk about “employees” or use a plural noun (an example other than “employees” is not coming to me at the moment, but I’m sure that’s not the only option) to refer to people who work at the company, and that’s the work-around when talking about a single company. That’s the only time you can refer to a company, an organization, a foundation, whatever, as plural. Period.

Collective nouns. A collective noun—staff, team, audience—is treated as a singular noun, and so uses a singular pronoun and a singular verb form. The work-around can be to add “members”: staff members, team members, audience members. You can also say “participants” instead of “audience members,” if you are talking about an audience. Otherwise…

Plural acronyms. He used “apostrophe + s” in every circumstance to indicate the plural of an acronym with no periods. Don’t do that. The rule is you can do that (though why would you?) with an acronym with periods, but not without. MDA’s, PSD’s, CPA’s, CNA’s…these are all incorrect, as well as darned confusing.  Drop the apostrophe, keep the “s” lowercase. When you’re flat out wrong, consistency doesn’t really matter.

Caps. DO NOT USE CAPS. NO. NO. NO. If you need to emphasize, use italics. Using caps makes you look HYSTERICAL. I use ’em sometime. Yes, yes, I do. But this is a blog, not a book.

Indefinite pronouns. There was too much reliance on indefinite pronouns. Words like “many,” “most,” “it,” “these,” and “those,” used by themselves, really weaken your writing.

Example: “Those committed to worthy causes…”

Example: “Some would say…”

Example: “Many would think…”

So, “many” who? “Those” what? “Some” of what?

Many people. Those staff members. Some of us.

Equivalencies. Equivalencies really lard up your writing! What’s the difference, when you get right down to it, between these words:

aloof and distant

inquiries and questions

competent and capable

real and genuine

focus and intentionality

principles and values

sincere and heartfelt

care and compassion

empathy and understanding

continued hard work and intentional effort

The thing to do is use the best choice (the single best choice), and then use the other word as you go along. Mix it up: use “compassion” a couple of times, use “care” a couple of times, etc., but don’t use them together.

Capitalization. If it ain’t a proper noun or a proper noun phrase, it ain’t capitalized!

Okay, so these are all mistakes. But the main mistake, the mistake of continuity, can only be seen globally.

Harley-Davidson multiple times, but “Harley Davidson” multiple times

U.S and US, referring to the same thing

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.

21st Century in the text, but Twenty-First Century on the back cover

American Girl Dolls and American Girl dolls

Board room and boardroom

Fortune Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Fortune magazine, “Fortune Magazine”

Famous Dave’s BBQ and Famous Dave’s Barbeque. That was a jaw-dropper, since both are incorrect: it’s

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que of America, Inc.

So, for reference purposes, I’d characterize it as “Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que.” That’s enough.

Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915 and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

The New York Times and the New York Times

Consistency, you see, is the biggest bugaboo (a technical term used by all the big-time editors) in writing.

So, I’m going to conclude this post, since the thunderstorm is getting very, very close, with two quotes from his book, which I’m going to send (all marked up and with a very polite letter) off to him today.

From this dynamic, talented speaker, who so needs a good editor:

The fastest way to build a brand is consistency of message and product.

And, this is a good quote as well:

“Success is the sum of the details.” Harry Firestone

And, from me: God is in the details.

 

Plea to an unnamed organization.

So there I was, sitting at the last luncheon of a 5-day conference, minding my own business, when suddenly a manuscript was thrust into my hands by a tablemate…right as the chicken was being served!
Well, I put down my fork and, more to be polite than anything else, I began to read. Five seconds later I said, “Does anyone have a pen?”
Friends, this manuscript was simply littered with mistakes. Mistake after mistake! And—get this—the “editor” this poor woman (an MBA!) had hired was a referral from her chapter president! Oh, no! How could this be?
What made things worse was that this MBA is supposed to go to press…next week!
Friends, I feel your pain! I was once like you! (And then I wrote 11 books about American English punctuation and grammar.)
Don’t let our members eat cold chicken! Invite me to your chapter to present a “speakers writing bootcamp” sometime in 2018-2019!
I’ll set you straight about the fact that audience is a collective noun, and so is treated as a singular noun! I’ll tell you frankly that quotation marks are always placed outside periods and commas in American English! You’ll get the inside scoop about how to write a dynamic online profile and how to compose thrilling program descriptions! Your fear of hyphens will become a thing of the past!
Does your writing affect your credibility? You betcha!
What good is being a silver-tongued speaker if you can’t spell???
For the love of this organization and the credibility of its members, please consider putting me on your schedule!
Sincerely, Liz Coursen

Wow, don’t make this mistake!

When you are a “professional” speaker and (supposedly) a rock star author/publisher and marketing “expert,” you just don’t make this bush league mistake on the—I guess you’d call it a “caption”—caption of your online profile. The bush league mistake I’m referring to is not taking just a minute to read over what you’ve just published. After all, you know what they say about assume!

Take a look:

“So-and-so, "The Transformation Catalyst" powerfully combines spiritual guidance and intuition with nuts-and-bolts writing, publishing and marketing expertise.”

It’s true that this particular website does not support dashes, much to my dismay, but this is such a glaring problem! Just look at those big, fat ampersands! Wow!

I find it’s very important for me to check over my own writng after it is published, and it’s even more important for me to check over someone else’s, especially my host organization’s writing, even though I provide it with the text.  But how do you explain an author/publisher/marketer who is bragging about her expertise (and uses the word “powerful”) not seeing this? I mean, it’s the first thing people see about her on this website.

Always check. Always double-check. Especially if you’re supposed to be an author!

Just when you think…

…then you see this. Ugh! Ouch! Nooooo!

We will be selecting the speaker who we feel will deliver what the session requires to upskill the audience.

“Upskill”? What genius thought of that? Upskilling? Upskilled?

She is a dynamic speaker who routinely upskills a global audience.

Oh, that’s a thought leader word for sure.

For sure.