Metaphors Gone Wild: Wildfires and Words

The effects of a single typo can damage a professional image as quickly as a wildfire can devastate a forest. To douse the career-impacting flames, proofread. And, the more important the communication, proofread a second time. Consider asking a linguistically inclined friend to proofread a third time. (If you doubt the speed at which information […]

Metaphors Gone Wild: Wildfires and Words

The effects of a single typo can damage a professional image as quickly as a wildfire can devastate a forest. To douse the career-impacting flames, proofread. And, the more important the communication, proofread a second time. Consider asking a linguistically inclined friend to proofread a third time. (If you doubt the speed at which information can spread, just remember “covfefe” that came from the Oval Office.) This article encourages proofreading in general, and the search for unnecessary verbiage in particular.

LOOKALIKE WORDS AND NUMBERS

Make certain you have used the right word. “Affect” as a verb and “effect” as a verb are frequently confused. And grammar programs might not necessarily point out the mistake in their usage. Our language contains over 6000 “lookalikes,” such as “sight,” “site,” and “cites” or the ever popular “it’s” used in lieu of “its.” (Possessive pronouns never take an apostrophe.)

Proofreading also means double-checking numerical references. Even among those who should know better, mistakes happen. There’s the publishing company whose author contract stated, “Royalties will be expected [“excepted” is what they meant] on copies sold to Author at 50% discount.” And Continental Airlines rued its 1993 ad in the “Boston Herald,” offering a one-way fare from Boston to Los Angeles. Twenty thousand round-trip tickets were sold, costing the company hundreds of dollars for each misquoted fare.

Of course, there was the recent Presidential reference to the sale of an F-52 fighter aircraft to Norway (called “Normay” in an earlier press release). As you probably know by now, the F-52 only exists as a fictional jet that appears in a video game, “Call of Duty.”

Errors like the following actually appeared in print. While amusing, they don’t lend much credence to the writers’ reputations as skilled wordsmiths.

He had his girl fried with him on his trip to the Rocky Mountains.
Sergeant Terrence is a defective in the police farce.
Help wanted: sadistical secretary.
Richard Froehlich is playing his old position of right tickle.
Dr. Johnston studied unclear physics at the University of Southern California.

IS YOUR WRITING TAUT OR TAUTOLOGICAL?

A tautology is a phrase that contains unnecessary verbiage. To illustrate, I once dated a man who often said, “I saw it with my own eyes.” I was always temped to say, “Of course you did, Frank. Could you see it with someone else’s eyes?” He would also fond of remarking, “I was thinking in my head.” Where else would your thinking occur–in your derriere?

Taut writing is lean. It does not contain verbal fat. So, in addition to the obvious spellcheck programs that will check your spelling, there are other measures you need to take to appear as professional as possible. In particular, watch out for tautologies in your writing and speaking. Here are a few often and incorrectly used.

actual experience
add together
at this moment in time
big in size
cancel out
circle around
close proximity
consensus of opinion
different varieties
ERA Amendment
final outcome
foreign imports
free gift
honest truth
most unique
new innovations
past history
refer back to
sit down
small in size
stand up
true facts

AVOID BEING BURNED
If you take pride in your professionalism, you will need to take the extra steps required to avoid being burned by words that can ignite negative impressions of you in the minds of your readers and listeners.

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