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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Was it a dark and stormy night?

Several events in my life have come into alignment to make me think of posting this this week. First, sometime after 4:00 Sunday morning we lost our electricity. We were a little concerned since we were having guests for lunch and the preparation involved having power. Fortunately it came on shortly before 7:00. We never did hear why we lost power, but it was definitely not because it had been "a dark and stormy night."

Second, the first several weeks of my summer break I have been hired to copy a website from one server to another. The work is fairly tedious (and tasteless) as I copy the 300 pages, one page at a time. It should take me only 60 to 100 hours. %-) My eyes are almost crossed from the repetitive nature of the task, but it does pay well. 🙂 The website belongs to ABC — the Association for Business Communication It's been interesting to read a bit of the history of this association whose goal is to improve the writing of people involved in business.

The third event in this interesting alignment will be explained later in the post.

About 8 years ago I did a blog post about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I will copy below my explanation of the whole Bulwer-Lytton phenomenon. I have updated some things so that they are correct at the time of this post.

During my 42 years of teaching French, I've graded my share of student compositions. Some things that students have written, not always intentionally, have made me laugh out loud. The most memorable is what one student wrote in a composition for second semester French — they have to write the first paragraph of a thriller. One student wrote (and I translate) something like "The man and his dog rounded the corner and found the baker lying in the alley behind the bakery with a spoon in his chest." This student had obviously not taken the time to look up the French word for "knife" in the dictionary and gone with her memory. I commented on her paper that that must have been a horribly painful way to die! I still laugh at this one, but the really humorous twist on this is that that student went on to minor in French and lived in Paris, France, where she was transferred to work for three years with the Ernst and Young accounting firm. UPDATE: She is in the final stages of a doctorate in International Accounting from a university in France! Finding that out recently was the third event that led up to today's post.


I did a little research online about this contest. If you go to the Bulwer-Lytton site, be warned that some of what you find there may not be to your liking. I trudged through a lot to give you what I'm posting today. 😎 Here's some of what I learned from Wikipedia and from the official site for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest:
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Grammar and Spelling

Being a language teacher, I am obviously interested in grammar. I know that the word grammar chills the blood of many people, as they entertain thoughts of struggling with grammar in school. But honestly, vocabulary alone is not enough to allow us to communicate our thoughts so that others can comprehend them. We cannot just string words together with no order. To quote William B. Bradshaw, "Grammar, regardless of the country or the language, is the foundation for communication — the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likelihood of understanding the message's intent and meaning. That is what communication is all about."

This is particularly true in writing, where the clarifying impact of vocal intonation is missing. Let me demonstrate....

Lets Eat Grandma

I'm sure that Grandma would prefer clearer communication that would help her avoid being the victim of cannibalism. There would have been no problem when the suggestion of eating was said aloud, but the written form needs to reflect that pause, hence the comma.

This next one on punctuation is a bit more subtle.
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Résumé Mucho, Take 2!

Curriculum vitae

Seven and a half years ago I did a post called Résumé Mucho. I know some people currently looking for work who might be advised to avoid some of the statements made in that post or today's. First off, you probably don't want to prepare it on a typewriter as shown in the picture on the right.

Part of today's job search is an eye-catching résumé (or C.V. — curriculum vitae in more modern parlance). A poorly written C.V. can ruin a person's chances of landing that desired position. Below you'll see some examples of statements that are not résumé enhancers! You will have to read some of them fairly closely to catch the faux pas — unfortunate wordings, definitely "oops!" admissions, misspellings, etc. The following is a list of some bloopers that have supposedly appeared on actual job candidates' résumés, job applications, and cover letters:

It's best for employers that I not work with people.

Here are my qualifications for you to overlook.

I am very detail-oreinted.

My intensity and focus are at inordinately high levels, and my ability to complete projects on time is unspeakable.

Enclosed is a ruff draft of my resume.

I am sicking and entry-level position.

If this resume doesn't blow your hat off, then please return it in the enclosed envelope.
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How to Write Real Good

Twice in the past week I have been reminded of what I'm posting today. First, a colleague tweeted a link to a blog post by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. In this post he says, "Good grammar is credibility ... I hire people who care about those details." Then later in the week, a German student of mine from the last millennium tagged me on Facebook with a picture of the first part of one of the things I'm posting today, saying it reminded him of something I would come up with.

I e-mailed something similar in my pre-blog days. After finding it in the archives and doing some research, I'm ready to post it with some attribution. There are so many versions of these lists on the Internet that it was hard to determine who wrote what. I believe the first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' Digest. I think the second set of rules is derived from the late William Safire's October 7, 1979, and November 4, 1979, On Language columns in The New York Times and/or from Safire's book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.

In both lists, each of the rules is self-contradictory — they've been dubbed "the rules that break themselves." I've culled out my favorites to share with you.

How to Write Good
Frank LaPosta Visco

My several years in the word game have learnt me several rules:

Avoid alliteration. Always.

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

Employ the vernacular.

Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

Contractions aren’t necessary.

Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
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How Simple Are Crayons?

Over Christmas break, Becka and our grandson Drew watched an online video from Mister Rogers Neighborhood on PBS's site about how crayons are made. It's amazing to see how many steps are involved in the process. If you'd rather see a newer, shorter video on the process, you can view it on the How Stuff Works site. You need to scroll down halfway and, for whatever reason, you have to manually unmute the video. The videos reminded me of pictures in my files. After a bit of web researching, I came up with a lot of neat info.

This month the Chinese New Year begins on January 23. The Chinese have a twelve-year rotation, based on the Chinese zodiac. We will be entering the year of the Dragon. Below is a chart telling which animal corresponds to which year for quite a few years back (if you want to see what year you were born in) and more years yet to come.

Below is a picture of crayons carved by Diem Chau — one crayon for each of the twelve animals.
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