Don Marti

Mon 01 Jun 2009 07:29:52 PM PDT

How not to write the way dumb people think smart people write

Updated 13 Jul 2009: Marshall

Updated 2-3 June 2009: UK usage of "half mast" and "vocal chords," thanks to James Cranch. Thanks to Winston Churchill (via Nick Moffitt) for the Union Jack entry.

"bailing wire" It's actually baling wire. This used to be the stiff steel wire that held hay or straw bales (no i) together. Since it was common on the farm, baling wire came in handy for the kind of repairs that non-farmers would use a piece of coat hanger for today.

copyright protection is a legal concept, not a DRM system. A DRM-free copy is not "without copyright protection."

"free reign" Should be "rein." Or better yet, get off your horse before you fall off and rewrite the sentence without the cliché.

"half mast"/half staff A flag is only at "half mast" when it's on a ship or at a naval facility. On land, it's half staff. (In the UK, "half mast" is correct for flags on land, too.)

Marshall with a double L is a proper name. The U.S. Marshals Service and local fire and parade marshals get one L. As a verb, "marshalled" or "marshalling" need two Ls, but other forms need one.

"more unique" Unique means one of a kind. Every unique thing is exactly as unique as any other unique thing. There's no such thing as more or less unique.

Stars and Bars The "stars and bars" flag was not the one painted on the car in "The Dukes of Hazzard." It was an earlier Confederate flag with horizontal stripes.

"under weigh" Either weigh anchor, or get under way, or use land-based words.

Union Jack The national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the "Union Jack" only when the Royal Navy displays it. It's the "Union Flag" or just the national flag of the UK otherwise.

"vocal chords" A chord is a set of musical notes. A cord is a structure in the body. (The Oxford English Dictionary does include "vocal chords.")

"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." -- George Orwell