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I am a writer, editor and reviewer based in Perth, Western Australia: my first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte and available from their website as well as Amazon.com and other online outlets. As both writer and editor, I specialise in historical and high or epic fantasy. If you have a manuscript in preparation, don't waste money on editing too early. Instead, let me help with a mini-assessment of your work, based on careful reading of your synopsis and first 20 pages. Then, when you've worked on the manuscript in line with our discussions, I will be happy to do a full edit before you send it off into the big wide world. My fees are very reasonable - for more about my editing work, CLICK HERE

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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Common misuses: common expressions

When editing or critiquing, and even in everyday conversation, I am often jolted by the misuse of common expressions, so I thought I might don my pedant’s hat today and talk about some of them in this post.

As Such
One of these misused expressions is “as such”. This phrase is seldom used correctly these days, and its incorrect use often renders the sentence laughable. Some people misuse the phrase completely because they have mistaken its meaning, thinking it means “therefore”, which is just plain silly.

In order to make sense, “as such”, a pronominal phrase, must refer back to a noun in the previous sentence or clause. It cannot be used to refer to a verb.

Consider this: “I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for some years now. As such, I’ve learnt a lot about cleaning equipment.” The speaker obviously intends “as such” to refer to “worked” which is the verb in the previous sentence, but grammatically, “as such” can only refer to a noun. You could say, however, “I’ve been a hotel room attendant for some years now. As such...etc”.

Partake of/partake in/take part
Another word whose misuse is becoming widespread is “partake”. It really means “to take a share” and has traditionally been used to refer to the sharing of food, as in “We partook of a delicious seafood banquet last night”. However, it has long been used in a figurative sense, as in “partaking in each other’s joys”, which carries the implication of sharing. The difference between the two usages lies in the accompanying pronoun, in or of. If we partake of, we each take a share of something – I eat my share of the food, you eat yours. If we partake in, we share mutually – your joys are also mine, my joys are also yours. Can you see the subtle difference between the two?

But the main problem is that some people are now using “partake” where they should use “take part”, as in “We partook in a football match yesterday”, which to my mind ruins a nice, rather subtle little expression. However, language is constantly changing and I don’t think I can do anything to stop this particular change!

Two more misuses can only be seen in writing, as both ways of using them sound the same in speech. I’m talking about “all together” vs “altogether” and “on to” vs “onto”. Let’s look at the second phrase first.

Onto/on to
The word “onto” is quite new. It used to be considered altogether incorrect when I was a child. However, it is now considered quite OK to say “I put the plate onto the shelf”, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Where the word gets misused is in sentences such as “He went onto say how pleased he was with the new house” or even “The plane flew onto London”! In cases such as these, where something is definitely not being superimposed on something else, we should leave the two words separate.

Altogether/all together
I hope I haven’t got you altogether confused because I’ll now go on to “all together”. When we do something as a group we do it all together, as in “We left the party all together”.

The word “altogether” is another matter altogether.

If you were to write the sample sentence as “We left the party altogether” it would mean that you left the party absolutely, utterly and completely, never to return. You might apply that to a political party, but not the social gathering sort of party, which you might have left early because you were tired, not because you were in high dudgeon over something, although I suppose that’s also possible!

I plan to do a few more of these posts, so if you have any words or phrases that you're not sure how to use, let me know and I'll try to incorporate them.

7 comments:

Jo said...

Dunno about your part of the world Satima, but on this side of the puddle there are many misuses of words and or phrases. One of my bĂȘtes noirs is could've or should've which is frequently interpreted and often written as 'could of, should of' people having no idea it is a shortened form of could have or should have. When I see it in a book it really tees me off.

Satima Flavell said...

Yup, they happen here, too. Another odd one is "I got then off of my mother" and others of like ilk.

We now have a generation of people teaching English who have never learnt grammar. Not good.

Jo said...

Oh yes, off of is used here too. One song which used to be a favourite is frequently sung "can't take my eyes off of you" grrrr. There are lots more which I can't call to mind right now. Oh I know, it likely will happen is another phrase. Of course like is a very over used word here, kids can't speak a sentence without using like half a dozen times. We asked a friend's daughter to try saying things without the word for a while, she was no longer able to converse.

Jo said...

Just remembered another thing which drives me up the wall, a picture is hung a person is hanged. If you mention transitive and intransitive verbs to people, you would just get blank stares. My mother used to go nuts about salty, its not salty its salt. That soup was very salt. Of course as Winston said "up with which I shall not put".

Satima Flavell said...

I love that song, too, apart from the "off of"!

Of course, language changes and we have to live with it. These days,if we used "salt" as an adjective (apart from the common phrase "salt water") people would think we were ignorant or daft or both. And ending sentences with prepositions is no longer considered wicked, so Mr Churchill would not have to twist his words today.

I'm planning on putting up a post on transitive and intransitive verbs one of these days!

Sue Bursztynski said...

What really irritates me is misuse of the word "reform" in the newspapers. When I was growing up, it meant "to make it better" - a law against sending kids down into the mines or one wiping out slavery is a reform. Closing down schools is not an education reform. Even more irritating is reading, as I have, about "draconian reforms". You'd think journalists would know better.

For the record, I teach grammar and spelling. So does every other teacher I know. But what can you do when a student has grown up on text messages and, before that, chat rooms, where it's perfectly legitimate to spell "and" & (I got a story in slush recently that did this) and "Thanks" "thanx" or even "thx" because it costs extra to use too many characters? They forget. They don't mean it, but they forget and hand in work with spelling taken from their mobile phones.

Satima Flavell said...

You must be really up against it, Sue. It's good that the system is including grammar in the curriculum again, but a whole generation of teachers went through school without learning any, so how can they teach it properly? I daresay there are some new teachers who also feel it's OK to use l33t and txt spelling because they've grown up with them, too.

Misused words:-( I guess we have to live with them and accept that this is the way words change in meaning. One that bugs me is the use of "convince" when the correct word would be "persuade". The difference between them is another of those subtleties that the language seems to be losing.

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