All my adult life, I’ve been a professional writer. I’m no grammarian, and I’m no English snob. My writing would make Miss Blanche, my sixth-grade English teacher, turn red with fury. Sometimes, I write “like” when “such as” is correct. I write sentence fragments. Lots of them. I start sentences with conjunctions. And I’m not going to stop.
All of these “mistakes” lend my writing a conversational style. It sounds good on the ear. (We hear writing as much as we see it.)
But there are some ugly writing and speaking habits up with which I will not put. Here are six mistakes that have driven me nuts for years:
- This needs fixed. Yes, it does. Actually, your broken watch may need fixing.It may need to be fixed. But it does not “need fixed.” I’m willing to believe this ugly construction is a regional thing, endemic to Indiana. I’m betting it’s not.
- Another thing that’s alwrong. It’s probably too late to save “all right” from the ubiquitous “alright.” (It’s telling that the spelling checker in my word processor didn’t flag this when I just wrote it.) But “alright” will never be all right with me. Perhaps there’s still time to save “alot.” (Spell check changed this to “a lot” automatically, btw.)
- What’s more importantly than clear language? It never fails to smack me upside the ear: people saying or writing “most importantly,” as in, “Most importantly, I haven’t corrected your grammar in two weeks,” when they mean “most important.” The fact that I haven’t corrected you in two weeks is most important. It’s not most importantly. This is such a pervasive error that I’m actually impressed whenever somebody gets it right.
- Watch my head literally explode. When did “literally” come to mean “figuratively”? Just asking.
- Getting closer to getting sharper. I have often been involved in meetings where I’m told we’re going to “hone in” on an advertising message. Um…no. Perhaps we are going to “home in”; that is, we’re going to find where the message lives. Perhaps we are going to “hone” that message to a fine sharpness. But don’t think we’re “honing in” on anything.
- Git out of there, you little words. I am asked almost weekly if I will go ahead and “flush out” the copy for a brochure or a website I’m writing. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to “flesh out” the copy; that is, add flesh to its bones to make it substantial. Sheesh.
Actually, “flush out” is probably closer to what I do: writing feels more like discovery than creation. I’ve often teased ideas out of the bushes.
Which reminds me: I have a headline that needs written. Later!