The Grammar Factor – words we dislike, hyphens in titles, numbers

Words we dislike

Sweet muffin cut in two pieces  A reader’s pet peeve this month about ‘got’ made me think about this little word. Whenever I write ‘got’, I stop and wonder if I should choose another word because I know a lot of people dislike it. The only reason I can think of is that in formal writing there are more specific substitutes such as obtain, receive, fetch, buy, take, arrive or become.

Trying to work out other reasons why people dislike ‘got’, I was astonished to find that ‘moist’ seems to be resoundingly loathed. In 2012, The New Yorker asked readers to propose a single English word that should be eliminated from the language. You’ve guessed it: ‘moist’.

What do you think of the words ‘got’ and ‘moist’?

What word would you like banned from the language?

Hyphens in titles

Question: In a title, do you need to capitalise both words that are hyphenated? For example: ‘Pre-Paid Ledger Controller’ or ‘Pre-paid Ledger Controller’.

Answer: In my opinion, this is a style choice.

I can’t find a reference to this topic in the Australian government style guide, but the Chicago Manual of Style says ‘capitalize any subsequent elements unless they are articles, prepositions, co-ordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor) or such modifiers as flat or sharp following musical key symbols.’ One example given is ‘Bed-and-Breakfast Options in Upstate New York’.

However, it goes on to say that if ‘the first element is merely a prefix or combining form that could not stand by itself as word (anti, pre etc.) do not capitalize the second element unless it is a proper noun or proper adjective’. So if you follow these guidelines, you would write ‘Pre-paid Ledger Controller’.

Numbers with nouns  

The creative apples combined from two halfQuestion: How do you write numbers when they are followed by a noun, e.g. ‘five years’ and ‘five-year plan’?

Answer: The general convention in business writing is to write ‘one’ to ‘nine’ then 10 onwards (some style guides switch at 11.). This rule applies whether or not a noun follows the number.

However, if you have a small and large number in the same sentence, consult your style guide or make up your own mind. Your choices are:

  • Stick to the same rule (two apples and 10 bananas)
  • Write both in numerals (2 apples and 10 bananas)
  • Write both in words (two apples and ten bananas) – I don’t see this very often

Use a hyphen if the number plus the following word describe the noun that follows (five-year plan). I sometimes wonder about this one-to-nine convention and think numerals should take over apart from at the beginning sentence where numerals look awkward (22 women arrived).

What do you think?

Readers’ feedback – ‘munted’ and ‘earworm’

In New Zealand, ‘munted’ has slipped into the vocabulary meaning things are stuffed. It doesn’t mean drunk. I noticed this word when I was in New Zealand last year and someone told me this meaning originated during the Christchurch earthquake. Can anyone confirm this?

I mentioned in my last newsletter that I was unfamiliar with the word ‘earworm’ (catchy tune you can’t get out of your head) and a German reader said that earworm is a Germanism (ohrwurm) or an example of Denglish (Deutsch + English = Denglish).

Readers’ pet peeves – ‘got’ and tag questions

A US reader commented that ‘got’ is often used incorrectly, especially on the news (‘You got three rooms in this house.’ ‘You got to notice this.’)

In Australia and New Zealand are we using ‘you got’ instead of ‘you’ve got’? My editor thinks we say ‘Yer gotta laugh’, which is similar.

Another reader commented on how New Zealanders add contradictory tag questions to statements. (Australians do this too.) That’s hot, isn’t it? You’re not going swimming, are you?

Interesting articles about writing

Some advice from Grammarly on safe texting.

Improve the open rate of your marketing emails
If you send marketing emails, this 2014 HubSpot report will give you the latest data, trends and best practices in email marketing. Apparently, Tuesday is no longer the best day to send emails!

Word crimes
‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’ video on word crimes has gone viral and received more than 24 million hits – it’s worth a watch.

Money talks: Learning the language of finance
This article by John Lanchester in The New Yorker concludes that ‘the language of money is a powerful tool, and it is also a tool of power. Incomprehension is a form of consent’. Read the full article.



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