Style and usage

Kill the zombies, free the verbs

Kill the zombies, free the verbsJuly 26, 2012 Grammar

Thoughtful legal writers generally do a good job of eliminating unnecessary uses of passive voice. So why is their writing still so abstract and dense? The culprit is nominalizations, or zombie nouns, as the beautifully named Helen Sword calls them in a post at the New York Times Opinionator blog. Just as insidious as passive voice but less [...]

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The generational split on infinitives

The generational split on infinitivesJuly 13, 2012 Grammar

So, lawyers ask me pretty regularly what the deal is with split infinitives. The deal is this: splitting infinitives is perfectly acceptable according to every respected style authority. (Grammar Girl has a nice explanation of what a split infinitive is.) But (yes, there had to be a but) plenty of very, shall we say, senior [...]

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Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this discussion of the use of “hopefully”

Hopefully, you'll enjoy this discussion of the use of "hopefully"June 5, 2012 Style and usage

Does it drive you crazy when pedants say it drives them crazy when people start a sentence with hopefully? Well, it does me. I’ve always felt it was perfectly fine to begin a sentence with hopefully. And it turns out I’m in good company.  Prof. Geoff Nunberg, a linguist who blogs at Language Log, recently posted [...]

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Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need to care about grammar

Mark Zuckerberg doesn't need to care about grammarMay 21, 2012 Grammar

Mark Zuckerberg has had a big week, what with the IPO and his surprise backyard wedding. In the midst of all the hooplah, he’s probably barely noticed that his writing style, as revealed in a leaked email, has been critiqued online. (Thanks to @GrammarGirl for tweeting about the now infamous email.) In the email, which [...]

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What do quarterback Tim Tebow and federal judge Robert Bork have in common?

What do quarterback Tim Tebow and federal judge Robert Bork have in common?January 19, 2012 Pop culture

Tebow Tebowing (image from It’s been a while, but pls clarify is now officially back in action, and residing at the new and improved website for Rosky Legal Education. I’ve posted before on the verbification of nouns, especially techie nouns like blog. Imagine my surprise when I opened the NY Times this weekend and [...]

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Obama talks politics, life with Leno

Obama talks politics, life with LenoOctober 26, 2011 Style and usage

It’s been way too long!  pls clarify has been on extended hiatus, but we are back in action. I’ve just seen a misplaced modifier that I can’t keep to myself.   Here it is, the offending CNN headline: Obama talks politics, life with Leno Perhaps I haven’t ingested enough caffeine yet this morning, but I just [...]

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Rupert Murdoch is offended by allegations of hacking

Rupert Murdoch is offended by allegations of hackingJuly 6, 2011 Style and usage

Rupert Murdoch is in hot water. The British public is calling for blood after revelations that his tabloid, News of the World, used illegal and unethical means — hacking a missing teen’s cell phone and paying cops for information — to obtain material for stories.  Murdoch has responded by issuing a statement that purportedly condemns [...]

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If the Oxford comma could speak…

If the Oxford comma could speak...June 30, 2011 Punctuation

Surely it would be invoking the famous Mark Twain line right about now: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Twitter was aflutter this week with rumors that the Oxford comma, aka the serial comma, has been abandoned by the very institution that gave it its name: Oxford University Press. Here’s how the Economist’s [...]

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Whomever? Whatever!

May 28, 2011 Style and usage

No grammatical justification for using “whomever” here. An attempt to sound civilized?

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Thou shalt not use the word "shall."

Thou shalt not use the word "shall."May 26, 2011 Brief writing

So sayeth Bryan Garner, as explained in a recent post on Johnson, the Economist’s language blog. If you think that using shall makes contracts and statutes more official and clear, forget it. What’s wrong with shall? Let me count the reasons. It’s stuffy and exclusionary. It’s not used in everyday communication among humans. Most importantly, it has a few [...]

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