Sunday, June 30, 2013

Misused words: "Decimated"

"Decimated" does not mean "mostly destroyed" or "devastated".

To decimate is to destroy one-tenth of something.

In the Roman army, one in ten of soldiers who retreated would be executed. The unlucky candidates for execution would be chosen by lot, so that all those who retreated would know there was a chance of their being selected. This was intended to discourage retreating while not destroying too many soldiers. The same method has also been used by later armies, notably the Red Army during the Russian Civil War.

This practice is called "decimation".

To say "our manufacturing industry has been decimated" when you mean "our manufacturing industry has been mostly destroyed" is therefore to make a gross understatement. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tell them three times

Writing originated as a means of recording and transmitting speech.

The essentials of good presentation are similar for speaking and writing.

If you are presenting a subject to an audience, whether in speech or in writing, you will be better understood and remembered if you tell them what you want them to know three times, like this:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The five Ws

Journalists seek to answer five questions about each news story:
  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
You can memorise this list as: who, what, when, where, why?
It can be useful also for those of us who are not journalists but are writing a report, an exam answer, a letter, an email or any other piece of writing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Complete Plain Words: a must-read classic

Sir Ernest Gowers' The Complete Plain Words is by far the best book to read on clear writing.
Sir Ernest Gowers, author of The Complete Plain Words
Sir Ernest Gowers
Read it, especially if you have to write a report, a thesis, a book or even something as short as a poster or an email advertising an event.

Here's why.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Principal and principle

Principal and principle are two different words with quite different meanings.

Be careful to decide which one you want to use and be sure to spell it correctly.

Imply and infer

To imply something is not the same as to infer it.

Implication is not the same as inference.

What's the difference?