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Thread: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive---a guide to nit picking :)

  1. #11
    Super Moderator ramprat06's Avatar
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    Back the the "hone in" vs. "home in" mentioned above. Great example, Chili. In parsing, one might be easily confused. And from the source Dictionary.com, we see this:
    Does a plane home in on a target or hone in on it? Does a musician hone her skills or home them? Are these two verbs interchangeable or do they have discrete meanings? Today we explore the origins and uses of hone and home.

    Hone entered English as a noun for a pointed rock used as a landmark. In the 1400s, it began to be used in reference to a whetstone for sharpening razors and other cutting tools. A few centuries later, hone picked up the verb meaning “to sharpen on a hone.” The sharpening element took figurative shape in the now widely used verb sense from the early 1900s: “to make more acute or effective; improve; perfect.” This is the sense invoked when we talk of improving one’s skills, as in “The pianist honed his articulation with hours of practice.”
    The word home also entered English as a noun; it first referred to a dwelling, house, or shelter. In the mid-1800s it began to be used as a verb meaning “to go or return home,” popping up frequently in discussion of homing pigeons. In the early 1900s, home picked up the more specific sense of “to proceed, especially under control of an automatic aiming mechanism, toward a specified target, as a plane, missile, or location.”
    So the simple answer is that a person, bird, or aircraft homes in on a target, but a person hones his or her skills. Style guides urge writers to observe this distinction and avoid using hone in altogether. The not-so-simple answer is that the meaning of a word is dictated by its usage, and people use these terms in overlapping and sometimes fused ways. As a result, some dictionaries include a definition of hone that borrows the target theme from home: “to focus attention on an objective.” And some include a definition home that is synonymous with hone.
    Nevertheless, to keep your writing clean and clear, it is a good idea to steer clear of hone in.
    A few more examples popped on the page when I was rooting around.

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  2. #12
    Super Moderator Sidecar Bob's Avatar
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    Many words are commonly used incorrectly because they sound similar to the correct word. That does not make the incorrect usage correct. Home/hone is a good example of this. You will note in the above quote that all of the correct derivations are related to the original meaning in some way.

    Also, when it comes to technical terms we need to remember that, while the people who write dictionaries study word usage in the general population, even the best of them is not likely to be literate in all technical fields so they frequently mis-define technical words that they don't really understand according to incorrect assumptions based on common usage.
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  3. #13
    Super Moderator Sidecar Bob's Avatar
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    I just came across another common mis-use: Many non-technical people think that any electrical problem is a "short" when in fact most of them turn out to be opens instead.
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  5. #14
    Super Moderator ramprat06's Avatar
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    Hah, here is a funky twist just found in another thread.

    Wikipedia states:
    Not to be confused with Murphy's law.
    Muphry's law is an adage that states: "If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written."[1] The name is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy's law.
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  6. #15
    Super Moderator Sidecar Bob's Avatar
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    I wonder if someone came up with that one to mess with the heads of the illiterate? It is a pretty bad pun, though....
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  7. #16
    Senior Member chilimac's Avatar
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    Never passing up a chance to be pedantic (or is it didactic?), here are a few nits epidemic to this forum:

    1. "Its" (meaning belonging to it) versus it's (short for "it is")

    2a. "There" meaning over in that location
    2b. "They're" meaning they are
    2c. "Their" meaning belonging to them

    and of course

    3a. "To" meaning in the direction of, or to set up a verb, ex. "to be or not to be", "to clean your carbs, get Larry's book"
    3b. "Too" meaning also, or an excessive quantity of the following adjective, ex. "too hot"
    3c. "Two" meaning 1+1

    4. Use of 's to denote plural, ex. tire's
    I've had lengthy discussions with my son, an editor in a Chicago publishing house, about when it's correct to use an apostrophe with an s to indicate plurality of some item, for example when the item is an acronym or abbreviation or just a single character, and the answer is, almost never. How many Ds in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How many D's in Rudolph....
    A pompous and cowardly writer (myself included) would evade this quandary by asking "How many instances of the letter D in Rudolph ...."
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  9. #18
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    You all should be in the engineering, technical meetings discussing test results with a mixture of Chinese, Americans, Brits, Aussies with the uncommon language of Chinglish.

  10. #19
    Super Moderator Sidecar Bob's Avatar
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    I remember the Chinese students when I was in college. They would natter away in Chinese whether there was someone present who didn't speak it or not and you couldn't figure out a word they said except the odd "transistor" Resistor" "capacitor" or similar.

    The Gr eek guys were the opposite. As soon as someone they didn't know for sure spoke G reek came into the room they switched to English without missing a beat. I asked a couple of them about it and they told me if they didn't and their mothers found out they would be in huge trouble...
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  11. #20
    Super Moderator Sidecar Bob's Avatar
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    I have a particularly nails on chalkboard shiver every time I see a word that ends in "s's" as in Jones's. s's is always wrong. It should be Jones' if posessive or Joneses if plural.
    Welcome to the Apostrophe Protection Society

    Then there's this
    chilimac and OCR like this.
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