On the neologism medlingtweet: I’m on Twitter, at twitter.com/janetbyronander. On July 26, 2009 I coined the term medlingtweet to refer to tweets of mine related to language, especially medical language. Medling is an abbreviation of medical linguistics. I understand "medical language" broadly; therefore, here you’ll find tweets relevant not only to medical language specifically but also to language in general; e.g. British vs American usage, scientific language, grammar, etc.
On Twitter, I introduce every medlingtweet with the phrase Today’s medlingtweet – which reduces by 20 the number of characters available for the tweets themselves. I have to be creative if I’m going to squeeze content into 120 characters. (I wouldn’t wish this on anyone!)
I’ve decided to archive the medlingtweets on my website so that they won’t disappear into the "tweetosphere." You’ll read them here exactly as they originally appeared on Twitter, except where I’ve corrected minor errors or did a little editing to enhance clarity – and of course I’ve deleted the phrase "Today’s medlingtweet." Here you’ll find only medlingtweets, none of my other tweets.
I hope you’ll enjoy your visit here. If you have comments, or if you’re an editor and would like me to expand any of the tweets into fullly fledged articles, please contact me at twitter.com/janetbyronander or email me at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing from you.
August to December 2012 (selected; in some examples tweets have been combined, and details added)
- If a drug could not produce an effect, the drug did not produce that effect. To emphasize definitive results, prefer “do” over “can”.
- “Recent” and “recently”: By the time an article is submitted, peer-reviewed, revised, published, then read, a study that the writer calls “recent” or an experiment that the writer reports as having been undertaken “recently” will no longer be fresh. Moreover, writer and reader might not agree on what period of time to regard as “recent”. Use explicit dates—eg. “the study by Smith (2011)”—unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise.
- “Alternative” is not an innocuous noun or adjective. It has specific denotations. Moreover, its connotations—favorable, unfavorable—vary among speakers, as with, for instance, “alternative medicine” and “alternative lifestyle”.
- “Be involved in” is vague. If, for instance, a particular molecular mechanism “is involved in” the pathogenesis of a disease, how is it involved—as predominant cause? concomitant cause? indeterminate role?
- “From…to” includes the end points. “Between…and” excludes the end points. Examples: “He runs from 8 km to 15 km a day” (ie. he runs at least 8 km/day; max.15 km/day). “He runs between 8 km and 15 km a day” (ie. he runs a minimum of 9 km/day, maximum of 14 km/day). However, everyday usage doesn’t observe this fine distinction.
- Soil vs dirt: In everyday (but not environmental) usage “soil” means “dirt”. If something is soiled, it’s dirty. To soil something is to make it dirty. However, environmentally: “Soil supports us; without it we could not survive”. “Dirt is…something to wash off…” (Soil Science of America www.soils.org)
- Vague use of “parallel”, eg. in “a parallel increase in infections”. Is intended meaning concurrent? corresponding? comparable?
- Omit the agent (who, what) if naming it would distract the reader from the main point, if the agent is unknown, or it would be ill-advised to name it. Eg. “The pedestrian was injured, but not critically”. (The writer’s main point is that the pedestrian was not critically injured; or perhaps it’s unclear who or what caused the pedestrian to be injured; or the writer believes it would be ill-advised to specify the agent.)
- Name the agent (who, what) if it is central to the main point, or if it might be important for the reader to know it. Eg. “The pedestrian was critically injured by the oncoming bus”. (The writer wants us to know that it was an oncoming bus that critically injured the pedestrian. In, for instance, a report comparing pedestrian injuries caused by buses vs cars, the agent would be important.)
- Most post-nominal plural modifiers lose –s when they become prenominal; eg. “death of cells” > “cell death”; “abuse of drugs” > “drug abuse”. But the process does not apply uniformly; eg. “systems biology”; “appeals court”, derived from “court of appeals” (U.S.)
- “Alternate” vs. “alternative”: “Alternate” is temporal or spatial, and denotes repetition. A nurse who works on alternate nights is on duty every other night. A piano keyboard alternates black and white keys. “Alternative” denotes a one-time option, different from something else, and it does not repeat; eg. alternative energy, an alternative career, alternative medicine.
April to July 2012
- In conservative usage you “convince” when you influence someone’s beliefs. You “persuade” when you influence their actions. Examples: “She convinced her father that seeing a doctor was important” but “She persuaded her father to see a doctor”.
- Distinguish between eponyms (named after people) and toponyms (named after places). Eponym: “Down syndrome” [J. L. Down, British doctor who described it, 1866]. Toponym: “Epsom salt(s)” [town of Epsom, in England].
- Adjective “limpid”: no connection with “limp”. Means ‘clear, transparent’ [from Latin “limpa”, “lympha”, spring water]. Cognate with medical term “lymph”
- Modal verb “can” doesn’t always mean ‘be able to’. Examples: “Can’t I just eat less if I want to lose weight?” means “Wouldn’t it be possible for me to just eat less if I want to lose weight?”“Can I smoke in here?” means “Am I allowed to smoke in here?”
- The etymology of “supercilious” (meaning ‘acting stuck-up’) is anatomical [Latin super- + cilium, eyelid]; literally ‘above the eyelid’.
- Cognates from Latin “corpus”, body: corporation, corps, corpus (body of work), and corpuscle (literal meaning: ‘little body’)
- Rule: “Do not use ‘commit suicide’. Use ‘die by suicide’, ‘take one’s own life’, etc. “Suicide ceased to be a criminal offence many years ago, so ‘commit suicide’ is antiquated and stigmatising”. From Style Guide of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011.
- If an adjective implies a quality, such as ‘degree’, it’s unecessary to express ‘degree’ explicitly. Thus “a severe degree of abdominal pain” can be reworded as “severe abdominal pain”.
- A “patient” is someone who’s receiving medical treatment. The term should therefore not be used carelessly as a substitute for “person”, “participant” [unless receiving medical treatment], etc.
January, February, and March 2012
- In strict medical usage “postpartum” is one word as adjective (“postpartum depression”) but two adverbially (“depression occurring post partum”).
- The psychological term “amnesia” and the political term “amnesty” both derive from Greek “a-mnestos”, forgotten; literally ‘unremembered’.
- Medical abbreviations are capitalized even if the full form is lower case; e.g. PPHN stands for “persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn”.
- Greek “demos”, people, occurs in “democracy” and in “epidemic” [epi- + demios], literally ‘(spread) among the people’.
- “Nostalgia” is etymologically a disease term [Greek “nostos”, a return home + “-algia”, pain, as in “neuralgia”. Compare native synonym “homesickness”.
- Medical senses of “positive” and “negative” confuse people because the senses conflict with everyday connotations.
- Redundant: “The procedure includes but is not limited to steps A, B, and C”. The verb “includes” implies “not limited to” the three steps specified. Improved: “The procedure includes steps A, B, and C”.
- Redundant: “The virus causes a weakening of the immune system”. The verb “weaken” is already causative: It means ‘to make weak’. Improved: “The virus weakens the immune system”.
- In scientific documents, avoid using mathematical terms (e.g. multiple, exponential, significant) in nonmathematical senses. For instance, instead of “significant”, use “considerable (progress)”, “marked [or “remarkable”] improvement”.
- From Old English to modern times, disease terms became less indigenous, more indebted to loanwords from French, Latin, and Greek. An Anglo-Saxon child probably learned “fot-adl” (literally ‘foot disease’) more easily than a modern child learns “gout”, a French loanword.
- If the ghosts of Anglo-Saxons eavesdropped on our conversations about illness, few terms (not even “disease”) would be familiar to them.
- In “chronic” disease the core clinical feature is time (i.e. prolonged, progressive), not intensity. The term stems from Greek “chronos”, time, as in “chronology”.
- Old English “yfel” (today “evil”) also meant ‘disease’. Hence “land-evil” meant ‘disease on the land’; i.e. an epidemic. “Epidemic” itself originated in the 18th century.
- Redundant: “The patient signed the consent form and then gave it to the nurse”. Delete either “and” or “then”, because each of these words alone implies the same sequence of events. Thus: “The patient signed the consent form, then gave it to the nurse”.
- Active vs. passive may imply different beliefs, assumptions, or ideologies. Active intransitive: “The planet Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago” (does not imply an agent, creator). Passive with agent deleted, or implied by writer: “The planet Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago”.
- Many adverbs designate manner. Therefore the phrase “in a/an ____ manner” should be replaced with an adverb. NOT: “A patient should report side effects in an accurate and complete manner”, but “A patient should report side effects accurately and completely”.
- Misused or overused in medical writing: “factor” and “case” as in “Lack of exercise is a strong factor in the rise of obesity”. Improved: Lack of exercise is a major cause of the rise in obesity”.
- Correct spelling: “aneurysm”, NOT “aneurism”, although some dictionaries now accept it. Term derives from Greek ana- ‘up’ + eurys ‘broad’, which also occurs in “euryphagous”, literally ‘broad-eating’. The synonym of this adjective is the more familiar “omnivore”, derived from Latin.
October, November, and December 2011
- “Nonspecialist”: Anyone, including specialists, listening to or reading unfamiliar professional or occupational jargon.
- Prefix “mis-“ may negate (eg. mistrust) but it usually denotes wrong, failure: mislead, miscarry, misdiagnosis. Contrast miscommunication and noncommunication.
- “Youth wants to know; age wants to be” (Ignatz. L. Nascher, Geriatrics, 1914).
- Although “etc.” is often necessary, try to avoid it as much as possible because it requires the reader to guess the items you haven’t listed.
- Unnecessary redundancy: “As currently available data suggest, …” Delete “currently” because if data are available, they’re current (ie. they exist).
- “Love” in science. The combining form “–phile” [< Greek ‘love’] isn’t confined to human emotions, as in Anglophile and Francophile. A hydrophilic molecule easily dissolves in water. Acidophilic bacteria (ie. acidophiles) thrive in acid cultures.
- English uses three roots in terms denoting ‘blood’: Greek “haima”, Latin “sanguis”, and native “blood”, whose uses are mutually exclusive. The noun suffix for blood is –emia (Br –aemia); eg. “anemia”, lit. no blood.
- “Health” [‘whole’ + -th] really means free from illness. However, common usage has weakened the sense to ‘state of body or mind’. Hence the redundancy in “good health” and the contradiction in “bad / poor health”.
- In evaluating findings or observations we tend to focus on what actually appears. However, what could, but does not, appear may be equally meaningful.
- The term “Caucasian” for white people was created by German naturalist and MD Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840). Interesting study: R. Bhopal, “The beautiful skull and Blumenbach’s errors”, BMJ 2007; 335:1308-9.
- “Cereal” is an eponym, after Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility. Greek equivalent was goddess Demeter.
- “Detergent” began (17th cent.) as, and remains, a medical adjective. Its nominal sense (household cleansing product) arose in the 1930s.
- Adjective “responsible” works for nonhuman causation; eg. “Smoking is responsible for much lung cancer”. But the noun (responsibility) does not work for nonhuman causation. Not allowed:
* ”Lung cancer is the responsibility of smoking”.Not allowed: * “Lung cancer is smoking’s responsibility”.
- Intransitive verb “lie” (recline) has a transitive derivative “overlie”, as in to “overlie an infant”, meaning to suffocate it by lying over it, perhaps unintentionally.
- Conjunction “as” is sometimes ambiguous: “As we do not know who is at risk, …”
Because…? Although…? As/so long as…? Intended meaning should be expressed more clearly.
- Greek prefix “para-“ had two opposing meanings, both of which survive in English derivatives.
Examples: ‘beyond’ in “paranormal”; ‘alongside’ in “paramedic” and “paralegal”.
- Adjective “different” is general and overused, when context requires specificity: distinct, contrasting, distinguishable, differentiated.
- Greek “embryon” meant embryo and fetus. English borrowed “embryon” in the sense ‘embryo’ but borrowed Latin “fetus” for the sense ‘fetus’ (Br “foetus”).
- In precise usage, we “empower” a person to do something, and the nature of the power is specified. Unclear: “We must empower patients”. Empower patients to do what?
August and September, 2011
- “Controversial” means many people seriously disagree about an issue. Shouldn’t be used to hype mere uncertainty or doubt.
- “Our findings represent a landmark in research on this disease”. The judgement “landmark” is best made by one’s peers.
- “Both” connotes emphasis. Use “both…and…” to emphasize that one of the two was unexpected. “Both his mother and daughter were hospitalized”. “Not only…but also” serves similar function.
- Past participle “challenged”, used adjectivally (e.g. “mathematically challenged”), is a euphemism for impaired, weak, or deficient. It veils reality and assuages uncomfortable feelings.
- Distinguish procedure from patient. A biopsy is performed on tissue (e.g. of thyroid gland, breast), not on patient. A patient can’t be “biopsied”. Transfusion refers to transfer of blood from one person/animal to another. A patient can’t be “transfused”.
- Speakers disagree on whether a borrowed expression counts as English and therefore doesn’t require italics. Therefore usage is inconsistent; e.g. in vitro vs. in vitro. Select one option and use it consistently within a document.
- Incorrect: “Your alternatives are surgery OR medication”. “Alternative” implies at least two possibilities. Correct: “Your alternatives are surgery AND medication”. Also correct: “You may choose surgery OR medication”.
- Redundant: “the HIV virus”. The V in HIV means “virus” (human immunodeficiency virus). Correct: “infected with HIV” or “infected with the AIDS virus”.
- Vague verb “address”: “We’ll address this problem at our next meeting”. Meaning that we’ll discuss the problem? try to solve it? actually solve it?
- In medical usage “acute” and “chronic” are temporal adjectives: sudden onset (acute) vs. long-term duration (chronic). Temporal sense doesn’t occur in nonmedical usage, in which “acute” connotes urgent and “chronic” connotes serious or severe. However, in some medical instances, these senses may be implied.
- Medical eponyms may or may not take an apostrophe: Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome. Medical toponyms (named after places) never take an apostrophe: Lyme disease, after Lyme, Connecticut, place of 1975 outbreak.
- Jargon includes words that are unfamiliar not only to the general public but also to specialists outside the field. The term “idiopathic” would have to be explained to plumbers as well as astronomers.
- Interesting noun: “frass”, meaning insect fecal matter. Cognate with German “Frass”, muck [negative], animal feed, and “fressen”, to devour.
- Some eponyms are hidden; e.g. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, named after discovery (1982) by medical entomologist, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer.
- Main problem with verb “effect” doesn’t lie in its grammar (some speakers confuse it with “affect”) but in its pretentious use, as in “to effect reform of the political system”, where “to reform the political system” would be more appropriate.
- Conjunctive adverb “however” signals major shift in direction of thought. It can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. But if it’s placed in the middle or at the end, reader must mentally backtrack and rethink meaning of sentence.
- Possibly ambiguous “percentage”: A high percentage of children fell ill. (1) Was the total number of children counted? (2) Does “high percentage” simply mean “a large number” or “many”?
- Personally bothered by subservience of morality to health. E.g. Forgive others because forgiveness is better for the heart. IMO, we should have moral reasons for doing the right thing.
- We often hear, “The devil is in the details”. No. The devil is more likely to lurk in unexamined generalities and undetected ambiguities.
- “In fluent English Ms. Li [Chinese] replied that…” Mentioning Ms. Li’s “fluent” English is patronizing without a compelling reason to do so.
- Passive, with agent slyly deleted: “Mistakes were made”. Here’s an equally deceptive version: “The mistakes were avoidable”. Who should, or could, have avoided them?
May, June, and July 2011
- Prescriptive rules should be expressed with as much clarity, precision, and completeness as the language that the rules are supposed to govern.
- We need rules and delight. If a prescriptive rule in text is unpalatable, modify text so that it falls under a more delightful rule.
- Some numerical data look odd in text; therefore, rules must be flexible. NOT: “20 4 kg cats” [technically correct], but “twenty 4 kg cats”
- Space is a punctuation mark. In the West it was an innovation (Latin ca. 600 C.E.). Some languages still don’t use space to separate words.
- A physicist who’s an amateur chef, and who enjoys relaxing on a sunny beach, can understand “heat” from various perspectives.
- Consider I, l, and 1. Easy to see why a sans serif font, like this one, can cause confusion in scientific texts. Capital EYE, lowercase EL, and the numeral ONE (as typed above) are nearly indistinguishable.
- Consider the phrase “e.g. bacteria, viruses, etc.” Why e.g. and etc. are illogical here: “e.g.” means ‘for example’ but “etc” is not an example.
- “Tabloid” was originally a medical term meaning small tablet of medicine [< tabl(et) + Gk –oid ‘like’]. Hence anything small, condensed: tabloid journalism.
- “It is important to note that …” Is the point just as important as other points? If it is, why single out its importance? If the point is more important than other points, don’t just note it, emphasize it.
- Misuse of temporal expression: A raccoon that approaches you without fear is “nearly always” [reword as “probably”] rabid.
- The semantics of “be in the process of” should be taken seriously. The phrase means that an action has begun, it is orderly, and will end at some time.
- If possible, avoid contiguous prepositions, as in: The researchers decided to “carry on with” the experiment. Reword with “continue” or “resume”.
- When the preposition “in” is used locatively, the adjective “present” is redundant. “The number of stray dogs present [delete] in the city has increased.
- “Grow” is not a synonym of “become” if decrease is involved. Incorrect: “Rocks grow smaller as water flows over them”. Reword with “become”.
- “Emergence” and “emergency” were once synonymous variants (like relevance, relevancy today), but by the late seventeenth century, they had differentiated semantically.
March and April 2011
- Re “a” and “an” in chemistry: Pronounce name of element, not symbol. Ex.: Read “a Au electrode” as “a gold electrode”. (American Chemical Society Styleguide, 2006).
- British English uses “metre” for unit of measure but “meter” for machines and instruments: barometer, thermometer, etc. American English uses “meter” for both.
- Before “scientist” was coined (1800s), “virtuoso” (pl. virtuosi) denoted a person learned in sciences and arts. Now virtuoso is restricted to the latter.
- A wonderful scientific book: Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society and the Birth of the Modern World, 2011.
- Because singular “datum” is receding (except in geodesy, where its meaning is unique), pl. “data” has become polysemous, denoting facts singly and facts collectively.
- “If and when you graduate, ...” is illogical because “if” denotes uncertainty; “when” denotes certainty. “If or when” makes more sense.
- “Based on sound experiments, we drew several conclusions”. Syntax is faulty here because “we” erroneously designates the subject of “based on”. Better: “On the basis of sound experiments, we ...” or “Sound experiments led us to draw several conclusions”.
- Even an implied verb should be grammatically correct. Faulty: “The data were reviewed and the experiment repeated”. Reword as “The data were reviewed and the experiment was repeated”.
- Not the fraction, but the expressed or implied noun for the whole governs subject–verb agreement. Exs: “One-third of the population is obese”. “One-third of the patients are obese”.
- If a grammatically correct solution feels uncomfortable to you, try to find one that’s correct and comfortable.
- The en dash substitutes for, and can be read as words: “and”, “between”, “through”, “to”, and “versus”. Ex: The Canadian–U.S. border, meaning “the border between Canada and the U.S.”
- Use “not only...but also” for emphasis, not as a fancy substitute for “and”. Ex: She’s not only a seasoned pathologist but also a talented violinist.
- Use “on the one hand..., on the other” for contrast, not as a fancy substitute for “and”.
- Bound to happen: “obese” and “obesity” have become politically incorrect. (MB Van Der Weyden, “Politically correct medicine”, Medical Journal of Australia 2011; 194:9)
- Early “etiology/aetiology” denoted cause, causation in broad senses. Later it became specialized to clinical cause.
- Classical plurals are more common in the sciences: spectra, maxima, foci, formulae. Anglicized plurals are more common elsewhere: spectrums, maximums, focuses, formulas.
- In earlier English the relationship between the noun “naught” (nothing, zero) and the adjective “naughty” was clearer: A naughty person was originnally a poor person, one who had nothing.
- The purpose of an enthymeme (a syllogism with a missing premiss) is to persuade. In contrast, a scientific syllogism (all parts of the argument occur) aims to demonstrate. Example of enthymeme (incomplete syllogism): “Robert is a kid. So he likes candy”. Unstated premiss: Kids like candy.
- Overload of prenominal adjectives: “a soft flexible plastic airtight envelope”. Reword as “a plastic airtight envelope that is soft and flexible”.
- Punctuation of “in vitro” and “in vivo” is inconsistent: italicized, not italicized; hyphenated, not hyphenated. Be consistent throughout a document.
- Spellings now associated exclusively with British English were once also common in American English but obsolesced there; e.g. amoebic, diarrhoea, oesophagus.
- Favor direct quotation to preserve not merely an author’s content but especially, more importantly, their style or tone. Otherwise, paraphrase.
- “Exploit” is an autoantonym; i.e. it has opposite denotations and connotations. Therefore be careful of its use in sensitive contexts (e.g. human behavior; environment) in which its meaning might be misunderstood.
- In non-mathematical contexts, numerical concepts such as “increasingly”, “multiple”, and “exponential” are misused. See discussion by mathematician David Russinoff at http://www.russinoff.com
- Biggest mistake dictionary users make: Not familiarizing themselves with the dictionary’s front matter, which shows how to use the dictionary intelligently.
- Affixes (not just autonomous words) may be synonymous or antonymous. Examples: “endo-“ inside vs “ecto-“ outside. Endoparasites: tapeworms. Ectoparasites: fleas, lice.
- Unless you wish to emphasize negation, replace NOT + Adjective with a one-word adjective. Example: “The patient was uncooperative”. But to emphasize lack of cooperation: “The patient was not cooperative” or “The patient didn’t cooperate”.
- The American Chemical Society (ACS) deviates from common American usage by placing end quotation marks logically: before comma and before full stop. (ACS Style Guide, 2006)
- Consecutive short sentences may be easier to read, but they can also create the same problem as a long sentence with semicolons: Logical connections between ideas may escape the reader.
- In many where- compounds, the second word is actually a postposition, and “where-“ functions as a pronoun. Examples: “wherein” = in which; “wherefrom” = from which.
- SI symbols are universal but their names are local. Example: “5 d” = “five days” in English, “cinq jours” in French.
- We usually write numbers above ten as numerals (27, 85, etc.). But to avoid typographical confusion, consider relaxing this rule if a following item is also a numeral: “eighty-five 10 cm tubes” rather than “85 10 cm tubes”.
- Enjoying textbook, Dutton’s Nautical Navigation (15th ed., 2004) by Thomas J. Cutler (U.S. Naval Institute). Lucidly explained chapters on Time, Tides, Currents, and more.
- “Injection” refers to insertion of a substance (e.g. into a vein); “injectate” is the substance itself.
- Hours for miles (mph) or kilometers (kph) must be specified, but they’re implied in knots. Therefore “knots per hour” is redundant.
- The trachea (NOT the patient) is intubated. The patient’s lungs (NOT the patient) are ventilated.
- Reading A. J. Cronin’s The Citadel (1937), a medical novel. Interesting to compare with Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith (1925). Both heartrending.
- Highly recommend Steven G. Krantz’s book, Survival of a Mathematician (2008). Book is also instructive for persons planning careers in other fields.
- Correct spelling is “supersede” (NOT supercede), because it derives from Latin super-sedere, ‘to sit or preside over’.
- I highly recommend this small (90 pp, 10 x 14 cm) but lucid style guide: Texas Law Review’s Manual on Usage, Style & Editing.
- Use agentless passive when the agent isn’t the key idea. Example: “Surgery was performed under general an(a)esthesia”.
- In nonstatistical contexts, try to avoid using statistical terms. Use synonyms. Example: “marked reduction in …” (NOT “significant reduction in …”)
- SI units are symbols, not abbreviations. They aren’t pluralized: 30 kg (not 30 kgs), and take a full stop only at end of sentence. Their verbal equivalents are pluralized: 30 kilograms.
- When “self” is root, it isn’t hyphenated (“selfless”), but when it’s in a compound, it’s hyphenated (“self-image”).
- Etymologically “senile” derives from Latin “senex”, old man. Its female complement is obsolete: “anile”. Therefore “senile” now denotes both genders.
November and December 2010
- Capitalize only the name in eponymic phrases: “Parkinson’s disease” (not Parkinson’s Disease). Similarly “Down syndrome”, “Newton’s laws of motion”, etc.
- When possession is shared use ‘s only after the last noun: “Haggard and Kuney’s manual on legal drafting”. When possession is not shared use ‘s after each noun: “Dorland’s and Stedman’s medical dictionaries”.
- The form of a learned plural may depend on field: The plural of datum is “datums” in Earth sciences (geodesy) but “data” in other fields; e.g. clinical data. The plural of antenna is “antennae” (in entomology) but “antennas” (radio, TV).
- The new Oxford English Dictionary online (OED), www.oed.com, has added “Shapers of English”; several of these shapers coined terms in genetics.
- SI rules prefer numerals between 0.1 and 1000. Therefore it’s better to write 22 km, not 22 000 meters/metres. (Oxford Style Guide 2003).
- An initialism is pronounced letter by letter: HIV = H – I – V (human immunodeficiency virus). An acronym is pronounced as if it were a word: AIDS = “aids” (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
- Science writers, try to avoid using statistical terms (e.g. random, significant, correlation, sample) in non-statistical senses within the same document.
- Every drug has three names: chemical (molecular structure), generic (non-proprietary), and brand (trademark); eg. chemical name of aspirin is acetisalicylic acid; generic name is aspirin; brand names: several.
- A pronoun shouldn’t refer, or seem to refer, to a title. Reword the following: “How to Understand Statistics” [title]. This is difficult”. “This” should refer to the task, not the title.
- Translation refers to meaning; e.g. Albanian “xhep” means (translates as) ‘pocket’. Transliteration refers to script; e.g. Albanian xh-e-p transliterates as English j-e-p.
- Although “the Midwest”, “the South”, etc. are commonly used in the U.S., the U.S. Board on Geographic Names cannot and does not define them. http://www.geonames.usgs.gov
- A “foreword” is written by someone other than the author. The “preface” (introductory statement) is written by the author.
- The prefix “nano-“ meaning ‘one billionth part of’ (e.g. “nanosecond”) derives from Greek “nanos”, meaning dwarf.
- A hyphen is used with a compound adjectival modifier (e.g. a two-kilogram bird) but space is used with an SI symbol (e.g. a 2 kg bird).
- It’s considered offensive to use “etc.” to list persons (Oxford Style Manual, 2003). Inappropriate: “Newton, Einstein, etc.” Better: “Newton, Einstein, and other scientists”.
- Capitalize English compass terms only if they denote a geographic or political region; e.g. “Northern Ireland” but “northern England”. (Oxford Style Manual, 2003).
- “Rebut” means to argue against a position. “Refute” means to win, disprove, the argument.
- Reduce the number of acronyms in text. Journal editors are becoming irritated with their proliferation.
- Science writers: Know the literature. Before relying upon a study, research whether it’s been retracted or seriously criticized.
- Ambiguous: “This procedure is ARGUABLY effective” can mean there’s proof of its effectiveness or its effectiveness is in doubt.
- In initialisms the first sound of the letter (not the first sound of the full word) governs use of a/an: an MBA; a Master of Business Administration.
- The body mass index (BMI) is an eponym = the Quetelet index, after its Belgian inventor Adolphe Quetelet (1796—1874), statistician, mathematician, sociologist.
- “Impinge” requires a preposition. Incorrect: “The tip of the tracheal tube impinges the anterior tracheal wall”. (Should be “impinges upon”)
- Under current SI conventions, the following are considered obsolete: “sec” for second(s) [use s]; “centigrade” [use degree Celsius ºC].
- You intubate the trachea, not the patient.
- “A measurement can be precise [report values in small increments] without being accurate [correct in reported values]” (USGS Suggestions to Authors)
- Variation –ph- (Br) vs –f- (AmE) in sulphur/sulfur, etc. is no longer internationally recognized. The international standard became –f- in 1990 via the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
- Use SI symbols with numerals not text: 30 kg (NOT thirty kg); a few meters (NOT a few m).
- “Although” denotes concession; “whereas” denotes contrast. Writer must decide where emphasis lies. Concession: “Although fresh blood is usually red, a bloodstain isn’t necessarily red”. Contrast: “Fresh blood is usually red, whereas a bloodstain may be brown”.
- Prefixes extra- and non- are not synonymous. “Extrafloral” [eg nectaries] implies the context of a flower; “nonfloral” [eg centerpieces] excludes flowers.
- If an English place name is possessive, don’t add a second possessive. NOT “Martha’s Vineyard’s residents” but “residents of Martha’s Vineyard”.
- Wherever possible, reword obsolescing or pretentious adverbials with here-, hither-, there-, and thither-. Eg. “until now” instead of “hitherto” or “heretofore”.
- Everyday synonymy between “mass” and “weight” is scientifically incorrect, because weight is a force. (New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors, 2009)
- In science, the SI unit for weight (=force) is the newton (N). In everyday language, the SI unit for weight (=mass) is the kilogram (kg).
Avoid illogical “If and when the patient complains of nausea, …” “If” means you don’t know
whether or not the patient will complain. “When” means you expect the patient to complain.
- The price often paid for irrational insistence on Plain English: too many English phrasal verbs, as in “take away” (for deduct), “make sure” (for ensure), etc.
- The spelling “tumor” is becoming the international norm for gene/protein names; eg. “tumor necrosis factor”. (New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors, 2009)
- If your name is Smith [given] Smith [surname], it’s a tautonym, common in species names; eg, Cardinalis cardinalis (Northern Cardinal).
- English has an –ed verbal suffix, and also an –ed adjectival suffix that forms adjectives from nouns: bow-legged, long-beaked, cross-eyed, flat-footed, etc.
- Used statively (where something is) “originate” takes the preposition “in”; used dynamically (where something comes from and goes to) it takes “from”.
- English suffixes meaning ‘resembling’: -oid [<Gk eidos ‘shape’]; eg. deltoid, android; -like, eg. manlike; -shaped, eg. triangle-shaped (synonymous with deltoid).
- “Crisis” is often used incorrectly. It means a turning point. Therefore: “A crisis does not deepen…or worsen, and is never a continuous state”. (Times, London, Style Guide)
- Noun suffix –ful allows plural: “two handfuls of books” but “two hands full of books”.
- Adjectives febrile, fevered, and feverish have same meaning and etymology, but febrile is technical.
- Prefix ex- [< Lat ‘out of, away from’] takes the form ef- before f: “efferent (nerve)”,
“(hemorrhagic) “effusion”, etc.
- Preferred veterinary pronouns for animals are it, which, and that, unless the animal has a name that signals its sex.
- Punctuation is unstable for diabetes: type 1, type 2; Type 1, Type 2, Type I, Type II. Follow guidelines of specific association or journal.
- If you argue against a position with evidence, you “rebut” it (rebuttal). If you prove it wrong, you’ve “refuted” it (refutation).
- A journal may remain unsure of adjectives in –ic, -ical, using eg. physiologic but cytological, etc.
- A possessive noun should not be the antecedent of a pronoun. Reword: “In the patient’s medical history he mentioned a tonsillectomy at age 5.
- Abbreviations of lowercased disease names are uppercase: ARDS = adult respiratory distress syndrome.
- Don’t generalize about British –ise vs –ize. Some journals accept both: either catherize or catherise.
- Geo- means earth (geology, geography). If a writer doesn’t use derived terms (eg. geostrategic, geopolitical) with this sense included, be suspicious.
- Utilize connotes atypical or unexpected use; eg utilize color coding (rather than, say,
written labels) to differentiate contents of freezers.
- Be careful with participles. Reword: “Based on her doctor’s diagnosis, the patient decided to lose weight”. A patient can’t be based on anything.
- Aspirin (trademark vs generic) has complex legal history worldwide. Generic = acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).
- “Orient” and “oriental” are unacceptable for people. Use “Asian” or specific nationality. However, they remain acceptable in Oriental poppy, Oriental rug.
- Many biomedical terms are borrowed from everyday language: “invasive” (tumor); “orphan” (drug), “opportunistic” (infection).
- Edit (explain, translate) not only jargon that would mystify nonspecialists (eg. “Idiopathic”) but also jargon which nonspecialists think they understand but don’t (morbid”, “chronic”, etc.).
- Differentiate eponyms (persons) and toponyms (places): “petri dish” is eponymic [J.R. Petri, German bacteriologist, inventor]; “Colorado tick fever” is toponymic (although infection is not confined to CO).
- Suffix –age has several meanings, one of which is to denote a totality: “dosage” = total number of doses; “pelage” = all the wool, fur, or hair on a mammal.
- Distinguish between “extirpation” and “extinction”. Extirpation means conscious destruction (eg. of species). It may lead to extinction of species.
- Try to avoid the awkward expression “take preventive steps against/for”. Reword: “Take steps to prevent hyponatremia”.
- Prefix eu- means ‘good, healthy’. Eupepsia means good digestion; its opposite: dyspepsia. Similarly euphagia, dysphagia.
- Watch math. expressions like “-fold”, “times”, “as many as”. “A threefold increase in X” is meaningless unless the original number of X is specified.
- Don’t fear the passive. It can highlight state of recipient; eg. “The patient was traumatized by the procedure”.
- Some authorities favor “adapter” for person, “adaptor” for device. But usage is unstable. Follow client’s preference or rely consistently upon a specific style guideline.
- Plurals in –a derive from neuter nouns in Greek –on or neuter nouns in
Latin –um; eg. mitochondrion, pl. mitochondria; bacterium, pl. bacteria.
- The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), founded in 1812, is the oldest published (continuously) medical journal in the world.
- Avoid double comparatives as in “X produced higher levels of stress compared to Y”. Better: “X produced higher levels of stress than (did) Y”.
- Try to avoid odd “X and/or Y”. It implies 3 options: X only; Y only; and X and Y. Make options clear.
- Avoid plain but inaccurate language. “Airplane” can’t replace “aircraft”, which may be heavier (eg. airplane) OR lighter (eg. airship) than air.
- Watch prepositional phrases. “One year after surgery, the patient …” makes sense. But “After one year of surgery, the patient …” is either meaningless
or unclear unless reworded.
- Dictionaries accept “parameters” in nonmathematical sense of boundaries, limits. But don’t use it in technical and nontechnical senses in the same document.
- An ESL client wanted to know the difference between “no(t) later than 6 p.m.”; “by 6 p.m.”, “before 6 p.m.” No difference. At 6 p.m, the deed should’ve been done.
- Confusion persists re prefixes for-- and fore--. For-- denotes loss, destruction, undoing (forswear, forbear). Fore-- denotes in front (foresee, forearm).
- Many plurals of Latin abbreviations have double letters: pp = pages; mss = manuscripts; spp = species (plural).
- Capitalization in acronyms varies globally. UNESCO and NATO (US & Austr) but Unesco and Nato (UK).
- Adjective “little” has one superlative (“least”), but two comparatives (“less” and “lesser”), which are mutually exclusive.
- “Lesser” is common in tech/sci: lesser omentum (hum. anatomy); lesser Antilles;
lesser celandine (plant); lesser yellowlegs; etc.
- Antonym of tech/sci “lesser” is usually “greater”: the greater omentum; the Greater Antilles; the greater yellowlegs.
- “The principles of medicine constitute medical science; the practice of medicine is the exercise of medical art”. (Austin Flint, 1881).
- Why “relation” vs “relationship” is hard: --ship forms abstract nouns, but some meanings of “relation” are already abstract.
- “Relation” (in abstract senses) is often used instead of more precise terms; e.g. “applicability”, “relevance”, etc.
- “Syndrome” is not a modern term. An early instance appeared in an Elizabethan pastoral, “The Queenes Arcadia” (1603).
- In the past, only doctors used “syndrome”; others apparently considered the term pretentious. Nowadays the word is in common use.
- Some eponyms are obvious (Down syndrome). Others aren’t: “hygiene” from Hygieia, the Greek/Roman goddess of health.
- Adjectives in –ic are increasing (neurologic, pathologic) but long –ical is required to form adverbs (neurologically, pathologically).
- Rise of adjectives in –ic (gynecologic, etc.) is encouraged by new scientific nouns in –ics (genomics, etc.), whose adjectives end in –ic (genomic).
- Tense and time are not synonymous. Tense is expressed only in verbs. Time is expressed in verbs, adverbs, nouns, and phrases. Ex: “Tomorrow the patient undergoes a prostatectomy”. Tense: present (“undergoes”); time: future (“tomorrow”).
- “Immune” is etymologically negative. It’s derived from Latin in- (im-), ‘not’ + munia ‘public duties’. Hence, free of burdens.
- Opposites and negatives are not synonymous. Counter--/contra-- = opposite; a--, an--, in--, un--, non-- = negative. “Contraception” (opposite). “Anemia/anaemia” (negative) [< Gk an- ‘without’ + emia ‘blood’]
- A plural object of a prepositional phrase loses the plural suffix when the object becomes a pre-nominal modifier: “infestation by insects” > “insect infestation”; “count of platelets” > “platelet count”.
- “ínvalid” (noun) and “inválid” (adj.) [both = in- ‘not’ + valid] have same history. Early meanings of “valid” were ‘healthy; sound’. Ex.: “The Boers have evidently put every valid [healthy] male into the field” (OED citation, 1899)
- Writers, editors: If ms includes statistics, use “significant”/”significance” only in statistical sense. Otherwise use “marked”, “important”, etc.
- Dashes: There are at least five types, the most common being the em and en dashes (No. America), called em and en rules, respectively, in UK & Austr.
- In some terms Br & Am differ: faeces, faecal (Br); feces, fecal (Am); in others, they agree: anaerobic (Br & Am).
- “Earth” and “soil” – different. Soil = outermost layer of Earth’s crust, the “skin of the Earth” (Soil Science Society of America, www.soils.org)
- Number vs numeral – often confused. A number is abstract; e.g. abstract “4” is symbolized by numerals 4, IV, etc.
- Words in a phrase must cohere stylistically. “Some guy/bloke whistled at me”. NOT: A certain guy/bloke whistled at me. (“Certain” is a formal adj.; “guy” and “bloke” are informal nouns.)
- Our ambiguous relationship to doctors, #1: Someone who heals (good); also someone who “doctors” the books (bad).
- Our ambiguous relationship to doctors, #2: The harmattan wind (WAfrica) is called “the doctor” because it cools the air (good) but also fills it with dust (bad).
- Many technical terms have diffused into everyday language: “catchment” and “watershed” [<ecology]; “critical mass” [<physics]; etc.
- Automotive Medicine: branch of practice devoted to prevention and control of motor vehicle injuries. (Assn. for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine [AAAM], www.carcrash.org)
- Close synonyms: noxious [L noxa] = harmful; toxic [Gk toxikon] = harmful because poisonous. Biomedical nouns: noxa, toxin.
- Prefix un- and suffix –less create (near-)synonyms: unrelenting = relentless; unblamable = blameless; and scores more.
- A technical term can bridge regional differences. Ex: “myopia” = near-sighted (No. Amer.) and short-sighted (Brit., Austr.)
- Supper, dinner, and evening meal: People disagree over their semantic distinction.
- “Distinct” is more precise than “different”; e.g. “distinct strains of bacteria”; “distinct variations in soil color”; etc.
- Test that “doubtless” is an adverb, NOT an adjective: A person who’s certain, free of doubt, isn’t a “doubtless person”.
- If a distinction is problematic, use synonyms. For “continual”: repeated, habitual, etc.; for “continuous”: uninterrupted, etc.
- Deletion of “of” after “couple” (e.g. in “a couple pounds”) may stem from analogy to quantifiers like “few” as in “a few pounds”.
- In actual use “couple” may mean a few, or a small number, not literally two. Ex: “I’ll be with you in a couple of minutes”.
- Not all differences are alike; they should be described precisely: “distinctions”, “dissimilarities”, “deviations”, etc.
- Meaning of a word need not reflect its etymology. “Dilapidated” [L lapis, ‘stone’] may describe things not made of stone: car, tool shed, etc.
- “Field”, “area”, “subject”, “topic”: nicely distinguished by the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (www.ausit.org).
- “Aged” pronounced as 2 syllables refers to ageing, esp. old age. Ex: aged pensioners; aged parents (and –d is never dropped).
- “Aged” pronounced as 1 syllable refers to any age. Ex: a teenaged girl; applicants aged 25 to 45
(and –d is often dropped: a teenage girl, applicants age 25 to 45).
- Root of “integrity” is mathematical [< ”integer”, a positive or negative whole number]. “Integrity” means wholeness, soundness.
- Root of “integrate” is mathematical [< “integer”, a positive or negative whole number]. “Integrate” means bring persons, things together, as one.
- Antonym of adj. “human” (kind) = “inhuman”; antonym of adj. “humane” is “inhumane”.
- You can passivize an indirect object. Ex: “Every patient [indirect obj.] was given a form to fill out”.
- Writing in Japan Times (21 Feb. 2010) writer Roger Pulvers deplored the US’s “serial inquisitiveness” for foreign languages.
- “Level” is often overused or misused in much scientific and medical writing, when “concentration”, “frequency” or other terms might be more precise.
- In English “drs” abbreviates “Doctors” but in Dutch it abbreviates the academic degree “doctorandus”, comparable to MA or MSc.
- Inheritance (with prefix in-) is a basic genetics concept. Typical associated adjs are “hereditary” and “heritable” (NOT “inheritable” with in-).
- The national noun “Scot” has 2 standard adjectives: “Scots” (e.g. the Scots language—a variety of English, not Celtic) and “Scottish”.
- The adjective “Scotch” is outdated except in certain phrases: Scotch whisky; the Scotch Argus (species of butterfly); etc.
- In some past participles used as adjectives –ed is pronounced as a separate syllable. Ex: “dogged commitment” [< verb “to dog”].
- Most cultures recognize “unlucky” numbers. Fear of number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia [= Gk 3 + kai ‘and’ + 10 + phobia].
- Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916) numbered mss 12a, not 13. Ironically, he died on May 13. (Story: C. Haberman, in The New York Times, 18 May 2010)
- “Borne” (with –e) is past participle of “to bear” (carry). Exs: foodborne illnesses; vector-borne diseases; wind-borne pollen; etc.
- Serious effect of Eyjafjallajökull: "particulate matter" [particle + -ate] falling from smoke plume of the eruption.
- Suffix –ate, several historical sources (see OED). #1 in nitrate, #2 in particulate [see earlier tweet], #3 in vaccinate.
- More Eyjafjallajökull. Blend: "vog" [volcanic + smog], i.e. gas & aerosols, hence "vog pollution". (More at U.S. Geological Survey website.)
- Client queried regarding difference between Urological Institute, Institute of Urology, and Urology Institute. Replied in >140 characters!
- Finished editing manuscript on bronchoscopic surgery. One issue: meanings of "out of the operating room" vs "outside the operating room".
- "All" vs "all of" #1: Depends on context and register. Only "all" is correct in "All cells need energy to function".
- "All" vs "all of" #2: Obligatory with pronoun. "All of them" [e.g. cells] need energy to function.
- "All" vs "all of" #3: Either is correct with noun in specific setting. "All [or: all of] the cells were exposed to mutagens".
- Approximations use different prepositions, but all approximations must be expressed as round numbers: "about 200 million cases of malaria" (NOT "about 198 million cases…").
- Prefixes caco-, dys-, mal-, and mis- form medical antonyms of eu- (well, good). Examples: cacomelia; dyspepsia; malnutrition; misdiagnosis.
- Short forms of SI units (m, kg, etc.) are called symbols. They aren’t pluralized, and they take a period (full stop) only at the end of a sentence.
- A common error: "Cat scan" for "CAT scan". CAT is an acronym meaning computerized axial tomography.
- "Cosmopolitan" also applies to plants and animals that have global distribution; e.g. bats and brackens are cosmopolitan.
- An obsolete meaning of valor (valour) was ‘value, worth’; this meaning survives in valorize (valorise), valorization (valorisation): fixing an arbitrary market value or price of a commodity or currency.
- Suffix –able in "vegetable" means ‘capable’; "vegetable" is basically an adjective meaning capable of growth (Lat. vegetabilis).
- Qantas, the Australian airline, is an acronym: Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd.
- "Utter" (ex. "utter nonsense") and outer (ex. "outer ear") are historically comparatives of
"out"; superlative: uttermost or utmost.
- An obsolete meaning of "solvable" was ‘can be dissolved’. "Soluble" now carries this meaning, whereas "solvable" now means only ‘can be solved’.
- It’s common for English to have distinct native vs scientific terms for the same concept.
Ex.: "snow" vs "nival", "niveous" (in geomorphology), from Latin nivis, genitive of noun
- "Geriatrics" was coined by Ignatz L. Nascher MD (1863-1944) in 1909 on analogy to pediatrics. "Geriatrics" derives from Greek geras ‘old age’ + iatrics ‘medical treatment’.
- Hidden double negation is often necessary. Ex: "The doctor’s signature wasn’t illegible" disputes a claim of illegibility.
- Most mathematical language is visual, written, and can’t be pronounced. (Charles Wells at abstractmath.org)
- Wimpy "get": How can we get patients to take their medicine? Better: How can we motivate patients to take their medicine?
- Bracketed plurals look ugly. "Turn off the lights [NOT light(s)] when you leave", meaning one or all lights in the room.
- "Until you work it out for yourself, two times two makes four only because the teacher said so". (Edward MacNeal, Mathsemantics, 1994)
- Preposition "with" originally meant opposition; this meaning is preserved in "argue WITH a colleague"; WITHstand hardship"; etc.
- "flak" (meaning strong criticism) began as a German military acronym: FLiegerAbwehrKanone ‘antiaircraft gun fire’.
- Convenient terms: ageism, racism, sexism; but we have no common term for prejudice based on spoken accent. (N. Hudson, Modern Australian Usage, 1993).
- A salad including red peppers, red onions, and…rocket? "Rocket" (also called sweet rocket) is Brit. for arugula.
- To –e- or not to –e-? Only curable; likely; movement; etc. but also variation: likable~likeable; movable~moveable; etc.
- "Following his operation he took a vacation." His operation took a vacation first? Cleaner: "After his operation he took a vacation."
- Agentives –er & -or often differ in meaning: divider vs divisor; censer vs censor; sailer vs sailor; curser vs cursor.
- And/or can trick writers, confuse readers. "X and/or Y" implies THREE possibilities:Only X; only Y; both X and Y.
- Respectively—a sleepy adverb. Not: We treated X & Y with A & B respectively, but: We treated X with A, and Y with B.
- A "full-fledged [Brit. fully fledged] research program" has wing muscles & feathers; has matured. Can fly!
- Told a grateful client that often we editors don’t choose bet. right vs wrong but between right #1 vs right #2, a harder job!
- Can + not – written as 2 words when "not" is part of a correlative. Ex: Our results can not only resolve that issue but also …
- Some errors are relative. Ex: "be in hospital" (without "the") is correct in Brit. Engl. but incorrect in Amer. Engl. unless in headline.
- "Appear" is an autoantonym, a house divided against itself. Can mean ‘becomes visible’ or ‘seems to be but isn't’.
- Collective nouns (eg. committee) take sg. vb. ("is") for whole entity, pl. ("are") for individual members—Style Guide of the European Commission.
- Patient condition terms (fair, critical, etc.) come from daily language. But media should use a HOSPITAL’s meanings.
- In war, accidents, etc. fatalities = persons killed; casualties = persons killed OR injured.(Military usage is broader.)
- Compounding may alter meaning: free hand vs free-hand [drawing]; bird’s eye vs bird’s-eye [view]; etc.
- Common error: Institute for Institution. Correct: Smithsonian Institution (U.S.), British Standards Institution (U.K.)
- Client wanted to know why writing is hard. Fundamental reason: It’s unnatural. We were born to speak, not write.
- "Paper" has interesting metaphorical meanings: paper-thin walls are ‘very’ thin; a paper tiger is a ‘weak’ opponent.
- Latin prefix bi- (bin- before vowel) means ‘two’ NOT ‘half’: bilingual; binaural (having 2 ears); binocular(s).
- On—often an adverb (She went on to become a vet). Onto is a compound preposition. (The sick dog rolled over onto its side).
- British spelling: "program" (computer program), "programme" elsewhere (clinical research programme, etc.)
- Multiply with words + suffix –fold up to 10 (twofold, …, tenfold) but numerals & hyphen after 10 (11-fold, 20-fold, etc).
- Untoward ("untoward circumstances") is adj meaning unusual, unexpected, & unwanted. Antonymous adj "toward" obsolesced.
- "It should be impossible to misunderstand a properly written, properly punctuated, sentence." Style Manual of the American Institute of Physics.
- "Apparent(ly) is an autoantonym, a "house divided against itself": Can mean obvious(ly) or seeming(ly). For clarity, avoid if possible.
- British English breakfast: She burnt the toast, spilt the milk, smelt smoke from the oven -- & knelt on the floor & cried.
- To research companies: Vet long-naturalized inhouse translators if they’re translating into their native language. Are lang AND translator technically fit?
- "This is our creed: First / first do no harm." Experts disagree on whether word after colon should be u/c or l/c if colon is introducing a full sentence.
- To "forestall" or "preempt" an event implies forceful pro-action to "prevent" [weaker synonym] it from happening.
- Uppercase & lowercase abbreviations usually have different meanings: CC=closed-caption; cc=cubic centimeters; CFS=chronic fatigue syndrome; cfs=cubic ft per sec. (Some exceptions)
- Abbreviations: from front (path=pathology), from back (phone=telephone; net=internet); from front & back (bk=book); from middle (rare): flu=influenza; front & middle: TV=television
- Some affixes have become words: hyper (=hyperactive, high, etc.); ism (= belief, doctrine).
- Plurals with different meanings: "radio antennas" but "insect antennae."
- Flora & fauna—not plants & animals generally but only those in a specific habitat, region, or time; ex: "desert flora and fauna."
- A powerful prefix demotes u/c to l/c unless word is hyphenated: subalpine, transatlantic, subarctic, transpacific, &c.
- "And/or" is clumsy, as in "coyotes and/or gray wolves. Clearer: "Coyotes, gray wolves, or both might’ve left those tracks."
- Punctuation of compound adjs is sometimes puzzling. Hyphenated: long-term, long-day [plant], side-wheel. Not hyphenated: longtime, sidesplitting.
- "Aboriginal": different meanings in U.S., Australia, &c. From Latin ab+origine, ‘from the beginning,’ but where does ‘beginning’ begin?
- Formal usage isn’t inherently pedantic, condescending. These are traits that speakers & writers infuse into tone & context.
- Rule on a/an before cons or vowel refers to sounds not letters: a unit [begins with sound Y], a euro [Y-], an X-ray [begins with sound E], an hour [pronounced OUR]
- Two-faced plurals: formulae, minima, and matrices (math, science) but formulas, minimums, and matrixes (elsewhere).
- Not everything that’s countable is actually counted. Hence this Express lane sign in a supermarket: "10 items or less" (rather than "10 items or fewer").
- The perils of global English: In British Engl (also Australia/N Zealand) to "table" a proposal is to PRESENT it for discussion. In Amer usage, to POSTPONE it
- Extremophile: a microbe that thrives under harsh conditions that would kill other organisms. This word will spread!
- Some negatives don’t negate, they convey intense emotion: The surgeon’s stamina was unbelievable (incredible, etc.)
- On-duty (technical) vs off-duty (nontech) words. On duty in math & logic, "some" means ‘at least one and maybe all.’
- Space can be grammatical. NOUNS: bailout, checkup, fallout, handover. VERBS: bail out, check up, fall out, hand over.
- "Oversize" truck is not an error for "oversized" truck. Adjectival –ed is disappearing in many words. Look around.
- My article, "The Enigmatic Semicolon," has just appeared in the online July issue of The Vocabula Review www.vocabula.com.
- I’ll use "medlingtweet" for any tweet of mine about language, incl. medical lang. It reflects part of my Web address www.medlinguistics.com