Category Archives: Communications Corner

Even when not in Rome


  • The abbreviation “etc.” is short for et cetera. The abbreviation translates to English as “and other things.” That means it’s redundant to precede “etc.” with “and.” And because the literal translation of “etc.” is “and other things,” the abbreviation shouldn’t be used to refer to people (NOT “John, Paul, Ringo, etc.”).
  • The Latin expression meaning “Ante meridian” is usually abbreviated in English as “a.m.” and the Latin for “after noon,” post meridian is usually abbreviated p.m. Some style manuals go along with “AM” and “PM.” But the “AM” and “PM” should be small capitals, and small capitals are special characters, not just capitals a couple point sizes smaller than the font size used elsewhere as body text. That makes “a.m.” and “p.m.” usually the best choice. Regardless which abbreviation you use, there is always a space between the Arabic number indicating the time and the abbreviation that follows (never “8a.m. or “8PM”).
  • The Latin expression “et alii” translates to English as “and others,” and is abbreviated “et al.” Because “et” is not abbreviated, there is no period after the word, but there is a period after the abbreviation for alii, “al.”
  • The abbreviations for the Latin expressions “id est” (“i.e.”) and “exempli gratia” (“e.g.”) are often confused. “Id est” (and the abbreviated translation, “i.e.”) means “in other words.” “Exempli gratia” (and the abbreviated expression “e.g.”) means “for example.” The abbreviation “i.e.” should be used when a statement clarifies or restates one that has preceded it: “Faculty members all have copies of the SAES Strategic Plan, i.e., the booklet that was distributed….” The abbreviation “e.g.” should be used when introducing a list that is not intended to be comprehensive, just some examples: “Faculty and staff must pay attention to the Internal Control Guidelines when they take possession of any electronic device, e.g., cell phones or laptop computers….” When using “i.e.” and “e.g.,” set the abbreviations off with commas both before the clause they append and the clause they introduce.
  • Do not italicize “et al.,” “i.e.” or “e.g.” One Latin word that appears frequently that is usually italicized is “sic.” “Sic,” which translates literally as “thus so,” is used when there is an error (grammatical or otherwise) in a quoted passage and writers borrowing material want to indicate that they are aware of the mistake. In a direct quotation, “sic” should be inserted immediately following the faux pas in brackets (not parenthesis) and italicized. For example: John Doe is another newspaper reporter who writes “The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service [sic] has specialists at A&T and N.C. State.”
  • When writing genus and species — the Latin names — of plants and animals, capitalize the genus name but not the species name, i.e., Escherichia coli, Galax urceolata and Canis lupus familiaris. After using the full name once, most style manuals approve of abbreviating genus down to one letter, i.e, E. Coli (but retain italics).
  • The singular form of “data” is “datum,” a word that has become almost totally obsolete in American English. Although it sounds strange when we read or hear that “the data are all in support,” it’s very correct to use “are” with a plural verb. But pundits who get carried away changing “data is” to “data are” every time they see it should think twice. The Oxford Dictionary and other authoritative sources note that because “datum” is no longer used in American English, “data” is also used “as an equivalent to the uncountable noun information” and in those instances it’s correct to say “data is.”

Increase your vertical

Few documents come out of academia that don’t include a couple of paragraphs that are listings — a list of equipment, a list of collaborating agencies, a course listing, etc. If you see that you’ve got a long listing (five or more entries) that’s horizontal, with entries separated by commas or semicolons, there are a lot of good reasons to convert it to a vertical list, with each entry on one line and introduced with a bullet or asterisk. Readers tend to skim listings instead of reading each entry closely, and a vertical listing makes it unmistakably clear that its text that can be skimmed. Vertical lists also work well on Web pages — an important consideration for almost every document these days.

Here are a few guidelines for vertical lists:

Use a colon — not a dash — to introduce the list.

Number vertical lists when the entries are part of a sequence, but when no sequence of actions is involved, use bullets.


All students planning to attend the Career Expo should:

  1. Pre-register two weeks in advance
  2. Update their resumes and make 25 copies the week before the Expo
  3. Dress in business attire on Expo day


Students attending the Career Expo should bring along:

  • At least 25 copies of their resume
  • A printout of their registration form
  • Their university ID card

When bulleted items are sentences, capitalize the first letter of each and use appropriate end punctuation. When they consist of single words or phrases, lowercase is best.

In a bulleted list, the bullet takes the place of punctuation (such as commas or semicolons) between items in a list. Don’t put periods or semicolons at the ends of bulleted entries that are not sentences.

When bulleted items are sentences, capitalize only the first letter of the first word. And even when the entries on a bullet listing are short phrases instead of sentences, it’s best to capitalize only the first letter in the first word.

Keep bulleted listings consistent. If some of the entries are sentences, make all of them sentences. If most entries begin with verbs, begin all entries with verbs. Bulleted entries should also be about the same length, and are given a similar format. It does not matter which grammatical construction you use in listing, as long as you are consistent. Action verbs are a good way to begin items in a list. The following example shows bulleted items that begin with an action verb and are about the same length

Indent your bulleted list from text that comes before and after. Consider the density of the surrounding copy and whether your list might get lost, even with the bullets.

If you’ve got a sequential list and enumerate it, use numbers, not letters.

There’s no need to put numbers in full parenthesis, or to put a close-parenthesis after the period following the numeral.

Don’t forget that Microsoft Word and many other types of software allow you to create either numbered or bulleted lists automatically as you enter text, or to insert numbers or bullets into a list that has already been keyed in automatically.

“We got to make this garden work, to make sure that we’re helping solve the problem” of hunger in Franklin County, Hight says. “I know we have not fully solved the problem; we have put a dent in the problem, though. It’s our goal to get bigger and better in helping solve this problem here in this county.”

SAES spelling bee vocabulary for 2015

Those who tuned in for the Scripps National Spelling Bee  on TV in early June undoubtedly noticed the large number of words tied to agricultural, family and life sciences. Here are some of the words (and definitions from Webster’s Online Dictionary and the website that this year’s Scripps Spelling Bee contestants were asked to spell that are rare elsewhere, but everyday language at the SAES:

auriphrygiate: embroidered or decorated with gold

borax: known in the chemistry world as sodium tetraborate, the compound “has seemingly infinite uses, such as anti-separation agents in cold creams, components of alkaline buffer solutions, anti-fungal foot soaks, flame retardants … cures thrush in horses’ hooves and keeps moths away from wool sweaters.”

coccygeal: referring to the coccyx, the small tail-like bone at the bottom of the spine

dorsiferous: borne on the back, as the sori on most ferns

escritoire: a writing table or desk

fruticetum: a collection of shrubs grown for ornament or study (as in a botanical garden)

geoponics: an art or science of cultivating the earth

herpetology: the study of reptiles and amphibians

ipecac: a low-growing tropical American shrub (Cephaelis ipecacuanha) or the dried roots and rhizomes of this shrub

jacamar: any of various tropical American birds of the family Galbulidae, having iridescent plumage and a long bills

klompen: a wooden shoe

lederhosen: leather shorts often with suspenders worn especially in Bavaria

mamushi: a venomous snake found in China, Japan, and Korea

notochord: a rod like cord of cells that forms the chief axial supporting structure of the body of the lower chordates, as amphioxus and the cyclostomes, and of the embryos of the vertebrates

ovoviviparous: producing eggs that hatch within the female’s body without obtaining nourishment from it

pileus: the horizontal portion of a mushroom, bearing gills, tubes, etc.

quittance: discharge from a debt or obligation

rutabaga: a large, yellowish root vegetable that is a type of turnip

sukiyaki: a dish consisting of thin slices of meat, tofu, and vegetables

terrapin: a kind of small turtle that lives in water

upeygan: the two-horned black rhinoceros

voltammetry: a method of determining the chemical makeup of a sample substance by measuring electrical activity, often used to determine the amount of trace metals and toxins in water or other solutions

Wensleydale: a mild white friable cheese of English origin

xiphias: a genus of large fishes comprising the common swordfish

yosenabe: a soup consisting especially of seafood and vegetables cooked in a broth

zinnia: any of several plants of a genus native to Mexico and adjacent areas, especially the widely cultivated species Z. elegans

Shooting down the comma-kazes

Several grammar-oriented bloggers have been grumbling about “comma-kazes” — writers who “insert a comma where you feel a pause should be … where they pause when speaking.” Comma-kazes crash when their feel for a comma either separates a sentence’s subject from its verb, or leads to a comma splice.

A temptation that leads to separating subject from verb with a comma arises when the subject is compound or complex and the verb is comparatively short and sweet, such as (and incorrect): Work on a paper prior to reading a little background research, is probably not going to prove worthwhile.

A temptation that leads to comma splices is two relatively short independent clauses that could add up to a compound sentence with a conjunction or two sentences if a period and initial capital is added, but instead becomes: “Students should register, not miss the deadline.”

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) maintained by Purdue University has 15 rules for using commas  and several of them are level II prohibitions that foes of comma-kazes would undoubtedly endorse.

“4. Do not use commas to set off essential elements of the sentence, such as clauses beginning with that (relative clauses). That clauses after nouns are always essential. That clauses following a verb expressing mental action are always essential. The book that I borrowed from you is excellent. The apples that fell out of the basket are bruised.”

“13. Don’t put a comma between the two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate. INCORRECT: We laid out our music and snacks, and began to study. INCORRECT: I turned the corner, and ran smack into a patrol car.”

“Rule 14: Don’t put a comma between the two nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses in a compound subject or compound object. (Such as [and incorrect]: The agriculture teacher from a mountain high school, and the assistant principal from a coastal elementary school will read tributes.)

“Rule 15: Don’t put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).” (Common subordinating conjunctions are “when,” “because,” “after,” and “since.” While a subordinating clause before the independent clause is separated by a comma, when a subordinating conjunction and subordinate clause follow the independent clause, a comma is incorrect. That means it’s an incorrect comma in: “Webb Hall has been selected, because of its large auditorium.”)

Ifs, ands, and buts

Use “if” when you’re introducing a conditional idea; use “whether” when you are introducing alternative possibilities.


  • If Greensboro has an exceptionally hot summer, then a number of research projects at the University Farm will require added attention.
  • Whether a small farm is eligible for Extension demonstrations depends on location, annual sales and acreage.

Grammarians aren’t in full agreement on the expression “whether or not.” Just remember that in most instances “whether” works fine by itself, and the “or not” is unnecessary.

If you’ve got an important correspondence, paper or article that you want to proof through one last time, try using your word processing’s search feature to locate all the uses of “and” in the document. Because the conjunction “and” joins words, phrases, and clauses, it can open the door for cramming too much into a sentence. Using “and” as a keyword search as you give your work a final proofing also gives you a chance to spot one of the most embarrassing grammatical errors: [].

All the nuances and gray areas regarding the use of  “i.e.” and “e.g.” add up to a good question all writers should ask themselves before they use the abbreviations when they are in a rush and don’t have time to look up definitions and grammar rules: could the sentence say what it needs to say by just using the conjunction “but?”

(I.e. and e.g.) Examples:

  • The University Farm is used for a number of educational activities, e.g., tours, demonstrations, workshops.
  • The major agricultural equipment manufacturers, i.e., John Deere, International Harvester and Massey Ferguson, should be consulted about adding global positioning to any course curriculums.

(But) Examples:

  • The University has a farm for research, but it’s also used for tours, demonstrations, workshops and other educational activities.
  • The time has come to add global positioning to many courses, but not until John Deere, International Harvester, Massey Ferguson and other major agricultural equipment manufacturers have been consulted.

But those who persist should keep in mind:

I.e. is an abbreviation for “id est,” which translates from Latin, “that is.” E.g. is an abbreviation for “exempli gratia,” which translates from Latin as “for example.” One grammarian says that “’E.g.’ is used in place of ‘including,’ when you are not intending to list everything that is being discussed.” Another advises that you can tell if you’re correctly using “i.e.” if you can “Replace it with ‘in other words’ and see if your sentence retains the original meaning.”

Both “i.e.” and “e.g.” are set off with commas when the abbreviations are used in sentences. Although it’s often assumed that the abbreviations must be italicized, that’s incorrect. Another grammar myth is that the abbreviations must always be set off in parenthesis. That’s not necessarily so, and the myth leads to misuse of parenthesis, which should be used sparingly, and only when there is a major digression in a sentence. Another mistake is to finish out a list introduced with “e.g.” with “etc.” Since “e.g.” is an alert that the list to follow isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it’s redundant to terminate the list with “etc.”

Hitting the road?

The grand finale for a U.S. News & World Report feature with “8 Tricks to Cheap Student Travel” — tip eight — has links to “some student-oriented travel sites [that] offer scholarships to fund trips” for students able to “prove that their trip has educational merit.” Although the 2015 application deadlines for nearly all summer travel support for students have passed, SAES students interested in getting their ducks in a row for the summer of 2016 can also check into the Gilman Scholarship Program, National Science Foundation and an assortment of programs with financial assistance for university students who come up with travel plans for academic enrichment. Two web sites designed specifically to help college students dig up student discounts are STA Travel and Student Universe.

As for SAES students — and faculty and staff — who did get ducks in a row for summer travel in 2015, some useful URLs to bookmark on the laptops and smartphones before leaving home include:

• The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has a Web portal with links to everything from emergency assistance for Americans traveling abroad to current travel warnings and a “Students Abroad” Web page.

• The U.S. State Department also has Web page devoted completely to passport and VISA  information.

• The Central Intelligence Agency’s online World Factbook  “providing the most current information on the transportation and other issues for 266 world entities” does not require a security clearance of visitors.

• The most frequently visited currency converter in the world is hosted by

• A website that many travel agents recommend for a time zone converter also hosts a variety of additional calculators that can head off travelers’ confusions when making plans for one time zone from a current location that is far away.

• The State Department’s recommendation for travelers planning to drive overseas is to first check with the destination country’s U.S. embassy to see if the country honors U.S. driver’s licenses, and, if not, then look into an international driver’s license before embarking.

• CNET Reviews has both an overview of the technical complications that are part of cell phone use overseas and a guide to the most technologically global cell phones on the market.

Heads up

Unless you’re following a style manual that sets out its own specific type specs for headings and sub-headings (such as the American Psychiatric Association’s) there are a few don’ts regarding headings and sub-headings that are worth observing even in internal reports and in-house memos:

  • Don’t use underscoring or ALL CAPS for headings or subheadings (or to give emphasis to words or phrases within the heading). Underscoring is not only amateurish looking in heading and subheadings, it’s dangerous. Underscoring obliterates the part of a letter known as a “descender” in some fonts, and sometimes a missing descender converts a “y” to a “v” or a “g” to an “a,” and the change in appearance makes a word look carelessly misspelled.
  • When a heading is at the bottom of a page and the text it introduces is at the start of the top of the next page, it’s called a “widow,” and the first impression it gives readers is: poor planning. Try to keep at least two lines of body text with the heading. It’s better to have a few extra blank lines at the bottom of a page than a widowed heading or sub-heading at start of the next page.
  • The most professional look for headings and subheadings is flush with the left margin. Readers in a hurry can actually overlook headings and sub-headings that are centered for showcasing. Something worse than centered text, however, is a heading or subheading that’s force-justified.
  • A good rule of thumb is two or three headings per regular page of text. Don’t overdo headings. (A heading atop each paragraph in a series of one- or two-sentence paragraphs is overdoing it.) And only rarely do you need a heading for every paragraph. Normally, a heading should have several paragraphs beneath it.
  • If there’s even a remote chance that your headings and sub-headings will appear on a Web page as well as in print, then keep in mind that headings and subheadings on Web pages are optimally less than eight words.
  • Don’t forget that headings and sub-headings are two of the most common places where embarrassing mistakes tend to occur. (Other places to double-check because they tend to camouflage grammatical gaffs and misspellings are title pages, strings of short words, and points where there’s a change of typeface in a document.)
  • For paper and report authors who like to go to work with a preordained plan, the University of Northern Colorado’s website has a Web page linking up heading and sub-heading formats prescribed by the:
    • American Psychology Association
    • American Sociological Association
    • American Chemical Society
    • Chicago Manual of Style
    • Modern Languages Association
    • United States Geological Survey

Four considerations for happy endings

I. The “Guide to Grammar and Writing” website warns of four ways not to conclude a paper or report. The first temptation authors should avoid is “to finish with a sentimental flourish” even when a paper provides persuasive argument for a call to action. The website also cautions that “the conclusion is no place to bring up new ideas.” Altogether new material should be set aside for another paper, even if there’s considerable groundwork for it in the paper that is almost complete. The third warning is to avoid the temptation to apologize for a paper’s conclusions, and the fourth is the temptation to give short shrift to a topic that the introduction or an early part of the paper promised readers would be covered. (If you’ve omitted promised information, either remove the promise or go back into the paper and live up to it.)

The website’s  suggestions for approaches to a proper ending:
• A brief summary of the paper’s main points
• A provocative question
• A thought-provoking quotation
• A vivid image
• A call for some sort of action
• A warning
• Correlation of the paper’s findings to more universal situations

II. Many grammar blogs and websites point out that the old prohibition against ending sentences with prepositions is not a logically grounded rule but more of a myth that was born suddenly in the late 1600s when English poet John Dryden and an influential book, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, embraced a trendy notion that Latin is such a bedrock language that writers in other languages should imitate it in every way possible. Although Latin sentences never end in prepositions, the English language has a different structure and cumbersome wording that results from avoiding a preposition at the end of a sentence isn’t clear writing in a language in which clarity depends on terminal prepositions in some sentences.

III. An online technical writing guide by a writer who spent more than a decade teaching technical writing at the University of Texas, David A. McMurrey, has summaries of four primary ways to end a report: a summary, a true conclusion, an afterword and nothing.

McMurrey counsels against ending a document with no conclusion, because “in most cases, that’s a bit like slamming the phone down without even saying good-bye.” He recommends summaries for “long, complex or heavily detailed reports and times when it’s important for readers to come away with a certain perspective.” He says that for short reports on the other hand, “summaries can seem absurd” because the material is fresh in the reader’s mind. Reports that present and weigh out alternative points of view and conflicting data cry out to end in a “True” conclusion that presents the author’s final choices, and concise explanations of why. A report conclusion that’s an afterword is one that turns from material presented to discussion of a related topic at a general level. A report detailing equipment for a proposed lab might appropriately conclude with something of an afterword that hits on major areas of research that the new lab will make possible. McMurrey says “the key is to keep it general—don’t force yourself into a whole new detailed section.”

IV. So many grammar bloggers and columnists are unhappy with the persistence presences of keystroked sentences with two spaces after the terminal period that it’s now obvious the gaff isn’t restricted to writers old enough to have picked up the misinformation while using a typewriter. Farhad Manjoo, a technology columnist for the New York Times, despairs that he’s not only grown weary of removing extra spaces when editing email for his tech-advice column, but also concerned that “the public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces.”

Manual and older electric typewriters give equal amounts of horizontal space to all characters, which led to extra spaces after period-ending sentences enhancing readability, as readers could tell at a glance what was a complete thought. With only a few exceptions, the fonts on computer screens and those output by printers are give varying amounts of horizontal space to different letters, and horizontal spacing changes contingent on characters before and after, and that reflect the purpose for many special characters. The extra space after a period-ending sentence overrides the font design and thus diminishes readability instead of enhancing it.

Advanced grammar for those who’ll be persuaded, presently

• Oregon State University’s online guide to editorial style has an entry indicating a significant distinction between "advance" and "advanced" in academia. The guidance from Corvallis is that "when used as adjectives advance means ‘ahead of time’ and advanced means ‘beyond others.’ Thus ‘advance tuition deposit,’ but ’advanced standing.’" Another editorial advisory from Oregon State with shore-to-shore wisdom is that "First-year student and first-year students are preferred [over freshman, freshmen]." The OSU style manual also has a reminder about errors we’ll be seeing quite frequently as graduation approaches: some students will be receiving a "bachelor’s degree" and others a "master’s degree." Oregon State’s reminder is that "these are lowercase and possessives, not plural. Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree, a master’s, etc., but there is no apostrophe in bachelor of arts or master of science."
• The Vanderbilt University Style Guide has a two-sentence mnemonic for the distinction between the noun (or adjective) "backup" and the verbal "back up." The advice from Vandy is that "Users should back up their files at the end of each day. The backup files may come in handy, so keep backups in a convenient location."
• The style guide provided by the Office of Public Affairs and Communications at Notre Dame is staunch that the words "convince" and "persuade" aren’t interchangeable. It says, "A person is convinced about something, but is persuaded to do something. ‘Carla is convinced that her teacher doesn’t like her. Ray’s friends persuaded him to go dancing.’"
• The University of Texas at Austin’s Writer’s Style Guide includes presently/currently in its "Tricky Words" listing  because: "Many writers use these terms as if they were synonymous. But ‘presently’ means in a little while, soon. ‘Currently’ means now. In most cases you can do just fine without using ‘currently.’ For example, "we are currently revising the plan" works better when simply stated, "we are revising the plan."
• A website that gleaned "Top 20 Tips From Newspaper Style Guides" passes along an excerpt from early-20th-century style sheets that cautions writers: "Don’t confound ‘amateur’ with ‘novice.’ An amateur may be the equal of the professional in experience and skill; a novice is a beginner."
• The Daily Writing Tips blog has an entry with a pair of sentences that sheds light on the distinction between continuous ("duration without interruption") and continual ("duration that continues over a long period of time"). The blog’s examples are:  The continuous humming of the fluorescent lights gave him a headache," and " The continual street repair disrupted traffic for nearly two years."
The Glossary of Cheese Terms at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s website defines "pasteurized process cheese" as a "blend of fresh and aged, natural cheeses that have been shredded, mixed and heated"; "pasteurized process cheese food" as a "variation of pasteurized process cheese containing less fat and a higher moisture content"; and "pasteurized process cheese food spread" as pasteurized process cheese food with a stabilizer added to prevent ingredient separation.

Thoughts for food

While National Nutrition Month is coordinated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), many decisions regarding terms and grammatical constructions involving foods and nutrition are year-round preoccupations for style guides and grammarians. For example:
• One of the regular contributors to Welcome to Grammar and Composition blog, Dr. Richard Nordquist, professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Armstrong Atlantic State University, has "nutritional" and "nutritious" on his list of commonly confused words. Nordquist cautions that: "The adjective nutritional means related to the process of nutrition–that is, using food to support life. The adjective nutritious means healthy to eat or nourishing." His examples of proper usage are: " Many city governments are forcing fast-food restaurants to divulge nutritional information on their menus," and " While growing teens need extra calories, they should get them from nutritious sources–not from high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar foods."
• One of the contributors to the interactive online community LitReactor brings his list of "20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes" to a grand finale with the pet peeve that "Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be ‘nauseous’ doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others." That means that produce and other farm products prepared without GAP are potentially nauseous, and consumers who don’t inquire about food safety precautions will someday find themselves very nauseated.
• The Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press Stylebook and Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary agree that the "french" in "french fries" isn’t capitalized. But while the Chicago Manual of Style says the "swiss" in "swiss cheese shouldn’t be capitalized unless the cheese is actually from Switzerland, AP and Webster currently stick with "Swiss cheese." (The Associated Press Stylebook’s general rule of thumb is: "Most proper nouns or adjectives are capitalized when they occur in a food name: Boston brown bread, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, Waldorf salad. Lowercase is used, however, when the food does not depend on the proper noun or adjective for its meaning: french fries, graham crackers, manhattan cocktail.")
• The Sarah Lawrence College Editorial Style Guide has a mnemonic for remembering the difference between "edible" and "eatable" that will bring to mind greenhouses as well as food science labs. The guidance from Sarah Lawrence is that "Edible means fit for human consumption (edible flowers). Eatable means at least minimally palatable (slightly burned but eatable)."
• An installment of the weekly podcast Grammar Girl addressing the difference between "bring" and "take" serves up a dining mnemonic for avoiding mistakes with the two verbs. Grammar Girl says the that, "You ask people to bring things to the place you are, and you take things to the place you are going." She offers as two examples for getting the verb right:
"First, think of a restaurant where you can get food to go. It’s often informally called getting ‘take out.’ When you get take-out food, you’re moving the food from your location — the restaurant — to somewhere else, a destination. And it’s take-out food, not bring-out food." On another night when hunger strikes Grammar Girl, she finds herself using the correct verb when: "If I’m sitting at home feeling lazy and wishing dinner would appear, I would say, ‘I wish someone would bring me dinner.’"

URLs to pass along to potential Aggies

With the annual cost of college tuition now ranging from $13,000 to as much as $35,000, the parents of many high school students are strongly urging their aspiring collegians to start serious investigations of colleges and universities in their junior, sophomore and freshman years of high school. Those investigations often translate to email inquiries to members of the SAES faculty and staff who have credentials that lead high school students to believe they’ve found a starting point for a degree program or career that matches academic aptitude and intellectual interests. Some URLs to bookmark or keep handy in a text file for unexpected inquiries are:

• a recent USA Today article that included agriculture and natural resources in a listing of the five highest paying degree programs open to college undergraduates in 2015with a "projected average starting salary: $51,220" and "Average lifetime earnings: $2.6 million."

• a Feb. 13 Detroit News feature headlined "Historically black colleges see rise in enrollment" which goes on to offer theories behind the spike that include: "the 105 institutions matter more than ever to some students who speak of mentorship, high expectations and a celebration of black culture that can’t be found elsewhere."

• the US News & World Report website article with the inviting headline that "Agriculture Students Will Find Abundance of Scholarships"; (The article’s groundwork is that "ag careers include agricultural engineering, agronomy, crop and soil sciences, entomology, food sciences, horticulture and plant pathology." It also provides links to "several different USDA scholarship programs [that] offer anywhere from $5,000 to full tuition, along with paid internships and employment following graduation in plant pathology, ecology, or entomology. The article also has links to online guidance "for students more interested in animals," and connections for "students who are interested in sustainable agriculture and the health of our planet.")

• a USA Today article on the publication’s website alerting the readership that agricultural industries are scrambling to "address an alarming shortage of workers," and that a study prepared at Purdue University estimates that there will be an annual addition of 54,400 agricultural, food and renewable natural resources jobs through 2015.

Contributions to black history from agricultural, and family and consumer sciences

February is Black History Month — a time to communicate the contributions of African Americans to agriculture, natural resources management, and family and consumer sciences, as well as other academic disciplines. For an online look at the accomplishments of some African American scientists and inventors whose contributions are especially SAES-relevant, take a look at:
Henry Boyd was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1802, earned enough money with his carpentry skills to purchase his freedom in 1826, and moved to Cincinnati. He invented a bed known as the Boyd Bedstead, a forerunner of the modern bed frame. Unable to secure a patent for his invention, he tried to get indirect protection by having a white man apply, but that approach didn’t prevent other bed makers from copying his design, so he began stamping every bed produced in his shop to indicate its authenticity. His firm grew to 50 employees and a showroom, and sales of more than 1,000 beds one year.
Henrietta Mahim Bradberry was an African American living in Chicago in 1943 when she received a patent for a bed rack attachment for the airing clothes and then another in 1945 for a pneumatically operated device for firing  torpedoes from underwater submarines and fortifications.
•  George Crum was working as a chef in the summer of 1853 when he came up with an all-new way to prepare potatoes. The son of an African American father and a Native American mother is now considered the inventor of potato chips.
•  Augustus Jackson is sometimes called the inventor of ice cream. That’s not entirely accurate, since products similar to ice cream have been around for centuries. In 1830, Jackson did do a lot to improve and popularize ice cream when he came up with a production method far better than any others, and also came up with several new flavors of ice cream.
Frederick McKinley Jones, who was granted patents on more than 60 inventions, received more than 40 of them for innovations related to refrigeration, including the long-haul system used in trucks and railroad cars.
Lloyd Hall, an African American inventor with more than 100 patents, is credited with many of the meat curing products and preservatives used in food processing industries today.
Thomas L. Jennings was the first African American to hold a patent. He obtained it in 1821 for a dry cleaning process.
Jan Matzeliger came up with the machinery for mass-produced (and affordable) shoes.

Dirtied words

Lake Superior University has issued its list of words and phrases authors should avoid in 2015 because they became overused clichés in 2014. Atop the list is "bae," an acronym for "before anyone else" that has proliferated as a de facto term of endearment or respect among teens, but is now so overused and misused that even some of their peers are calling it "a dumb, annoying word."

Second on the list of word and expressions so overused in 2014 that they deserve a hiatus in 2015 is "polar vortex." One critic of the expression suggested a return to "calling really cold weather ‘winter.’"

Banished word number-three is "hack," which gets the boot more for misuse than overuse. "Tips and all sorts of goods and services are getting called ‘hacks’ that we have no idea what’s really referred to when the word is uttered," wrote one of the detractors. Another motion to return hack to standard accepted meanings (involving low quality writing, computer security, cabs, etc.) is based on the objection that none of the many meanings of the word have anything to do with its use in articles in social media and elsewhere about "home improvement hacks," "car hacks" and "furniture hacks."

The next four words on the list targeted for banishment are "skill set,"("skill" alone usually covers it); "swag" (now applied to everything from a gift to droopy clothing); "foodie," (has boiled down to anyone who enjoys any kind of food, a big category); and "curate/curated" (a useful concept when applied to fine art and museums, but now too often just a pretentious way of saying "selected").

Closing out the top 10 are "friend-raising" now that it’s become the expression for whenever friends are gained for business purposes; "cra-cra" to mean crazy; "enhanced interrogation" now that it’s been used so much it no longer rings a bell as a euphemism for "torture"; and "takeaway" used to describe what someone learned from an experience or situation.

A more timeless listing of words and expressions writers should reconsider when proofing their work comes from the blog Daily Writing Tips. Its list of 50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid has these 10 pitfalls:
I. "Added bonus" ("A bonus is an extra feature, so added is redundant.")
II. "Ask a question" (To ask is to pose a question, so question is redundant.")
III. "End result" ("A result is something that occurs at the end, so omit end as a modifier of result.")
IV. "False pretense" ("A pretense is a deception, so false is redundant.")
V. "Final outcome" ("An outcome is a result and is therefore intrinsically final.")
VI. "Foreign imports" ("Imports are products that originate in another country, so their foreign nature is implicit….")
VII. "Major breakthrough" ("Though major is not directly redundant, the notable nature of the event is implicit.")
VIII. "Plan ahead" ("To plan is to prepare for the future. Ahead is extraneous.")
IX. "Postpone until later" ("To postpone is to delay. Later is superfluous.")
X. "Unexpected surprise" ("No surprise is expected, so the modifier is extraneous.")

2014 marked rise of culture, exposure and slacktivism

The New Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Merriam-Webster have both announced their word of the year for 2014. The OED word of the ear is "vape," which began as an abbreviation of vapour or vaporize, and has come to mean "to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device." The use of vape gained momentum along with controversies surrounding indoor use of electronic cigarettes. Other words on the OED 2014 shortlist were "bae" ("a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner"); "budtender" ("a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis shop"); "contactless" ("technologies that allow smart cards and mobile phones to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader"); "indyref" (abbreviation of "independence referendum," such as the one on Scottish independence"); "normcore" ("unfashionable clothing worn as a fashion statement"); and "slacktivism" (informal and low-energy Internet support for a political or social cause").

While the OED’s word of the year is selected by a team looking for words that reflect major events or sum up public concerns of the past year, Merriam-Webster applies straightforward statistical analysis to designating a Word of the Year. Topping the Merriam-Webster list for 2014 is "culture." Among the controversies that led to recurring appearances of phrases joining "culture" to another word were "rape culture," "company culture" and "celebrity culture." "Culture" also has become a primary building block for expressions that identify ideas, issues or groups:  "America’s culture of violence" and "Wall Street’s culture of greed." Filling out Merriam-Webster’s top five for 2014 are "nostalgia," (attributed to the number of 50th anniversaries last year); "insidious", "legacy" and "feminism."

The editors at used Google Trends as well as the website’s data to determine words that "spiked into the public consciousness" forcefully, and the word of the year from that analysis is "exposure." The Ebola outbreak was one of several stories repeatedly in the news that was seldom updated without mention of "exposure.")

T’is the season

With the end of the calendar year only a few days away, it’s a time of year when reports and other documents have to be compiled and written quickly. Among the most common (and embarrassing) grammar gaffs and keystroking mishaps that can be overlooked by hurried proofreaders harried by holiday chores are:
•           Misspelled proper names
•           Reversed numbers in addresses and phone numbers
•           Incorrect dates
•           Incorrect or inconsistent capitalization
•           Words or phrases that are repeated
•           Omissions of words or parts of words
•           Incorrect punctuation
•           Noun and verb disagreement

One style manual, The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage, also offers proofreaders a list of where to look for mistakes. Among the places to double-check:
 •          Title pages
•           Headings and sub-headings
•           Places where the typeface changes
•           The first paragraph after a heading or sub-heading
•           Strings of small words (“if it is in the best interest…”)
•           Pages that have only a small amount of type

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has a list of the Top 10 Commonly Confused Wordsthat includes:
• Flaunt/Flout ("Flaunting authority" is treating a convention or individual with disdain, while "flauting" is playing the flute or whistling.)
• Affect/Effect (Merriam-Webster’s mnemonic is that "affect is almost always a verb, and effect is usually a noun.")
• Desert/Dessert (The word with double-s covers cakes and cookies while the single s has sand and cactus.)
• Stationary/Stationery (The word with the e is paper for writing; the word with a second a is something not moving.)
• Flak/Flack  (Merriam-Webster says "Flak was originally a German acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanonen (‘flyer’) + Abwehr (‘defense’) + Kanonen (‘cannons’), which basically means "antiaircraft gun." The word for unfriendly criticism has the c.)
• It’s/Its (The word with the apostrophe is a contraction for "it is" or "it has"; while the word without an apostrophe is a possessive pronoun.)
• Pore/Pour (While all SAES students pore over notes when exams are imminent, only those in labs involving liquids are likely to pour for a better grade.)
• Fewer/Less (Although there are exceptions, fewer is usually applied to items that can be counted, while less is usually applied to quantities that can’t be counted. For example: fewer chocolates over the holidays will lead to less concern for what the scales are going to read in January.)
• Flounder/Founder (Merriam-Webster says that "When something founders, it loses its foundation; to flounder is to struggle to move or get one’s footing, or to proceed or act clumsily or ineffectually." Ships and buildings founder; students distracted buy social life may find themselves floundering in academia.)
• Council/Counsel (A council is a group that advises; counsel is the verb for offering advice.)

Websites for enriching your SAES lexicon over the holidays

As a clearinghouse for objects and actions that should have words describing them, but don’t, the website is full of dozens of suggestions for filling voids in the English language that SAES faculty and staff have undoubtedly lamented. A sampler of fun listings with SAES relevance in the first seven letters of the alphabet at includes:  aeropalmics (“The study of wind resistance conducted by holding a cupped hand out the car window….”); anchority (“A group’s final, hard-fought decision on what toppings to order on a pizza….”);  backspubble (“Dishwater that disappears down one drain of a double sink and comes up the other….”);  banomaly (“A banana free of bruises and other discrepancies….”);  beakabreath (“Describing someone with chicken breath….”);  blimpliments (“High-calorie or high-fat toppings one adds to a low-calorie or low-fat food that effectively cancel out all the benefits of eating the healthy food in the first place…”); cabnicreep ("The structural condition in which the closing of one kitchen cabinet causes another to open); carperpetuation (“The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance….”);  cheedle (“The residue left on one’s fingertips after consuming a bag of Cheetos….”); clickulate (“Repetitive and nervous clicking of the mouse in a fervent attempt at making a webpage load faster….”); daireeair (“Odor found in the stables of a dairy farm….”); and flopcorn (“The unpopped kernels at the bottom of the cooker….”).

The language translation website Babel Fish can now translate English words into 12 languages (and vice versa), and savvy users can paste the translations from browser window into your e-mail when you want to impress correspondents with your multilingualism. At Babel Fish, you’ll find that the Dutch word for “agriculture” is landbouw; German for “Family and Consumer Sciences” is Familien- und Verbraucherwissenschaften; and Italian for “natural resources and environmental design” is risorse naturali e progettazione ambientale.

Word Spy is a website somewhat similar to in that it’s a clearinghouse for new words and expressions. Unlike, however, Word Spy is serious about clarifying words and phrases new to English with definitions and source citations that illuminate the meaning of a new word or expression. Among the words and expressions with SAES relevance in the Word Spy archives are: peanut-buttering (“Spreading the resources of a company or person too thin….”); bully offer (“An aggressively high offer for an especially desirable house, particularly one made before the official date that offers are to be accepted….”); family balancing (“Attempting to select the sex of a baby to achieve an even or desired number of children of both sexes….”); farm to fork (“Relating to the human food chain, from its production to its consumption….”); freshmore (“A second-year high school student who must repeat some or all of his or her first-year classes….); passive overeating (“The excessive eating of foods that are high in fat because the human body is slow to recognize the caloric content of rich foods….”); agritourist (“A tourist who watches and participates in agricultural activities….”); pin-striped pork bellies (“Stock market index futures….); reax (“Journalistic shorthand for reaction or reactions….); and screenager (“A young person who has grown up with, and is therefore entirely comfortable with, a world of screens, particularly televisions, computers, ATMs, cell phones, and so on….”).

A day to be thankful for grammar guidance

The electronic toolbox for grammar instruction, "Grammar Gallery, " suggests that Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to delve into the nuances of verb tenses because:
• "He is cutting the turkey" is an example of the use of the present progressive tense, which expresses "an action or condition that is continuing to occur."
• "He cooks on Thanksgiving" is an example of the simple present, the verb tense that expresses "a habitual action, a general truth, or an action/condition occurring in the present time."
• "He is going to serve the turkey to his family" exemplifies "the simple future, which refers an action or condition that is yet to occur."
• "He was cutting the turkey when the doorbell rang," is an example of "the past progressive, which is the proper verb tense for an action or condition that was ongoing in the past, especially when something else was happening."
• "He cooked the turkey for five hours" illustrates "simple past tense, an action or event that began and ended in the past."
• "He has prepared a delicious Thanksgiving dinner" is a perfect example of "the present perfect, the verb tense for "an action that has occurred up to and including the present time, a past action with current relevance, or an action that was recently completed."

The podcaster Grammar Girl finds that Thanksgiving inspires her in a different grammatical direction. She says, "I like to think of [Thanksgiving] as a happy Gerund Appreciation Day. What better time to appreciate the English gerund than on a day that has been singled out for giving thanks, and whose name is a gerund—Thanksgiving?"

Grammar Girl goes on to explain that "a gerund is a noun formed by taking a verb and adding the suffix ‘-ing.’ The gerund form of ‘give,’ for example, is ‘giving.’" She then offers examples of compound nouns that include gerunds (bomb-defusing, for one) along with the observation that often as not there’s a singular noun in the compound that isn’t logical since it’s referring to a plurality. Her explanation as to why is that "the rule for compound nouns in English: the noun that modifies the other noun is usually in the singular." But, "One exception that comes to mind is ‘Thanksgiving: We don’t call it ‘Thank-giving.’"

Another grammar-oriented blog, the Grammar Hammer, is inspired by Thanksgiving’s potential to illuminate the differences between affect and effect. The Hammer asks: "How does Thanksgiving effect you? Or does it affect you?"

The answer is that "Most of the time, use affect (with an A) as a verb, and use effect (with an E) as a noun." That means "Turkey can affect your ability to stay awake, especially when your Great Aunt Gertrude is making another one of her 20-minute toasts to our founding fathers." And since "Effect with an E is a noun with multiple definitions, but it basically means "as a result," then, "The cranberry sauce and gravy had no effect on the dryness of the turkey."."

Manual control

An Associated Press story that has appeared in many newspapers describes the work of a Tennessee firm that helps companies develop and improve "post-purchase communications" (as the firm prefers to call "instruction manuals"). The article pointed out that "A study in the journal Pediatrics last year suggested child-safety seats in cars are often installed wrong because the manuals were written at a 10th-grade reading level while nearly a quarter of U.S. adults read at or below the fifth-grade level." For further reading, the AP article suggested a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSA) newsletter story with tips for instruction manual writers. The newsletter tips come from an 80-page CPSA guide to writing instruction manuals, and some of the tips in it are as relevant to instructions for tests, questionnaires and surveys as they are for manuals. Among the good advice for all instruction writers in the CPSA booklet:
• Although the optimal number of characters per line depends on the size of the typeface, a good rule of thumb for instructions is to never have lines longer than 70 characters, including spaces. Short lines make it easier for readers to find what they want when they are referring back to instructions.
• What’s true for all printed materials is especially true for instructions: Don’t clutter. If you’ve got graphics you can use, choose the simplest and the boldest. Save the rest for the next project.
• Justified text may look tidy when a page is held at arm’s length, but text with a "ragged" or uneven margin on the right is easier to read.
• If your instructions will be printed on a color printer, choose your colors for contrast (light on dark or dark on light) when you want readers to pay attention.
• When selecting a typeface, choose the most common if you’ve got instructions or directions that are important. The CPSA manual suggests Times New Roman for text, Arial for headings.
• Type that is 10-point or 12-point is standard, but if you are passing along instructions that may be read in poor lighting, or by older readers or poor readers, 14-point type is a good precaution.
• If your instructions involve sequential tasks, write them as numbered steps rather than in paragraph form.
• If tasks are involved, keep them sequential in instructions or directions.
• For important instructions or directions, avoid constructing sentences in the passive voice or the use of conditional tenses. Sentences written in the "imperative mood" are particularly effective in passages giving instructions or directions.