Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Superstitions (8)

Today: Four More. “Never Use ‘between’ with More than Two Objects”: “When Miss Thistlebottom taught you in grammar school that ‘between’ applies only to two things and ‘among’ to more than two, she was for the most part correct. ‘Between’ essentially does apply to only two, but sometimes the ‘two’ relationship is present when more than two elements are involved. For example, it would be proper to say that ‘The President was trying to start negotiations between Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan’ if what was contemplated was not a round-table conference but separate talks involving Israel and each of the other three nations.” Theodore M. Bernstein, Dos, Don’ts & Maybes of English Usage 29 (1977). See GMAU, “between (A).” “Never Use the First-Person Pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me'”: “If you want to write like a professional just about the first thing you have to do is get used to the first person singular. Just plunge in and write ‘I’ whenever ‘I’ seems to be the word that is called for. Never mind the superstitious notion that it’s immodest to do so. It just isn’t so.” Rudolf Flesch, A New Way to Better English 49 (1958). See GMAU, “First Person.” “Never Use Contractions”: “Your style will obviously be warmer and truer to your personality if you use contractions like ‘I’ll’ and ‘won’t’ when they fit comfortably into what you’re writing. ‘I’ll be glad to see them if they don’t get mad’ is less stiff than ‘I will be glad to see them if they do not get mad.’ There’s no rule against such informality — trust your ear and your instincts.” William Zinsser, On Writing Well 117 (3d ed. 1985). See GMAU, “Contractions (A).” “Never Use ‘you’ in Referring to Your Reader”: “Keep a running conversation with your reader. Use the second-person pronoun whenever you can. Translate everything into ‘you’ language. ‘This applies to citizens over 65’ = ‘if you’re over 65, this applies to you.’ ‘It must be remembered that’ = ‘you must remember.’ ‘Many people don’t realize’ = ‘perhaps you don’t realize.’ Always write directly to ‘you,’ the person you’re trying to reach with your written message. Don’t write in mental isolation; reach out to your reader.” Rudolf Flesch, How to Be Brief: An Index to Simple Writing 114 (1962). For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Most of us have learned many things about language from others, but generally the wrong things. More likely than not we have acquired ideas and beliefs that do not have facts to back them.” Ronald Wardhaugh, Proper English: Myths and Misunderstandings About Language viii (1999).
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