Monthly Archives: June 2013

Clear Writing Requires Use of Correct Idioms

Use of a faulty idiom is another writing fault that will impede your ability to write clearly. A faulty idiom is an expression which, although using correct grammar and reflecting a correct meaning, nevertheless combines words in a manner that is contrary to accepted usage. “Ann enjoys to shop” is wrong, not because the combination of words offends logic or grammar, but because it is incorrect usage. “Ann enjoys shopping” is better. Also in the same category is the statement, “I know Pete for many years”; it is better to say or write “I have known Pete for many years”.

Other commonly used idioms include the following examples:

Faulty / Correct

listen at listen to

different than different from

in the year of 2012 in the year 2012

possessed with possessed of
ability ability

independent from independent of

comply to comply with

enamored with enamored of

plan on plan to

try and try to

There are no rules to follow for correct idioms; they simply must be learned. A good approach is to make a list of them and memorize them as you would memorize new words. Also, training the eye to be alert for the correct use of idioms (as you can train the eye for correct word association in learning good grammar), repeating aloud, writing, and visualization, are also useful for memorizing specific expressions that give you trouble.

In many idioms, the meaning is controlled by a preposition. A verb, adjective, or phrase must be used with the right preposition. Sometimes, however, even using the right preposition can result in an incorrect idiom. A very commonly misused phrase is “with regard [not regards] to.” But “as
regards (a matter)” or “with kind regards to (a person)” is correct.

Another very common mistake is to write (or say) “I’m waiting on (someone or something)” when you should write or say, “I’m waiting for (someone or something).” If you’re a baseball fan, you will recognize that this particular poor usage of words will, unfortunately, show up repeatedly during a game when an announcer describes a hitter as “waiting on the fastball (or other pitch),” instead of saying he’s “waiting for the (pitch).” Also, often heard in baseball parlance is an announcer describing a player’s action as “if he’s catching that ball,” instead of saying, “if he had caught that ball …” It is regrettable that many people will write this way, because they will assume it is correct usage.

Also heard all too often is, “Listen up,” when simply “Listen here, ” or “Listen to me,” is better. Many television advertisements rely on the giveaway phrase, “It’s for free,” when “It’s free” will do nicely.

Here is a short list of correct prepositional idioms:

accused of charge for
(a crime) (a purchase)

accused by charge with
(the police) (a violation)

agree with convenient to
(an individual) (a person)

agree to convenient for
(a proposal) (a purpose)

correspond to part from
(things) (a person)

correspond with part of
(a person) (a thing)

in accordance with the position of

angry at (a condition)

angry with (a person)

Another common fault is to mix idioms by using the first half of one idiom and the second half of another.

Wrong: Stalin had no hesitation to use force.

Right: Stalin had no hesitation in using force.

Also right: Stalin did not hesitate to use force.

Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.


Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

Countdown To Infamy

Posts of historical interest will appear on this site from time to time. The current subject, an account of informal conversations between the United States and Japan during the period from October 17, 1941 to December 7, 1941, leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, will be presented in a series of several installments.

In its Official Report, forty eight pages long, the U.S. State Department describes in minute detail the deteriorating relations between the United States and Japan from October 17, 1941, to and including December 7, 1941. Prepared by state department officials and dated May 19, 1942, this memorandum purports to be an accurate account of informal conversations between the United States Government, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Under Secretary Sumner Welles. It includes verbatim copies of correspondence between from various U. S. and Japanese officials, as well as memoranda authored by certain of them. The Report summarizes events leading up to the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the ensuing American declaration of war against Japan the following day.

There are many interesting observations to be made from a historical standpoint. The Report opens with the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Prince Konoye on October 16, 1941. Apparently unable to reconcile the conflicting forces that raged within his own government between those who favored continued negotiations with the United States and those who favored war, Konoye resigned in the hope that someone would be found who favored keeping the door open to continued negotiations.

Each article in this series will present a summary of the almost daily communications between the two countries. Although there are countless histories of the relations between the United States and Japan in the period leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, I am not aware of any which describe in such minute detail as contained in the State Department memorandum the communications between officials of the two countries.

This historic vantage point provides a first-hand insight into the efforts undertaken by the two countries to negotiate a continuation of the uncertain but ongoing efforts to preserve peace. As will be made clear in the articles to follow, the position of the United States was clear: There must be specific responses by Japan to the points made by the U.S. as to Japanese intentions in the Far East, not the vague generalities which had marked their previous replies to U.S. communications.

The opening days of 1941 portrayed a grim picture of the world. The Tripartite Pact, concluded in September, 1940, had unified Germany, Italy and Japan into a formidable force of Axis powers. Prospects for world peace ranged from nonexistent to shaky at best, depending on what part of the world drew your focus.

The all too real specter of war had become a terrifying reality as conflict once more engulfed Great Britain, France, Germany, and most of the rest of Europe. The acuteness of the situation in Europe was but one of many significant factors facing the United States in January, 1941.

Nazi Germany’s huge military machine, including massive land and air forces built up surreptitiously over a period of years, had subjugated most of Europe. Austria had been annexed in March, 1938 without firing a shot. The Sudetenland was occupied in September, 1938 without opposition, by agreement. The entirety of Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Nazi beast by the Munich arrangement, with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning to England proclaiming to the crowds, “peace in our time.” The unprovoked Nazi attack on Poland in September, 1939, and its subsequent occupation was followed by declarations of war on Germany by Britain and France.

In 1940, after the German breakthrough of French defenses, France was overrun in six weeks. What remained of the British Expeditionary Force, however, was successfully evacuated from France at Dunkirk. The Dutch were overwhelmed by the Nazi onslaught, brought on without any pretext or warning. Belgium had surrendered, and Bulgaria and Rumania were being crushed under the Nazi heel.

In mid-1940, Mussolini had thrown the weight of his Italian forces behind Hitler by declaring war on Great Britain and France. But Mussolini’s efforts to assert himself as a force to be reckoned with would eventually lead to the failure of Italian Fascism and his own capture and summary execution in 1943.

Events unfolding in the Far East, however, were also of great concern to the United States. The threat from Japan had continued to grow over the years. Its 1931 invasion and occupation of Manchuria had signaled its expansionist aims. Despite diplomatic conversations with Russia, large Japanese forces were still maintained there. The Japanese had invaded China in 1937 and moved into Northern Indochina in the summer of 1940. The growing potential threat from Japan extended to all powers interested in the Pacific. These included the Netherlands, British Malaya, Burma, India, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

By early 1941, restrictions on exports to Japan from the United States of iron, steel, most important metals, machinery, high quality gasoline and blending agents, together with plants and plans for the production of high quality gasoline, had further increased tensions between the two countries.

While Japan’s expansion into China and Southeast Asia was a continuing source of concern for the United States, the country had passed through a Presidential election whereby both major political parties had written into their respective platforms unequivocal opposition to involvement in foreign wars.

Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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You Don’t Have To Memorize Grammar Rules To Write Clearly

In my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on Books and in print, I have urged readers to use word association as a means of learning good grammar, rather than to memorize rules. This approach has worked for me and it can work for you. Here is what I wrote:

“This book breaks with the traditional approach to teaching English grammar in that it eschews memorization of rules. Memorization of grammar rules is of little use except to pass examinations. It has been my personal experience that as you train yourself to observe and appreciate good writing, you can likewise train yourself to develop and employ good writing habits in constructing sentences. This result cannot be accomplished by memorization of rules, which will have little effect on learning and understanding the context with which words are used. But, when in doubt, look up the rule.

The best expression of thoughts through good grammar can be learned by observing the association of the right word with the appropriate context in a sentence. The emphasis should be on training your eye to carefully observe how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what you have learned in your writing. The point was well made many years ago by the late Sherwin Cody, who authored several books and self study courses on writing and learning good English. Learn grammar by “original processes”, he wrote, “not by authorities and rules.” (See: New Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language, 59, Sherwin Cody, 1933, 1938).

Clear writing can be achieved even if you are unable to apply grammatical labels to the various parts of speech contained in a sentence. Even if you can’t diagram a sentence to break out the parts of speech or if you don’t know a pronoun from an adverb, you can still learn to write clearly.

Studying the logical relationship of words in a sentence as you read is most important in learning
the practical skills of word usage. In this way you need not concern yourself with the technical definition of, for example, weak or buried verbs, as long as your eye is practiced enough to pick them out of a sentence.

This level of writing ability can only be achieved through dedicated study and the continued practice of writing. The secret is practice, practice, practice and, also, read extensively. Read books, magazines, and newspapers to see how experienced writers put words and sentences together. This will help you develop the right “feel” for your writing.

I urge you to follow this approach.”

The use of good grammar is indispensable to clear writing. The benefits of clear writing have also been explained in my book, as follows:

“In today’s world, language is predominant. It is vital to all communications, and is the key to your personal and business success. The power of the written word is far reaching and depends in turn on the quality of your writing. Writing is therefore of utmost importance.

The ability to write clearly is a requirement for anyone trying to get ahead. Without it, you have little chance to inform or persuade others. Unclear writing wastes both time and money. Your success will largely depend on how well you express yourself.

Whether you are writing for a personal or business purpose, it is the writer’s job to be clear, not the reader’s job to figure out what you’re trying to say. The March Hare’s admonition to Alice, “…you should say what you mean,” also applies perforce to writing. (See: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, 97, Lewis Carroll, New Ed., MacMillan & Co., 1885). Remember, you are promoting yourself when you write. Poor writing will not only lead to loss of credibility but will stamp you as an amateur and may well cause your reader to stop reading. Good writing sells itself.

It’s Never Too Late To Learn!

Even lawyers, with all their education, are not always good writers. In a profession which devotes extensive time and effort to the written word, it may be surprising to learn that lawyers and judges still strive to improve their writing skills. Bryan Garner, a well known attorney and respected authority in the field of legal writing, has devoted extensive time to lecturing and writing on the subject of legal writing for judges and lawyers. His excellent writing lectures, several of which I attended, have been given across the country. One of his publications, The Winning Brief, which I used extensively as a practicing lawyer, contains a wealth of writing tips which should be useful to non-lawyers as well as lawyers. (See: The Winning Brief, Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press, 1999). This is another lead to pursue for those of you really serious about improving your writing.”

Copyright©2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Summary of Clear Writing Guidelines and Techniques

Many clear writing guidelines and techniques have been covered on this blog site over the past several months. They have been summarized in my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on Kindle Books and in print. In order to facilitate reader review, I have quoted this portion of my book below.

“This book introduces fundamental guidelines and techniques necessary to develop clear writing skills. The guidelines and techniques discussed in this book may seem obvious to some readers and appear to be common sense to others, but they are important, time-tested approaches to developing a writing style that will lead to the creation of a final, clearly written document.

Writing is no different from any other undertaking in life: you have to start at the
beginning to master it. All art is created through the exercise of a craft such as painting, sculpting,
etc. Every craft must be taught and learned, including writing. Clear writing is an art form because it can be learned through the craft of writing. Almost everyone can write to some degree, but to write clearly is a goal worthy of achievement. The long hours and hard work it may take to get there are tasks eminently worth the effort. Remember that a clearly written document will speak well of the author and the purpose it seeks to advance.

Develop and maintain a strong belief in your ability to write clearly. You can do it if you train yourself to do it, but it takes dedicated effort and continued practice.

The five fundamental guidelines discussed in this book should apply to any writing project, no
matter whether you are writing in English or any other language. Here is a summary:

First, develop confidence in your ability to write clearly by writing every day. Read extensively and study the writing style of experienced writers.

Second, learn to recognize clear writing. You will know it when you see it. A clearly written document should flow smoothly, be easy to read, and be visually attractive.

Third, get organized. Thoroughly plan your writing by organizing your thinking. Prepare a mental blueprint of what you’re going to write, then, prepare an outline that closely reflects your
blueprint. This is, perhaps, the most important step of all to improve the clarity of your writing.

Fourth, know your reading audience. If you don’t know who you are writing for, you may as well not write at all.

Fifth, know your subject matter. Become a maven on the content of your writing. You need expert knowledge to write with authority on any subject. If you try to fake it, your reader will see right through you. Take the time to research your subject matter thoroughly. The result will be high quality content, a vital ingredient for any successful writer.

Develop the many writing techniques discussed in this book by continuous practice. Dedicate yourself to writing every day. Build your vocabulary so you can find the right word when you need it. Be concise in your writing, use shorter sentences, carefully edit all writing before using it, and, most importantly, eliminate all spelling errors.

Also, read good books, magazines, and newspapers. Expose yourself to experienced writers whenever and wherever you can. Learn from their style. Make a list of all new words, learn them, and learn how to use them. Become familiar with all punctuation marks and their application. Train your eye to learn grammar by word association rather than by definition. This is your homework, so to speak. The more thoroughly you apply yourself, the clearer your writing will be.

As a final thought, the creation of a paper trail, as discussed in the introduction to section two, will go a long way towards helping you achieve clear writing success. It’s good practice to memorialize all deadlines in writing as well as confirm all past and future events to prevent misunderstandings. Follow up important letters and emails with a letter and/ or memorandum to the file.

Keep your writing objectives in full view at all times. Clear writing is not easy to achieve. It’s hard
work, very hard work. But when you’re finished writing, dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, rewritten and revised the document for the umpteenth time until you can’t look at it anymore, then, like an artist, you can sit back and admire your work with the knowledge you’ve given it your best shot.

At this point, assuming you have been diligent in applying the guidelines and techniques discussed in this book, you should begin to notice a definite improvement in your writing. This improvement may not be noticeable overnight but will be over a period of time. Keep working on it!”

Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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