i've been thinking for a while about starting to blog some of the stuff that occupies my brain more than anything else: words. specifically, sentences, paragraphs, punctuation, spelling, usage, all those editorial things that influence how i hear, read, and process information. i haven't thus far because i think that it's probably boring to most folks. but it really is a huge part of my brain, and i can't stop myself :)
here's a sentence from a paper i'm editing (cut off because it's longer than i need for the example):
Incentives are offered in a variety of forms, like cash, gift cards, merchanise....
probably you read this and you understand that the variety of forms in which incentives can come includes cash, gift cards, merchandise, and whatever comes after that in the list.
but if you're writing (or, as in my case, editing) for a formal publication, it would be better to be precise (and correct) in your wording. because the way this *actually* reads is that, like cash, gift cards, merchandise, and whatever comes after that in the list, incentives are offered in a variety of forms. and that's not what we mean. correctly written, the sentence would be
Incentives are offered in a variety of forms, such as cash, gift cards, merchandise....
isn't that better?
there's also a variation on this theme that comes up a lot in my work. "such as" is like "which" in that it's a nonrestrictive modifier. what does that mean? it means that the phrase "such as cash, gift cards, merchandise..." doesn't restrict the noun it's modifying ("forms"). it amplifies it. but sometimes people like to use "such as" in a different way. they might say,
These rewards may be provided in forms such as x, y, or z.
the author doesn't mean "provided in forms, such as x, y, and z." he means that x, y, and z are examples of the forms in which rewards can come. so here, i changed it to this:
These rewards may be provided in such forms as x, y, or z.
it's saying something similar to the first example ("a variety of forms, such as x, y, and z") but uses a different sentence structure and thus requires different punctuation.
another variation is a correct usage of "like" (other than its verb form, e.g., "i like to edit"). i might write,
Like any incentive, these benefits are intended to influence behavior.
These incentives, like most incentives, are intended to influence behavior.
most words have a place. they just aren't always the places people like to put them :)
finally, let's just close this post with some love for miss teen usa 2007 contestant from south carolina. i love this bit of tape and hope that she doesn't mind my posting it. you don't see ME competing in pageants and having to answer questions on national television, so i am definitely not one to judge. i just think it's a moment of hilarity.