Monthly Grammar Tips: November 2016

Building a brand depends on every point of contact that each employee has with customers, prospects, and partners. And despite being experts within respective disciplines, everyone is still occasionally bedeviled by a common high school nemesis: GRAMMAR! To help with the challenge, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes,” addressing misspellings, misuses, and misnomers in everyday communication. This quickly became the source of much dialogue around the proverbial water cooler, so we decided to make it a recurring feature on our blog. We hope you find it as useful as we do!

This month we consulted the sources on the difference between historic and historical, provided a word to the wise on cliches, and studied the relationship between relative and relevant

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS: HISTORIC VS. HISTORICAL

Rather than tiptoe around the biggest news of the day, we figured we’d face it head on—and no, there’s no “bigly” joke forthcoming. (Although, weirdly, it technically is a word. But please, just don’t.) Instead, let’s consider the difference between two commonly mixed-up words with particular relevance, given all that hangs in the balance this year’s election: historic and historical.

For the record:

HISTORIC: Famous, important, or of great consequence in history, or potentially so

Example: “One way or another, this will be a historic election—we will either elect the nation’s first female president, or the first president without prior political experience since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.”

HISTORICAL: Of or concerning history or specific past events

Example: “Historians will one day study the results of the presidential election held on November 8, 2016 as a noteworthy historical event in our nation’s timeline.”

CLICHES: A DIME A DOZEN

In this day and age, we need to get back on track to raise the bar on dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s. Moving forward, we need to think outside the box and avoid the path of least resistance, and we’ll come full circle so that when all is said and done, we will be buried in clichés and nobody will have any idea what we’re talking about. Oh wait, I found the needle in the haystack: today we’re talking about clichés.

Clichés are figures of speech that start out as a clever or concise way of expressing an idea, but their cleverness leads to overuse and they lose their impact; they become literary muzak—people just treat it as noise and ignore it. Clichés are so much a part of everyday conversation that we often don’t even realize we’re saying and writing them—therefore, it’s unlikely that any of us can completely stop using them. Our goal is to raise your awareness to the point where you carefully consider the phrases you’re using.

Here’s an astoundingly long list of clichés for your reading pleasure.

Let’s say you spot a cliché in your writing, perhaps, the elephant in the room, meaning the biggest thing we should all be talking about but everyone is avoiding.

We were two hours into the meeting and the upcoming event was the elephant in the room.

Step 1: Keep it or cut it? Consider whether you need the expression at all. In many cases, clichés are just filler.

We were two hours into the meeting and we had still not discussed the upcoming event.

Step 2: Dig for the meaning. If you decide you need something to emphasize the point, consider the meaning of the phrase and try to say just that.

We were two hours into the meeting and people were conspicuously avoiding discussing the upcoming event.

Step 3: Get creative. An astounding number of clichés flowed from the quill of Shakespeare: all’s well that ends well, be-all and end-all, as luck would have it, full circle, faint hearted, it was Greek to me, in a pickle, buck naked, heart of gold, and dozens more. But he originated them—they only became clichéd as others overused them. Awaken your inner Shakespeare and find original and impactful ways to say what you mean.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: RELATIVE VS. RELEVANT

Let’s discuss the relatively nuanced difference between two terms relevant to our writing: relative and relevant.

For our purposes, we’re typically using relative to refer to something in relation to the rest of the group to which it belongs, or to discuss a connection between two things. In our industry, we rarely find the need to write about the people we argue with at Thanksgiving look forward to seeing during the holidays.

EXAMPLE: Compared to the turkeys I’ve roasted in the past, this Thanksgiving meal was a relative feast.

The term relevant is more concerned with the subject’s pertinence to the topic at hand, or its general significance in the broader context of the discussion.

EXAMPLE: I asked what side dish you’re bringing for Thanksgiving. While I’m totally “stoked” that your favorite ’90s alt-pop band was The Cranberries, it’s not actually relevant information.

You’ll sometimes see the term relevancy in place of relevance. Both are acceptable, but relevancy is considered somewhat archaic, so we recommend using relevance to be safe.

We’ll close with a joke: what do you call a pachyderm that doesn’t matter? It’s irrelephant.

For more grammar goodness, check out the rest of our tips. Until next month, fellow grammarians, good writing!

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