Monthly Grammar Tips: January 2017

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 dove into the two (or more) meanings of puns and double entendres, forecast common misuses of whether, hashed out the difficulties of maintaining grammar in hashtags, and made a ruling on the two spellings of judgement/judgment.

DON’T MISTAKE MY MEANING: PUN VS. DOUBLE ENTENDRE

Hopefully your New Year’s Eve was celebratory, but you were able to avoid the fate of one party-goer overheard sometime after midnight: “I hate alcohol. I can’t stand drinking; I keep falling down! No pun intended.”

But no! Wait! How can he discuss intent if there’s no pun in the first place?

Often, people say “no pun intended” when they have simply used a double entendre, with none of the sound-alike wordplay which actually defines a pun. Let’s break it down:

A pun is always a joke, riffing on the different possible meanings of a word or words that sound alike yet have different definitions.

EXAMPLE, which will sound familiar if you were on email over the holidays: Santa’s helpers are subordinate Clauses.

A double entendre, on the other hand, is a word or phrase which is open to multiple interpretations (and yes, they are often of the risqué variety).

EXAMPLE, which parents will hopefully appreciate, from the scene in Finding Nemo where an aquarium’s inhabitants were intentionally trying to sully the tank’s water: “Okay, everybody think dirty thoughts!”

Finally, please remember—as we’re off to the races in a new year—that time flies like an arrow. And fruit flies like a banana. Pun intended.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF CONJUNCTIONS: USING WHETHER WITH CARE

With the extraordinarily inclement meteorological events befalling Portland this winter, it’s the perfect time to discuss one of our favorite conditional conjunctions: whether.

Whether is often used interchangeably with another common conditional, if, though the two do not always imply the same meaning. Specifically, whether implies the existence of only two outcomes, whereas if can be used more broadly.

Sometimes it’s okay to interchange the two:

EXAMPLE: Please let the team know whether you’ll need a hotel room for Team Connect.

EXAMPLE: Please let the team know if you’ll need a hotel room for Team Connect.

Sometimes it changes the meaning of the sentence to interchange the two, so you need to be careful:

CORRECT: I’m not sure whether I’ll stay at the hotel or at home.

INCORRECT: I’m not sure if I’ll stay at the hotel or at home.

In the sentences above, using whether assures the reader that you’re choosing between two, and only two possibilities. Using if instead introduces the possibility of unknown or unmentioned outcomes, which changes the reader’s understanding of your meaning.

Finally, when using whether to talk about two possibilities, either a positive outcome or the implied negative, it’s usually best to cut the phrase “or not” from your sentence when possible. It makes for cleaner writing:

STILL TECHNICALLY CORRECT: Please let the team know whether or not you’ll need a hotel room for Team Connect.

BETTER: Please let the team know whether you’ll need a hotel room for Team Connect.

POUND IT, YO: GRAMMAR IN YOUR HASHTAGS

In this special Thursday edition of our ongoing #GrammarNotes series, we’re exploring the weird intersection of grammar and #hashtags.

While the festivities take place tomorrow, there will be plenty going on worth sharing on social media (but of course, nothing confidential or financial in nature). If you want your hashtags to function correctly—and make it onto the social media aggregator—follow these tips to get your hashtag game on point!

#KeepItTogether – Hashtags include all text written after the # symbol, until you type a space or a symbol. Keep that in mind when you’re crafting your hashtags.

#LoseThePunctuation – This one hurts our grammar-loving hearts a bit, but punctuation has no place in the wild west of hashtagging (because it breaks the tag). You should still use proper spelling, though.

WOOPSIE: #I’mSoExcited to kick off #OpusTC17 with a #Bagel&CreamCheese
NAILED IT: #ImSoExcited to kick off #OpusTC17 with a #BagelAndCreamCheese

#PluralsCanBeTricky – You might run into an issue where your desired hashtag is a singular noun, but you’re talking about many of them. Changing the spelling of the hashtag to a plural will create a different searchable term, defeating the purpose of hashtagging in the first place. This problem can be solved by simply writing around the problem.

WRONG: My time at @OpusAgency has been the best of all my #AgencyLives
RIGHT: My time at @OpusAgency has been the best #AgencyLife of all!

#CapitalizeForClarity – Multi-word hashtags are increasingly popular, but readers can get lost in a sea of lower-case letters. When it makes sense, capitalize every word to help readers make sense of your hashtag. (Sidenote: this is called “camel case,” because of the humps it creates in the middle of your sentences.)

EXAMPLES: #OpusTC17 #MaestrosAtWork #EventProfs #AgencyLife #RoadWarriors

OBJECTION: AN EXTRA “E” IN JUDGMENT?

In grammar and writing (as we pedantically helpfully remind you every week), there are a lot of hard-and-fast rules. But there are also many instances where it’s up to the author to use his or her best judgment. And it’s this judgement that can mean the difference between good writing and bad.

Wait. Hang on. Notice anything?

Yes, judgment—or judgement, if you prefer—is one of those pesky words in the English language that is technically correct either way. People often assume, as a rule of thumb, that words with the extra e are the British spelling and their truncated counterparts are the American version. While this is often true, it’s actually not the case with judg(e)mentjudgment has been the generally accepted spelling on both sides of the pond since the late 1600s.

This is all admittedly somewhat odd, given judgment is the most common and least intuitive spelling—isn’t that e there to soften the g sound, so we’re not saying “judd-guh-ment”? Nonetheless, we recommend a default to the most common, e-free option for the sake of aligning with the prevailing norm. (But if you should choose to use that spare e, you’ll receive no harsh judgement from these quarters.)

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

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