Monthly Grammar Tips: September 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 held court on the difference between a marquis and a marquee, got a new lease on both tenets and tenants, spoke out about podiums and lecterns, begged you not to beg the question, and got a taste for palates, pallets, and palettes.
HERE’S YOUR SIGN: MARQUEE vs. MARQUIS
This month we want to highlight the distinction between two homonyms: marquee and marquis, both pronounced mar-KEY. We thought it was relevant when we recently saw usage of the term marquis to describe an event.
In our business, the term marquee is sometimes used as an adjective to describe a showy event (our marquee event) or big-name talent (featuring marquee talent).
DOUBLE DIGIT AMOUNT OF INSECTS? TENETS vs. TENANTS
Let’s note the difference in these two near-homonyms: tenets and tenants. This is especially relevant to us because one of our major clients frequently refers to their company’s leadership tenets.
Tenets are principles held to be true, especially by an organization or group of people.
Tenants are people who pay rent to occupy a space. (Mnemonic: When I was a tenant, the kitchen in my apartment had ants.)
TAKE A STAND: PODIUMS vs. LECTERNS
We work in an industry (and an office) that frequently involves public speaking. This public speaking is often delivered from atop or behind a purpose-built piece of furniture—and that’s where confusion sets in.
Lectern and podium are words we often see used in error. It’s easy to keep them straight, though.
A podium is a small platform you stand on to deliver your speech. This one’s easy to remember—you see a podiatrist for your feet, and stand on a podium with them.
A lectern, on the other hand, is the small fixture with an attached tabletop. You stand behind a lectern; standing on one would be a risky maneuver. A handy mnemonic for a lectern is to remember that when you’re giving a lecture, you need a place for your notes.
Knowing the difference won’t necessarily improve your public speaking, but it’ll at least kick your writing up a notch.
WE’RE DOWN ON OUR KNEES:
PLEASE DON’T USE “BEGS THE QUESTION”
Here’s a phrase that is almost never used correctly: begs the question.
This phrase is commonly used to mean something akin to “raises the question” or “makes one wonder.” In fact, the true meaning of begs the question is far more boring.
Begs the question is traditionally used in formal logic, and is a translation of the Latin name for a specific kind of fallacy involving circular reasoning. In practice, it’s awfully difficult (and extremely rare) to use the phrase correctly:
INCORRECT: Many of our grammar emails have begged the question: could there possibly be a fussier subject to cover? (Answer: writing about formal logic rules.)
CORRECT: The claim that it’s popular to care about grammar because the grammar team is cool really just begs the question.
Rather than using begs the question when you mean “raises the question,” just write what you mean. Your message will be clear, and you will greatly reduce your chances of upsetting an overly sensitive logician who happens to read your work. Although the tide of overwhelming and widespread misuse is against us on this one, we’re sticking to our guns—we’re not too proud to beg.
A PAINTER, A LONGSHOREMAN, AND A FOOD CRITIC WALK INTO A BAR: PALETTE vs. PALLET vs. PALATE
In a recent proposal, we were writing about conference F&B and wanted to refer to the chef’s palette—or is it palate? I know it’s not pallet. Three homonyms, all of which might conceivably be used in reference to our work.
Pallet: we ship things and store things on pallets. Our Warehouse team can provide a demo. Mnemonic: the two L’s in the word look a bit like the wood slats on a pallet.
Palette: this is literally the flat plate on which painters mix their colors. Extending that concept, we might talk about the color palette of a website or interior décor—meaning the color scheme, or selection of colors. Mnemonic: I remember this one because it seems the most French in spelling, and there are a lot of famous French painters.
Palate: This is the word that refers to the roof of your mouth. A more metaphorical usage of the term takes us back to our proposal, where we were talking about a chef’s palate—meaning the chef’s discerning taste. Mnemonic: this one is easy because it is closest to plate, from which you eat.
For more grammar goodness, check out the rest of our tips. Until next month, fellow grammarians, good writing!