Here are some recommended blogs on how not to write badly!
John Rentoul is the chief politics blogger at the Independent newspaper, but one of his sidelines is ‘the banned list’, his semi-regular post on the corporate jargon and journalistic verbiage that is seeping into common usage. I used to have a boss who would use words from the banned list all the time – ‘action’ as a verb was a particular favourite of hers (I’ll leave you to action that, Andrew), ‘going forward’ for ‘in the future’ was another regular, and every meeting would end with her asking what ‘the next steps’ were (which isn’t on the banned list, but should be). It’s a great guide to which expressions not to use. If you have a job, there’s just bound to be someone at work who uses these, and you can have fun picking him or her up on it – or just quietly feeling superior. Another of John Rentoul’s lists is the amusing ‘Questions to Which the Answer is No?’ which picks journalists up on their silly headlines.
There are a few ‘Word of the Day’ websites out there, but my favourite is Anthony Esolen’s, who blogs at First Things, an ‘interreligious’ American magazine. If you’re looking for new big words to use, don’t look here, but if you’re interested in why words look and sound the way they do, look here. He explains, for example, how the word ‘whore’ and the name ‘Cher’ have the same root, and why the past tense of ‘go’ is ‘went’ and not ‘goed’. Fascinating stuff, if not obviously useful to know. More practical though is his alternately posted, ‘Grammar Lesson of the Day’, which tackles a few of the mistakes writers will make when they’re trying to be clever and failing – misuse of the passive, abuse of a thesaurus, that sort of thing.
One day, I’m going to work out how to put things like this on a blog roll, but that reminds me: I’ve often wondered if ‘blog roll’ is a pun on the slang ‘bog roll’. ‘The bogs’ is the rather grim British schoolboy slang for the toilets, and thus bog roll is toilet roll. I suppose they do both hang usefully at the side of the – um – well, the toilet, or the homepage. There’s a great article in today’s BBC magazine about puns – their history and whether or not you should use them. The answer to that, if you’re writing an English exam is: only if you’re writing the headings or subheadings of a humorous article, the title of a magazine article or tabloid newspaper report, or in leaflets or information sheets if the topic at hand isn’t too serious. If you’re a blogger, on the other hand, you really shouldn’t let a week pass without one.
Can you think of some punning subtitles for each of the paragraphs of this post?