Oldies but Goodies III


To round out the year, let’s review a few more issues presented in 2015.

Historic or historical?

1. The visiting scholar’s insights into today’s media contained a surprising number of (historic/historical) references.

2. The town’s (historic/historical) vote 30 years ago to build a six-lane bridge over the river ushered in a period of unprecedented prosperity.

Historical signifies merely that something happened in the past or relates to history. Historic means momentous – deserving of a place in history. Therefore, we want historical in #1 and historic in #2.

Imply or infer?

1. In his remarks at the all-staff meeting, our CEO (implied/inferred) that a new vacation policy would go into effect in July 2016.

2. Based on my neighbor’s description of the resort and its surroundings, I’m (implying/inferring) we’ll find a new trail to hike every day.

Infer and imply are fraternal twins, not identical twins. They go together, in a way, but they’re not interchangeable. When we imply we express something ambiguously – either purposely or inadvertently – and then the recipient of our message needs to infer what we mean.

The common error is using infer instead of imply, as in this example: Are you inferring that I’m not qualified for the position? Here, the speaker or writer is using the wrong twin. The question should be Are you implying that I’m not qualified for the position?

Therefore, we want implied in #1 and inferring in #2.

What’s wrong with this sentence?

We only reviewed sales figures in the morning.

As discussed in a few posts, an extremely common misstep is placing only in the wrong spot. Often, it’s a case of no harm, no foul because clarity is maintained despite the glitch. But in a sentence like this one we have ambiguity. Taken literally, the sentence would seem to mean that the sales figures were only reviewed when more could have happened. For example, the figures could have been analyzed statistically or used in forecasting, but most likely the real meaning is one of the following two:

A. We reviewed only sales figures in the morning. (We could have gone over other data – such as expenses – but only sales figures were discussed.)

B. We reviewed sales figures only in the morning. (The topic of sales figures did not come up in the afternoon session.)

And if putting only where it belongs sounds awkward, we can always reword: A. In the morning we didn’t review any data beyond sales figures. B. We reviewed sales figures in the morning only. 

So even though a sentence like I only watched two episodes is clear, I watched only two episodes is better writing.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.

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