Feelings are helpful and shouldn’t be ignored—but they’re not always the most accurate things in the world when it comes to determining what you really need. I’ve observed that this issue often boils down to the difference between what we feel we need and what really need.
For example, if you’re walking down the cereal isle at the grocery store, you might feel quite strongly that you need to buy a box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. After all, sugary cereals are fun, and who doesn’t need a little more fun in their life? The reality is that you’re not seven years old anymore, and you ought to decrease your sugar intake and consume more fiber. Something with lots of bran or granola probably suits your body’s needs much better than pure high fructose corn syrup.
But who cares about that, right? The Sugar Bombs’ packaging has flashy colors and friendly cartoon characters that remind you of the carefree days of your childhood. On the other hand, the box of bran cereal is mostly white with some muted accents; it’s kind of boring. Your emotions are pulling you toward the swirl of primary colors, artificial flavors, and marshmallows. Your grown-up senses are apparently out to lunch. Should you go with what you feel you need, which looks a lot more appealing, or buy what’s good for you, which doesn’t sound like much fun at all? This seems like a no-brainer. Continue Reading…
Previously, I posted about Kate Turabian, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), and how they’re relevant to our work of verbal storytelling here at Black Lake. (You can find that post here.) CMOS’s rules are designed to increase the clarity of your writing. After all, the clear communication of ideas is one of the main purposes of written prose, especially in the business world. You’ll do no one any favors if your writing causes confusion instead of understanding and engagement.
Another aim of CMOS is imposing consistency, both internally (within a single written piece, or within a single organization) and externally (between organizations that subscribe to CMOS’s standards). This may sound uptight and oppressive, but it’s really a matter of professionalism. If the same word is spelled differently in two different places on the same brochure, or the headline formatting on your website is all over the place, you’re going to look sloppy and unprofessional. And if too many different style guidelines are being used by different organizations, or if these guidelines differ too widely, mutual intelligibility will suffer.
To summarize, style guides like CMOS help us write clearly and professionally, and they foster consistency between organizations. However, in your efforts to comply with CMOS, you may run into some tricky style issues. There are a lot of rules, and they can be hard to keep track of. Here are the top four that I’ve run into, with some tips on how to get them right: Continue Reading…
When I was studying history at Hope College, the name Turabian was used with near-religious reverence and fear. You didn’t ask why you were supposed to do something with your footnotes—you simply did it because “that’s what Turabian says.” Our professors enforced the inflexible edicts of Turabian exactly as they were set down in the book we all had to live by.
Who (or what) was this Turabian creature? In actual fact, she was a woman who lived between 1893 and 1987 who had a great impact on American English style. However, she is better known as the vengeful, near-immortal demigoddess of footnotes, the patron saint of history students and editors, and the un-photographable supreme arbiter of style. (Seriously, there are no verifiable photos of her on the Internet. I looked. She may have been a vampire.)
Many little girls often dream of their perfect wedding. For me, that meant an outdoor wedding in a flowery meadow, with the entire bridal party astride beautiful white horses. We would all ride up the aisle in a perfect line, and my soon-to-be husband, Ronald Weasley, would be waiting for me at the end on his own stallion, happy as a clam.
Of course, dreams tend to change as you grow up. The thought of getting married outdoors grew to feel like more of a hassle than it was worth, my love for horses returned to more socially acceptable levels, and I was hit with the crushing reality that Ron Weasley, or Rupert Grint for that matter, could never truly be mine. I grew to have a new dream as I went through college years: to design everything in my wedding.
Here at Black Lake, as in many other U.S. companies and institutions, we use the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as our standard for the spelling and definition of English words. It’s the ultimate source of all the vocabulary used in our work, and whenever there’s a question, we default to Merriam-Webster. But how did this dictionary come to be a common standard? Let’s take a look at some history to find out.
It turns out that the dictionary dates back to Noah Webster (1758-1843), a master lexicographer and linguist who was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up during the Revolutionary War. Webster was an advocate of the Constitutional Convention, and he wanted to cultivate a distinctly American culture and language to set the new nation apart from Europe.
This led him to dedicate his considerable talents to writing A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1806. With 37,000 entries, this tome was the first truly American dictionary. He later followed up this effort with his magnum opus, An American Dictionary of the English Language, in 1828. Webster actually learned twenty-six languages, including Anglo-Saxon and Sanskrit, so he could work on the etymologies of the words in his dictionary. The volume was a bold declaration of America’s linguistic independence, and it set a new standard for American English.