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words

Bolt of lightning

Thunder bolts and lightning, very very enlightening…

Sorry to play with some great lyrics, but the word lightning always makes me think of that song! Apparently, a number of people don’t realise that there are two versions of the word lightning/lightening – that is, there is one sound for the word but two spellings and meanings. Given people don’t realise there are two spellings, I guess it isn’t surprising to see the incorrect word used.

So here are the definitions of the two words to make sure you know which is which!

lightning: a sudden burst of light in the sky
The lightning storm was exciting and beautiful to watch

lightening: to make lighter or brighter
The sky was lightening on the horizon as we arrived home.
I am looking forward to  lightening my load!

Lightning in the sky is fast and sharp – there is no time for extra letters. Whereas lightening something involves some effort, it is a verb, so it has an extra e in the spelling and pronunciation.

Driving torture?

Another pair of words many people could easily confuse is tortuous and torturous.

Tortuous – twisting and winding, such as driving along a tortuous road.
The wagon was too long to drive along the tortuous track.

Torturous – painful, agonising, upsetting, such as a torturous stay in prison
Listening to the new student play the violin was torturous to the music lover.

To tell them apart, think of the word torture and torturous together as painful and unpleasant.

Copping some flak?

Next time you are complaining about the stirring of your mates or the complaints of your Boss, you can say you are copping some flak and feel like you are being shot at! But be careful you don’t write you are copping some flack as that may be wildly misinterpreted!

Flack: (noun) press agent or publicist
The movie star relied on her flack to manage the press conference.
Flack: (verb) to act as a PR or press agent

Flak: (noun) anti-aircraft artillery or bursting of shells fired from anti-aircraft artillery;over the top and/or aggressive criticism; opposition, disagreement. {Flak is derived from the German name of aircraft defence gun –  Flieger Abwehr Kanone}
The politician was copping some flak over voting against his party on the carbon tax issue. 

Simply remember that a PR agent always adds a little extra – like the letter c in flack!

To complement a compliment…

Did you know that compliment is not the same as complement? They actually have quite different meanings so using the wrong word can make a reasonable sentence into nonsense!

compliment – expression of praise, greeting, positive comments
She complimented the floral arrangement on the table.

complement – to complete or make a whole
The new couch complements the room nicely.

Can you see how complete complementary things are as a reminder for which spelling to use?

A principled principal?

Another pair of words that I frequently see misused is principle and principal…

Principle – a belief or moral that governs behaviour and decisions; a fundamental truth
On principle, John refused to watch the parade.

Principal – first or leading rank (e.g. a School Principal); initial sum of money before interest and fees
As Principal of the local school, Mary was well respected by the parents.

The most common uses of these words are often confused and used incorrectly. The easiest way to remember which is which is to think of your pal being a principal.

Monday meanings…

There are pairs of words that are frequently misused. However much they sound the same, using the wrong word can totally change the meaning of your sentence.

And you can’t rely on your spell checker to find these errors for you.

A good, old fashioned dictionary is the best way to make sure you are using the correct word in any situation. If you don’t have a dictionary at home, and the old school one probably doesn’t count, I would strongly suggest you get one so you can avoid unnecessary errors in your writing.

As I still see many of these words used incorrectly, I am going to show the different meanings as a blog category – and I’ll post one every Monday.

Please let me know if there are any particular words you aren’t sure of and I’ll include them, too.

It’s still one point

When writing a list of ideas or tips, it is worth making sure each one has enough value to be in the list – it is better to read a short list of valuable ideas than a long list of mostly junk surrounding a few good ideas.

Even if you’re calling your list something like “top ten tips” or “101 things to do with cheese”, don’t get tempted to make the list longer just so the title seems more impressive. Your credibility will suffer if the list doesn’t provide the help or interest people were looking for.

What I find even more annoying is a list of say 20 things which actually turns out to be a list of 10 or 15 things. I’m not sure if these writers are deliberately trying to plump out a short list or don’t realise how repetitive they are being, but either way it wastes my time and I don’t like it.

Here are the common ways I’ve seen people repeat list items…

  • giving the same point in different terms. For example, “use good spelling and grammar” and “don’t misspell words or use bad grammar” as two separate points – obviously, they mean exactly the same thing!
  • making the same point in different words so it almost seems a different point. For instance “remember to market your existing customers as well as potential customers” is really the same as “don’t neglect your current customers in word of mouth campaigns” in a list of ideas for treating customers well
  • breaking one point into two points – neither point fully makes sense alone, but if they are long enough they can look acceptable

Are there are other common repetitions or problems with lists that you have come across? What has been your reaction to these annoyances?

Happy writing!

Style Guides

A style guide is simply a set of rules as to how your business produces it’s communication materials (including website content, letters, emails, marketing documents and promotional articles.)

By having a style guide, you can ensure everything you present to customers and potential customers is consistent and supports your brand. For instance, if someone reads a formal letter from you then visits your casual website, they will notice the difference and probably feel uncomfortable with it.

Style guides can be in bullet point on one page or they can be comprehensive manuals – it depends on the needs and size of the business. In fact, I have written both types for a single client as they used them for different purposes.

If you want to create a style guide, you can always start with the key points and slowly build it up as you gather further information to include.

A style sheet is a summary of a style guide that lists common words and how they are to be presented. For instance, does your business write Internet or internet? Or is Aussie acceptable or must it always be Australian?

P.S. I wrote a longer comparision betwen style guide and style sheet last Novemeber.