Grammar Moses: Take down pants, and spank yourself for getting this wrong

  • Denmark's Christian Eriksen takes off his pants as he prepares to enter the pitch as substitute in an international friendly soccer match against the Netherlands on Saturday, March 26, in Amsterdam. "Take down pants" is a mnemonic for "time/date/place."

    Denmark's Christian Eriksen takes off his pants as he prepares to enter the pitch as substitute in an international friendly soccer match against the Netherlands on Saturday, March 26, in Amsterdam. "Take down pants" is a mnemonic for "time/date/place." Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/3/2022 8:19 AM

In newspapers, we generally adhere to the order of time/date/place.

At least in my early days we did. Part of the reason for that was to be consistent, especially in long lists of events. And it's partly because the most important thing to know is WHEN something is happening, because it could be the best dang drag convention to come to the suburbs, but if it already happened you don't want to necessarily get your hopes up.

 

Newspapering is all about timeliness.

As a young editor, I had a mnemonic for this for reporters who couldn't seem to remember: Take Down Pants.

Check that. I didn't come up with it, but I sure ran with it.

It proved effective and it mostly kept me out of the HR director's office.

Sticking with time/date/place can get you out of a jam in your writing.

Take this sentence from a news release I received:

"State Sen. Smitty McSmithson (name changed to protect the senator) advanced a measure in the Illinois Senate that makes it easier for callers to reach 911 from hotels and businesses during an emergency on Thursday."

Not exactly a time/date/place issue, but putting the day at the end of the sentence leads me to wonder what the big emergency was on Thursday. And I wonder why the legislation was written so narrowly to target Thursdays.

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Clearly, the writer intended to convey that the bill was advanced on a Thursday -- not that anything of an emergency nature befell businesses and hotels on Thursdays.

The sentence should read: "State Sen. Smitty McSmithson on Thursday advanced a measure that would make it easier for callers to reach 911 from hotels and businesses during an emergency."

There's a word for that

If you leave a smudge of blackberry jam on the white countertop and can't be bothered to do more than wipe it up with your shirttail to avoid the wrath of your spouse -- because grabbing a wet paper towel is just too much effort -- that's called "velleity."

You also aren't thinking ahead, because if said spouse does your laundry, there will be hell to pay eventually.

When every day at work is pants optional and dental hygiene is something you consider only weekly, you've achieved a state of velleity.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If examples aren't enough, a dictionary definition is "the lowest degree of volition or desire."

The jury is out on whether you could use "velleity" to describe your marriage.

So, how does velleity compare to ennui, I wondered?

I can see that if you suffer from ennui you might also fall prey to velleity, but they're not synonymous.

"Ennui" is a boredom born of living a life of ease.

It follows that many of us fall prey to velleity from time to time in the age of remote working, but few of us have the time to suffer from ennui.

Cnew to me

Regular reader Shawn Killackey visited the New Orleans Aquarium recently and took note of a sign near a display of jellies, anemones and corals that said they all fall under the phylum cnidaria -- whose members are composed primarily of water-filled gelatinous cells.

Appetizing, I know.

Shawn's point was that while he's seen words that begin with gn- and kn-, he doesn't remember seeing any that begin with cn-.

Neither do I.

From what I can surmise, there aren't too many of them.

The cnicus benedictus is a thistle-like plant from the Mediterranean area.

The cnemidophorus exsanguis is a Chihuauan whiptail lizard.

And the CN Tower is Toronto's answer to the Space Needle.

And there you have it.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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