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HR's Herd-thinner Has Your Pop Quiz Ready, but Maybe He's Only Fad Surfing.

Remember the dreaded pop quiz? Merriam Webster's 10th Collegiate says the label -- born in the sixties -- identifies "an unscheduled or unannounced quiz." Eroder of the cherished grade-point average, it remains to this day a land mine in the path of the unor the under-prepared.

Of course we are all our of school now, except perhaps for our colleagues in crisis communication, where every day can be a school day. But what if some HR herd-thinner were to sell the boss on pop quizzes for corporate communicators "just to see where our strengths lie"? How would you fare? Let's find out...strictly for grins:

Books and papers away, now. Answer the following in as much detail as you can.

1) Identify and correct the grammatical sin in this July 3 Boston Globe sentence: "Walking by one evening, the lights had been left on in... the conference room.

2) Will you edit this sentence from Natural Living Today (May/June 2000)? If so, state why: "Warning: Both echinacea and goldenseal are considered relatively safe, however echinacea may be contraindicated (in certain cases)...."

3) Andrew Ferguson's June 5 essay in Time magazine visited the question of President Clinton's being "ethical enough to be an Arkansas lawyer?" Ferguson wrote that Clinton's defenders will argue "that his long years of 'public service' mitigate against punishment...." Will you challenge anything?

4) Finally, in his USA TODAY story (June 8), Jerry Potter said of physician/golfer Trey Holland, "Holland worked his way through.. ,Wabash College and then studied medicine at the University of Indiana." Any edit?

What you shoulda/mighta said appears here:

* For those with a few unclaimed shekels left in the 2001 budget pool, be aware that Houghton Mifflin plans a September launch for the 4th edition of its flagship American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Like its forebears, AHD4 will feature writer-friendly Usage Notes -- updated, of course - based on observations made on surveys that are sent periodically to its 150+ member Usage Panel of experts. Price etc. will be covered in CW when our review copy comes.

Already set to help you control your spin is the Y2K CD-ROM arrangement of Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary (unabridged) for Macintosh and Windows, the oldest and most comprehensive of major U.S. dictionaries. For U.S. $69.95, this potent disc offers 472,000 words plus 140,000 etymologies; it's rooted in the 1993 supplement to the original 1961 print edition. Add a fast and no-cost link to M-W's annually revised 10th Collegiate via the Web, and this is one powerful streaming resource for working writers. A CD/Print bundle is soon due out for about U.S. $150.

* Pop quiz answers: 1) Participial phrase Walking by one evening does not logically attach to the lights, which is the subject of the main clause. It is left to dangle. Fix by making the main clause say (Someone) noticed that the lights had been left on. 2) When the clauses of a compound sentence are internally punctuated, or when conjunctive adverb however appears, a semicolon between the clauses usually makes things clearer for the reader. Here, let the semicolon follow safe. 3) Be curious about those semi-soundalike words like mitigate, recalling that it is all right to grope your dictionary. Mitigate means "To make or become milder, less severe, less rigorous, or less painful; moderate." (Webster's New World College Dict., 4th ed.) Ferguson wants militate. It means to have weight or effect against. 4) CW correspondent and IU alum Bill Brooks howls from Indianapolis, "WRONG! Indiana University! Potter, you could look it up." Gotta jot that down -- look it up....

Scoring: More than one miscue, here comes the herd-thinner.

* ABC and Arizona State U. p.r. director Wilma Mathews was browsing an online horoscope for Capricoms a while ago and was unimpressed by this summary line: "It might also be a good idea to get an objectionable third party's view of the situation. Mathews will nor do that, trust me. But her snippet calls to mind a wire service sentence I once read: "He was charged with negligible homicide." Look it up.

* IABC's Kathleen Much had to help a San Jose Mercury columnist change a linguistic tire in a story about employee training in India. Much wrote as follows: "I wish you had corrected the Indian customer service trainer's teaching that 'George Washington's wife was born Martha Dandridge Custis.' (8 May 2000). She was born Martha Dandridge; Custis was her first husband's surname." Another zinger. Thanks, KM.

* Our thanks also to American Speech (Spring 2000), journal of the American Dialect Society, for these emerging terms: blabbermouthpiece -- n an indiscreet public relations spokesperson; bungee jumper -- n (among medical workers) a patient who pulls out his or her catheter tube; fad surfing -- n corporate management practice closely following new fashions and trends in management styles as devised by consultants.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations.
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Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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