February 2, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Fill in the Blank

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 10:02 am
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When is a girl really a woman? When is a boy a man? When do children stop being children and become adults? Okay, we are starting to sound like a style manual version of Bob Dylan—but these answers are not blowing in the wind, they are in an AMA Manual of Style quiz on age and sex referents. Below are some simple fill in the blank exercises to guide you when you take this quiz.

Use the following terms to fill in the blanks: woman, man, newborn, adolescent, and infant. (To see the answers, highlight the blank space with your mouse.)

A person from birth to 1 month of age is a(n) newborn.

A female person older than 18 years is a(n) woman.

A male person older than 18 years is a(n) man.

A person aged 1 month to 1 year is a(n) infant.

A person aged 13 through 17 years is a(n) adolescent.

For additional exercises on age and sex referent usage in medical publications, take this month’s quiz at—Laura King, MA, ELS

January 24, 2012

Envy, Jealousy

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 11:10 am
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Words that convey similar meanings sometimes come to be used interchangeably. In the case of envy/envious and jealousy/jealous, though, the move seems to have been in one direction only; jealousy is often used in place of envy (“I’m so jealous of your new job”) but not vice-versa (one does not write, for example, “He was poisoned by his envious wife.”). Theodore Bernstein further points out that jealousy is sometimes used, not merely in place of envy, but as a stronger form: “‘There, within a stone’s throw of the sea, he makes his home, and his description of how he does this makes one move from envy to downright jealousy.’”1 A human, and perhaps all-too-familiar, state of affairs—anyone who denies having experienced such a progression of emotion is either hopelessly out of touch with his or her feelings or a liar.

However, although jealous has been used in place of envious since the late 1300s2 and using jealous as a more intense form of envious creates no confusion, it is often held that the words have distinct meanings and that this distinction should be maintained. Even authorities sometimes flounder around a bit when trying to nail the distinction,3 but in general envy is taken to convey a coveting of the wealth, possessions, or success of someone else,4 whereas jealousy is often taken to convey a state of “intolerance of a rival for the possession of a thing which one regards as peculiarly one’s own or for the winning of which one has set one’s heart….”4 Jealousy also can be used in a less grasping sense to indicate the understandable guarding of some possession or attribute, as in “new colonies were jealous of their new independence.”5 Both of the latter meanings highlight that jealousy concerns an attitude toward something that one has or believes one has. In this sense, envious and jealous are not interchangeable—one can jealously guard something, but one cannot enviously guard something.

However, jealous also often carries a frank note of hostility, “a strong implication of distrust, suspicion, enviousness, or sometimes anger.4 This might suggest why the person seeking a word with a bit more heft than envious will sometimes use jealous instead—quite simply, when casting about for a suitably malicious word in the heat of the moment, jealous is low-hanging fruit.

On the other hand, envy is not the innocuous little milquetoast that it at first seems. True, it can be used without malice; one can say, for example, “I don’t envy him his mother in law.” Equally true, it has in the past been used in a noble sense—Aristotle wrote of “good envy,” an admiration that drives one to emulate another3—although that usage has been rare since the 1600s and is now nearly obsolete.6 Certainly, envy carries less emotional charge than jealousy. But to assume that envy is simply a meek cousin of jealousy is to make a mistake.

If jealousy implies strong emotion that often is perhaps all too apparent to everyone involved, envy can imply something more clandestine; as Joseph Epstein puts it, “Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor, and spite all cluster at the center of envy.”3 Used in this sense, envy suddenly becomes a different animal altogether, and, as Epstein further points out, “The openness changes the nature of the game. Envy is almost never out in the open; it is secretive, plotting, behind the scenes.”3 Perhaps this is another reason that jealousy is often used, albeit subconsciously, in place of envy—after all, envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins; jealousy is not.

In short, although envy and jealousy have long been used interchangeably and jealousy has come to be frequently used in place of envy, the words do denote different states, and the careful writer should take care to maintain the distinction between them. Both can be used in neutral ways (“She was jealous of her honor”; “I don’t envy him his workload”), but both also can carry weightier meanings; in choosing between them, one might keep in mind that “The real distinction is that one is jealous of what one has, envious of what other people have.”3

The bottom line:

● Looking for a word that expresses the coveting of what someone else has? Use envy.

● Looking for a word that expresses the guarding of what one has or believes one has? Use jealousy.

● Keep in mind that although jealousy is often used as a more intense form of envy, it might be better to use another word or to reword the sentence so as to retain envy.—Phil Sefton, ELS


1. Envy, jealousy. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:166-167.

2. Jealous. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:892.

3. Epstein J. The green-eyed monster: envy is nothing to be jealous of. Washington Monthly website. July/August 2003. Accessed December 13, 2011.

4. Envious, jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 1984:295.

5. Jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:671.

6. Envy. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:523.

January 5, 2012

Free-range Verbs

Filed under: usage — amastyleinsider @ 2:16 pm
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“Patients in the intervention group received doses of study drug in the range of 80 to 325 mg.”

“Patients in the intervention group received doses of study drug ranging from 80 to 325 mg.”

Both of these sentences use forms of the verb range in the sense of “to change or differ within limits”1 or “to vary between certain limits; to form a varying set or series.”2 And both use the word correctly, yes?

The answer would at first seem to be a firm “perhaps.” Some language purists might suggest that range is a verb (at least when so used), and it is not possible for doses and other inanimate subjects to “range.” In this view, the second sentence above would be incorrect. On the other hand, the use of range with inanimate subjects seems quite widespread in everyday speech and writing (eg, “prices ranging from $1 to $15”; “topics ranging from A to Z”). So is this a case of language purists insisting on a distinction that has long since begun to evaporate or yet another case of language becoming more permissive with time?

When attempting to formulate an answer to this question, at least 3 concepts might come into play. First, it is important to note that, unlike some languages such as Japanese3 and the American Indian language Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin),4 which have different verb forms for use with animate and inanimate subjects, English makes no such distinction. So perhaps those who insist that verbs may be used only with animate subjects are taking their cue from the grammars of other languages with which they might be familiar.

Second, English does distinguish between animate and inanimate subjects when it comes to selecting relative pronouns—who is used with animate subjects (eg, “Patients who received the study drug….”); that is used with groups or inanimate subjects (eg, “The group that best responded….”; “The drug that was administered first….”). Setting aside the questions of whether that constructions are always necessary in such sentences (“The drug administered first….”) and also of whether who should be used only when the subject is human and that used when the subject is nonhuman but animate, it seems possible that a distinction maintained for one part of speech has been analogously applied to another.

Third, there is some precedent in English for avoiding the possessive with inanimate subjects, although that precedent has been on the wane for some time. As early as 1965, Theodore Bernstein quoted American grammarian George O. Curme as saying that, to take the possessive, “‘the [subject] must usually have some sort of individual life like a living being, but this idea of life may be very faint. It is faintest when the name of a thing is used as the subject of a gerund, where it is often not felt at all.’”5 In his discussion Bernstein cites such common examples as “death’s door,” “sun’s warmth,” “ship’s propeller,” and “storm’s fury”; he further notes that inanimate subjects may take the possessive when poetic effect is desired, citing as examples “April’s breeze” and “river’s trembling edge.” However, Bernstein does also point out that the use of the possessive with inanimate subjects is a throwback to previously accepted usage: “Undoubtedly we are witnessing these days a reversion in part from the prepositional genitive—the specialty of the day—to the simple ‘s’ genitive of the older days—the day’s specialty.” So again, it seems entirely possible that over time a distinction maintained for one part of speech might have come to be analogously applied to another; moreover, if that is the case, the new distinction (verbs should be used only with animate subjects) seems to have been based on a distinction (only animate subjects can take the possessive) that superseded earlier usage (animate and inanimate subjects can both take the possessive) but that is once again in decline.

Certainly the use of verbs such as range with inanimate subjects has been accepted since at least the 1830s.2 When David Livingstone wrote in 1857 that “The thermometer early in the mornings ranged from 42° to 52°,”2 he surely meant that the temperature varied between those limits—but he nevertheless was using range in a manner already accepted and considered correct. In a discussion of which prepositions best follow range, Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage cites an example from 1973: “‘…ranging from a whisper to a bray.’”6 (Incidentally, it is pointed out in that same discussion that while Bernstein states that range should be followed only by the prepositions through, with, along, or between, in actual usage range is most commonly followed by from.) More recently still, the 10th edition of the AMA Manual of Style provides, in a discussion of an unrelated point, the example “The percentage of patients who reported gastrointestinal symptoms ranged from 20% to 30%.” (§19.7.2, Percentages, p 831 in print). However, it is worth keeping in mind that when using ranging or ranged with inanimate subjects and describing variation between set limits, those limits should be specified whenever possible (eg, “doses ranging from 80 to 325 mg”) to avoid imprecision.

So free up those verbs, and let those cases, diagnoses, doses, incidence rates, etc, range from X to Y. Just be certain that X and Y are defined when possible, and avoid constructions such as “widely ranging doses” or “incidence rates ranged widely.” —Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Range. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:1030.
2. Range. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1508.
3. More verbs, Japanese grammar and the particle “ni.” All About Teaching English in Japan Web site. Accessed January 3, 2012.
4. Anishaabemowin grammar: verbs: transitivity and animacy. University of Wisconsin Letters and Science Learning and Support Services Web site. Accessed January 3, 2012.
5. Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Atheneum; 1965:336-337.
6. Range. Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 1989:796.

November 30, 2011

Flaunt, Flout, Vaunt

Filed under: usage — amastyleinsider @ 11:01 am
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Malapropisms: as users of language, we are all guilty of using them sometimes. In the heat of trying to express ourselves, we use one word in place of another—particularly when those words sound similar—and soon we are flaunting accepted usage. Or would that be flouting accepted usage?

To begin with, flaunt relates to vainglorious or ostentatious display, whereas flout denotes an expression of disdain or contempt, often for something forbidden by rule or custom (one grammar blog neatly sums this up by stating that “you flaunt something you like and flout something you don’t”1). Flaunt is used transitively (“Lamilia stopped off to flaunt her ermine and her jewels”) as well as intransitively (“Lamilia came flaunting by, garnished with the jewels whereof she beguiled him”2(p602)) and also is often used in a quasi-transitive sense2(p602) (eg, the currently common “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”). Similarly, flout may be used transitively (eg, the currently common “flout the law”) or intransitively (“It never came into our thoughts… to flout, in so bold a manner”2(p609)). However, flout is not typically used in the quasi-transitive sense.

So flaunt and flout, while often confused, do have distinct meanings. Prescriptive grammarians will point out that flaunt and flout are thus distinct terms and should not be used interchangeably, whereas grammarians with more descriptive leanings will be less inclined to observe a distinction in meaning, in particular maintaining that flaunt may sometimes be used when prescriptive usage would call for flout. Indeed, some authorities, such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, now accept the use of flaunt in place of flout in certain constructions—specifically, when the transitive is required (“meting out punishment to the occasional mavericks who operate rigged games, tolerate rowdyism, or otherwise flaunt the law”3). However, at least in relation to this pair of words, the prescriptivists would seem to hold the upper hand. First, flaunt is acceptable (from a descriptive standpoint) in place of flout only when the transitive is required. Second, flout is rarely used in place of flaunt. Third and most importantly, flaunt and flout are similar only in the way they sound, rather than in their (until recently) accepted meanings.

To further complicate matters, though, flaunt is sometimes—albeit quite rarely—confused with vaunt, which denotes boasting or bragging. Like the former, vaunt may be used transitively (“He vaunts his Conquest, She conceals Her Shame”2(p2217)) or intransitively (“They laud their verses, they boast, they vaunt, they jest”2(p2217)) and as early as the 1600s was used in a quasi-transitive sense (“to vant it or vie in gaming”2(p2217)). However, the confusion between flaunt and vaunt stems not only from their marked similarity in sound but also from their somewhat similar meanings (to display oneself boastfully or ostentatiously, often so as to show off one’s attractiveness or possessions, compared with using language boastfully, often to boast of an accomplishment). Indeed, given the similarities in sound and meaning that exist between these two words, it is perhaps surprising that they are not confused more often. On the whole, however, language users usually seem to recognize the difference between these words, and even descriptive usage does not yet support the use of vaunt in place of flaunt or vice versa.

In short, flaunt, flout, and vaunt are sometimes used as malapropisms for one another, particularly in spoken language. However, these terms have distinct meanings and, despite their similarity in sound as well as the increasing support in some circles for sometimes using flaunt in place of flout, currently it is preferable to maintain the distinctions between these terms and to use them as they have predominantly been used over time. Or, to take some liberties with the quasi-transitive:

If you’ve got it, flaunt it;

If you did it, vaunt it;

If they forbid it, flout it.—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Motivated Grammar: Flout good taste; flaunt your excesses. Accessed November 30, 2011.
2. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991.
3. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:477.

November 21, 2011

Condition, Disease, Disorder

Filed under: usage — amastyleinsider @ 11:00 am
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“Disease often fortifies the system against the action of remedies.”

“Disorder often fortifies the system against the action of remedies.”

Which of these sentences is correct? As it happens, the first is an actual quote (H. C. Wood, 1879)1(p445) and so in that sense is the “correct” one. However, the question remains: What are the differences, if any, between disease and disorder? For that matter, where does the often-used condition fit in? While these terms are frequently used interchangeably, differences between them do exist and can assist the person wishing to use them in more specific senses.

Condition is perhaps the least specific, often denoting states of health considered normal or healthy but nevertheless posing implications for the provision of health care (eg, pregnancy). The term might also be used to indicate grades of health (eg, a patient might be described as in stable, serious, or critical condition). While this term is often used in medical discussions to specifically indicate the presence of pathology or illness, Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary provides no definition of the term used in this sense. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, however, defines condition as “a usu. defective state of health,”2(p258) and the Oxford English Dictionary similarly opines that it denotes “[a] state of health, esp. one which is poor or abnormal; a malady or sickness.”1(p309) In lay conversation condition is sometimes used euphemistically when a discreet term is desired for reference to a state of health, either well or ill—for example, delicate condition was once commonly used to refer to either pregnancy or alcoholism. Similarly, condition understood specifically to indicate the presence of pathology or illness is sometimes used as a value-neutral term when a stronger term might not be desirable. When such considerations do not come into play, a condition conferring illness can be further classified as a disease or a disorder.

“He was full of such disease. That he may nought the deth escape” (1393).1(p445)

Disease is often used in a general sense when referring to conditions affecting a physical system (eg, cardiovascular disease) or a part of the body (eg, diseases of the foot). The term also may be used in specific senses—for example, a writer might refer in general terms to neurologic disease or in specific terms to Alzheimer disease. But disease is perhaps most often used when referring to a condition that possesses specific characteristics. In this vein, Merriam-Webster’s defines disease as “a condition of the… body or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms…”2(p358); the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word similarly but particularly stresses structural change as a cause.1(p445) Dorland’s concurs with these sources but makes clear that the impaired functioning associated with the diseased state may constitute “any deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function…” and further elaborates that “the etiology, pathology, or prognosis may be unclear or unknown.”3(p535)

“A Fever is the first disorder that affects the Blood and Vessels” (1725).1(p449)

Compared with disease, disorder is less restrictive: Merriam-Webster’s defines it simply as “an abnormal physical or mental condition,”2(p360) a definition with which Dorland’s largely concurs.3(p555) The Oxford English Dictionary emphasizes that disorder involves a disturbance of function but again further stresses structural change, this time in negative terms, stating that disorder is “usually a weaker term than DISEASE, and not implying structural change.”1(p449) This emphasis on functional rather than structural change has been in place since at least the late 1800s, when the Lexicon of Medicine and Allied Sciences stated that disorder is “a term frequently used in medicine to imply functional disturbance, in opposition to manifest structural change.”1(p449) Because disorder, like condition, is relatively value-neutral when compared with disease, it is often used in place of the latter term when a less stigmatizing or less alarming term is desirable—eg, a clinician might at first refer to a patient’s disease as a disorder to reduce the patient’s initial anxiety; similarly, the same patient might initially refer to his or her recently diagnosed disease as a disorder in conversations with family and friends.

In short, what distinguishes condition, disease, and disorder from one another would seem to be their relative emphases on functional change, structural change, presence of signs and symptoms, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the gravity a writer wishes to convey:

Condition simply indicates a state of health, whether well or ill; a condition conferring illness might be further classified as a disease or a disorder—however, condition might be used in place of disease or disorder when a value-neutral term is desired.
Disease denotes a condition characterized by functional impairment, structural change, and the presence of specific signs and symptoms. As an aside, Dorland’s equates the terms illness and sickness with disease; while these are often used to indicate the state or experience of disease, they are also sometimes used as value-neutral alternatives for disease.
Disorder, in contrast, denotes a condition characterized by functional impairment without structural change and, while certain disorders or categories of disorders might be accompanied by specific signs and symptoms, their presence is not required for a condition to be termed a disorder. Like condition, disorder is sometimes used as a value-neutral term in place of disease.—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991.
2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003.
3. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 31st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

November 14, 2011

Quiz Bowl: Study Designs

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 2:38 pm
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Okay, show of hands, who knows the difference between a cost-effectiveness study and a cost-benefit analysis? Can you explain what makes a study retrospective vs prospective? What’s the name for the study that pools the results of 2 or more studies to address a hypothesis?

Let’s admit it. Most manuscript editors are at a loss when it comes to understanding the different medical study designs, but at least a cursory knowledge in this area will help as you edit manuscripts. This month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz is on study designs. Test your knowledge in this area by answering the following sample question from the quiz:

Which type of study compares those who have had an outcome or event with those who have not?

case-control study

case series

cohort study


Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

case-control study

Of the multiple answer options given, case-control study is the most appropriate. According to the AMA Manual of Style, “Case-control studies, which are always retrospective, compare those who have had an outcome or event (cases) with those who have not (controls). A case series “describes characteristics of a group of patients with a particular disease or patients who have undergone a particular procedure.” A cohort study “follows a group or cohort of individuals who are initially free of the outcome of interest.” Finally, a meta-analysis “is a systematic pooling of the results of 2 or more studies to address a question of interest or hypothesis.”

If you want more examples to test your knowledge on study designs, take the Study Design Quiz on the AMA Manual of Style online.—Laura King, MA, ELS

November 4, 2011

Cheat Sheet for Abbreviations Style

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Abbreviations are a convenience, a time saver, a space saver, and a way of avoiding the possibility of misspelling words. However, a price can be paid for their use. Abbreviations are sometimes not understood. They can be misread, or are interpreted incorrectly. … The person who uses an abbreviation must take responsibility for making sure that it is properly interpreted.—Neil M. Davis1

Abbreviations are used widely in medical articles, and great care should be taken to provide expansions that define these abbreviations. The AMA Manual of Style includes a straightforward rule regarding the use of abbreviations: Define abbreviations at first mention by providing the expanded term first, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses, and the abbreviation is used thereafter.

But for every rule, there are exceptions.

Some Exceptions:

• Avoid creating abbreviations for terms that are easy to spell out and do not take up a lot of space. For example, it is not advisable to abbreviate “catheter ablation” as “CA” or “immune response” as “IR.” Also, avoid using too many abbreviations in any one article.

• If a term is better known as an abbreviation, provide the abbreviation first with the definition following in parentheses. “The TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick-end labeling) staining assay was carried out using an apoptosis detection kit.”

• It is inelegant to begin sentences with abbreviations, unless the expansion is so unwieldy that using the abbreviation makes sense. The previous example, TUNEL, also works here. Rather than begin a sentence with the cumbersome expansion, it is acceptable to begin the sentence with the abbreviation TUNEL.

• Abbreviations should not be introduced in headings. If an abbreviation is being used for the first time in a heading, expand the abbreviation in the heading; then, at first mention in the running text after the heading, expand the abbreviation again, with the abbreviation following in parentheses. Use the abbreviation thereafter.

• Some very common abbreviations do not require expanding at first mention, such as AIDS, TNM, UV, and CD-ROM. A complete list of these abbreviations is provided in section 14.11, with those that do not require expansion denoted by an asterisk.

• The efficiency of using an abbreviation is lost if the abbreviation is used only one time, so as a rule of thumb, introduce an abbreviation only if it is used at least 2 or 3 times.

Items of Note:

• Tables, figures, and abstracts are treated as separate items from the text, so abbreviated terms must be reexpanded in each of these items.

• Use the appropriate article (a or an) before an abbreviation according to the sound following the article (eg, a UN resolution, an HMO plan).

• Use a lowercase s (and no apostrophe) when making abbreviations plural (eg, NSAIDs).—Lauren B. Fischer

1. Davis NM. MEDical ABBREViations: 28,000 Conveniences at the Expense of Communication and Safety. 13th ed. Warminster, PA: Neil M Davis Associates; 2007:1.

October 25, 2011

Masterful, Masterly

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 1:49 pm
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Writers are often taught that masterful and masterly mean different things and to ensure that they are used correctly. Masterful, so such thinking goes, is taken to mean “suggestive of a domineering nature,” or “inclined and [usually] competent to act as master,”1 whereas masterly is used to denote “having the power and skill of a master.”1

However, the use of masterful to mean “skillful” is now widespread; as Bernstein, clearly a proponent of maintaining the distinction, pithily puts it, “masterly is never misused; masterful often is….”2 Moreover, it seems that the distinction has not always been observed. Whereas masterful has been used in the sense of “domineering” since the 1330s,3 it also was used to mean “skillful” as early as 1613.3 And whereas masterly was used in the sense of “skillful” since the mid 1600s,3 it also was used to mean “domineering” as early as the 1530s,3 although that use has been obsolete since the late 18th century.3

In short, both words have been used to indicate “skillful” since roughly the time of King James I of England. However, the idea that writers should distinguish between them is comparatively new1—and such a late addition of a distinction is the reverse of the more common case, in which a distinction between words ceases to hold sway as the language evolves.

The origin of the distinction? Merriam-Websters posits that it was “excogitated by a 20th century pundit”1—this “pundit” apparently none other than Henry Watson Fowler, editor of The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, coeditor of The Concise Oxford Dictionary and The King’s English, and author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.4 In the latter work, Fowler established a distinction between masterful and masterly that was taken up by authorities such as Bernstein2 and that continues to be trumpeted to this day.5 Fowler’s reason for introducing the distinction? Masterly has only 1 sense (at least since its use to mean “domineering” became obsolete), so masterful should be limited to a single sense as well.1

However, some also have argued for the use of masterful in place of masterly in adverbial constructions, pointing out that although masterly is properly used as an adverb as well as an adjective, its use as an adverb seems awkward, even incorrect; eg, “He paints masterly.”2 Moreover, masterly, like many words ending in “y,” is what Bernstein (who nevertheless advocates distinguishing between the words) calls a “reluctant” adverb—ie, a word that resists serving as or being turned into an adverb.6 To make matters worse, masterly takes another adverbial form, the admittedly horrid masterlily.

Where does this leave the conscientious writer? Like Fowler, several modern authorities deem the distinction a valuable one5 and often advocate recasting a sentence to allow a more mellifluous use of a reluctant adverb5,6: hence, the sentence “Its wooden gables… showed how masterly they had been carved of old”3 might be recast as “Its wooden gables… showed the masterly manner in which they had been carved of old,” or similar. “A retreat of this kind,” Bernstein maintains, “is better than clumsy bravado.”6

At least one like-minded authority, however, has conceded that the battle to maintain the distinction—whatever its merits—has likely been lost.5 The prevalence of masterful in everyday usage confirms that opinion, receiving further support from the fact that the words have developed in roughly parallel fashion over time.3 Merriam-Websters concurs, maintaining that masterful used in the sense of “skillful” “has continued in reputable use all along; it cannot rationally be called an error.”1 Moreover, it has been suggested that using masterful in its original sense might even confuse readers now accustomed to the use of masterful to mean “skillful.”7

The bottom line:

● Using masterful in place of masterly to mean “skillful”? You’re in good company, and that usage has a long history. However:

● Set on maintaining a distinction between masterful and masterly? You can’t go wrong there, either. True enough, some readers might be confused by the use of masterful in its original sense—but since when do writers shrink from using words correctly to avoid confusion?—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:764.

2. Masterful, masterly. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:269.

3. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1045.

4. Sheidlower J. Elegant variation and all that. The Atlantic Online Web site. December 1996. Accessed September 16, 2011.

5. Masterful, masterly. Good English Rules! Web site. Accessed September 16, 2011.

6. Adverbs, reluctant. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:27.

7. Masterful vs. masterly. Grammarist Web site. Accessed September 16, 2011.

September 20, 2011

Purposely, Purposefully

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 12:45 pm
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These words sound similar, and over time their meanings have come to overlap somewhat. Generally, however, they are regarded as having different meanings and uses—although the differences are admittedly subtle—and in choosing between them, writers should carefully consider the message they wish to convey.

Purposely—meaning “with a deliberate or express purpose”1 or “intentionally”2—was first on the scene, entering usage in the late 1400s.2 A second meaning, “to good purpose; effectively,” came into use about 100 years later but is now considered obsolete.2

In contrast, purposefully—meaning “full of determination”1—was a relative latecomer, not coming into use until the mid 1800s,2 and is still used in those senses. Over time, though, purposefully also has come to be used interchangeably with purposely in the sense of “intentionally,”2 perhaps because something done with determination is also done intentionally. But of course the reverse is not necessarily true, which suggests that writers should use purposely when referring to intention alone.

To some ears, however, purposely sounds uneducated or incorrect, leading some writers to instead use purposefully in error; moreover, writers simply looking for a more impressive word will also sometimes instead use purposefully—again incorrectly.3 But even when purposefully is the correct choice, writers should take care that their intended meaning is not misconstrued. For example, the statement “On occasion, a clinician might purposely elicit pain” likely simply means that the clinician is intentionally eliciting pain (for the purpose of making a diagnosis). On the other hand, the statement “On occasion, a clinician might purposefully elicit pain” might imply that the clinician is determinedly eliciting pain (again—one can only hope—for the purpose of making a diagnosis). In both instances, careful handling of the context can make clear that the elicitation of pain is a necessary evil in service of a worthy end. For example, simply ending either of the above statements with “to help make a diagnosis” can go a long way toward ensuring that the clinician is not construed as something of a sadist.

The bottom line:

●Is “intentionally” the intended message? Use purposely.

●Is “full of determination” the intended message? Use purposefully.

●In both cases, however, take care to ensure that the context helps readers determine the intended meaning.—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:1011.

2. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1474.

3. Purposefully, purposely. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:376.

September 15, 2011

Jarring Jargon

Theodore M. Bernstein, in The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage, describes jargon as “meaningless, unintelligible speech,” which is how some people might describe their last conversation with their physician. In science and medicine, many barriers to clear communication exist, with jargon being one of them. In fact, it’s so difficult for physicians and patients to communicate clearly that a federal program has been created to promote simplified health-related language nationwide. The Health Literacy Action Plan is a “national action plan to improve health literacy.” The entire action plan is 73 pages (which is probably their first mistake) and it highlights the fact that we have a problem.

As editors, we know that jargon is to be avoided in medical literature. While jargon may evolve for the most innocuous of reasons, it is a vocabulary specific to a profession that sometimes is esoteric or pretentious and that can be confusing to those not familiar with it (sometimes to those familiar with it as well). “Inside talk” can be just that by design—it keeps outsiders out. Therein lies the source of the negative feelings about jargon.

In addition to being exclusive, some jargon is offensive and unprofessional. Have you ever seen an FLK? Probably. That’d be a funny-looking kid. “We bagged her in the ER” sounds ominous; what it means is that a patient was given ventilatory assistance with a bag-valve-mask prior to intubation in the emergency department. Hopefully the emergency department physician didn’t describe the patient as a GOMER. This means “get out of my emergency room” and could refer to, for instance, an elderly patient who is demented or unconscious and near death and who perhaps should die peacefully rather than occupy emergency department resources. In this example, jargon diminishes the complexity of a situation that should be dealt with in a more thoughtful way. As Bernstein writes, “All the words that describe the kinds of specialized language that fall within this classification [of inside talk] have connotations that range from faintly to strongly disparaging.”

Jargon also sometimes violates rules of grammar, eg, turning nouns into verbs, “The doctor scoped the patient,” or creating back-formations, like “The patient’s extremities were cyanosed,” instead of “The patient’s extremities showed signs of cyanosis.” Jargon can sometimes appear to depersonalize, by defining a person in terms of a disease. A “bypassed patient” may be one who has undergone coronary artery bypass graft surgery rather than one who has been overlooked. Sometimes, patients might be referred to by their organs, such as “the lung in room 502” instead of “the patient in room 502 with lung disease.”

The AMA Manual of Style lists examples of jargon to avoid in section 11.4, Jargon. Some other examples that we’ve collected over the years are listed here:

* Collodion baby is better phrased as collodion baby phenotype or “the infant had a collodion membrane at birth.”

* Surgeons perform operations or surgical procedures, not surgeries.

* Rather than say a patient has a complaint, describe the patient’s primary concern.

* Do not use shorthand (eg, exam for examination, preemie for premature infant, prepped for prepared).

* Euphemisms sometimes are not clear and should be avoided: “The patient died” is preferred to “The patient succumbed or expired”; the same holds true for killed vs sacrificed (in discussion of animal subjects).

* Patients aren’t “put on” medication, they’re treated with medication. Also, patients aren’t “placed on” ventilators, they’re given ventilatory assistance.

Certainly jargon does have its place. It is specialized, and those in the same field can use it to communicate precisely and quickly. However, when it comes to medical and scientific publications, jargon is best avoided. Bernstein ends his entry on “inside talk” with the following: “It must never be forgotten that the function of writing is communication.” Clear enough.—Lauren Fischer

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