3 little words make a hendiatris

A hendiatris is a figure of speech in which 3 consecutive words express a central idea.

Examples of a hendiatris (pronounce it hen DIE a triss) include:

  • “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” [President Franklin Roosevelt’s advice for speakers.]
  • “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” [Olympic motto meaning “Faster, higher, stronger]
  • “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” [French motto meaning “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”]
  • “Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar’s boast: “I came. I saw. I conquered.”]
  • “Wine, women, and song.” [Anonymous]

Writing tip: Use a hendriatis to add pizzazz to your writing.

How to incorporate threes into your nonfiction writing.

More about incorporating threes into your nonfiction writing.

Proofread for consistency and accuracy


Why proofread? It makes everyone look good. It’s an essential part of quality control.

Even little errors and inconsistencies can shake readers’ confidence in the accuracy of what we write. Replace if for it. Your for you. Your for you’re. Iversen for Iverson. Fix misspelled names and misused words.

What is proofreading?

Most people think of proofreading as skimming a document to catch and mark errors. In this sense, most people occasionally proofread, if only to check the personal letters they write. When you proofread your business and professional papers and electronic messages, however, you must take the process seriously.

  • Professional proofreading involves comparing two versions of the same document to catch errors and to mark them so the creator understands the instruction.
  • Proofreading compares the live copy (the newly produced version) to the dead copy (the author’s original version) – word for word and letter for letter
  • What a proofreader does.
  • A proofreader works with language that is hand-written, typed or onscreen.
  • You are doing comparison As a proofreader, you mark the live copy where it differs from the dead, such as where letters, words, or lines are omitted or repeated.

The cost of not proofreading

  • Years ago, in Ottawa County, Mich., someone failed to notice that the typist skipped the L in public on a proposed amendment for an election ballot. Someone had to pay $40,000 to correct the embarrassing typo and reprint 170,000 ballots.
  • A Bucks County judge slashed a lawyer’s fee because of typos. In court filings, the lawyer frequently mentioned the “United States District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.” That’s “Easter” instead of “Eastern.” The judge wrote: “Considering the religious persuasion of the presiding officer, the ‘Passover’ District would have been more appropriate.” And the lawyer addressed the judge as “Jacon,” not “Jacob,” Hart. The cost of these typos, termed “careless, to the point of disrespectful”? A reduction of a $300 hourly fee to $150. Take that and spell-check it.
  • Here are three wonderful examples of simple misteaks.

Leak soup. (On the menu at a retirement community. A grim dining choice for people who perceive their youth is dribbling away.)

Duel air bags. (Me, I usually spar with the seatbelts. (From captions on GMA.)

A sign in the parking lot of Wills Eye Hospital pointed to the proper place for WILLS EYE DROP OFF. Deliver your ears to Pennsylvania Hospital and drive your legs to the University of Pennsylvania.

Write great beginnings

north-of-here-seattle
Journalists call story openings “ledes.”

Whether you call them beginnings, openings or ledes, you need to agonize over them – because you have about 250 words to grab your readers.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, gravely, “and go on ’till you come to the end. Then stop.” Lewis Carroll.

Up top, identify the message of the e-mail, web page or article. Learn new ways to begin a piece of writing. “A lead ought to shine like a flashlight, down into the whole piece, if possible,” says John McPhee.

Avoid these bland, trite leads

  • An apology or complaint: As you probably know….
  • A panorama or vague overview: Urban sprawl is a problem each of us faces every day.
  • A truism, a cliché, the obvious or platitudes: We are dedicated to being the world’s best at bringing people together – giving them easy access to each other and to the information and services they want and need – anytime, anywhere.
  • The Adam-and-Eve approach: Back when the company was founded….
  • There’s good news and there’s bad news….
  • A dictionary definition.
  • To whom it may concern.
  • Dear Sir or Madam.
  • Enclosed (or attached) please find.
  • It has come to my attention.

2 stories in 1 week on Newsworks

hooked a big one

Proud to have scored two bylines in a few days on Newsworks.org, the website of WHYY-TV and WHYY-FM.

“In a world of ‘not my job,’ do you shut up or speak up?” asks whether people are tattle-tales or whistle-blowers — or not. It starts with a story of what happened when a lifeguard was looking at his cellphone instead of the waves.

“I was always one paycheck from being homeless” is an interview of 2 homeless men I interviewed on the streets of Philadelphia.

I always have a story idea or 6 up my proverbial sleeve.

Do you read nonfiction as well as write it?

library
I write nonfiction, but I read fiction for pleasure.

Years ago, before the age of self-publishing, someone told me that only about 15 percent of books published in America are fiction, in all genres, while the vast majority of books fall under nonfiction. I imagined that those statistics indicated that editors slave more thoroughly over fiction than facts, parsing more sentences, correcting more errors, enhancing more nuances.

So I read fiction, I tell myself, because the writing is intrinsically better than in nonfiction. I am more likely to encounter a memorable phrase or aptly used arcane word in contemporary fiction than in heady books penned by politicians, potters and patients for whom writing is not a first language.

Recently I asked librarians and booksellers if I was correct about the ratio of domestic books. They had never considered the question and had no answer. So I wrote to the Library of Congress.

A librarian named Abby Yochelson responded: “I think the quality of editing probably depends on the publisher rather than fiction vs. nonfiction. I know plenty of people who complain about the quality of fiction editing, too!” She asked Andy Lisowski, of the institution’s information-technology staff, to run a search.

“In terms of figuring out percentages,” she wrote later, “you would have to figure out the number of books we have compared to our overall collections.” The most current compiled information is for Fiscal Year 2013. “Fascinating Facts about the Library of Congress” reports that the Library of Congress owns about 160 million items, about 37 million of which are books and other print materials.

The library’s annual report includes an appendix listing books by class. Class P covers language and literature: English, American, etc., plus fiction, literature, children’s literature, poetry, drama, essays, literary criticism, biographies of writers, etc. Andy could not identify fiction specifically, Abby says. The two of them “Concluded that trying to count genre fiction would not work. Including a genre category is fairly recent in terms of library cataloging. Many works have multiple genres, so something could be categorized as a love story and suspense fiction.”

Abby went all out, making me value this remarkable federal resource. Who knew all this stuff even existed? Not I.

“I also attempted to make use of the subdivision fiction as it can be used with subject headings: libraries-fiction, railroad trains-fiction, writers-fiction,” she wrote. “I used the advanced search in our catalog. I typed fiction in the search box and used the pull-down menu to indicate SUBJECT ALL (KSUB).

“Unfortunately, the maximum number of records the catalog can retrieve is 10,000, with no idea of how many records there are over that number. In addition, fiction didn’t always appear in subject headings, so this search would miss thousands of older books.”

Abby even searched OCLC WorldCat, a database showing the holdings of more than 70,000 libraries. (Here’s the free version.) When you use the advanced search, you can limit to fiction or nonfiction and to adult or juvenile. Unfortunately, you can’t just click on the limits without searching on something.

“I don’t really ‘trust’ any of the numbers above about the Library of Congress holdings or think they are sufficiently accurate to quote.”

So there are no facts on which to base my preference for reading fiction while continuing to write nonfiction. And that’s the truth.

What about you?