January 2012  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

“There are no rules in writing. There are useful principles. Throw them away when they’re not useful. But always know what you’re throwing away.”

—Will Shetterly

Word Pair of the Month: fewer, less

Each of these words represents a decrease in quantity, but in different ways. Fewer is used with items that can be counted: We received fewer orders and answered fewer questions because of the holiday. On the other hand, less is used with items that are measured in general amounts: Using less hot water should help us use less electricity.

Of course, English being English, there are some exceptions to consider—when referring to distances, sums of money, or periods of time, you may use less: My commute is less than 10 miles. / With this car, you’ll pay less than $25 a week for gas. / It will take less than two years to complete the project.

January Writer’s Forum Question

Okay, the holidays are over. So how did the partying go in your office? In fact, how does your office handle parties and celebrations? Does one person handle the arrangements, or is there a committee? Perhaps your office bans parties completely. Share your thoughts—maybe others can take tips from the way you handle the situation.

We enjoyed a wonderful variety of responses to this month’s forum, ranging from austere to over the top.

Let’s start with the less effusive. Paul Anderson, an office manager in San Antonio, writes:

We view our business as just that—a business. While we try to create a pleasant environment, we don’t view holidays as part of our responsibility. Holiday decorations are not discouraged, but they are left up to the individual workers, who either do or don’t decorate their personal spaces. Our only official bow to the holidays is a festive envelope in which we place the annual bonus, which I distribute with a cheery “Happy Holidays.” We’re not grinches, but we figure that’s enough for an office.

Angela DuBois of New Orleans likes things just a little more festive.

We do a one-gift exchange, where each person voluntarily signs up to bring a genderless gift with a $20 limit. That gift is numbered and the matching number placed in a bowl. The last day before the holiday, we gather for punch and cookies, and each participant draws a number out of the bowl and gets the matching gift. It’s nice, and there’s no pressure to participate, though most of us do, including the big bosses. It’s just a simple, fun activity.

Hannah Kim, owner of a dress shop in San Francisco, goes the warm and fuzzy route.

We’re a small operation, so I try to maintain a family atmosphere all year long, and that carries into our holidays. We all decorate the shop together and take turns bringing in a different treat every day. For our party, family members are encouraged to attend, and we coordinate the meal, each employee bringing a dish to pass. I supply champagne, but I don’t drink. So if someone overimbibes and doesn’t have a designated driver, I can take that person home.

Norris Haynes, an engineer in Minneapolis, likes his office’s very elegant holiday solution.

We have a pretty small office, and each year between Christmas and New Year’s, our bosses spring for dinner for workers and spouses at a nice restaurant. Afterward they pass out bonus checks. Even last year, when the restaurant wasn’t quite as fancy and the checks weren’t quite as large, it was a nice time and we really felt appreciated.

And finally, we had this response from Josie Rodriguez, who works in a large office in Phoenix.

We have such a large company, we don’t really get to know a lot of our coworkers outside of our teams. So the office party is a nice chance to mingle with people from other departments. The company really throws a bash, with a catered buffet and entertainment. One thing that was different this year was a no-alcohol policy. As a result, the event was a little less raucous than in the past. No one complained or seemed to miss the alcohol, and we all had a good time.

A Final Thought

Lake Superior State University has come out with its 37th annual list of —“words banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.” This year’s list includes amazing, man cave, occupy, shared sacrifice, baby bump, blowback, the new normal, pet parent, trickeration, ginormous, and thank you in advance. (See the university’s site: www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php.) We know that English is an ever-changing language, but not all changes are for the better, so thanks to LSSU and others who attempt to keep the language precise, elegant, and sane.

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