An erratic guide to consistent writing.

Akimbo

Strictly speaking, this means with hands on one’s hips, which paints a curious picture of the phrase legs akimbo, casual understanding of which would be flung out from the body. Because the two competing definitions are so at odds with one another (one a specific stance: the other a complete lack of stance), it is best for the sake of clarity to avoid the latter if used in isolation. When describing legs akimbo, ensure the description is enlarged to preclude mutation-induced yoga.

Apostrophes in decades
(e.g. 90’s, 20’s)

Except in certain possessives, the apostrophe is very rarely used in plurals, abbreviated or otherwise. An exception to this rule is in Dutch plurals which end in vowels, but if you came here looking for Dutch grammar advice, I am afraid the rest of this article is going to be a massive disappointment.

When it comes to decades, there is an apostrophe, but it is a contracting apostrophe, and it goes at the beginning. So:

’70s, not 70’s
’90s, not 90’s

And so on.

Data

Unless used to refer to everyone’s favourite Star Trek android, data is a plural, the plural of datum. Hence, These data are, never This data is. Likewise, use datum to avoid the clunky and unlovely data-point, which sounds like how we will all be getting our state-mandated propaganda in the near-future dystopia.

Military

Although it has become more common to use this as a noun, until recently, it was accepted practice that, at least in the UK, military was an adjective, and expressions like, ‘the UK military’ caused readers up and down the country to roll their eyes in painful sympathy. Although its use as a noun is increasingly accepted, in part because of exposure to the expression ‘the US military’ from the other side of the Atlantic, it is more stylistically elegant to refer to the armed forces (or the specific branch: Air Force, Army, or Navy) and to leave military in a firmly adjectival role.

On a related note, phrases like ‘the UK military’ and ‘the UK government’ are, should the reader pause to think, also quite awkward: ‘the United Kingdom government’, ‘the United Kingdom military’. The term British should be used here or, if that would be inflammatory for whatever reason, the construction ‘the government/armed forces of the United Kingdom’.

To beg the Question

This is a common turn of phrase which does not mean what it is intended to mean. To beg the question is a specific form of logical fallacy, akin to circular reasoning, when the answer to a question assumes as true the premise which it is supposed to be proving. When the armchair philosopher, at the end of a rambling anecdote says, ‘Which begs the question, why…?’ then he is not begging the question, but raising the question.

Example of begging the question:
Primus: Why is everyone watching Dinosaur Planet?
Secundus: Because it’s so popular.

Example of what is not begging the question:
If Scarlatti is such a good composer, then that begs the question: why has history forgotten him?

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