Half-mast vs. half-staff

Flags at half-staff

In my town, flags are flying at half-staff to honor a fallen firefighter, including the one at my office. Yesterday, I had to verify that flags do indeed fly at half-staff and not half-mast as some media outlet in town were reporting. Luckily, my favorite argument settler, the trusty AP Stylebook settled this question.

Per the AP Stylebook, unless you are on a ship or at a naval station, flags are flown at half-staff. The h is lowercase and the word is hyphenated.

If and only if you are on a ship or at a naval station, then the flag is at half-mast. In this case, the h is lowercase and the word is hyphenated.

While the difference may appear obvious, a mast can only be on a ship or Navy related space (base, shipyard, station, air station, recruit depot. For further example: New York Naval Shipyard, Norfolk Naval Base, Naval Air Station Key West), many people seem to be mixing this up. Flags fly on flag poles when not related to the Navy.

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That vs. who: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: skar.com
Image from: skar.com

Maybe its the anonymous nature of comments, bad grammar school or never learning to diagram a sentence, but the number of people who can’t figure out when to use who or when to use that in a sentence appears to increase every day.

To review from the AP Stylebook
Who is for human beings and animals with a name. A person is always a who. Who is the subject and never the object of a sentence, clause or phrase. Example: The woman who rented the room left the window open.

That is for inanimate objects and animals without a name, including wild animals. That is never for people.

While my second favorite grammar source, Grammar Girl, does indicate a case could be made for using that for a person, she also writes, “I have to take the side of the people who prefer the strict rule. To me, using that when you are talking about a person makes them seem less than human. I always think of my friend who would only refer to his new stepmother as the woman that married my father. He was clearly trying to indicate his animosity and you wouldn’t want to do that accidentally.”

Got it?

Spelling, still important

image from: www.dilbert.com
image from: www.dilbert.com

In 2013 this post really shouldn’t have to be written. Sadly, it does. Not two, but three hiring managers recently confided that they’ve received resumes from job applicants with serious spelling errors. Not cover letters, but resumes. Yikes!

If you aren’t a strong speller, get to know spell check in your favorite word processing program. Even if you are a strong speller and winner of elementary spelling bees, use spell check. Then walk away for at least an hour and read it backwards from the last word to the first. Are any words wrong? Did spell check change a word to one you didn’t want? Have an English major or copy editor friend read your resume and make sure they don’t see anything wrong.

Do the same for your cover letter and any email correspondence that you send with your cover letter and resume as attachments. Nothing turns a hiring manager off quite like misspelling the company name, your alma mater, or your own name.

Full disclosure: As an eager, new graduate, I didn’t follow this advice. I hurried cover letters out the door and erred on the side of quantity over quality. When I received the email response below, I stopped that practice cold and never looked back.

One caution: I’m a sticker for punctuation and language usage. Hey, I already told you I was a  dinosaur, and maybe there aren’t many of us left. But I’d suggest you take a very careful look at your intro letter. And/or, have a really anal English major look it over.  It couldn’t hurt.  And it might just be the grain of sand that weighs the scale in favor of hiring you over someone else. One fact: If I wasn’t also a Mizzou grad, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond.”

After I got over the initial embarrassment, I took his advice and not only reread my letter, but had a copy editor review it. I kept in touch with this agency owner and while he never had an opening at the same time I was looking, his advice has always been spot on.

Lay vs. Lie: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: harrybliss.com
Image from: harrybliss.com

Even though I know this grammar rule, I still always double-check in my trusty, well-worn, AP Stylebook.

Simplified: lay is for objects, lie is to recline. You lay an object on a table. You lie down.

“The action word is lay,” according to the AP Stylebook. “It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying. Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lying.”

The Stylebook entry goes on to make a few examples.
Present or future tenses:
I will lay the book on the table. The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.
He lies on the beach all day. I will lie down.

Past tense:
I laid the book on the table. The prosecutor has laid the blame on him.
He has lain on the beach all day. I lay down. I have lain down.

Present participle:
I am laying the book on the table. The prosecutor is laying the blame on him. He is lying on the beach. I am laying down.

Clear as mud?

Adviser vs. Advisor

I recently had to break out the trusted AP Stylebook for grey vs. gray (gray is the preferred, just so you know. Grey is ok for greyhound, but that’s it).

While I was there looked up adviser vs. advisor because spell check kept telling me advisor was wrong. Turns out, spell check is right by AP Style. But both are widely accepted as this post from Purdue points out.

Like in so many -er and -or words, as long as you are consistent, it doesn’t really matter.