Friday, May 27, 2011

Around the Word (Catch-up Edition)

Now that we're done with BEA and our big workshop debut, we have been catching up on this week's news from the Word Wide Web. Here's a sampling of the stuff we found worth sharing.

Ditch the dash: Nothing gets writers fired up like vaguely-defined pieces of punctuation. In the latest flare-up in the grammar wars, Slate writer Noreen Malone recently made a full-throated case -- which we have mixed feelings on -- against the em dash. This all-purpose piece of punctuation is often overused, Malone contends, resulting in clunky, confusing sentences. The em dash was famously a favorite of the poet Emily Dickinson, and some literary critics see her use of the em dash as a sign of mental instability. So if you want to avoid writing that reads as crazy, Malone suggests, cut down on the number of em dashes -- though they can be useful at times -- in your prose.

The books of Ruth: The term "best seller" has been affixed to a wide range of novels, from The Grapes of Wrath to Valley of the Dolls to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Is there a common element to these divergent titles? To try to answer that question, writer Ruth Franklin devoted herself to reading more than 50 years worth of chart-toppers -- from the historical fiction of the early 20th century to the scandalous literary fiction of the 1960s to the crime-dominated charts of today. You can find her fascinating findings on Book Forum.

Leading literary locales: just released a list of the top 20 most well-read cities in America. Amazon created their list by compiling magazine, book and Kindle sales by location. Though New York didn't make the list -- maybe we're too busy hanging out at independent bookstores? -- cities from Seattle to Cincinnati to first-place Cambridge, Massachusetts did. And, since Florida is blessed with beach-read season pretty much year round, it was the state with the most cities on the list.

Learn to speak R2D2: Researchers at an Australian lab are deepening our understanding of how language develops by working with robots that have created their own lexicon. According to the BBC, the brilliant bots are programmed to make random sounds to signify locations around the office, name the places, tell other robots about them and play games using the locations. Sounds pretty cool to us, as long as they don't turn evil and we have to rely on Will Smith coming out of his super-sized trailer to save to world.

How to bring brio to your CEO bio: Executive biographies often read like laundry lists of leadership feats. But Ragan writer Russell Working reminds us that they don't have to be boring, offering a passel of tips from PR experts for spicing up this corporate staple. Using quotes, anecdotes and even a little humor can help you create a statement that will showcase your CEO's most likeable attributes and read more smoothly than a stuffy resume.

Call for commencement speeches: Our friend David Murray of Vital Speeches of the Day is compiling exemplary commencement addresses for the August issue of VSOTD. If you have written, read or heard a fantastic speech this graduation season, send your tip to him at by the June 27 deadline.

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