I've witnessed recently a terrible trend in corporate culture that treats ask as a noun, as if I can pose an ask or request what an ask is, or, absurdly, ask what is their ask. This is stupid. We have a perfectly comfortable word that already performs the action in noun form: question. Turning ask into a noun not only confuses anyone used to its standard verb function, but also creates a redundancy, even if ask is a shorter word than question.
A good synonym should perform a similar function, not an equal function. Affect and influence are technically synonyms, but they imply different actions. Throw in impact as a synonym for both (a recent and bad trend in modern English), and you'll notice it does not perform anything that affect or influence don't already cover. School courses taught some of us to treat synonyms as equals. Swap a common word for an equal uncommon word and you pass that SAT essay. But this isn't true. Even words like glad and happy, which may have the same definition, imply different meanings. Happy conveys bright smiles and an extroverted cheerfulness, while glad speaks more softly—the person may not smile wildly or walk with a sprightly gait, but, if asked, would confirm he is in a positive mood. Bad synonyms, like impact (traditionally "to press closely into something") or, I fear, ask, add nothing new to our language. Allowing such words to infiltrate common speech and writing risks not only creating redundancies, but opening the door for habits that can devolve language into a mess of nonsense.
The new Wonder Woman film restores my faith that superhero movies, like Hollywood's video game adaptations, are doomed to be bad films. But to detail the multitude of mistakes, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, clichés, and lazy dialogue would be a waste of our time; instead I'll focus on two prominent issues that plague all modern Hollywood action-driven films, particularly the superhero sort: slow motion and, for lack of a better name, the horny cameraman.
Slow motion is exactly that: slow motion (traditionally by an over-cranked camera). It's a simple editor's device that, when used correctly, can provide extra depth—emphasize an emotion or death or failure (Seven Samurai)—or more commonly enhance the coolness of an action. Like most devices, good slow motion shouldn't call attention to itself as a tool, just like proper word choice shouldn't pull attention from the content (unless word choice is the content, as in the opening paragraphs of Lolita), but should enhance the current emotion, mood, or experience of a scene. Lately, though, Hollywood treats slow motion as a simple trick to increase the coolness of any given action sequence. Boring superheroes fighting endless aliens we don't care about? Slow motion! Cool martial arts move that took the actor fifteen tries to pull off? Slow motion! Wonder Woman jumping into a room of German soldiers? Slow motion! And again. And again. And you know what, it's been three seconds since we saw Wonder Woman jump in slow motion, so let's do it once more for the hell of it. (After all, there's nothing like seeing the perfectly shaven and toned legs of an Amazonian warrior in slow motion.) But in reproducing the same effect Hollywood cheapens its use every time. The first moment Major, from the new Ghost in the Shell, jumps through a window in HD slow motion, it's cool. It has weight—we know she'll kill the enemies, we've been waiting for her cool entrance, and here it is in its slow, glass-sparkling, glory. Skip ahead to the end, after a few more slow motion shots, to the final roof jump, and we don't care one bit about the slow motion. It adds nothing more than time to a film already long enough. It becomes a gimmick, a toy, a nuisance.
Nintendo recently released its Switch, which sold out and as of writing has just been restocked in some stores. Nintendo expected X demand for the Switch and thus made X+N Switches (I assume). As it happened, demand trounced supply, and all Switches sold out. Now, Nintendo could say, people like this product; we should raise the price to increase revenue. I hope they don’t do this, but in short, supply is less than demand, increasing the value of the little that’s available. Then, as demand decreases, supply may increase, and the price should drop. This is basic economics, and we can agree on that (look, economics is too damn complicated to be summarized by a grammar snoot, so just pretend that this is how basic demand and supply economics works).
With that in mind, how is our modern economy? And I’m not asking about consumerist America—that’s always golden—I’m asking about that lovely job market. Is it easy to get a job? Can you walk to a gas station or some entry-level position, like you could in the 1980s, and walk away with a job? Probably not. So what’s the problem? It is this: the supply and demand of humans to jobs is awry, unbalanced, fucked. There are simply too many people—the supply—compared to the jobs available—the demand. Simply put, seven billion people is a surplus, and, as with any surplus, we need to stop making more until our product matches the current demand. But of course we can’t stop making more (well, we won’t), and we need to look at other methods of fairly limiting the supply.
How can I follow such a bold claim with an equally bold introduction? Perhaps a general hook sentence will do me well: schools have often taught children bad habits. Now I follow that excellent hook with some bla-bla, then, finishing the introduction, I present my thesis: primary and secondary schools (in America) teach, to some extent, essay-writing incorrectly. The methods I specifically refer to are the inverse pyramid, the five-paragraph, and the hamburger methods to essay-writing.
The inverse pyramid refers to an introductory form where the first sentence—the hook—is general and catchy, and the last sentence—the thesis or whatever’s left—is the most essay-specific. You might hold this method dear to your heart; I did for a while. Well, it’s shit. It’s utter garbage and an excuse to weaken forceful writing. Why? Because it teaches kids to start with vague nonsense like “throughout history, governments have often spurned people toward mistrust and violence,” when the writer really wants to argue that “British administrative methods in Palestine following the 1920 riots and 1929 Arab revolts in Jerusalem spurned Zionist mistrust and, in turn, the formation of an independent Israel in 1947.” One is petty and boring, the other forceful and direct. The first shows nothing of an argument, a setting, or I dare say a voice. The second gives a setting, a timeframe, and an argument (this being the most important element of all three). Arguments interest people. Continuing the theme from my previous example, if I shout “different nationalities claim rights to the same land,” nobody will care. But if I shout, “Israel belongs to the Palestinians,” quite a few people will care; arguments matter. Start with the thesis, then give us the bla-bla needed in the introductory section. This does not mean tipping the inverse pyramid right-side-up: don’t start specific and end vague. Start specific and elaborate on the topics you wish to discuss. If this seems too difficult to do—years of incorrect education drilled into your head—try this trick: write your introduction as you normally would, then highlight the first sentence and delete it. Don’t bother re-reading it. Chances are it’s meaningless dribble you would be better without.
After being asked the proper rules and not having a concrete answer, I decided to write a short reference on italicizing, underlining, and quoting in formal writing. It's all a matter of deciding what is important enough to tilt and what isn't.
The simplest rule to grasp is that, in handwriting, you underline where in formal writing (the stuff you type on a computer) you italicize. Nothing that comes out of your or anyone else's printer should have words or phrases underlined (I haven't checked a style book recently, but not even your titles should sit atop a horizontal line). More complicated is the decision between quoting and italicizing. Generalized, any work of larger stature earns italics. Short works or sections of larger works deserve only quotations. And since that explains nothing more than what you already knew, here is a simple-to-use reference list:
John Wick: Chapter 2 follows the original impenetrable assassin as he fights his way through a few dozen expendables and about two hours of screen time. But Chapter 2, as opposed to the original, offers us much more in terms of acting, dialogue, pacing, and believability; it shows us what does not work in an action film.
It's not much to say that Chapter 2 offers us less credibility than the original, which claimed that a mafia boss's son would blindly steal a car and kill the dog of that same mafia boss's best assassin who, as we learn throughout now two movies, every man and his mother recognizes on sight. The premise of the second one, while still forcing John's retirement down our throats like a misshapen bone, exists on a threat: in order to retire, John must fulfill a blood oath he made to a younger Jarvier Bardem lookalike mafioso. John naturally wants out of this oath, but another character warns him that if he kills the mafioso or doesn't fulfill the oath, he's dead. But why, I must ask, would the threat of death mean anything to the world's most anti-social Baba Yaga "ghost" assassin? I'm fairly certain multiple folks threatened to kill John in the first movie, and that didn't end too badly for him. But, like certain internet-distributed videos, do we really watch John Wick for the plot?
Northrop Frye describes comic narrative—as opposed to comedic drama—as that which concludes with optimism; the comedic writer closes with a reflection of the idyllic society. But there comes a point when comic narrative descends into comedic drama—the funny stuff we first think of as comedy—by accident, and that is the case with Passengers, the recent science fiction film centered around two attractive folks (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) who wake up ninety years early on an intergalactic spaceship only to find everything's gone to hell.
Here is a good time to yield the statutory spoiler warning. But don't let that dissuade you from reading the remainder of the article—it may save you a few bucks at the movies.
I admit to holding many gripes with this standard-issue Hollywood blockbuster: basic laws of physics are optional; realism applies except when sound travels through space; an accomplished writer has never written about herself; Lawrence Fishburne appears only to give the protagonists access to the engine rooms, then dies; a spacesuit protects Chris from a fusion (or fission?) reactor's radioactive exhaust; and love magic saves the day (more on this later). But perhaps the worst crime this movie makes is that it insists on a happy ending where none was due.
How do we punctuate properly around parentheses or quotation marks? This question arises often, and the answer contains enough variables that it deserves its own article. Without further ado, the rules:
If part of a sentence within parentheses falls within a larger sentence, punctuate outside the closing parenthesis. When the movie came out (starring Tom Hanks, Alice May, and Tim Curry), we all went to see it. I used to think that anything inside parentheses was optional. Let's pretend that's true (it sort of is); a sentence must still flow correctly if you delete everything within the open and close parentheses. We could then rewrite the example as When the movie came out, we all went to see it. If the last comma were inside the parentheses, it would read, When the movie came out we all went to see it. That is grammatically incorrect and fails my test.
If parentheses surround a full sentence, the period must be within the parentheses. The game was late. (But of course we all attended.) It was a good game. The parentheses mark off an entire sentence, which deserves its own period. Applying my test again, we get The game was late. It was a good game.
I don't like films, I love them. If I don't love them, I don't watch. Thus I made a comprehensive list of films I consider the best, organized alphabetically—best to worst per letter. Plus, as a film snob, these kind of lists bolster street cred. I don't claim these films are better than others, and some great films aren't on this list; I either didn't like them or have not seen them. Some letters have more films, others fewer, but it balances out one way or another. I must apologize for my appallingly boring summaries, but after remembering well over a hundred films, ranking them, and formatting this article, my brain could only cough up the most mediocre of summaries. (Bonus points for knowing what film the first sentences reference).
Good language isn't simply about picking words that work, it's about picking the right words and understanding why they work. Our language, thanks to finance, business, and government jargon, has diluted into a muddle of close-enoughs, complex words of meaningless dribble, bad synonyms, and a general laziness when it comes to the particulars of words. If you're working with math, you simplify—you won't write an integral function where a simpler equation suits better; language is no different.
I can't nitpick every word and mistake and misspelling here—if you want a reference book for most uncertainties, get Garner's Modern English Usage (highly recommended). Let's begin with something basic: The government utilizes taxes to support itself and its people. At this current moment in time I am hungry, but the unfavorable weather that has set in keeps me from running to the deli. Grammatically, those sentences are fine, but stylistically they are agonizing. Utilize is a bad word that we use because use doesn't sound smart enough. At this current moment in time or any of its variants are wordy and weak synonyms for now (most of the time it can be cut out altogether). Unfavorable weather sounds like a student attempting intelligence by dodging the simpler alternative: rain. Here are the revisions: The government uses taxes to support itself and its people. I am hungry, but the rain keeps me from running to the deli.