E-mail Breakdown: A Question of Tone

I received an unsolicited, honest-to-God message from a reader recently about an e-mail conversation he had with a co-worker. My reader said that he and the co-worker saw nothing wrong with the tone of the conversation but that their boss did. The boss, my reader told me, thought the tone turned rude during the end … Continue reading

The Befuddling Case of the Frat Guy’s T-shirt

I was at the gym a while back when I spotted a guy wearing a fraternity T-shirt commemorating a nonprofit event his house had sponsored. It was a fundraiser for a battered-women’s shelter, and the tagline read Joining the fight against domestic abuse. I immediately thought the pairing of fight and domestic abuse was silly … Continue reading

Big Trouble with a Little Word

Using as in a causal sense—similarly to because, since, and for—is more often than not a misuse, a misguided attempt to elevate tone to a faux-academic level, and a good way to confuse the reader. As has so many other, more common uses (“It’s hot as hell outside today!”), and causal words like because are … Continue reading

Monty Python and the Joy of Tone

I recently wrote about tone and how the feel of a word is just as important as its definition when judging whether to use it in a sentence. My first lesson in tone came from this brilliant Monty Python sketch (slight warning: it’s a bit NSFW at the end). The absurdist joke that the whole … Continue reading

Feel It

Words have meaning, but they also have feel, texture, tone. Readers know this even if they’re not aware of it. Unfortunately, readers become most aware of tone when it isn’t right. It’s like when a DJ queues up a song in a mix that clashes with everything that came before it. Everyone stops dancing and … Continue reading