Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing, Part V
Like all editors, the science editors at Promega each have pet peeves about language usage and writing, and you can often find us engaged in animated discussion about usage of the word “utilize” or “employ.” We maintain the corporate style guide for writing and usage, and we provide many resources for Promega employees who find themselves composing at the keyboard.
One of my favorite writing resources is our “Not-A-Verb” list. While I am an avid proponent of using active, specific verbs in writing (and not nominalizing them), there are some words that are simply NOT verbs.
- Aliquot: Do not “aliquot” your samples. Rather, “divide your samples into single-use aliquots.”
- Electrophoresis: Samples should be “analyzed by electrophoresis” or “separated by electrophoresis.” They are not “electrophoresed.”
- Coverslip: Use “coverslips were placed on the slides” not “the slides were coverslipped.”
- Vial: Do not “vial”, but rather, “put your material into a vial.”
- Blank: Do not “blank” the instrument. Instead, “Create a blank sample to set your baseline value.”
- Batch: Do not say “sample loss due to high-throughput batching”. Batch when used as a verb is considered a variant of “bach”. Bach means “to live alone as a bachelor”. Not sure how you would do that in a high-throughput manner.
- Productize: Please no. Create a new product. Convert into a product. But do not productize. Please don’t.
Of course, no commentary on English usage is without controversy. Here are two terms that seem to generate some discussion:
Priority: To quote the Webster’s II New College Dictionary that sits on my desk, “Many condemn the use of prioritize on the grounds that it is jargon, but in recent times it has become firmly established in English at all levels of speech and writing.” That said, when the word “prioritize” creeps into writing, the writing begins to sound officious. How much nicer it sounds simply “to determine your priorities.”
Impact: When I was a student, I was told by one English teacher that impact is not a verb, ever. And, in her class, it wasn’t. However, language evolves. Today using impact as a verb is acceptable; however, most writers agree that impact as a verb has specific meanings. The first meaning listed in every source I checked is “to pack firmly together.” So, unless that heat wave in Chicago is going to pack all the citizens of the city together like sardines in a tin can, perhaps the weather forecaster would be better to say that a heat wave is going to affect Chicago.
The most common second definition for impact as a verb is “to strike forcefully”. So, returning to our weather forecast, it is indeed possible for a tornado to impact a small town in Iowa, but why not say strike instead? Strike conjures a more vivid picture.
However, as I indicated, language evolves, and the online Webster’s dictionary lists “to affect or influence” as the second definition of the verb impact. I checked two other online dictionaries, MSN Encarta and Your Dictionary.com, and while they both listed “to affect or influence” as a possible usage of the verb impact, they indicate that it is not a preferred usage.
Isn’t language fun? In your reading, writing and editing, have you encountered any other “not-a-verb” words? Tell us about them.