Wake up. Stumble into kitchen. Take cereal box from pantry. Pour into bowl. Add milk. Reach for spoon. Sit down at table. Eat.
It's that simple, right? Well, maybe not. If your breakfast of choice is cereal, why did you choose that particular cereal? The cereal aisle at grocery stores is an impressive line-up of bright packaging, enticing pictures, and promising health claims. The amount of choice we have is almost absurd. If your health is important to you, you could potentially spend a ridiculous amount of time reading label after label, trying to decipher the information presented to determine which product is the best for you and your family.
One of the definitions of rhetoric is that it involves using socioeconomic strategies to change behavior by dressing up words to get people to buy an idea or product. The rhetoric used on food packaging absolutely falls under this definition.
The first step to being able to read nutrition labels is to learn the basics. Health Canada provides an excellent interactive tool for understanding what the numbers mean. But there is more to a food package than just the nutrition label. The ingredients list will tell you exactly what is in the food, whereas the health claims are a sneaky way of tricking the consumer into believing that the food they're choosing is healthier than it actually is.
There are a number of health claims that a product can make but many of them are misleading. "Light" is probably the most misleading claim of all. Although it can mean that the food is reduced in fat compared to the regular product (or compared to other brands), more often than not it refers to the coloring or the taste of the food. Oil is often described as "light", which might lead people to the conclusion that it has fewer calories than other kinds of oils, but in truth it is simply describing the way it looks and tastes.
Other labels are misleading regarding the amount of nutrients in the food product. For example, the label "trans fat free" can be employed when the product contains less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving; in this case, the serving is often smaller than the amount that we will actually be eating. That 0.2 grams can really add up over time, which could easily cause us a myriad of health problems, even though we may have believed that we were eating something that was trans fat free.
Food manufacturers take advantage of using vague terminology to describe their products, correctly assuming that most consumers won't do much investigating beyond the initial glance at the package before popping it into the grocery cart. It would be wise to look past the front labels and health claims- even go so far as to ignore them completely- and instead focus on the nutrition label and the ingredients list. The ingredient list cannot be fudged, so you can be sure to find out the truth about what you are eating if you look at that list first.
This is the nasty side of rhetoric: it is being used to persuade and manipulate people, twisting the facts so that we don't know what we are really buying. As always it pays off to be aware of what we are eating. Food companies, just like any business, are looking to make a profit first and foremost. That means that they will stoop to just about any means to convince us, the consumers, that we should choose their product. Rather than blindly trusting in the claims made on any commercial product we should take the time to expand our knowledge by being aware of these sneaky tricks. Sifting through the deceitful "twaddle" is worth it to protect our health and also to improve our understanding of the media at large. Facts and figures can be twisted when vague terms are used. The more specific a claim is, the closer we are to knowing the reality of what we are buying.
Do you read labels on food products? How far do you go into researching the products that are being marketed to you?
The function of the comma is to organize your sentences and make things clear. For many sentences, particularly longer ones, if we did not use a comma we would have difficulty understanding the meaning that is being conveyed. Commas separate ideas and break up lists so that we can have several clear points within a single sentence. Although many of these sentences could be broken into two sentences, commas allow us to combine them into one and this helps with the flow of any piece of writing.
Understanding how to use a comma is very important because depending on the sentence, it may or may not be necessary to include one. Here are the basics of using a comma:
1. A comma always comes before the coordinating conjunction when linking two or more independent clauses. "And", "but", and "or" are all coordinating conjunctions; an independent clause is any group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. For example: There is a ton of conflicting information out there about what we should eat, but I prefer to just eat real food in its natural form. This sentence makes use of two independent clauses with the correct use of a comma and coordinating conjunction to join them together. Remember that the comma never comes after the coordinating conjunction.
For particularly short sentences you can omit the comma in these situations, which is often the case in journalistic writing. The other exception to this rule is when your coordinating conjunction is situated within a compound predicate. A compound predicate is when the subject is engaged in multiple activities. The following example demonstrates the correct way to write a compound predicate without a comma: I ran three miles and followed it up with abdominal exercises.
2. A comma usually comes after an introduction: When I ride my bike, I like to sing. Again, if the sentence is short enough, the comma can be omitted.
3. A comma is always used in a list. If you leave out the commas in this situation, the sentence makes absolutely no sense: I played in the park ate ice cream read my book and watched the clouds go by. Separate each thought with a comma. Any kind of list, whether it's an activity (as in the example above) or used in a description (with a number of adjectives) needs a comma inserted at each interval to give the sentence meaning.
A word of caution
If you are unsure whether a comma is required, try reading your sentence out loud. Does the sentence make sense without a pause? If you still aren't sure, just give it to someone else to read. Another person can usually tell right away if a comma is required when they read it out loud because they will stumble over the sentence.
However, just because there's a pause in the sentence, not every pause indicates the need for a comma. Overusing a comma can be just as bad as using them too infrequently!
So why use it?
Commas are absolutely essential in writing. If you neglect to use them, you can convey completely the wrong meaning. This is particularly true in sentences that include people's names: Sarah George and I went to the beach suggests two people (with Sarah as the given name and George as her surname); Sarah, George and I went to the beach suggests that there are three (in this case, only the given names are included). Commas are also important to make sentences easier to read. This is good to remember when writing academic papers, which are usually full of excessively complex and complicated sentences.
Use commas for the sake of clarity! You can jazz up your writing or improve the flow of a sentence with the use of a comma. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if you have something to add about the goodness of the comma.
"I can't do it."
"I'm too old."
"I don't have enough time or money."
"If it wasn't for x, then I could..."
"One day I want to..."
Recognize these phrases? They crop up in conversation every day. The excuses that we make to prevent ourselves from actually getting out there and living our lives. These are the justifications that we tell ourselves and others so that we feel okay about staying inside our comfort zone. Opportunities pass us by because we "cannot possibly go out there and do that". There is simply too much going on, and we have too many responsibilities and obligations, and maybe we could have done it years ago but now it's too late... life passes us by.
The counterpoint perspective to this opinion that the above phrases are mere justifications tends to be: "yes, other people use those excuses, but for me, the excuses are actually true. There really is stuff going on in my life! I really am this busy! I really can't go out and achieve my dreams!"
The words that we choose to use are very powerful. Adding on that apostrophe and "t" makes a huge difference to our whole mindset and way of thinking. The way that we think is indicative of what we do, and if we think negatively and believe that we are not capable of our aspirations, then we will stagnate and not do anything.
Pick your words with care. It is a very small detail to drop the apostrophe and "t", and to start saying "I can..." instead. Especially in the opportunistic, individual-focused society that we live in, our potential is far vaster than we give it credit for.
There are over half a million words in the Oxford English Dictionary. So why do we fall back on the old phrase of "I can't" so often? The words that we choose directly impact our interactions with others as well as our entire mindset. By saying "I can't" and reacting negatively to our surroundings, we put ourselves in a position of being unable to fulfill our potential. The power of word choice can dictate how we live our lives: those people with a positive outlook, who speak proudly of their achievements and with determination, are far more likely to succeed in their goals than those who downplay their accomplishments with a demeaning attitude.
We are creatures of habit. Repetition of words and phrases, whether we believe in them or not when we first begin to use them, results in us believing in them after a short while. What we say affects what we do, and when what we do is how we live our lives, it's evident that the rhetoric we engage in is something we ought to pay a little more attention to. Yes: you can change your life by changing your words. You have at least over half a million possibilities to choose from. What do you choose?
Have you heard of The Global Language Monitor and Wordnik.com? These two online resources both offer a variety of definitions and cross-references so that we can not only have easy access to a dictionary, but also so that we can keep up with pop culture and find out about the new words and terms being tossed around these days. For wordies (the literary equivalent to foodies?) everywhere, this is an exciting time indeed.
The Global Language Monitor appears to be a cross between a news source and a dictionary. There are a few issues with this site- it is a little tricky to navigate, and at first glance it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what this resource does. Ultimately, it is a record of every word in the English language, and it follows the trends of words and phrases within politics and everyday life. To know the latest of what's going on with the English language and how we are affected by it, check out this Monitor. Although it focuses on the United States and would be more aptly named the American Language Monitor (particularly in regards to the news stories), it is still very inclusive: just one week ago, the Global Language Monitor celebrated it's one millionth word. Wordie heaven indeed.
Wordnik.com is a little bit different. Besides being a helpful dictionary, Wordnik seems to be much like a fun fact generator but for words. For example, it states that the word "rhetoric" is worth 13 points in Scrabble, and is an anagram for "torchier". Lest this self-described "place for all words, and everything about them" discriminate, Wordnik offers definitions coming from four different reputable sources. It also shares examples, synonyms, etymologies, and a graph illustrating the frequency of use of that particular word. There's even a "search results" section for the word showing up on Twitter!
Wordnik is an ongoing project so there are bound to be a few flaws in this site, but when it comes to learning a bit about a random word and finding out interesting facts about it, this source is great. The site is very easy to use and the layout is clean and professional. It is set apart from traditional dictionaries because it "shows you what people actually do with language, not what we'd like them to do". This means that Wordnik is also an opportunity for creativity, especially because, similar to Wikipedia, anyone can contribute. This could potentially lead to mistakes within their entries, but contact information is available all over the site to report typos and errors. Wordnik is basically the ultimate wordie playground.
The Global Language Monitor and Wordnik are definitely resources that I will be utilizing in the future. They are both learning tools and playthings rolled in one. What are some of your favourite "dictionaries", either online or offline? Have you come across any other unique variations such as these two? Share your discoveries in the comments.
As books, newspapers, magazines, and diaries make the shift from paper to online documents, the informal atmosphere of the World Wide Web takes over. The efficacy of the Internet results in a quick turnaround: with the click of a button, what we have written is instantaneously available to the public eye. Millions can view our work within seconds of it being typed up, and the speed of this business- whether it's journalism or personal writings- makes us sloppy.
It's easy to miss spelling mistakes or grammar errors when we are looking at a screen rather than a paper document. The fast pace does not help; we are less likely to properly edit or think about and re-read what we have written before publishing it. Fact-checking goes by the wayside so that there is a lot of misinformation circulating around.
Other technologies such as cell phones present an equally pressing issue. It is much easier and quicker to ignore capitalization of letters and to shorten words. "You" becomes "u", exclamation marks are used ad nauseam, and emoticons punctuate sentences to excess. We no longer take the time to broaden our minds and our vocabulary by poring over dictionaries; instead, we rely upon the Spell Check feature to automatically correct our mistakes for us. It's through these ingenious features that we can go an entire lifetime without bothering to learn when the letter "e" comes before the letter "i", or if a word is spelt with a "c" or an "s".
What can we do to prevent the general demise and disintegration of the beautiful English language? Should we be actively trying to "save it" from the pitfalls of shorthand, or has shorthand become a new language in and of itself?
I am absolutely guilty of the overuse of exclamation marks to emphasize my point and the playful insertion of smiley faces in much of my informal writing. Though I try to avoid using shorthand, sometimes it slips out. We have arrived at an age in which the style of texting has really taken on it's own dialect. But does this mean that we should lazily abstain from looking up words in the dictionary or proof reading our work?
It begins with us. The common folk. When we start getting lazy, online mediums of journalism will begin to think that we don't care, and they will become sloppy as well. The future will be a bleak place indeed if it is full of newspapers written with the reliability of a tabloid and the grammatical structure of a five year old!
Check your facts. Proof read your writing. Ask someone for a second opinion and another set of eyes. Take the time to look in the dictionary and to really think about what you are writing. Once it's out there, it isn't so easy to reel it back in. Make sure that you write what you believe in and present all the facts for the reader to form their own conclusions about the subject. We will all become better writers and better thinkers because of it.