To supersede is to replace. We often use it when we talk about changing technology: “For many people, cell phones have completely superseded land lines.”
To surpass is to go beyond: “The Model 3 surpasses the Model 2 in features, quality, and value!”
This is wrong:
This router has superseded my expectations.
The writer meant that the router had surpassed her expectations, not that she had replaced her expectations with a router.
A “tautology” (Greek for “same thought”) is a statement that says the same thing in different words. “You used a tautology there because you said the same thing in different words”: that’s a tautology.
Tautologies are bad for three reasons:
1. They give us precisely no information.
2. They happen when you’ve lost the thread of your own argument.
3. They make people laugh at you.
Here’s a good example of a tautology:
The low market share of Windows Phone might be explained by a study by Bernstein Research that concluded that consumers don’t want Windows Phones.
Clearly, if the Windows Phone operating system has a low market share, that means that consumers don’t want it. To say that they don’t want it because they don’t want it is a tautology, and makes you look awfully silly.
Fare and fair both have bewilderingly numerous meanings.
Fair as an adjective means pale in complexion, or beautiful, or clear (when speaking of weather), or just—and that’s only the beginning. As a noun, it means an annual gathering of sellers, or an exposition (as, for example, a county fair, which is a bit of both). It is never a verb.
Fare is never an adjective. As a verb, it means to go or to do (well or badly). As a noun, it means the price you pay to be taken somewhere in a vehicle, or the stuff you eat.
The confusion usually comes with the verb fare. This is wrong:
The book faired better in the US, where reviewers appreciated Melville’s originality and complexity.
“Faired” should be “fared.” Remember that fair is never a verb: a book can fare well, but it can’t fair well.
From a can of ginger ale:
To those seeking fun and refreshment or performance-driven energy, Summit is the quality brand of colas and carbonated beverages that brings flavor and function to fit your lifestyle.
Who wants this text? Who do we think will be attracted by it? Do we imagine customers prowling through the supermarket, thinking to themselves, “I need a functional carbonated beverage, but one whose function fits my lifestyle”? Honestly, it would be better to print, “Hey, here’s something to drink!” You can bet that most of the people who would buy your colas and carbonated beverages are actually looking for something to drink.
The Editor has said it before, and he is not afraid to say it again: When you have nothing to say, don’t say anything.
Wikipedia, that infallible repository of everything we think we know, is also a treasury of mistakes in writing. Many of those problems come from the fact that articles can be edited by any account-holder who passes through, often with the result that an article contradicts itself. It seldom happens so baldly as it did here, in the article on onomatopoeia:
Onomatopoeia (as an uncountable noun) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include…
An “uncountable noun” is a noun that cannot be made plural. Yet in the very next sentence we have “onomatopoeias.”
Wikipedia is a special case: its usefulness comes from aggregating the collective knowledge of the whole Internet. If you’re working on one project with a group of writers, however, somebody has to take charge at the end and make sure your separate contributions fit together. That somebody could be an editor, or—if you don’t have an editor in your office—one of the writers, chosen at random to give the project its final going-over. Your customer doesn’t want to have to act as referee between writers who can’t agree among themselves.
Sometimes designers make decisions that need to be overridden. And sometimes you are the designer yourself, and you need to look at your work from a distance and see why you’re making your readers miserable.
A popular Ubuntu blog recently changed its theme, so that all quotations are transformed to upper case:
We could probably argue with the designer for days about why it’s a bad idea to have large blocks of text in all upper case. We might be convincing, and we might not. Perhaps in the end it really is a matter of taste, and all the Editor can say is that he hates reading large blocks of upper case. He also dislikes the use of an opening quotation mark as a design element when there is no corresponding closing quotation mark.
But when it comes to code—in this case, Linux text commands—the result of this dubious design decision is an absolute catastrophe.
The problem, you see, is that Linux is case-sensitive. These commands need to be entered in lower case. Having gone through an HTML text-transform to upper case, they are now completely useless. They cannot be copied and pasted into a terminal.
Linux users who don’t understand the command-line interface will simply be baffled. Linux users who do understand it will either groan loudly and laboriously type each command, or paste the commands into a word processor and change the case, which is still far more effort than they should have to go through. (An even farther-out possibility is to find the code in the original HTML source for the page and copy it from there. Again, why should we have to bother?)
The simple moral is this: think about how your design decisions affect your readers. And be especially careful with code, or anything else that needs to be copied exactly. Don’t wreck it with clever formatting.