How Antonin Scalia Lost His ASSoL

George Mason University recently coined this embarrassing new acronym for its law school, no doubt in haste and out of gratitude for $30 million in donations that flowed in after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died.

It may be another example of a simple failure to proofread.

When the new name, “Antonin Scalia School of Law,” leaked, people were quick to realize it could form the acronyms ASSoL or ASSLaw. Apt for those who consider the description fitting for Scalia and his profession, but probably not what the deep-pocketed donors had in mind.

I lay some of the blame on academia’s devotion to passive voice, with its ability to add wind to almost anything.

Take, for example, the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Since it’s understood a university is a school, they could drop “School of” and lose no meaning.

Similarly, GMU couldn’t resist “School of Law.”

The quick fix was to eliminate the passive and create the abbreviation ASLS — Antonin Scalia Law School.

It’s common to call everything an acronym these days, but the subtle difference with abbreviations is that an acronym creates a word you can say, and an abbreviation doesn’t. For example, you must pronounce each letter of these abbreviations: FBI, IBM, CIA, and TSA.

But comedians could still make an acronym of ASLS. It would be pronounced “assless,” which isn’t much of an improvement.

In the end (pun intended), Scalia in death has managed to has put George Mason between a $30 million rock and hard place.


Since When is “Into” ALWAYS One Word?

After seeing into all my life and thinking nothing of it, over just the past few months, it has caused me an existential crisis.

My only personal run-in was with some high school short story I wrote where a character walked “into the door” somewhere. My English teacher said it meant the character had actual impact with the door.

Yikes! Lesson learned.

(On the other hand, if I’d written that he walked “through the door,” this teacher, who seemed to take everything literally, would have claimed the character reduced the door to splinters.)

Now it seems everybody uses into as one word EVERY TIME.

I consulted Grammar Girl™ Mignon Fogarty’s Quick and Dirty Tips™, and found some comfort and clarification. She explained that into is a preposition generally relating to direction. (He walked into the room.)

I’ll add that it also relates to transformation. (She turned into a witch for Halloween.)

And I’ll add that it may be one word if you mean “to go inside” or “within.” (He jumped into his jeep.)

One more addition: It’s one word if you mean “intense interest.” (He’s really into playing with model trains.)

I’ve seen the following example written as one word, but I would say it should be two, like this:

I’m going to move in to a new house.

That’s because we call it “move-in day,” not “move-into day.” And because the sentence is intended to convey the act of moving rather than that the writer is going inside a new house.

Here’s an example as written that made my eyelid twitch because I think it’s wrong:

I can’t come into work on weekends.

The author meant that he couldn’t go there to do any work, not that he was physically unable get inside the office.

In my book, these next examples are also two words, even though you could make a weak argument that some direction is implied.

The maid came in to tidy up.

I think I’ll turn in to bed for the night.

The suspect turned himself in to police.

Bottom line: In my own writing, I find myself trying to avoid using into altogether. It’s not easy. There has to be a better way.

Can Contractions Go Too Far?

Yes, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Contractions exist to help written words sound the way we talk because we do not pronounce every letter in every word as if we are robots.

Instead, we drop letters and slide words together, and contractions depict that. But they can get weird if you try to follow speech too closely.

Such as when positive “would’ve” — would have — becomes negative “would’nt’ve” — would not have.

The same goes for for “could’ve” or “should’ve.” Sometimes you see these three expressions as “coulda, shoulda, woulda,” and they mean the exactly same thing. But in business writing I’d never advise turning a standard “could have” into a slangy “coulda.”

Nonstandard English is best confined to dialogue in creative writing where you’re trying to make a character’s speech distinctive. It’s extremely difficult to do well.

One common, simple contraction is “there’s,” but it’s tricky. It means “there is” and it’s singular. However, it’s often used with plural subjects because the contraction for “there are” would be “there’re,” which looks strange and is even hard to pronounce.

There’s people who aren’t going to agree with me about contractions.

Translation: There is people who are not going to agree with me about contractions.

Would you say that? No, I wouldn’t either. So let’s not write it.

On the other hand, we do have “you’re” for “you are.” Go figure. English is so quirky.

We should avoid some contractions simply because they don’t look good written, even if we often say them. One example is “that’ll” — that will — even though Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison used it with great success in a song: “That’ll Be the Day.”

Then there’s “there’ll” — there will — which sends my eyes and ears over the edge.

Conversely, a contraction sometimes doesn’t go far enough. such as on this license plate:


There’s no such word in English as “dont.” Microsoft Word won’t even let me type it that way without automatically inserting the apostrophe.

When at work, as long as you confine contractions to two words and put an apostrophe where letters are omitted, consider yourself on solid ground.

What’s Wrong with Contractions in Business Writing?

The short answer is, absolutely nothing. But in my workshops, someone almost always asks, “Aren’t contractions forbidden in business writing?”

Recently, a client converted a print newsletter to online-only and banned contractions in all feature articles from the executive team and those by HQ on benefits and personnel matters.

Such pieces are typically dry even on a good day, so making their tone even stiffer and more formal — to be read on the easy, breezy Internet, no less — leaves me shaking my head.

Do you remember Data, the android on Star Trek: Next Generation? One of his biggest regrets was that he hadn’t been programmed for contractions, because he thought they’d make him sound more human.

When you eliminate all contractions from your writing, you sound like Data.

“We are happy to announce a new benefit that is most requested; you will be allowed to work from home on Fridays.”

“We are sorry for issues you have had with our website. It is our pleasure to make sure you receive service that is reliable.”

Simple contractions such as it’s and that’s definitely have a place in business writing. Just “listen” as you write and sprinkle contractions in where you would use them in conversation.

My only caution is to be careful if your readers speak English as a second language. In that case, you would want to keep the wording clean and simple to aid comprehension.

Coming up: Can you take contractions too far?

Does Reese’s Want to be the Official Candy of the Vatican?

This is what you get when copywriters who don’t have a firm grip on spelling and phonetics write your ads:


When I first saw this Reese’s® Minis print ad several months ago, I did a double-take at “popable,” which pinged in my mind’s ear as “pope-able.”

Using this spelling, the past tense would be “poped.” Have you ever seen popcorn poped? Or a balloon poped?

Soon after, I came across another ad with similar wording, for Starburst® candy.


I don’t think the double “p” detracted from the message. Do you?

Then the other night, Reese’s took it to the next level with a TV commercial:

[2015 Update: There was a YouTube video here, but it no longer exists. The ad also used “popable.” I’m thinking Reese’s repented over their misspelling ways.]

Now I wonder if they’re hoping Pope Francis will notice and perhaps cut an endorsement deal.

Words get made up in advertising all the time. But they work only when they’re clever and not spelled so that literate potential customers will be inclined to mispronounce them and miss the point.

Maybe Reese’s thinks dropping letters appeals to the texting set, who don’t put a high premium on spelling. They’ve obviously spent a fortune spreading this error far and wide. And people wonder why Johnny can’t spell.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Reese’s would have done better to stick with their previous description for Minis, which was “perfectly tiny.”

Now they just look perfectly ignorant.

Wild and Wacky AP Style

I’m developing a new course for the University of Richmond (Va.) School of Continuing Studies I’m calling AP Style for Business Writers because I’ve met many clients who claim to use it as their in-house writing style — except when they don’t.

I’ve never understood why corporate America glommed on to AP. It’s for news journalists. How many office workers need to know proper capitalization of Osama bin Laden (who, by the way, dropped out of the Stylebook somewhere between 2011 and 2013)?

The Stylebook devotes only 10 pages to all punctuation matters, whereas my old 6th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (my preferred writing guide, back in the day) devoted 26 pages to commas alone.

The Stylebook is in alphabetical order, which means you must look up every stinking prefix (non-, dis-, un-) to find out which ones need hyphens.

So, preparing this class, I’ve had to read 300+ pages of the current Stylebook and compare them to the 2011 edition (I skipped 2012 — life’s too short) to ferret out any updates because AP willfully REFUSES to flag them.

Here’s one change for you: They dropped the hyphen from moped.

In the process, I have compiled and usefully organized the material that’s pertinent to business writers, and it fits in to 22 pages of handouts. Yup, that fat Stylebook is 99.8% irrelevant.

Here are a few points I uncovered that you might find interesting:

  • Never, under any circumstances, abbreviate department as dept.
  • Never use abbreviations for state names with five or fewer letters EXCEPT Alaska Hawaii (because they’re unattached to the U.S.) or the District of Columbia.
  • Never use italics. For anything. Ever.
  • Ditto for asterisks * and brackets [ ].
  • Lists of items should begin with dashes, never with any of Word’s bullet characters.
  • Every item in a list should end with a period, even if it’s a single word.
  • Parentheses used within a sentence are a sign the sentence has a problem. (Do mine?)
  • It’s not “Merry Christmas,” but “merry Christmas.”

I’m eager to have my first class because it’s bound to attract AP pros who want a refresher — and are possibly hoping for spirited debate.

I think everyone’s soon going to realize that the denizens of corporate America don’t embrace AP style with the fervor they think they do.

OK, I can’t resist. One more:

You’re not supposed to write, The meeting is on Tuesday, but, The meeting is Tuesday.

Well, two more:

And don’t write, We met last Wednesday. Make it, We met Wednesday.

The past-tense verb is supposed to clue the reader in to which Wednesday you mean.

The same goes for next Wednesday. If you write, We will meet Wednesday, you clearly mean next week (if it’s already Thursday).

I uncovered those relatively obscure nuggets for expressing dates under the entry for “on.”

Oh, this is going to be a fun class.

Capitalization: An Overused Way to Show Respect

Many businesses embrace the AP Stylebook as their writing guide, but the relationship often breaks down over capitalization. AP is firmly minimalist, where corporate America believes you can’t have enough of a good uppercase thing.

Years ago, I worked for a mortgage company whose voluminous customer correspondence capped every word related to the business, such as Mortgage, Deed, Escrow, and many others. The letters looked downright biblical.

Many companies deify their buildings, such as Headquarters, the Home Office, and the Midwest Branch. But where does that leave the warehouse?

And when it comes to people, it’s Caps Gone Wild. AP says no caps on job titles used without a name or following a name (John Smith, manager of operations), including the president of the United States.

But business writers cap them all: the President, the Board of Directors, the Rapid Response Team, the Christmas Party Committee.

When forced to reason why, they usually come up with, “To show respect.”

Well, no, no it doesn’t. Instead, it creates a silly slippery slope that leaves anybody in lowercase feeling slighted or undervalued.

Rampant capitalization can actually sabotage your message. Readers think capped words have more importance because you drew attention to them, so it’s easy to emphasize the wrong things.

For example, the target audience may fail to feel the love from this heartfelt statement you might find in a corporate brochure or website copy:

The customer is the primary focus of every Teammate in our Company.

What comes through to me is a self-centered organization paying lip service to customer service.

(On a side note, yes, companies will devise capitalized euphemisms for their workers because “employee” has somehow become a four-letter word. They think it’s a way to show respect. But that’s another post.)

Here are other examples:

Our Goal for our Products and Services is total customer satisfaction.

The Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting took comments from shareholders.

Companies who rely on caps to pump themselves up become the boorish windbag everybody avoids at the party. In addition, they convey grammatical ineptitude.

So what do you do? AP and common sense generally dictate lowercase on all words except:

  • proper names and places
  • trademarked product names
  • job titles immediately preceding a person’s name (Director of Marketing Mary Jones, President Thomas Jefferson)

It requires no guesswork, it’s easy to remember, and your Shift keys will thank you for the much-needed rest.