Usage and Grammar

Q. Is it “happy medium” or “happy median”? The author writes: “We would all be much better served as stewards of finite public funds if we could find that happy median where trust reigns supreme . . .” Thanks!

Q. Do you have a problem (as I do) with the phrase “the fact that,” and if so, what alternatives do you offer?

Q. Curriculum vitae or vita? According to Merriam-Webster vitae is the plural of vita, but another source indicates that vitae means the “course of one’s life” and vita means “a short biographical sketch.” If these definitions are accurate, it would make sense to use vitae, as the course of one’s life is made up of many singular events or sketches.

Q. I often see initialisms such as EPA and FDA appear without “the.” For example, “One of FDA’s regulations prohibits this.” This comes up particularly often in technical and legal writing and strikes me as pompous. And, yes, these people also speak this way. Please tell me I’m right.

Q. Hello there, I am usually pretty confident about sorting out punctuation, but recently I encountered some information set out as follows.

Title: xxx
Date: xxx
Ref. no.: xxx

I know the colon and the period look silly next to each other, but I guess I just need to know which one to remove and why.

Q. I read a lot and have been working on a novel of my own for a while now. In most of the materials I read the authors use “had had” and “that that” quite often. For example: “He had had the dog for twelve years and everyone knew that that was the real reason he didn’t want Animal Control to take it.” I doubt there is any actual rule against this, but I find it to be unattractive on a purely aesthetic basis and try to avoid it like the plague when writing. Is there anything to this or am I just weird?

Q. Do footnotes have to start with number 1? Can I start my first footnote with number 2? Is that considered wrong?

Q. Hello, arbiters of messy prose. In a scholarly work on global labor conditions, plural-singular nonagreement involving the word “ability” occurs about fifty times, as in “Rules regarding paid leave affected families’ ability to earn a living.” My instinct is to change “ability” to “abilities” in this and similar cases, but is it really necessary? Thanks!

Q. In the latest Q&A on your website, I noted that an answer contained the word “lowercased.” Is this really a verb or another example of a noun erroneously transformed into a verb? I cannot imagine that you would make such an error, but I have never heard that verb before!

Q. I am working on a book that is more of an information-type book. The author consistently used “it’s,” “I’m,” “I’ve,” “don’t,” “doesn’t,” etc., throughout the entire thing. I went through with the spelling check (I’m using Microsoft Word), and it suggested changing them to “it is,” “I am,” “I have,” etc. I do not think that one should use the abbreviated version. For one, it doesn’t save any space and appears rather unprofessionally written. This will be a published book. Is there a definitive rule on this or is it simply up to the writer/editor on how these words should be used?