English Lessons for Amateur Astronomers

I am a pedant. Costumed nuns rigorously instructed me in proper English
while I was in grade school, a practice which now seems quaint.
I may have resented their asperity then, but now I appreciate their efforts.
Thus I wince when I come upon faulty writing. Reading the Web as much
as I do, my wincing muscles have become over-developed. Poor English
makes the smartest writer look dumb. When I encounter something
which is really poorly written, I often just skip over it to avoid the pain.

Please note that I'm not talking about typos, only systematic errors.
Anyone can make a typo, and few of us have editors. Heck, most
professional online writers don't appear to have editors either.

What's that I hear you saying?

"as long as u understand what im saying
it dont matter how i writ it
PS U suk"

Well, okay, if you say so. No need for you to read any farther.

As a public service (and to vent my own frustration), I offer these
corrections for some of the most common and egregious errors of spelling,
punctuation, and usage in which my fellow stargazers are likely to indulge.

I realize that by posting this I open myself to a microscopic examination
of my own writing. So be it. I welcome any (justified) corrections which
come my way.

It's not "aperature", "apature", "apeture", "appachur", "applebutter", or "apparatchik"! I could devote an entire web page to misspellings of that word alone.

It's not "equitorial". The word is obviously derived from equator, not "equitor".

NOT "columnation", "colmination", "collaboration", or "codumbriation"! If you're going to learn how to do it, please also learn how to say it and spell it.
Not "rediculous". The word is derived from "ridicule", not "re-dicule". Even if you own every Astro-Physics scope ever made, it's impossible to look smart if you spell like this.
Apochromat, Apochromatic
If you must abbreviate it, it's "apo", not "APO". Capitalization would make sense only if it was an acronym. "Apo" is not an acronym. What, you think it stands for "Awfully Pricey Optics"?
The Neglected Question Mark
Remember these??????? Questions (those being interrogatory sentences) properly end with a unique punctuation mark called the "question mark". If you've run out of them, here are a few spares: ???????????????????????????????????
The Apostrophe
Ah, the poor, tortured apostrophe! Far too many people have no idea how to use them. They just toss them in at random, thinking, it seems, that it's better to have too many apostrophes than too few.

Note that I did not write "They tend to just toss them in at random, thinking, it seem's, that it's better to have too many apostrophe's than too few."

It's not that complicated! The apostrophe indicates possessives or contractions, NOT plurals! Always! Does your doormat say "The Smith's"? Well, I ask you, the Smith's what? The Smith's doormat? It should be "The Smiths"! Nor do you own 23 scope's! It's 23 scopes!

Its, It's
For some reason, the possessive form of "it" lacks an apostrophe and is therefore "its". The form "it's" is only used as a contraction for "it is".

Your, You're
"You're" is a contraction standing for "you are". "Your" is a possessive adjective meaning that something belongs to someone you're speaking to, or is associated with them. Don't confuse them! Example: "You're not really going to throw your Schmidt Cassegrain into that ditch, are you?"

"The scope literally disappeared, so perfect were its views! It literally crushed my neighbor's hapless SCT! I literally exploded with delight!"

Do you realize what you're saying here? You're saying your telescope actually vanished, became invisible, then fell over and smashed your buddy's telescope. Finally, you violently burst, spewing blood and gobbets of flesh all over your surroundings. Your continued ability to type is impressive.

Holy crap, did that really happen?

"Literally" means something really happened, exactly as you wrote it. If you try to pump up your writing by using it in any other way, you are literally making yourself look like a dope and seriously abusing this poor word.

A refractor incorporating "flourite" elements would be disappointing at best. "Flourite" would logically be a mineral composed of highly compacted flour. It might bake up into a tasty biscuit, but would be too opaque for a lens.

Fluorite, or Calcium Fluoride, on the other hand, can be used to make lens elements with desirable properties of dispersion. Rather than being composed of ground-up grain, it consists of the elements calcium and fluorine. The mineral fluorite has been known longer than the element fluorine. The element takes its name from the mineral, which also lent its name to the light-emitting process of fluorescence, which is exhibited by some specimens of fluorite. The name "fluorite" is derived from the Latin "fluo", meaning "to flow", because of its use as a flux in steelmaking.

It's not "artic"!!! The word derives from the Greek arktos, or bear. If you prefer "artic", you might as well start referring to Alpha Bootis as "Arturus" while you're at it.

"Price Point"
Many people have taken to using "price point" when they mean "price". They are not the same thing.

"Price point" is a marketing term meaning prices which have some psychological impact on purchasing habits. For example, $1.00 is perceived to be a significantly higher price than 99 cents. If you price your product at a buck instead of 99 cents, sales will be significantly worse than can be explained by the higher price alone. Another likely price point would be $1,000. You could say, "William wants to sell that scope at $950 to come in below the $1,000 price point." $950 is a price. It is not a price point. Even if William does sell the scope for $1,000, it's still its price, not its price point.

You may be tempted to use "price point" as "price" in order to appear "in the know". You're really just making yourself look like a doofus.

Some demon has recently destroyed mankind's ability to spell "speck" (I don't believe in demons, so I'm immune). It's not "spec". "Spec" is sometimes used as an abbreviation for "specification", or "specs" for "spectacles". You didn't really find specifications or eyeglasses all over your lens, did you?

This seems to be a tough one for many people. How can any mortal remember how to spell such a word? Well, have you read Harry Potter? Remember where he and all his friends buy their wands and other magical items? That's right, Diagon Alley. Can you spell that? Then you can also spell "diagonal".

Being a geek really comes in handy at times.

There, Their, They're
Some words sound alike but mean very different things. That's why we spell them differently...it enables us to tell them apart when we encounter them in writing. It's good to learn these spellings, so our writings are not needlessly baffling to others.

Three good examples are "there", "their, and "they're". There: "at that place". Their: "belonging to them". They're: contraction for "they are".

What's that? My dogmatic bullying is mean, and is making you cry?

There, their, they're.

It's not "lazer"! "Laser" is an acronym standing for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Note that it's "stimulated", not "ztimulated", Ludwig. Anyone spelling it "lazer" is just being really lasy.

Peak, Peek, Pique
I often experience a peevish peak of pique when peeking at a post and perceiving perplexity about the use of the three words seen above. All too often they are used interchangeably.

"Peak" means a high point of some kind. You can experience a peak of interest, but your interest has been piqued, not peaked. "Pique" means either irritation (as a noun) or, as a verb, to stimulate irritation or interest. "Peek" means to take a quick look at something, or to look at something surreptitiously.

Canon, Cannon
"Canon" is one of several things:  a Japanese optical company; a rule or decree; or a body of accepted works.

A "cannon" goes boom. Two "n"s, it goes boom (or it's a towel). A single "n", no boom.

Border, Boarder
A "border" is a demarcation between two areas of land, or the edge of something in general. A "boarder" is someone who pays you to feed him and permit him to live in your home, or someone who invades your ship.

Therefore, if you say you "crossed the boarder," you have antagonized someone who may either not pay his rent or slash you with a cutlass.

Weary, Wary
I am oh-so-weary of people being weary when they mean wary.

Have you seen this? "I'm weary of  buying an untested scope like the Merde Advanced Reflective Apochromat." "Weary" means tired. To me, the example sentence means that the writer buys so many untested telescopes that he's sick of it. I doubt that was his intent. He is actually "wary", or cautious.

Mute, Moot
Here is another common confusion. "Celestron has better optics than Merde, but since there is so little actual data on the subject other than anecdotes and brand loyalty, the matter is mute."

No, no. The matter is not "mute", or silent; it is in fact anything but. It is "moot", or so open to debate, and so unprovable, that it becomes all but meaningless.

Wet, Whet
"Uncle Al really managed to wet my appetite with his new 300-degree helmet-mounted eyepiece!"

No, he didn't. He did not make your appetite wet. He did not make you drool. He whetted it, which means to make sharp, as one sharpens a knife. The metaphor is that your appetite is made keen, not soggy.

Bated, Baited
Very often people claim to be awaiting something with "baited breath", a phrase which makes it clear they don't even know what they're trying to say. The correct phrase is "bated breath", with "bated" being derived from "abated". In other words, your breath is held back in the excitement of whatever you're awaiting. "Baited breath" implies your breath is redolent of bait, perhaps worms or small smelly fish. While I certainly would not rule out the literal truth of this, I suspect it's not what most people intend to say.

"Should of"
Few things grate on me more than this ignorant construction. "I should of tightened the set screw holding my Ethos eyepiece before rotating the diagonal." That's "should HAVE".  It's true that when we say such things the common contraction "should've" sounds like "should of", but when we are writing, we should use the correct word, not rely on the sound of a lazy pronunciation.

Site, Sight, Cite
Here's another tricky bunch. "We went out to our new observing sight. The dark skie's (sic) were an incredible site! I've seen them sited in lists of great observing sights."

Sigh. A "site" is a location. Something you see is a "sight". If you refer to or quote something you are "citing" it, as in a citation.

Loose, Lose
"I need to loose a hundred pounds so I can get closer to the ep of my big Dobsonian!"

No, no. You need to LOSE that weight. If you succeed, your pants will be loose, so buy suspenders.

While I'm at it, permit me to rail against that singularly lazy and unlovely abbreviation "ep" or "EP" for "eyepiece". For the love of all the gods of literacy, please exert yourselves and just type out the bloody word.

"Throwing Up"
Very often I read that someone's telescope is "throwing up a spectacular image" or somesuch.


Errr...you are aware that the primary meaning of "throwing up" is vomiting, correct? In that case, let's use a few synonymous phrases in a typical discussion of this kind:

"Yup, my scope puked up an awesome view of Uranus last night! Then it barfed up a gorgeous look at the Intestine Nebula, right into my eye! Finally it really heaved like mad before vomiting up a great view of the Palus Putredinis!"

Now, doesn't that make you want to change your sordid ways?

"How dare you suggest my six-inch f/3 achromatic refractor might show chromatic aberration! I won't listen to another word of your dribble. La la la la la!"

"Dribble" used in this sense is really just a corruption of "drivel." Might as well go the extra mile and use the dedicated word, huh?

Imply, Infer
Getting people to understand the distinction between these words is about as easy as pulling the teeth of a rhinoceros. I'll give it a shot anyway...I take on all kinds of Quixotic causes.

If I say "Your grasp of English grammar may not be as refined as one might wish," you might correctly infer (deduce) that I'm calling you a sub-literate dope. But I can't infer any such thing to you. I'm implying it. You are inferring. I did infer it earlier (to myself) from your remark "I done seen the most bestest telescope yesterday!"

If Sherlock Holmes examines the evidence at a crime scene, he might infer certain things from what he discovers. If Doctor Watson hints there might be a medical explanation, he's not inferring this to Holmes, he's implying it. Nobody can infer anything to anyone else. Everyone is responsible for their own inferences. But we can all imply things to each other until the cows come home.

This beautiful double has one of the prettiest of all star names. I realize it's easy to misspell it "Alberio",  but...don't. Just don't.

Why, he inquired in a plaintive tone, are so many people convinced that the phrase "a lot" should be welded into a single word?

It makes no sense. Okay, there is a similar, if wholly unrelated word, "allot", but does that really explain it? No. "A" is a word. "Lot" is a word. Together, they mean "a large quantity" (of something).  Together, yes...but still separated by a space, as they remain two words! If "alot" makes sense to you, then why not go all the way? Any time you refer to a single instance of something, just glue "a" onto the front of that word too! I'm buying atelescope! I'm going for awalk! I'm making aton of money! Go on! What's stopping you? Show a little consistency, why don't you?

"Bare with me"
Bare with me. Get naked with me. That's what "bare" means, you know...naked. What you're trying to say is "BEAR with me." Bear, as in carry. Bear with me, as in "help me carry this along for a bit," often referring to an idea which the speaker wishes to discuss, or as a general request for patience. Bear. Not bare.

"Here Here"
Someone writes something which you find agreeable. You respond with "Here here!"

What are you doing, calling your dog?

The point to that exclamation is to urge others to hear, or listen to, whatever was just said. Is that sinking in? Thus, the proper expression is "Hear! Hear!"

This poor word has been diluted to meaninglessness. It means, of course, an act of supernatural intervention by some spirit or deity, accomplishing something which could not otherwise occur. It is now the first word people bray whenever some potential disaster fails to happen, or whenever someone does something notable and heroic which results in lives being saved.

If people surviving a tornado is a "miracle", would they have had no chance of survival if no miracle was wrought? If a highly skilled pilot manages to ditch his disabled plane successfully, saving everyone aboard, all according to the laws of nature, where is the miracle?

If events like these are miracles, then maybe cases where the tornado victims die or the plane crashes in flames should be called Divine Derelictions of Duty.

If I ever witness any actual miracles, I'll be sure to let everyone know. It'll be awesome! Literally.

Where, Were
As the USA (and perhaps the world in general) continues its decline into the Second Age of Illiteracy, in which writing and related activities are considered optional at best, and where people who are fluent in their own language are considered elitist, the words "were" and "where" are becoming confused, along with thought processes overall.

Obviously, these words have nothing to do with one another. To anyone who uses "were" when "where" is intended, I say only: You, sir, are an idiot. Oh, that and our schools are abject failures.

"Low and Behold"
Here's a phrase which people hear now and then. They like the sound of it and decide to use it themselves, in writing.

Too bad they have no idea what it means.

It's "Lo and behold". Lo! Not low. One exclaims "Lo!" to urge someone to look at something. "Low", on the other hand, refers to the literacy level of someone who writes "Low and behold!"

"Per Say"
Much like the entry above, this is something people hear and then attempt to use without understanding what it means or where it comes from.

It's "per se". It's a Latin phrase, meaning "by itself" or "on its own" or intrinsically. Example: "The optical design of the SCT is not, per se, responsible for its usually mediocre performance."

"Per say", on the other hand, means nothing.

The popular misspelling of this word is "perjorative", as though it has something to do with perjury, I guess. Well, it doesn't. It has a different Latin root entirely. Example sentence: "Your use of the word 'cheap' to describe my cheap telescope is pejorative! Boo hoo!"

I have a couple of cheap telescopes too. They work okay. But they're cheap.

Reticent, Reluctant
Reticent means one thing: being hesitant to reveal one's thoughts or to speak of something. Reluctant means another: to be disinclined or hesitant about doing something. A recent hobby enjoyed by the world's subliterati is to use "reticent" where "reluctant" is clearly intended. You can't be reticent to stick your head in a lion's mouth. You can be reluctant to do it though. And you can be reticent about talking about it.

Example sentence: Merde is reticent about its reluctance to develop new products which aren't larded with unreliable, superfluous gadgetry.

Pore, Pour
"I was so eager to buy a telescope that I poured over all the catalogs I could get."

Well, that seems a shame. Didn't they get soggy? Didn't the ink run?

I suspect what you actually did was pore over those catalogs. Am I right? If not, I don't want to know exactly what you were pouring on them.

Prominence, Flare
All too often I overhear amateur astronomers talking about the view through a solar telescope and saying something like, "Look at all those cool flares around the edges!"

Ouch. If you're seeing red wisps standing up from the sun's limb, you're not seeing flares, but solar prominences. They are two very different things. Prominences are flame-like condensations in the lower corona. Flares are very energetic explosions in the magnetically active areas associated with sunspots. If you see a flare, it will look like a tiny bright point or crack near a sunspot, not a weird red shape projecting away from the disk.

Try to get it right, especially when dealing with the public, who have an excuse for not knowing the difference. You're supposed to be some kind of astronomer, and you should know better.

Since the dawn of time, the English language has contained a perfectly good word to describe someone or something which cannot be defeated in battle: invincible. It also offers a fine word to describe something which can't be harmed: invulnerable. Or even: indestructible.

For some inscrutable reason, nitwits have suddenly started using "invincible" to describe something which can't be harmed. That's not what it means, folks. You may have bought a custom $500 case to protect your new refractor, but that doesn't make it invincible, unless it's gained the ability to defeat any opposing army. It's invulnerable. Or maybe it's just plain protected.

Criterion, Criteria
I realize the subject of plurals is confusing and difficult for many, but the misuse of "criteria" has really gotten out of control. It's a plural, boys and girls. The singular form is "criterion", like, you know, the old telescope company. Using "criteria" as a catch-all is no better than saying "My only criteria for buying an Ethos eyepieces is the amounts of majesty which they produces in my eyes."

"Really? Seriously?"
Yes, fads and fashions in writing come and go, but this one is particularly annoying. You know what I mean...prefacing every statement of doubt or dismay with "Really?" or "Seriously?" as though the person who disagrees with you could not possibly mean what he says, requiring him to be put down with your snarky expression of doubt. Please, save it. Seriously.

What's "lightening"? Is that like shortening, only made of light instead of fat? If so, it sounds like a good alternative for healthy eating. The word also means to make something lighter.

Oh no...you meant it to refer to an atmospheric electrical discharge? That's lightning, Ben Franklin. No "e".

Damp/Dampen Damping/Dampening
"Dampening times are excellent on my new mount!"

Huh? Are you saying your mount gets slightly wet faster than your old mount did? Too bad, that never helps.

In physics and engineering, to reduce vibrations is to damp them. In daily life, to make something slightly wet is to dampen it. Therefore you would say, "Adding a Hargreaves strut to my refractor damps vibrations considerably!" You would not say it dampens those vibrations, because I don't think vibrations can really get wet no matter what you do.
You're welcome to try though.