Borne aloft on a cleft stick?

Can’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but it stayed in my brain as an amusing (if uncomfortable) image.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means to be in a situation where it is difficult to decide what to do, usually because both of your two choices of action would cause problems, e.g.:

UN troops are in a cleft stick: something has to be done for the civilian population, yet to retaliate would surely be the spark to ignite all-out war.

So, two choices, both unappealing.

Like the unusual and the curious?

If you are a lover of unusual words and curious grammar terms, see what a cleft sentence is: https://aceseditors.org/news/2020/grammar-on-the-edge-its-cleft-sentences-that-were-talking-about

Jonathon Owen starts this interesting article with: “Cleft sentences are one of the most common constructions that you’ve probably never heard of, though you almost certainly use them without even thinking about it.”

He goes on to explain how use the cleft sentence to give your writing greater expressive power.

Try it yourself!

Ms Persnickety’s Blog

5 WICKED TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING

  1. ONE IDEA, ONE PARAGRAPH. WHY?

Many people find it easy just to blurt out all their information in one BIG, GREY, IMPENETRABLE paragraph.

Then you, the reader, have to unpack all the ideas to make sense of the info.

DO THIS: Let some air into your writing. Use more paragraphs.

2. ONE EXCLAMATION MARK!!!!!! JUST ONE! WHY?

More than one exclamation mark is a dead giveaway that the writer is reckless and maybe very young. It looks unprofessional. Especially if you pepper your entire story with them.

You only need one to indicate strong feelings or show emphasis. Any more and you risk annoying your reader.

DO THIS: Give yourself an allowance of just one exclamation mark per page. Used sparingly, exclamation marks can be powerful.

3. ONE SPACE ONLY AFTER A FULL STOP. WHY?

Back in the heyday of typewriters, two spaces after a full stop, question mark or exclamation point was the standard. With so much extra spacing in the typewritten monospace font, an extra space was needed to make these punctuation marks more visible.

For personal writing, have as many as you wish. But modern business writing calls for one space.

DO THIS: Type Ctrl + H. In FIND WHAT, type two spaces. In REPLACE WITH, type one space. Click on REPLACE ALL.

4. ONE LANGUAGE PER STORY/ARTICLE. WHY?

Does your document contains more than one “language”? You may start out with Australian English, then insert information taken from a US source.

The result can confuse your reader to see “travelled” (Australian English) in one section, then “traveled” (US English) in another.

DO THIS: Highlight the whole document (Ctrl + A), then click on REVIEW, then LANGUAGE, then SET PROOFING LANGUAGE. Choose the most appropriate language for your audience.

5. ONE FONT PER STORY/ARTICLE. WHY?

Your computer contains a dazzling array of different fonts. It can be tempting to use several in one document. But that can confuse your reader—or make you look cutesy and unprofessional.

By all means use a different font (just one!) for headings and subheads.

DO THIS: for the body of your business document, highlight the text, then choose one serious font like Arial.