No second person. No third person. Just you. What do we mean by that? 1. Do not address the reader directly in your essay. This is “second person” and it’s when you say something like, “You are always excited when you’re starting something for the first time.” No. The essay is not telling the reader…
Since we haven’t received any submissions for consideration for our freebie essay reviews here on the blahg recently, we’ve dug up some that were submitted last year that we never managed to tackle. Here’s the note that was sent in for a request for a free essay review: Hi,I have 9 years of experience in…
We already know that EssaySnark is not GMATSnark, but regardless, today we’re going to take the opportunity to tease apart a tricky grammar situation that was prompted by the comments to our post last week responding to Columbia’s essay question about their location in New York City.
Phew. How was that for a doozy of a sentence?
In case you haven’t wandered into these parts in a few days, Columbia has an essay question that says:
This prompted an EssaySnark rant about whaddareyoutalkingaboutColumbiaisNOTintheheartofNewYork!!!
And yet, we have some Columbia
apologists – err, fanboys – err nice people among us, who are giving the adcom the benefit of the doubt. From the comments:
I think the adcom meant Manhattan is the ‘heart of the world’s business capital’, and Columbia is located in Manhattan; not that Columbia is located in the heart of Manhattan. But who knows, English is not my first language.
And we had someone else pipe up, saying that they agreed with that interpretation.
We like having nice people around, commenting on the blahg. We’re not trying to be mean to those nice people. But we have to correct the record: This interpretation is not legit for what Columbia’s essay question says.
We could point you to this Conde Nast travel site that has blurbs about great hotels located in Manhattan, and leave it at that (use your browser to find each occurrence of the word “heart” on that page and read the blurbs). There’s a bunch that all talk about being in “the heart of” New York – apparently that’s a very popular place to be – and every one of those hotels is located in Midtown or further south.
But the nice-person blahg-poster people were saying that they thought the English could be interpreted in another way, and that’s where we’ll focus our efforts today.
The term “the world’s business capital” is a description for “Manhattan”; those are analogous, equivalent substitutions. “The world’s business capital” can mean only NYC. (Well, some might claim that it’s London, but that’s a different argument.) The second sentence of the essay prompt underscores that the CBS adcom is saying that “Manhattan = New York City.”
In this usage, the word “heart” means “center” or “core”. If “the world’s business capital” means one specific place, then to further define it with “the heart of” means you’re being even more precise and pinpointing a specific part of the City of New York.
The only way that the entirety of NYC can be “the heart of the world’s business capital” would be if you’re defining “the world’s business capital” as the STATE of New York, which is a silly thing indeed. (Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie??).
To illustrate this, let’s redo the same sentence with different nouns:
If we try to use the (very generous) interpretation that our nice-person Brave Supplicant used for the adcom on this sentence, we’d have to say: “Jimmy is the ‘heart of the world’s fastest runner'” – and no, that doesn’t work. In this case, “Jimmy” is the fastest runner, who has a heart. The heart is not the entirety of Jimmy – unless some person who runs fast, who has a different name, has named his heart “Jimmy.” Which would be a little weird. We don’t know many people who’ve named their hearts. (Maybe some who’ve named another part of the anatomy, but…)
So, sorry folks. The meaning of this sentence is: “Manhattan is the world’s business capital. Manhattan has a heart. Columbia is located there.”
Now, if we were looking to be generous and cut Columbia some slack – not that we’re not trying to be generous – or trying to be not-generous – it’s not like we spend our days sleuthing around on the Columbia website and looking for errors and omissions that they may have made, to call a “Gotcha!” on them. They just make it so darn EASY…
But if a someone were to try and determine another way that Columbia may have intended this question, we could go with this as a possible interpretation. With the combination of the two sentences, Columbia could be saying – though we think this is a stretch – they could be saying that:
- the world’s business capital = New York City
- [not stated, but a known fact: New York City is comprised of five boroughs: Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island]
- Manhattan = the “heart” of New York City
- [not stated, but understood: Manhattan is the borough of New York City that matters. Even though you’ve probably heard of those other boroughs, we’re 100% confident in our assumption that you are NOT planning on applying to bschool in any of them. Manhattan is the one that counts.]
- Columbia is in Manhattan
- ergo, “Columbia is in the heart of New York City”
is a true statement because it’s in Manhattanerr wait a minute.
That is not what they said. They said that Columbia is in the heart of Manhattan, and that is JUST NOT TRUE!!! aaargh!!
Deep breaths. Moment of meditation. Exhale. OK, we’re under control again.
But hey, did you know that part? About there being five boroughs within New York City? That when you say NYC, you technically are referring to all of them?
We didn’t think so – not most of you, at least. So you got a geography lesson today too, along with the grammar lesson! So that’s cool, you didn’t completely waste the last 5 minutes of your life reading this with no redeeming value to be had.
The only way that Columbia could have gotten off the hook with this question is if they’d said that “Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – New York City. How do you anticipate that Manhattan will impact your experience at Columbia?” But they did not say that. They said it the other way, which admittedly sounds way better than this rewrite, anyway.
They could not have intended the meaning that we are trying to ascribe to them. Our attempts at being generous have failed. What a cold, heartless ‘Snark.
Poor us. That we care so much about such insignificant things. The adcom at Columbia Business School is probably feeling incredible pity for the ‘Snark right about now. That we get so riled up about something so completely unimportant. “Don’t they have a life?” they are asking each other. Or maybe they’re wishing they had our mailing address, so as to send us an admissions season’s supply of Prozac, and an invitation to chill the F out.
No worries, Columbia Business School. We have Brave Supplicants eager to write essays in response to those questions of yours. (Did we mention that we sorta like the questions this year? :-D) We will soon be so busy in reading those essays that we won’t have time to write such ridiculously irrelevant blahg posts. And then we’ll all be happy.
Well, not really.
If you were to send your essays over for a little reviewsio by the ‘Snark, you should not expect to get a grammarly-perfect and perfectly-proofread essay back.
We don’t edit essays. Shucks, we won’t even write ’em for ya. Apparently there are all sorts of services out there that will do this. We’ve even seen companies that will write someone’s dissertation for them. (Really?? sheesh. This world is muffed up.)
We don’t do that stuff.
Our job in reviewing your work is still very editorial — in that we’re looking at things from the perspective of the all-important person: your reader. Your job in writing your essay is to COMMUNICATE CLEARLY. Our job in evaluating your essay is not only to check that you’re communicating the RIGHT things (in order to have a real chance at getting into the school you’re targeting), but we also care about HOW you’re communicating it. We take this part very seriously.
Good editors work with and not against a writer. They calibrate how aggressively they edit according to how good the writer is, how good the piece is, the type of piece it is, the kind of relationship they have with the writer, how tight the deadline is, and what mood they’re in. But an editor’s primary responsibility is not to the writer but to the reader. He or she must be ruthlessly dedicated to making the piece stronger. Since this is ultimately a subjective judgment, and quite a tricky one, a good editor needs to be as self-confident as a writer. (emphasis added)
That bold part pretty much sums up our MO in working with Brave Supplicants. If we like you (because you’ve been polite, and friendly, and most especially if we see that you already did your homework before sending us any drafts by reading the blahg and using the advice we’ve already offered — and even more so if there’s evidence that you actually tried to incorporate our suggestions into your work when you went through your revisions) and if you didn’t ask for the impossible by sending us your first cruddy drafts two days before the deadline, and if we haven’t morphed into Oscar the Grouch due to too many really bad essays in too short a time, then we’re likely to be more liberal with you in pointing out the issues and mistakes.
But please note that, unlike a regular editor, we do NOT correct your mistakes. In fact, sometimes this would be BAD for you – if your essays are too perfect, and your AWA score is not, then the adcoms will know you got lots of help on the essays. And if your AWA score is perfect then you don’t need our help. Either way, it’s not our job to fix your spelling erros. That’s not what you’re paying us for.
Most of the time, we will comment on the first instance of where you did something goofy or awkward or just plain wrong (subject/verb agreement, missing articles in front of nouns, items in a series that are not parallel are three very common problems in this category). We might comment on it if you do it again. Especially if it’s a writing mistake that seems especially amateur and thus is irritating. You’re a businessperson. You should know better.
But please do not expect EssaySnark to do all the work for you. It would actually be easier on us to do it; going in and fixing someone’s muffed-up writing is way easier and takes way less time than going through the whole process of identifying what the mistake is and writing up a note on it so she can fix it herself. We’d probably breeze through the essays in half the time if we just went ahead and corrected the errors in the drafts.
The point of this whole snarky endeavor is not to tell you what to write, or how to think. Our possibly unrealistic goal with this here project is to help you do learn to do all that for yourself.
That whole teach ’em to fish thing, right? A sisyphean task, perhaps…
PS: If you’re still thinking about getting some help from EssaySnark for Round 1, you’d better get a move on. Those deadlines are peering out at you like monsters on the horizon. They are only going to get bigger and scarier. We’ll be helping you do battle all the way to the last minute but it’s much less stressful – and your results are likely to be much stronger – if you don’t wait that long.
We’ve tweeted about this column from the NYTimes before, and here’s another post about it: The editors have a weekly article about errors that are detected in the paper (this one from last October). The best part is that they explain how the errors can be made – which can be really really useful for those of you studying for the GMAT verbal!!
For example, check this out:
LOS ANGELES — It’s one of the few shows on television that tells viewers exactly what they are going to get: “Dancing With the Stars.’’
A persistent error that defies grammar and logic; make it “tell.” Grammatically, the subject of “tell” is the relative pronoun “that,” which is plural here because its antecedent is the plural “shows,” not the singular “one.”
The point of the sentence is to place this show in a group of a few shows, and the relative clause describes what those shows (plural) have in common. To see the logic, turn the sentence around: “Of the few shows on television that tell viewers exactly what they are going to get, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is one.”
This is most definitely a GMAT-caliber trickster. And, the solution that they’re offering of “turn it around” is the best way to test whether you’ve got it right. You can do this with an assortment of grammar issues, to validate correctness.
Here’s another example:
These principles make me believe that working hard and as a team generates the best ideas and outcomes.
9/11/12 It was pointed out by an intrepid Brave Supplicant in the comments that this sentence actually IS correct!!! Leave it to EssaySnark to come up with an example of an incorrect sentence that’s not incorrect. Let’s continue this with
egg on our face a discussion of one inspired by the BSer’s suggestion – and be sure to check the comments for the reasons why this first example works:
NOW, here’s the next example:
“Everyone knows that researching thoroughly and double-checking accuracy is critical to developing a proper grammar example for use on the EssaySnark blahg.”
Besides the fact that this is a clunky sentence, it’s also grammatically incorrect. Why? Because the subject of the clause is singular – “this and that is critical…” Which means you could substitute “they” for the phrase in its entirety. And then we get:
“Everyone knows that they is critical…”
And everyone knows that’s wrong.
This “turn it around” test is very useful as you proofread your essays. It doesn’t always work but it often guides you to the right answer. Your ear can “hear” what it should be when you do the turn-it-around/substitution thing.
Read the NYTimes. And definitely read the After Deadline grammar-correction column. It comes out on Tuesdays.
>As you move into your last-minute scramble for the Round 2 MBA application deadlines, we’ll leave you with a warning.
A very common mistake we see all the time in clients’ work — a mistake you might sometimes spot creep into this blog from time to time, too — involves homonyms, or words that sound identical but are spelled differently (and mean different things).
The most common?
- it’s and its
- their and there and they’re
- affect and effect
We correct these in drafts all the time. Do you know the difference?
Or you get words that are just too similar:
- site and sight
- desert and dessert
- peak and peek
- discrete and discreet
- anecdote and antidote (this is our favorite)
You gotta be careful with these. Or “principle” and “principal” — that one happens all the time, too. (Our recent favorite: Segway and segue.)
These are tricky because, as the NYTimes puts it, they’re instances When Spell-Check Can’t Help.*
Check out this link too: Mistakes that Spell-Check Won’t Catch.
If, when writing, you catch yourself stopping to wonder if you’ve got the right word… then do more than just wonder. Go look it up. You can often Google something like “[word1] vs [word2]” and get clarification.
Any other favorite homonym or just plain similar-and-confusing word pairs that you stumble over?
* Yes, we are uber-geeky. We love that “After Deadline” column on the NYT site.