Why she wasn’t a science genius, and how Wi-Fi really got made

Figures from Patent US2292387A “Secret Communication System,” filed by Hedy Kiesler Markey (Hedy Lamarr) and George Antheil. Image source: https://patents.google.com/patent/US2292387

The top row of the Facebook meme shows three portraits of men.

Underneath is the beautiful Hollywood actor Hedy Lamarr.


It’s been shared by several of my friends, all of whom I know would have posted it with the best of intentions. Other shares (e.g., this one, this one, and this one) are in the hundreds of thousands now.

But the good intentions of my friends and the hundreds of thousands of shares doesn’t change the fact that it’s just not true.

The sentence ‘The old man the boat’ looks like an error, but is in fact a complete English sentence. So why does it look so wrong?

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

“Vigorous writing is concise,” says the Elements of Style, which has never gone out of style (despite being just over 100 years old). Indeed, numerous writing advice sites tell us to use the most concise text possible to convey our meaning. They advise removing words like “that” and “who” as well as supposedly superfluous commas.

In my own work as an editor, I also often tell my clients to write concisely, and they should. They will write things like:

It is important to note that in the present study, the authors believe it to be true that our results are…

I thought my foray into self-improvement would get me a tidy house. It got me Honey the dog instead

Photo by Ayla Verschueren on Unsplash

I didn’t get the dog because of lockdown, I swear. No, I got her because I’m terrible at meditation. And I was only mediating because I was trying to keep to my New Year’s resolution to declutter the house.

When I was a kid, our house was always messy and my mum was constantly upset. But when her kids left, she shed her angst like a old coat. It’s inspiring. When something spills on the kitchen floor, she now just wipes it up without comment. When I visit and spill stuff, she hands me a moist towel and expects me…

This free web tool resolves editing questions by going directly to the source: the English language itself

Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay

I’m a professional editor who specializes in engineering and computer-science research. So I know a lot of things: how to use the en-dash properly, the difference between “dynamics is” and “dynamics are,” and that the abbreviation GNU is a dumb joke about the computer science concept of recursion. But I don’t know everything. Is it “compressive imaging” or “compression imaging”? Is the term “Radon” in the Radon transform capitalized? What about the “bool” data type?

It isn’t just in nonfiction text that these questions arise. In 1980s London, could people running from evil aliens hide in a wheelie bin? Would…

This Internet puzzle shows that more than good grammar is needed to keep your writing clear

Image courtesy Kimberly Moravec

A friend recently posted this to her Facebook feed:

One rabbit saw nine elephants while going to the river. Every elephant saw three monkeys going to the river. Each monkey had one tortoise in each hand. How many animals are going to the river?

Of course, most people got it wrong (full disclosure: I did too). In fact, unless she has deleted the correct answers, she is still waiting for one a few days later. Why is this so hard to get right? …

It’s nominalization, and this is why

Photo: Robert Norton on Unsplash

Consider the following two sentences:

Clearcutting trees causes rainforest destruction.

Clearcutting trees destroys the rainforest.

Which one is in active voice? Actually, technically, they both are.

A sentence in active voice is a sentence where the subject of the sentence comes first (that is, before the verb) and the object comes last. A passive voice sentence is a switched-around sentence, where the object of the sentence comes first and the subject comes afterwards.

In both sentences above, “clearcutting trees” is our subject. So moving the subject to the end of the sentences, we get the passive forms:

Rainforest destruction is…

The passive voice is the unfairly maligned sibling of active voice, but using it correctly can make your writing shine

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Moravec

Sooner or later, every writer is given the well-meaning advice to avoid the passive voice. For instance, Strunk and White note in The Elements of Style that “the active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive.” These days, direct and vigorous writing is in definitely style, both in fiction and in non-fiction. As a result, the passive voice is often avoided.

However, it shouldn’t be. In fact, passive voice can sometimes make your writing clearer and more direct, and this is because the main topic of a sentence is not always the subject. …

A once viral grammar rule about which adjectives should go where doesn’t reflect actual English usage. Well, not all of it, anyway.

Image courtesy of Kimberly Moravec

If you are a native speaker of English, you probably know that the phrase “my Greek fat big wedding” is very, very wrong, but you probably don’t know why.

In English, there is often a rigid order of adjectives that come before a noun. For instance, you can say “my big fat Greek wedding” but not “my Greek fat big wedding” or even “my fat Greek big wedding.” Native speakers know these rules intuitively because they have been immersed in English for many years. …

A simple change to English punctuation could get us out of this mess, if only we’re willing to adopt it

A graffiti portrait of Nelson Mandela
A graffiti portrait of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela — an 800-year-old demigod? Photo by John-Paul Henry on Unsplash

Yet again, the Oxford comma has hit the news. Of all the arguments about style in the English language, perhaps none is longer running nor more furiously fought than whether or not to use the Oxford comma. This time, the debate centered on the United Kingdom’s new 50 pence coin. Intended to celebrate Brexit, it reads “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations,” which is appalling, at least if you are Phillip Pullman. Plenty of others think Phillip Pullman is the one who is appalling. The pro-comma and anti-comma camps have dug in, and few are willing to budge.


As a professional editor, I annually edit about 1.5 million words of research on computer science and engineering topics. The tools I use must work well, and believe me, I’ve tried a few! In this article, I share the platforms and programs I frequently use for editing research, which I suspect would be useful for writing research as well.

Microsoft Word and LaTeX

In the good old days when research workstations were real Sun Sparcstations and monitors were black and white and shaped like sugar cubes, if you wanted a computer-science research paper to look good, LaTeX was your only…

Kimberly Moravec

Science editor by day, science-fiction writer by night. https://klmoravec.wordpress.com/

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