The world summed up in six editorial metaphors

It feels a bit wrong to say Happy New Year with everything that’s going on at the moment, so I’ll just say that I’m sending you my warmest wishes. I hope that 2021 is bright and healthy for you and your loved ones.

In my closing social media message of 2020, I described the year as having felt like a run-on sentence – one of those really long ones that makes you feel a bit lost. That got me thinking about other editorial metaphors for these very strange times we’re living in. Here are six from me – let me know if you think of more.


1. The run-on sentence


A run-on sentence is one where two or more clauses that can stand independently as sentences run together. They either have no punctuation or are connected by just a comma. When they are connected by a comma, it is sometimes known as a comma splice.


It feels like this sentence needs to be said all in one breath, I’m getting a bit lost, it just goes on and on I’m getting quite tired now.

A reader can easily get lost in a run-on sentence, without punctuation to guide them. They need to hold on to things from early on in the sentence and not drop them until the end, when that eventually comes. It’s one never-ending treadmill. With juggling balls. Does that sound like a familiar feeling right now?


2. The fronted adverbial


An adverbial is a phrase that gives information about what happens in the rest of the sentence, such as the manner, time, place or circumstances. A fronted adverbial simply means that bit is at the beginning of the sentence.


At the weekend, Lisa needs to do her essential shopping

has a fronted adverbial.

Lisa needs to do her essential shopping at the weekend

still includes an adverbial phrase, but this is not fronted.

Fronted adverbials have become a bit of a running joke for parents, teachers and critics of the current English language curriculum. We didn’t learn these things when I was at school, but now, precise grammatical terminology is introduced even before reception children can read. Whether we agree with it or not, that’s the way it is, and over the past year parents have joined their kids on that learning curve.

Besides, fronted adverbial sounds like a euphemism for something particularly uncomfortable, embarrassing or distressing. Again, much like home learning.

yellow triangle with exclamation mark warning sign

3. The exclamation mark

‘The exclamation mark (!), known informally as a bang or a shriek, is used at the end of a sentence or a short phrase which expresses very strong feeling.’

(Source: The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, also available as a free reference on the University of Sussex website)

I think we have all used a lot of exclamation marks, bangs and shrieks over the past year! The hazard warning signs are out and life has changed for us all.

4. The passive verb

A passive verb is one where someone or something (the object) undergoes the action. This contrasts with an active verb, where someone or something (the subject) is doing the action.


Lisa wrote a blog article

is active, whereas

The blog article was written by Lisa

is passive.

Lots of people might currently be feeling like passive participants in their own lives. Choices and opportunities are being restricted, and things are out of their control. However, turning that on its head, so many people have managed to find things they can still take control of. Sometimes when we feel powerless, we look more actively for what we can do. Whether that’s as big as organising a community food bank for vulnerable neighbours or as small as deciding to do your first Joe Wicks workout, focusing on something positive and active can be a great way of coping with the imposed limitations.

5. The supportive emoji

Although you won’t find them in official grammar books, I think emojis are a brilliant enhancement to our informal digital writing. They add personality and mood to faceless communication ☺

Last year, Facebook added a new ‘Care’ reaction to encourage connection and support between users during the pandemic. When people are feeling isolated and lacking in social connection, a simple picture of a hug can work virtual wonders. In the midst of a lot of frustration and desperation on social media, there is certainly a lot of kindness going on out there. I know I have benefited from the support of my lovely friends, family, colleagues and clients over the past year. Thank you.


6. The paragraph break

A paragraph is a section of text, relating to one idea or subject. It can be as short as one sentence, or it can contain several sentences. In plain English writing, paragraphs should be quite short. This breaks things up for the reader, allowing them to take a breath and digest their thoughts before moving on to the next paragraph.

While many people are very deep into a run-on sentence at the moment, others have been able take a paragraph break and reassess – possibly even start a new chapter or turn a page. We don’t know what the future holds, and 2021 is even less certain than usual. But there are lessons we can learn and choices we can make.

Whatever 2021 holds, I wish you all the very best.

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