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Strictly speaking, a nanosecond is one-billionth of a second. Loosely speaking, it is a very brief moment. In prose composition, it's a reader's subliminal pause while he figures out where a sentence is heading. Today's text for writers is: Avoid the Frumious Nanopause! Your readers will love you.

Nanopauses come in many guises. We confront the Furrin' Phrase, such as "Chacun a son gout." (Everybody should order his own drink.) We avoid the Out-of-Town Noun (That's not a navel, that's an omphalos.) We stumble over the Antidromic Antecedent (Does every pupil have their sandwich?) and we wince at the Incongruous Image (Like a great fried egg, the sun slid off the porcelain sky).

Today's nanopauses are the little optional adverbs, conjunctions and adjectives whose meaning may not be instantly apparent. Take "although" and "while." Both conjunctions carry the meaning of "in spite of the fact that" and "even though." We could phrase a declarative statement either way: "Although he was certifiably sane, he continued to support the Cubs" is not semantically to be distinguished from, "While he preferred a martini, he wouldn't turn down a cold beer."

The trouble here is that "while" carries excess baggage. Its first meaning is "during the time that." But "while" also can mean "as long as."

Horrid Example: In August, the New York Times warned investors: "While brokers are required to recommend investments suitable to a particular client, they are not subject to the broader obligations . . ." etc. This spawned a Frumious Nanopause. When we begin a sentence with "while," we invite a nanosecond of surmise that we're talking about "during the time that."

Second Horrid Example: In Washington, D.C., a fashionable condominium retained consultants to analyze the building's security. Owners were advised, "While the scope of the engagement is comprehensive, it is not exhaustive." Question: Would the conjunctive "although" have been a better choice than "while"? Answer: You bet.

Next question: In such a context, would the monosyllablic "though" have been even better than "although"? Answer: It's your call. Does your sentence work better with two syllables or one? Listen to it! Cadence counts! The translators of Mark 14:29 liked two syllables: "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I." In Psalms 23:4, they liked one: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow . . ."

The adverb "anymore" was coined in the 14th century by a monk named Gibbs. We were in Rotary together. Should we put "anymore" to work today as one word or two? The gurus at Merriam-Webster say the one-word spelling is more common, especially in negative and interrogative constructions: "We never go there anymore." Or: "Do you eat broccoli anymore?" The late great John Bremner, professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, felt strongly au contraire (Furrin' Phrase). Especially in negative constructions, he insisted on the two-pants version: "Annie doesn't live here any more."

None of my books on copy editing is of much help on the "any" words. The general rule is to employ one word for indefinite reference: Anyone can fry an egg. Use two words when the idea is to single out an individual element: Does any one of you have a corkscrew? The same uncertain reasoning applies to "anytime" and "any time." It's "a dress for anytime wear," but, "Come any time between 1 o'clock and 3 o'clock." Anybody may come even later if she brings deviled eggs. Language is a picnic after all.

Universal Press Syndicate

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