Healthy vs Healthful

A reader wonders about the use of the adjectives healthy and healthful: Would you please do a segment explaining how, when, and why “healthy” and “healthful” should be used correctly. My tentative belief is that people are “healthy” or not so; and that foods are “healthful” or not so. Am I correct?

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Prime Marks

A reader commenting on a recent post about the En Dash introduced me to a punctuation term that was unfamiliar to me: “the prime mark.”

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Do-gooder Is Not a Positive Term

A reader questions the positive use of the epithet do-gooder: One use of the language that disturbs me is the use by my local paper of the term “Do-gooder” [to refer] to people who are indeed doing good deeds by helping or contributing.

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Empathize vs. Sympathize

A reader says: I’ve always been confused on how to use [the words empathize and sympathize] in proper context.

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Starting a Business Letter with Dear Mr.

Several years ago, when a reader said he refused to use “Dear So-and-So” to begin a business letter because dear is too intimate a word to use with a stranger, I assumed that he represented a minority of one. Who, I wondered, would interpret an established convention like “Dear Sir” literally?

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Punctuation Review #3: Introducing Quotations

A reader questioned the introduction of a direct quotation with the word that: I’ve had the understanding that preceding what was said with the word “that” indicates that what follows is not a verbatim quote, but rather a description of what was said, and quotation marks are thus not to be used.

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The Changing Meaning of Mural

Because I am used to thinking of a mural as a painting on a wall, I was startled to hear a local radio announcer refer to a contest for artists to submit designs to paint “murals” on storm drains.

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Two Inverted Idioms

As the residents of my state prepared for a cold front, one of the local television anchors remarked: We are in store for a big chill.

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Contrast and Stand in Contrast To

The other morning I read an article about a man who has built a wonderfully detailed scale model of the Sultana, the steamboat that was the object of the greatest maritime disaster in US history.

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Ripe vs. Rife

Researching banking in the Roman Empire, I read the following in a scholarly discussion of Roman tax collecting: The process was ripe with corruption and scheming.

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Beginning A Business Letter with First Person Singular

Like the reader, I was also taught not to begin a letter with “I” and often find myself struggling to avoid doing so. I even go back and take out the first person pronoun in the body of a letter if there seem to be too many.

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Marshmallow and Other Common Spelling Traps

This sentence on a grammar site is intended to illustrate the use of the colon: It is time for the baby’s birthday party: a white cake, strawberry-marshmellow ice cream, and a bottle of champagne saved from another party. (Joan Didion)

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