Smart People, Bad Grammar

Stanley Bing, a novelist and columnist for Fortune magazine, recently published an enlightening – let alone hilarious – piece on his blog. Titled “When Smart People Use Bad Grammar,” the article describes the common confusion around the usage of the personal pronouns “I” and “me.” I’m sitting at a lounge last week in Los Angeles … Read more

Lying in State: Changing Perceptions Change Language

Ladybird Johnson will lie in repose in Austin… This business of “lying in repose” is a fairly new phenomenon in American speech. The custom of exposing the dead body of an important person in a ceremonial manner before burial has been around for a very long time. The English expression for describing it has too. … Read more

10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals

How do you express numbers in your writing? When do you use figures (digits) and when do you write out the number in words (letters)? That is, when do you write 9 and when do you write nine? 1. Number versus numeral. First things first, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? … Read more

Word of the Day: Wax

Wax has several meanings. The noun refers to oily substances that are soluble in organic solvents but not in water. You can use wax on your car (or wax the car), for instance. The verb to wax, however, can also mean to increase or advance, as in “waxing moon.” Applying a coating of wax to … Read more

Less is More When it Comes to “Unique”

The word unique is related to a whole class of words derived from the Latin word for one, (unus) for example: uniform, unilateral, and unicorn. Soldiers tend to look alike when they are in uniform. Among allied states, a unilateral action is one taken by one member or “side” only. (Latin latus = side) A … Read more

Who Is My Neighbor?

It’s ironic that my recent criticism of what I perceive to be an unidiomatic use of folks earned me several comments from Southern readers defending the object of my criticism as acceptable Southern usage. Ironic because as a Southerner myself, I often react to the way people from other regions of the country mispronounce, misunderstand, … Read more

Point of View: Following the Rules

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s series. I adored it, but as with any popular media, some people were less than pleased with the way the story played out. One of the complaints that I take issue with is this: a fair number of readers … Read more

Word of the Day: Brisk

Brisk is an adjective that refers to something marked by speed or energy. A brisk tea, for instance, is an invigorating tea. If you walk briskly, you are walking fast or vigorously. The sound of her iron shoes upon the hard road was quite musical, as she came along at a much brisker trot than … Read more

Orwell: Timeless Guidelines for Writers

If you’ve never read George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” treat yourself. Written more than half a century ago, it remains as timely in 2007 as it was when he wrote it. Unfortunately. In this essay Orwell discusses the political use of language to manipulate and obscure: Millions of peasants are robbed … Read more

The Impotence of Proofreading

Its a fact that a spell checker will not catch all the mistakes on your text. More specifically, it will not catch misspellings that form other valid words. So how do you solve this problem? Proofreading, of coarse! Just read again through you’re text trying to spot words that don’t fit, and make sure to … Read more

Folks versus People

Recently I was amused to hear Jon Stewart express bewilderment at George Bush’s continued use of the word folks in inappropriate contexts. This is one of many of the President’s peculiarities of speech that has bothered me for some time. Stewart was referring to this remark in the President’s July 4 speech: Many of the … Read more

English Spelling is Not Total Chaos

Daniel’s recent fun spelling test got me thinking about English spelling. Google “English spelling” and you’ll get 23,300,000 hits. Visit a few of the sites and you will be told how ridiculous, crazy, outrageous, cruel, and in-need-of-reform is English orthography. English spelling is more complicated than that of some other languages, but it’s not total … Read more