Judgement or Judgment?

Reader John Moss wonders about the spellings judgement and judgment. His Word application flags judgement as an incorrect spelling, but when he searches the word online, both judgement and judgment occur with seeming equal frequency. Is one English and the other American? What a bother! If both are OK, I guess I could update my … Read more

MLA Gets With the Times

Probably the biggest change in the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers has to do with the Works Cited section. No more underlining I abandoned underlining for italicizing as soon as I got my hands on my first computer. That was in the 1980s. MLA has finally come round and … Read more

Why Can’t Style Manuals Just Agree?

Caitlin Thomas sounds pretty fed-up with the differences she finds between the various style guides in her life: Perhaps you’d know the answer to this question?  Why are MLA citation formats being continually revised?  And why are there so many discrepancies for a process that claims to be so precise?  My college’s library Style Guide, … Read more

“Pomp and Ceremony” or “Pomp and Circumstance?”

Kathleen Babbs writes: When I was growing up in England, the phrase “pomp and ceremony” was used when describing exciting pageantry and celebrations. Nowadays I hear most commentators using “pomp and circumstance” even when talking about royal events. This makes no sense to me, unless they are referring to the Elgar marches that are often … Read more

Is “Number” Singular or Plural?

Tony writes: In one of my posts, I found I had written “There is a significant number of sources…”. When reading it back to myself, I kept wanting to change the “is” to “are”, but I think the way I have it is actually more grammatically correct, even though it sounds odd to my ears. … Read more

Hippo Words

A reader writes: My office mates call me a hippocrite. When I found this misspelling on a chat site, I started wondering if there might be a connection between hypocrite and the “hippo” words n English. The prefix “hypo” is from Greek and means “under.” In most English words it’s pronounced with a long i … Read more

First Come, First Served

The expression first come, first served began life as a proverb having the same sense as the early bird catches the worm. Both proverbs are admonitions against dawdling.
 The proverb was adopted by shopkeepers to convey the idea that customers would be served in the order of their arrival. In case of limited quantities, latecomers … Read more

“Wracking” or “Racking” Your Brain?

Sherry Beth Connot writes: Every time I read how someone wracked their brain, I think it should be racked, and according to my dictionary it should.  Can you explain why wracked is being used this way? The words rack and wrack have been confused with one another for a very long time. Sometimes the expression … Read more

Does Web Usage Matter?

Nuscha took me to task the other day for citing Google search results in my discussion of free rein and the frequent mistaken rendering of it as “free reign.” I like this site a lot, but I am often grinding my teeth when I read “well, looking at Google, we have 5,000,000,000 hits with this … Read more

Writing the Century

Melvin Merzon sets me this multi-part question: How would you write “21st Century”? In a legal document? In a business letter? In fiction? In  a  nonfiction context?   21st Century? 21st century? Twenty-first Century? Twenty-First Century? twenty-first century? My short answer for all specified contexts is twenty-first century. Unless the name of the century begins a … Read more

Trouble with “Vigorously” and “Vicariously”

So far I haven’t found it in an article by a professional journalist (thank goodness), but in the course of my web browsing I have discovered the created word “vigariously.” It is enjoying wide use among bloggers and readers who post comments. “Vigariously” occurs in contexts that call for either vigorously or vicariously. vigorously – … Read more

Words for Saintly Golden Light

Everyone’s familiar with the word halo in the sense of a circle of light behind or above the head of a saintly person in a painting. The word halo comes from a Greek word meaning “disk of the sun or moon.” The first recorded use in English of halo with the sense of “light around … Read more