Online Style Guides

Russell from Cape Town writes: As a rank novice to the world of writing, and one purely for work purposes not for literature, I was wondering where you gain access to so many style guides. Can you suggest some free guides to download? The two most frequently cited American style guides are the Associated Press … Read more

“Female” or “Woman”?

Kathy Stroupe wrote: Here’s my pet peeve…people using “women” as an adjective. Just this morning I heard NPR say, “women senators took to the floor…” Shouldn’t this have been “female senators”? Since when has the word “female” been taboo?! No wonder people get so hot about language. Different words set us off. Unlike Kathy, I … Read more

Stunned, Astounded and Astonished

stun: c.1300, “to daze or render unconscious” (from a blow, powerful emotion, etc.), probably aphetic of O.Fr. estoner “to stun” astound: 1600, from M.E. astouned, astoned (c.1300), pp. of astonien “to stun” astonish: 1340, astonien, from O.Fr. estoner “to stun,” from V.L. *extonare, from L. ex- “out” + tonare “to thunder”; so, lit. “to leave … Read more

“Critiquing” is not “Editing”

A reader writes about a problem she is having with a friend who is critiquing her manuscripts. . . . whenever I use personification, alliteration, or any sort of figurative language, [the friend] edits it out. We have two very different styles, and I’m wondering if she is right in editing my work so drastically … Read more

Short clauses can take commas

Ron Milan wants to use a comma to separate two short clauses: I wrote a sentence:“Experts teach, peers comfort.” Word creates an error unless I write“Experts teach and peers comfort.”or“Experts teach; peers comfort.” (semi colon versus comma).   However, I like the shorter pause by a comma.  Any rules on this? Punctuation exists to help … Read more

Needing to do A Few Things

A reader writes: My son is driving me crazy!!!! He consistently says ” I need to do a few stuff. ”  I reply that he should properly say ” I need to do a few things ” or ” I need to do some stuff “.  I know my options are fine, but my question … Read more

The Post Office is Kitty-corner to the Court House

Cassandra Marx writes: In the last few weeks, I have seen or heard numerous references to something being catty-cornered, katty-cornered, and kitty-cornered to something else. Would you please tell me what the correct usage/spelling is? Although I have included this expression in a previous post on “cat words,” I think it deserves a post of … Read more

Ah, Those -ah words in English!

AJ Tapper wrote: I’ve seen on a couple different books and websites two different spellings of the word, “savannah”. Is it “savanna” or “savannah”? The OED gives savannah as the only spelling. Merriam-Webster gives savanna as the first spelling and savannah as a variant. This question about savannah caused me to wonder about other -ah … Read more

Nothing to do with Raspberries, Exactly

You may soon be seeing media coverage of a newly discovered threat to the already endangered honey bee population called Rasberry crazy ants. This previously unnoticed type of ant is thought to have entered the U.S. by way of a Texas port and is now busily at work destroying honey bee larvae and other things … Read more

Fount of Wisdom

Kathryn Doyle writes: I’ve heard or read this expression and it’s taken up residence in my subconscious. But I’m not finding it in Webster’s. Where did it come from? Is it font or fount or do I need to exorcize it? Ex. “Font of wisdom”or “Font of information.” My immediate response was “fount, of course!” … Read more

Brainstorms, Turning to Showers

Until recently I associated only two meanings with the word brainstorm: 1. noun: a brilliant idea. Ex. Hey, guys, I just had a brainstorm! Let’s go to the movies. 2, verb: to generate a lot of ideas in a short time. Ex. Before deciding on an essay topic, take the time to brainstorm. According the … Read more

“Only” Murder

A reader commenting on “‘Persian’ Is a Lovely Word” wonders about the difference between assassination and murder: Maybe ‘Farsi’ is a racist word like ‘hashassin’ is. I mean, why use ‘assassin’ when the word is only used for VIP’s? Why are ordinary people only ‘murdered’? Where do we draw the line? Certainly political speech writers, … Read more