The Negative Prefix il-

From a reader commenting on the illegal alien post: I used to hear from my history teacher in high school that the word “illegal” isn’t actually a word. I never followed up on that notion, but I suppose from popular usage, “illegal” has become legitimized. Do you have any etymological info on that? The word … Read more

Word of the Day: Inure

Inure means to harden or to accustom to some kind of hardship. For example, one could inure to cold or hunger. There is no policy, practice,procedure, piece of equipment or change in regimen that is going to completely inure us against madmen. (USA Today) Viewers inured to scenes of chaos can sometimes be moved by … Read more

Quoting Copyrighted Work

One of the most common questions writers have is, how much of someone else’s work can you quote without securing reprint permission? Can you quote a stanza from a poem? A paragraph from a magazine article? A page from a novel? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as clear as we might wish. It lies somewhere within … Read more

Catfights and Dogfights

The following headline on the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette caught my eye: Catfight at pet clinic The first sentence of the editorial told me that whoever wrote the headline: 1. hadn’t read the editorial; 2. didn’t know the meaning of “catfight” How I know: 1. the editorial was about something that happened at … Read more

Word of the Day: Folksonomy

Folksonomy is a neologism formed with the words folk and taxonomy. It is the classification of online content based on user-generated tags. This classification can be the work of a single individual, but more often it refers to the cooperation among many individuals of a particular online service or community. One example of a folksonomy … Read more

Critical Analysis of Your Own Writing

This is a guest post by Alice Peterson . If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here. So you think you have something to say? How do you get past the stymieing effect of self-analysis? Is this good enough? Will your target audience be provoked to the point of discomfort? … Read more

The Demise of De Luxe

In a conversation about hotels the other evening, I heard a woman say “the lobby was luxe.” I’d never heard luxe without the de. At least not in English. In the French expression the de is a preposition and the luxe is a noun, literally “of luxury.” In English we’d say “luxurious.” Following French usage, … Read more

Word of the Day: Taxonomy

Taxonomy is the science of classification. It can also mean a systematic approach to arrange or classify a group of objects. Finally, sometimes taxonomy is used as a synonym to biology, the science that classifies animals, plants and organisms. Scientists at several Australian museums have begun the complex process of working with the samples for … Read more


You’ve heard of indefinite pronouns—pronouns that don’t refer to a specific thing, place, or person. Examples include everybody, anything, someone, another, something, and a few others. Did you know, however, that there’s another kind of indefinite pronoun called an expletive? The English language has two such expletives: it and there. Consider the following sentences: It … Read more

Clauses and Phrases

Commenting on “Short clauses can take commas” a reader asks please tell me how to [understand] phrases and…clauses A clause is a group of words that contains a finite verb (that is, a verb that indicates time such as present, past or future). If a clause can stand alone as a sentence with a capitalized … Read more

The Art of Speaking

The art of reporting speech in writing, that is. There are a few writers whom I really admire for their skill in dialog: John le Carré and Elmore Leonard. Two very different writers, but their work contains a common element; the ability to place a character in social context with just a few words. Le … Read more

Here I thought “Nimrod” was a compliment!

By now you know that I’m not deeply versed in slang. When I read in the newspaper about a dust-up over an email in which a radio news director called a political candidate a “nimrod,” I couldn’t understand why the word was being decried as “derogatory.” Now I know. The meaning I’ve always attached to … Read more