50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid

In conversation, it’s easy in the midst of spontaneous speech to succumb to verbosity and duplication. In writing, redundancy is less forgivable but fortunately easy to rectify. Watch out for these usual suspects: 1. Absolutely certain or sure/essential/guaranteed: Someone who is certain or sure is already without doubt. Something that is essential is intrinsically absolute. … Read more

The Ins and Outs of “High” and “Low”

High and low are such versatile terms that several hundred compound words employ one or the other — and one idiomatic adverb consists of both: “high and low,” a synonym for “everywhere.” (“I’ve looked high and low for my new shoes.”) They usually come first in compounds (“high chair,” “low blow”), but sometimes they trail … Read more

National Novel Writing Month

On Tuesday, November 1, a couple hundred thousand people around the world will participate in National Novel Writing Month, which, despite its intuitive name, I’ll explain here: The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (that’s about 175 manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about … Read more

What’s the Difference Between a Capital and a Capitol?

Some confusion arises over the use of the term capital in reference to a seat of government. The word, from the Latin term capitalis, stemming from the root word capit, meaning “head,” applies to the city in which the government of a nation, state, or other political jurisdiction is based. (Loosely, it can also apply … Read more

20 More Smothered Verbs Set Free

In the interests of trying to help prevent the smothering deaths of countless sentences, here’s a public-service announcement about how to avoid this senseless tragedy: If a noun phrase (verb plus preposition plus article plus noun, though variations are frequent) can be condensed by converting the noun to a verb and deleting the other words … Read more

Plurals of Proper Names

The following question may seem to belong in a math lesson, but it really is about English: If you have a BlackBerry handheld device, and you purchase another one (don’t ask me why — you’re the one who bought it), what do you have now? Two BlackBerries, or two BlackBerrys? Many precedents exist that make … Read more

20 Clipped Forms and Their Place (If Any) in Formal Writing

Clipped forms, shortened abbreviations of words, have a checkered history. Some are acceptable in formal writing, and others aren’t. When writing in academic contexts, in business writing, or another formal environment, take note of the status of these common clipped forms: 1. Ad: In formal writing, the full form, advertisement, is usually employed. 2. Bra: … Read more

25 Synonyms for “Expression”

Many words can be employed to refer to an expression. Most, as you’ll see, are true synonyms of one or more others, but a few have specific (and sometimes unique) connotations. Here are the synonyms and their senses: 1. Adage (from the Latin adagium, “proverb”) — An often metaphorical observation: “The early bird gets the … Read more

Punctuation Is Powerful

The image we published last Saturday was quite popular, so I decided to run another one this Saturday. The theme is the same: punctuation. For those who can’t see the image, here’s what it says: An English professor wrote the words: “A woman without her man is nothing” on the chalkboard he asked the students … Read more

How To Come Up With A Brand Name

The art of creating names of companies, services, and products is also an industry — and a lucrative one. Brand agencies charge dearly for a list of suggestions for brand identities, but it’s simple to do it yourself. Note that I didn’t use the word easy; the process is fairly straightforward, but it takes a … Read more

Allusion vs. Illusion vs. Elusion

It’s natural that many writers confuse the similar-looking, sound-alike terms allusion and illusion, as well as the rare elusion, and their verb forms: They’re all related. These words all stem from the Latin root word ludere, meaning “to play,” which also forms the basis for ludicrous. Meet the other members of this frolicsome family: Allusion: … Read more

15 Frequently Confused Pairs of Verbs

These similar-looking words below have dissimilar meanings. Make sure you’re using the write one in each pair. 1. Amused/bemused: To be amused is to be entertained; to be bemused is to be confused. 2. Appraise/apprise: To appraise is to evaluate; to apprise is to inform. 3. Ascribe/subscribe: To ascribe is to attach an idea to … Read more