Book Review: “Telling True Stories”

The art of writing compelling nonfiction shares many parallels with that of crafting good fiction, and Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide, an anthology of essays and other content by dozens of accomplished journalists and other writers, attests to the strength of that argument. Not only that, but fiction and nonfiction writers alike will … Read more

12 Italian Loanwords

The Italian language and its Latin-derived relatives have enriched English with many words, primarily those pertaining to art, music, and cuisine. Occasionally, such terms lend themselves well to prose about matters outside those subject areas. For example, one might describe a shadowy cityscape with the word chiaroscuro (“light-dark” — the element -oscuro is cognate with … Read more

5 Sentences Repaired by Correct Use of Commas

1. “Students write a third essay regarding the impact of geography on history and culture.” The implication of this sentence is that students produce three essays on the topic in question. But if the preceding text refers to differing topics for the first two essays, the sentence suffers from insufficient differentiation. This revision specifies that … Read more

7 Reasons to Publish a Blog

You still don’t have a blog? Below, check out seven arguments for writers joining the blogosphere. Weblogs, universally referred to as blogs, are websites formatted as journals, with posts, or individual entries, that can be accessed in reverse chronological order. (Usually, a few of the most recent posts are visible on the home page, and … Read more

Missing Words Change Everything

Empires, fortunes, and people rise and fall and fall on the insertion or omission of a word or two. OK, so the stakes are usually not so high, but misunderstandings and embarrassment are bad enough. Here are sentences that suffer (in increasing order of significance) because they are each missing one or more words. 1. … Read more

20 Ways to Cry

Opportunities abound for describing lachrymal lamentations. Here are twenty synonyms for cry, plus some related expressions. 1. Bawl: to cry out loudly and without restraint; also, to call out in such a manner 2. Bleat: to complain or whine 3. Blub: see blubber (mostly confined to British English) 4. Blubber: to cry while making sounds … Read more

Military vs. Militia

What’s the difference between the military and a militia? The distinction is generally between formal and regular service members and auxiliary or irregular personnel, but the latter term is less precise. More precisely and comprehensively, the military is the entirety of a country’s designated personnel, matériel (as opposed to materials), and infrastructure as organized for … Read more

7 Sets of Doublet and Triplet Verbs

English borrows generously from other languages, and sometimes it does so more than once, at different periods. The result is doublets or triplets: two or three more or less similarly spelled words with common etymologies that diverge to some extent in meaning, though the linked origins are usually apparent to the observant eye. Here is … Read more

How to Ride the Euphemistic Treadmill

How do you refer to a person or people with characteristics outside the perceived norm? Why should you do so at all? Describing a person as belonging to a certain race or ethnic group or having a physical or mental disability, or commenting on a provocative or embarrassing topic, is a challenge on more than … Read more

5 Pairs of Prepositional Idioms

A prepositional phrase is called that, and not a noun-and-preposition phrase or the like, for a good reason: The preposition determines the meaning. Here are five examples of pairs of prepositional phrases that are distinct in meaning because of the preposition used. 1. At Ease/with Ease In addition to being a military command to prompt … Read more

Calculate Your Average Sentence Length

Variety of sentence length is an important factor in good writing — attending to the number of words in each sentence enhances the rhythm of your composition — but careful writers occasionally monitor average sentence length, too. There’s no reason to obsess about either factor, but check your numbers now and then. Although variety of … Read more

20 Ways to Laugh

Go ahead and try this (if you’re alone, that is): Explore all the varieties of laughter you can produce, and label each one. There’s an often-distinct word or phrase for each type. Here are twenty ways to laugh, and some related expressions. 1. (Be) in stitches: to laugh 2. Belly-laugh: to laugh in a deep, … Read more