The Word of the Year for 2016

Each year, several major lexicographers release their word of the year—the term that, among the most frequently looked-up words during the previous twelve months, has most prominently captured the zeitgeist. This post discusses the 2016 selections. Merriam-Webster selected surreal, a word apropos for a year in which various seemingly irrational, inexplicable events occurred. The dictionary … Read more

3 Errors in Using Parentheses

Parenthetical marks can cause difficulties for writers—and, as a result, for readers. In each of the following examples, parentheses are misused; discussion and revision of each sentence follow. 1. The act brings the United Kingdom into line with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recommendations in dealing with bribery and corruption. One writing … Read more

Punctuation Quiz #9: Ellipsis

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect use of ellipses according to The Chicago Manual of Style and most other style guides; revise the sentence as necessary: 1. But I thought… 2. The directions . . . are unnecessarily complicated. 3. I applied . . . but was not hired . . . … Read more

25 Words Coined by Nineteenth-Century Authors

This post lists a number of words that were introduced to the lexicon by novelists and other writers during the nineteenth century. 1. actualize: Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge came up with this verb form of actual to refer to realizing a goal; self-actualization came much later. 2. airy-fairy: Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, coined this term … Read more

Intrusive Misuse of Colons

Writers often mistakenly introduce intrusive “colonization” where it is not necessarily. In each of the following examples, as explained in the discussion, the colon is superfluous. 1. Smith was invited to give the presentation: “Global Development and Global Practices.” “The presentation” and the title of the presentation are appositive—one is equivalent to the other, just … Read more

Does the Bogeyman Boogie?

Despite the fact that the first two syllables of bogeyman are pronounced just like boogie, the antics of bogeymen, vaguely defined imaginary beings conjured to threaten misbehaving children—as far as can be ascertained—do not include dancing, and the words are apparently unrelated. Bogey appears to have derived ultimately from the Middle English noun bugge, meaning … Read more

The Many Cognates of “Cede”

The word cede and words with the syllable -cede share an origin with other similarly spelled words that in some sense refer to withdrawal. This post lists and defines those terms. Cede, meaning “assign,” “grant,” or transfer, is just one of multiple words descended from the Latin verb cedere, meaning “go” or “yield.” The term … Read more

The Connotations of 30 Synonyms for “Cheat” and “Fool”

Numerous terms, many of them derived from colorful underworld slang, exist to refer to the action of cheating or fooling someone. This post describes the connotation inherent in some of these words and phrases. 1–2. The implication of the nonsense words bamboozle and hornswoggle is that the perpetrator sets out to confuse the mark, or … Read more

Grammar Quiz #3: Weak-Period Semicolons

All but one of the following sentences incorrectly employs or omits a semicolon; revise sentences as necessary to demonstrate correct use of punctuation: 1. In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent. 2. We have come this far, we can’t give up now. 3. Sometimes she was willing to share these with … Read more

5 Cases of Insufficient Punctuation

In each of the sentences below, the omission of one comma (two commas, in one case) obscures the intended meaning. Discussion and revision following each example provides clarity. 1. It’s not a real pleasant experience to tell you the truth. This sentence implies that the writer does not enjoy telling the truth to someone. However, … Read more

25 Words Coined by Twentieth-Century Authors

This post lists a number of words that were introduced to the English lexicon by novelists and other writers during the twentieth century. 1. beep: Scientist and novelist Arthur C. Clarke came up with this onomatopoeic word for a small, high-pitched signal. 2. blurb: Humorist Gelet Burgess coined this term for a short piece of … Read more

The Dash Family’s Roles

The en dash is the oft-neglected middle sibling of the horizontal-line family of symbols that serve to connect words and numbers for various reasons. The em dash (—) is the dashing member of the brood, used somewhat sparingly to indicate a sudden break in syntax—either to signal a shift in sentence construction, as here, or … Read more