The Long and Short of “Long-” Words

Longevity, longitude, and other words with the root long- (or altered spellings of the root) are derived not from long, which stems from the Old English adjective lang, but from the Latin equivalent longus, which shares its Proto-Indo-European ancestry with the Germanic cognate. This post lists and defines words that stem from the Latin term. … Read more

Grammar Quiz #9: Dangling Modifiers

Revise each of the following sentences so that the phrase that modifies the main clause correctly relates to the subject of the sentence. 1. As a key magazine for coverage of national policy issues, you are cordially invited to a special event. 2. . . . the American Cancer Society. Back in 1913, when it … Read more

The Writer’s Diet

How does your writing style rate regarding balanced use (or overuse) of parts of speech? An online test will evaluate your compositions for you. The writing handbook The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose has a companion website that features not only a blog (and a newsletter you can subscribe to) but also a … Read more

3 Types of Solutions with Semicolons

In each of the following sentences, a structural flaw is easily repaired by use of one or more semicolons in place of one or more commas. Discussion and revision of each example explains the problem and demonstrates the solution. 1. Smith’s father called an ambulance, however, she was pronounced dead at the scene. However is … Read more

Vague, Vagrant, and Vagabond

The three words in the title above, and others that share a derivation alluding to a lack of certainty or direction, are defined and discussed in this post. The Latin adjective vagus literally means “wandering” and figuratively refers to uncertainty. The name of either of a pair of nerves that extend from the brain to … Read more

What is a Calque?

One way in which the English language is enriched is the acquisition of calques, or literal translations of foreign words and phrases. This post lists and defines calques from various languages. From Chinese comes brainwash, meaning “manipulate someone to change their beliefs,” from the notion of one’s brain being cleaned out and the information stored … Read more

Vocabulary Quiz # 6: Commonly Confused Words

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.) 1. She likes to __________ his facial tics. a) imitate b) emulate 2. He __________ a talent for music when he was very young. a) evoked b) evinced 3. The … Read more

3 Ways to Make Sentences More Concise

Sentences need not be pared down to essentials—the challenge is to make them as coherent as possible, not as concise as possible—but careful writers will craft and revise their writing in part by minimizing the number of words necessary to convey their thoughts. Three simple strategies are demonstrated in discussions of and revisions to the … Read more

Conditionals Besides “If” and “Unless”

If and unless are common conditional conjunctions employed to express conjecture and uncertainty, but a number of other words and phrases that perform similar functions are discussed in this post. “Should you” is the future conditional form of “do you,” seen in formally polite requests such as “Should you have any questions, please do not … Read more

Noise Canceling or Noise-Canceling?

An advertisement for “Noise Cancelling” headphones prompts this post about how easily the vagaries of spelling and punctuation complicate the simple act of describing something in writing. Which of the following descriptions is correctly spelled and styled? a. noise canceling headphones b. noise-canceling headphones c. noise cancelling headphones d. noise-cancelling headphones An online search will … Read more

3 Cases of “Not Only . . . but Also” Variations

Sentences that employ the “not only . . . but also” counterpoint (as in “I visited not only France but also Spain”) can confound writers, who often fail to apply logical syntax when using this construction. As shown in the examples below, such confusion often occurs in similarly posed statements. Discussion and revision of each … Read more

What Does “Retro” Mean?

What, exactly does retro mean, and where does it come from? This post discusses the definition and derivation of this modern-looking but old-fashioned term. The adjective retro stems, by way of the French term rétro (short for rétrograde), directly from a Latin preposition meaning “backward” or “behind” and pertains as a stand-alone word to a … Read more