30 Words Invented by Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), considered the greatest writer in the English language, used more than 24,000 words in his writings, more than any other author. Of those words, more than 1,700 were first used by him, as far we can tell. He may have made up many of them himself. How can you possibly understand someone … Read more

Functions of the Apostrophe

This post discusses the three primary functions of the apostrophe in the English language: the marking of the possessive case in nouns, the marking of the omission of one or more letters, and the marking of plurals of individual letters. (The obsolescence of apostrophes with abbreviations is also discussed.) Marking Possessives Apostrophes are employed in … Read more

Definitions and Glosses

A definition is a phrase or sentence (or more) that explains the meaning of a term, and a gloss is a brief definition offered parenthetically after the term. This post includes examples of sentences in which definitions and glosses are erroneously presented. Discussion after each sentence explains the error, and a revision demonstrates the correct … Read more

30 Sports Idioms

This post lists and defines terms derived from two or more distinct sports that by extension serve as idioms in other realms of endeavor outside athletics. (The original meaning is provided in parentheses.) 1. ace: accomplish something with ease (slang term for when an opposing player or team fails to return a serve) 2. bench: … Read more

Holding Back Your Backstory

Authors call the hidden part of a character’s life their “backstory.” When I was acting in plays, directors might ask me to decide what my character was doing before the scene began. Since my character is supposed to be a real human being, he has a life outside of what appears on the stage or … Read more

28 Good Words from Latin and Greek

Let’s talk about something good. Here is a variety of words for good things, based on ancient words for “good”: Latin bonus and Greek eu. Good words from Latin In Rome, bonus was the Latin word for “good, noble, kind, honest, brave.” Since Latin gave birth to the Romance languages of Europe, words such as … Read more

What is an Anagram?

To create an anagram, you rearrange the letters of a word or phrase to form a different word or phrase. For example, the word section is an anagram for notices and vice versa. A “perfect” anagram uses all the letters, no more, no less. But sometimes letters are repeated or omitted. Before the modern alphabet … Read more

More Names of Plants, Food, and Drinks Formed by Folk Etymology

This post lists words derived from words in other languages as a result of folk etymology, a process by which speakers adopt the foreign terms after revising them by using existing elements from their native language. acorn: This word is descended from the Old English term aecerne, meaning “tree nut” but originally referring in various … Read more

7 Examples of Incorrect Punctuation with Quotation Marks

This post points out common errors committed when reporting what has been said or written. Each example is followed by a discussion of the problem and a revision that provides a solution. 1. She pointed out that, “Speed matters — the faster an organization learns, the faster it evolves.” The quotation, in isolation, is a … Read more

48 Writing Prompts for Middle School Kids

Are you stuck for something to write about? Or are you looking for prompts to use in the classroom? These prompts are aimed at middle school students (roughly age 11 – 14) – but younger or older writers might enjoy trying them as well. I’ve split them into different types of prompts – imaginative prompts, … Read more

Grams and Telegrams

This post lists and defines words derived from the Greek term gramma, which pertains not only to a small weight, as in gram and compound words in which gram is the base, but also to letters (hence telegram) and writing (hence grammar). Words That Begin with Gram gram: a metric unit of weight equivalent to … Read more

Writing Lyrics for Songs

It used to be that when people thought of songwriting, they didn’t think of great writing. Then Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature. Dylan wasn’t the first songwriter whose work has been respected by literary critics. You might be surprised how much ancient poetry was originally written to be sung. From certain vanished … Read more