Razed to the Ground

The englishmonarchs.co.uk web site reports that many monasteries were “raised to the ground” by Viking raiders during the reign of King Ethelred I. But how can a monastery be “raised to the ground”? Although commonly seen on the web, the phrase “raised to the ground” is almost always a misspelling of “razed to the ground”. … Read more

Back Up Your Writing

John Steinbeck’s dog ate an early draft of Of Mice and Men. Ernest Hemingway famously lost an entire suitcase of his early writings – a suitcase that contained his originals and all his copies. The only copy of Thomas Carlyle’s The History of the French Revolution was destroyed when it was used to light a … Read more

Epicenter vs. Center

In an article on the BBC website just recently, the head of a computer game industry body described the city of Dundee as “the epicentre for the industry in Scotland”. A little earlier, in an article about renewable energy on the same site, the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, described the city of Glasgow … Read more

Best Foot Forward

Someone who puts their “best foot forward” must, logically, have three or more feet. Although this is a very common phrase (the title of a 1943 Lucille Ball film, for example) it is, at least for humans, grammatically incorrect. “Best” is the superlative form of the adjective “good” and superlatives are used to refer to … Read more


The word Scotch has several meanings, but it should never be used as an adjective to refer to a person or object from Scotland. The only exception is that the word is acceptable as part of certain compound names, such as Scotch whisky, Scotch mist or Scotch broth. Words such as Scotchman or Scotchwoman are … Read more

Google Alerts

Most writers will have typed their name, or the title of something they’ve written, into a search engine at some point. This can be a useful way of finding references to or reviews of your work that you didn’t know about. Google Alerts is an invaluable (and free) system for automating this process. Using it, … Read more

Legs Akimbo

“Legs akimbo” is a phrase used so much it has become a cliché, and clichés are obviously something to be avoided if you want to create interesting, vivid writing. But you should also be aware that “legs akimbo” is logically meaningless. According to the OED, “akimbo” means : “with hands on the hips and elbows … Read more

Damned vs. Dammed

An article from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently revealed the shocking news that some South Korean rivers have been condemned to eternal punishment : The natural landscape of South Korea has been largely re-engineered, with nearly every river damned or forced into concrete channels. Of course, what the piece really meant … Read more