Sunday, October 16, 2016

Happy Dictionary Day 2016!

Noah Webster, considered the Father of the American Dictionary, was born on October 16, 1758. That day is now marked as National Dictionary Day.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Oh the Horripilation!

Halloween 2010 - By Armando Salum, Veracruz.
Halloween 2010 by Armando Salum, Veracruz, via Wikipedia
As the scary clown population rises, Halloween nears, and the election gets creepier, journalists must surely be looking for some variety in how they describe the eeriness that seems to be pervading our daily lives.

I'm here to help — or rather, I was last week, when I published "Words to Make Your Hair Stand on End" at It's chock full of words you can use the next time you'd kill for a good synonym for goose bumps.

And I'm using kill metaphorically, of course. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

And Now, a Few Words from Our Presidential Candidates

Today at, I wrote about four words used during Monday's presidential debate that sent people to Merriam-Webster's for clarification. But what really has the masses talking (by talking I mean tweeting, and by masses I mean four or five people) is one of the scariest images I've ever used in a post. Here it is:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Roald Dahl and the OED

This week at, I wrote about the recent update announcement from the Oxford English Dictionary and its honoring of Roald Dahl's linguistic legacy on his hundredth birthday.

The OED Honors Roald Dahl
Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary honored children's
author Roald Dahl in its quarterly update.
I'm rather excited to see scrumdiddlyumptious appear in a dictionary, though I assume it will be some time before Word's spell-checker will recognize it. Guess I'll have to add it myself, because I plan on using it often.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Guiltless Filler

I would feel guiltier about not posting here for almost three months if I hadn't been so busy with writing and editing projects that, you know, pay. Here, why don't you read some of them:

5 Pairs of Uncommon Confusable Words
The internet houses a plethora of “Commonly Confused Words” lists — Google returns 1.15 million hits for that phrase. Such common confusions are child’s play for experienced editors. No, we get tripped up by the less commonly used but easily confused words.

Neither and Nor, Together and Apart
Breaking up the correlative conjunction pair neither…nor is somehow a bit trickier than separating the parts of other correlative pairs. Using neither and nor without their correlative mates, though, can throw some people for a loop.

Sand, Sun, and Summertime Vocabulary
Ah, summertime: bright sun, warm beaches, cool surf, and daydreams of actually seeing any of these things while we huddle over our computers working our wordy craft.
To mark the start of this estival period and our dreams of sandy shores, here is a small collection of beach-related vocabulary.

But Can I Start a Book Review with "But"?
My review of the new book by the Chicago University Press editors, But Can I Start a Sentence with "But"?

The Funnest Column
Should you use more fun and most fun or funner and funnest? (Answer: Yes.)

The Ultimate E: One Final Letter Can Make All the Difference
Pairs of words that differ in spelling only by the presence or absence of a final letter e, but that single letter can make all the difference. Copy editors and proofreaders alike should take care around these words.

A Historic Column
Without a doubt, this year’s presidential election will be historic. It’ll also be historical, eventually. And that can’t be said about most things. Whether you’re writing about current politics or past outrages, understanding the difference between historic and historical can mean the  difference between “this happened” and “THIS HAPPENED!!!

A Plural Problem in the Animal World
Do you know the plural of octopus, platypus, and rhinoceros? Do you really?

I have some short fiction I've been saving up, too. I'll post some of that here, too. And hopefully it won't take me three more months.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Headline Shatters Expectations

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word shatter, I think of flying glass. I think of movie superheroes throwing nameless villains through plate glass windows, or white-hatted gunslingers throwing black-hatted bandits through . . . plate glass windows.

I don't know much about glass. Just that I enjoy watching costumed figures flying through it, causing it to shatter, hundreds of tiny glass stars flying through the air, drawing blood, and tinkling to the ground.

It was because my mind attaches this image to the word shatter that this headline from caught me by surprise.

If you haven't heard the news, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton was nominated for 16 Tony awards last week, a new record. The old record, held jointly by Billy Elliott and The Producers, was 15 nominations.

Hamilton beat the record by 1 nomination. Put another way, Hamilton broke the previous record by the smallest increment possible. Not exactly an explosive event, if you ask me. Not "shattering."

Imagine this word used in a headline about another discipline:

Danica Patrick Shatters Speed Record by .0001 Seconds


'Jaws' Chestnut Shatters Hot Dog Eating Record by Half a Weiner

Words mean things, even when used metaphorically.

A more accurate headline might have been "'Hamilton' One-Ups 'Billy Elliott' and 'The Producers.'" It'd be better SEO, too.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The ACES Spelling Bee

The first day of the American Copy Editors Society national conference is over. We were all given a lot of good food for thought and good food for digestion (thanks, Portland!). After the sessions were over for the day, many of us attended a raucous adult spelling bee, possibly the only spelling bee in which spellers sipped beer between words.

This year, except for the first round, the word lists were themed for each round, which made the bee more interesting as we tried to guess what the next spelling word would be based on the theme.

So, for those interested, here is the word list from the 2016 ACES spelling bee. Words in bold are the ones that eliminated contestants. The words that I misspelled, sitting in the audience with my laptop, are marked with an asterisk.
  • ambiguity
  • veterinarian
  • rudimentary
  • chastisement
  • boondoggle
  • bankruptcy
  • provocative
  • artesian
  • venison
  • tertiary
  • subterfuge
  • tantamount
  • nostalgia
  • limousine
  • antithesis
  • papyrus
  • diacritic
  • monograph
  • virgule 
  • caret
  • biblioclast
  • fleuron 
  • palimpsest
  • enclitic
  • opusculum
  • brevet 
    Portland, Oregon. An underwhelming view from an eleventh-floor hotel room.
  • majuscule
  • imprimatur
  • colophon
  • incunabulum
  • Connecticuter *
  • Michigander
  • Louisianian
  • Mississippian
  • Delawarian
  • Tennessean
  • Utahan
  • Wyomingite
  • Wisconsinite
  • Missourian
  • bialy*
  • lutefisk*
  • geoduck
  • knish 
  • chitterlings 
  • burgoo*
  • cioppino*
  • ptarmigan
  • beryl
  • loblolly
  • sequoia
  • palmetto
  • saguaro
  • chickadee
  • tourmaline*
  • pendanus
  • subrident*
  • sortition
  • demigl√Ęce
  • sybaritic
  • nockerl*
  • cardiomegaly
This year's winner was Kate Karp, who runs her own adult spelling bee in Long Beach, California. Congratulations, Kate!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Neglect and Excuses and ACES 2016

I have been neglectful of this blog lately. Just how neglectful wasn’t apparent until I pulled open the blog this morning. Has it really been almost a month since I posted?

Fortunately, I have a great excuse: I’ve been very busy. Freelance work has been rolling steadily in, and when combined with my nine-to-five (well, eight-to-six) job, I haven’t had much time to write for myself. Or to do much of anything, really. (But I have continued to post at

And there's other good news, for me anyway. I am now entering what has consistently been the high point of my year: the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society. Three days in Portland, Oregon, with more than five hundred editors, lexicographers, linguists, and logophiles.

These are my people.

This is my fourth ACES conference. Last year, I came in third place in the spelling bee fundraiser. This year, I plan to win. 

Which probably means you’ll see a post this weekend all about the word that knocked me out of the competition.

---UPDATE: I was surprised, shocked, and above all dismayed to discover, when I checked in at the conference, that all the spots in the spelling bee had already been taken. Hmph.---
Regardless, I’m sure I’ll have a lot of interesting things to share once this conference is over. 

But if you just can’t wait, follow the hashtag #ACES2016 on Twitter for the next three days to see what we’re learning, what we’re eating, and which horrible jokes make the rounds.

And for those of you who are attending ACES 2016, especially if we’ve never met before, come find me!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

New Word Thursday: jactancy

From the Latin jacere, to throw — the same source from which we get both eject and ejaculate — the noun jactancy means bragging or boasting.

This is one of those words that has more forms than it needs. Other attested noun forms are jactance, jactation, and jactitation, the last two of which can also refer to a shaking or tossing of the body, in a medical sense. One who boasts or spasms (or, I suppose, both) jactitates.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Bissextus!

English: Postcard: Leap Year, 1908 Description...
"Be Careful, Clara, that's a fine Specimen!" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In ancient Roman times, the leap day was inserted after the sixth day before the calendas of March, essentially creating a second sixth day.

Hence bis-, two or double, plus sextus, sixth.

Happy Bissextus!

To make more sense of this, see what I wrote about it last Wednesday.

Also, an old tradition says that in a bissextile year (and only in a bissextile year), women can propose to men, and men are not allowed to refuse.

Although proposing might be a bit much, a woman asking a single guy* on a date would be a nice way to mark the tradition. Just saying.

* Like me.