Monthly Archives: July 2013

Which Form is Correct?

People ask me which word is correct: canceled or cancelled, gray or grey, traveled or travelled, color or colour, theater or theatre?

Whichever variant you see listed first in the dictionary is the preferred spelling. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it’s just the preferred form.  I find it interesting that in America we rarely use the “—our form of a word, but we do write glamour.  Perhaps we think it looks more glamorous (which we do not spell glamourous!).

I am taking a break for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be back to torture you the beginning of August.

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World’s Smallest Office?





Not sure you can read what’s on the right side of the back: The company is hiring and the sign says “Inquire within.” Not only is the office tiny, it’s a moving target.IMG_0177

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Another Pip of a Misplaced Modifier

As I think I’ve mentioned, I read the obituaries every day to be certain my name is not included. This is another good day (so far). But an obituary in today’s Los Angeles Times began by stating that the dead man “was born on November 9, 1938 on Kristallnacht in Providence, Rhode Island.”

As far as I know, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) took place in Austria and Germany and did not spread to Providence. The problem sentence could have been fixed by a comma after 1938 and another after Kristallnacht or by rearranging the sentence as follows: the person “was born in Providence, Rhode Island on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.

Interior of the synagogue after Kristallnacht,...

Interior of the synagogue after Kristallnacht, November 1938 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Proofreading is a good thing.

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WHO’S vs. WHOSE (with a little IT’S vs. ITS thrown in)

When I am asked what is the most prevalent mistake I see, I don’t have to stop and think about it: without doubt, it is ITS vs. IT’S. If you can’t substitute IT IS or IT HAS, you want the possessive ITS (as in “The kitten took its first steps today”).

You should apply the same test to WHOSE and WHO’S: if you can’t substitute WHO IS or WHO HAS, you need the possessive WHOSE.

Test yourself:

1.     Papa Bear roared, “WHOSE/WHO’S been sitting in my chair?”

2.     Priority seating will be given to those WHO’S/WHOSE applications were received first.

3.     I would like to know WHOSE/WHO’S read a good book recently.

4.     My Aunt Irene is a person WHO’S/WHOSE advice I value.

5.     ITS/IT’S been humid on the East Coast recently.

6.     The Yorkshire terrier yanked IT’S/ITS leash out of IT’S/ITS owner’s hand and ran to the neighbors’ house.


How did you do? Was this difficult for you? In each sentence, the correct answer is the second option.


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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

That odd combination of words is the title of an extraordinary book I just finished reading; the author’s name is Katherine Boo. She divides her time between the US and India and spent five years interviewing the inhabitants of a Mumbai slum situated on the edge of a sewage lake and very near the shiny new airport. Obviously, the contrast between the slumdwellers’ lives and the wealth also existent in India is implicit, often explicit.

Boo focuses on five people specifically, showing in vivid prose how they manage to survive—or don’t. It is a gut-wrenching account written in beautiful language, and well worth reading.

The book is categorized as narrative non-fiction; Boo includes very specific dialog, which gives the book the feeling of fiction. As I read it, I wished it had been fiction and not an incisive factual account of the impoverished lives of these determined and desperately poor people.

In case you are wondering, as I was, what the title refers to, near this slum is a wall advertising floor tiles; the words “Beautiful Forever,” written repeatedly, comprise the slogan for the tiles these people will never be able to own. Nothing about the lives of the Indians living here is beautiful—but everything is unforgettable. 

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Lose or Loose?

I’m sure you know the difference in meaning between these two words, but I see the wrong one written so frequently that I thought I might as well harangue you today:

LOSE means to misplace, be deprived of or cease to retain something. It rhymes with FUSE, MUSE and WOOS.

LOOSE is the opposite of tight. It rhymes with CABOOSE, GOOSE and JUICE. (Who said English spelling isn’t idiosyncratic?)

If you type one of these words, look at it carefully to be certain you have the word you want. That’s called proofreading; don’t just look to see that you spelled the word correctly. Determine that even though it is spelled right it is the word you need.


caboose (Photo credit: ravensong75)


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Are You Guilty of a Capital Offense?

English: Letter by Benjamin Franklin reproduce...

English: Letter by Benjamin Franklin reproduced in Bogtrykkeren Benjamin Franklin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people have a rampant case of capitalizationitis: they are in love with capital letters and annoyingly sprinkle them with abandon throughout their writing.  In earlier centuries, no rules existed and people used  capital letters at will. Remember, you are not Ben Franklin or Dolly Madison, so control the urge.

Don’t use capital letters to call attention to a word. You see this all the time in advertising: “Make your Money work for You!”  “Best Plumber in the city!”  “Ripe Peaches, $1.59/lb.”

Let the meaning of your words carry the message. Don’t rely on capital letters, italics, boldface or exclamation points.

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