Blog Archives

How I Miss “Calvin and Hobbes.”


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October 17, 2016 · 12:53 PM

Did Dickens Consider This?


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September 16, 2016 · 3:26 PM

Dogs Are So Smart


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December 18, 2015 · 12:28 PM

About Lettuce


Let’s see: Iceberg, romaine, arugula, Boston, frisee.

Sorry, I meant about “Let us.” If you make that into a contraction, it becomes “Let’s.” Without the apostrophe, it means “allows”: “The computer lets you correct typing errors easily.”

Let’s hear it for the computer. Sometimes even autocorrect gets it right. But you still have to proofread; don’t trust it.


March 21, 2014 · 5:00 PM

Why English is So Hard

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,

But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese.

Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,

Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.


If the plural of man is always called men,

Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?


Then one would be that, and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,

And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,

But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!









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March 11, 2014 · 2:13 PM

The Grammar Pirate


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February 21, 2014 · 4:22 PM

According to Hoyle

Edmond Hoyle, who started it all

Edmond Hoyle, who started it all

This expression means, in effect, “the official rules” governing a particular situation. Edmond Hoyle was a real person who, in 1741, wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, whist being a forerunner of bridge. This popular book settled many arguments about the game and has been revised over the centuries to give the rules of many card games. Hoyle’s name has been used ever since to represent the authority of accepted and ethical behavior not only in card games but in many life situations.

Are you playing according to Hoyle today?

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January 31, 2014 · 12:35 PM

Too! Much! Emphasis!

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

So often I see writing in which the author capitalizes words that are merely common nouns, not proper nouns (the official names of people, places or things). Someone explained to me yesterday that he deliberately does this because those common nouns are special to him and he wants to call attention to them. People frequently use boldface and italics for the same reason. As if that isn’t enough, they pepper their prose with exclamation points.

Lewis Thomas, who has several books of fine and fascinating short essays, in a piece called “Notes on Punctuation” compares the epidemic of exclamation points to someone’s small child jumping up and down on the sofa in the middle of the living room, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!”

Thomas’ point, and not of the exclamation variety, is that as writers we need to make our words provide the emphasis. Adding capitalization, boldface, italics and unnecessary punctuation only detracts from our message and annoys the reader. Annoyed readers will move on. You want to lure them in, not chase them away.

In Benjamin Franklin’s day, rules of writing had not been codified. Read his entertaining Autobiography and you will see Words randomly Capitalized. (Annoying, right? But do read it; it’s a wonderful book.) We cut him slack because anything went in his day. Now we try to be more subtle. Proofread your writing for errant capitalization, boldface, italics and exclamation points and then get rid of them. You’ll hold your readers’ interest.

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January 27, 2014 · 11:30 AM

It’s Really Not That Difficult


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January 1, 2014 · 5:06 PM

25 Commonly Confused Phrases


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October 17, 2013 · 12:11 PM

Top 10 Spelling Peeves (from Grammarly)


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October 8, 2013 · 12:59 PM

A Play on Words

Somewhere in yesterday’s New York Times, late at night, I read the following pun that made me laugh through my groan:

When Howard Carter made his amazing discovery in Egypt in 1922, among the magnificent artifacts in the tomb he found an extraordinary horn: in fact, it was a toot uncommon.

I do love words!

Howard Carter examines King Tut's mummy

Howard Carter examines King Tut’s mummy (Photo credit:

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July 8, 2013 · 3:09 PM

It’s Just Personal

Many redundancies crop up around “personal” or “personally”:

I personally think that….”   There’s a double.

These two are triples:

I myself personally think that…”

“It’s my own personal opinion that…”

Einstein said, “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.”  (Aren’t you glad he didn’t make the theory of relativity more complicated?)

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (Photo credit: afagen)

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May 10, 2013 · 5:07 PM

Mother’s Day Gift Suggestion

cover for ebook

Where can you get a Mother’s Day gift for under $3, one she will giggle over and love? Back in my Shameless Promotion Mode, I’m offering my e-book—Your Kid Said This!— as a nifty suggestion, a kind of “stocking stuffer” for all the great mothers you know.

Who is more honest than children? This book contains about 300 entertaining quotes from young children on topics as varied as Sex, School, Brothers and Sisters, Grownups, Love, Language, Potty Time, Food, Manners and Clothing. It also has charming illustrations, done by children, for each section.

You can read a free sample on Amazon. It’s also available on iBooks and many other e-book formats.  If you don’t have an iPad or a Kindle, you can download it and read it directly on your computer screen.  You can also send it as a gift to all those great moms you know, either to their reading devices or to their computers.

I’ve gotten wonderful feedback on the book and hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for your support!

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May 9, 2013 · 10:18 AM

The World Is My Oyster

Dumont Dunes, California. Rider (author) is on...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started this blog in September 2012, I wondered if I would be able to find sufficient topics to write about.  Silly me.  Every day the world gives me something juicy.  Here is today’s offering.

I was in my orthopedist’s waiting room for my new knee’s one-year checkup. The only available magazine was Dirt Bike, about a vehicle I do not own and have no interest in. However, I did see the reason the magazine was in an orthopedist’s office; he certainly must deal with the results of some dirt bike wipeouts.

A letter to the editor contained the following sentence:

“If you meet one of these guys, start talking about [certain roads and trails] and you’ll see that grin on their face and a glean in their eye.”

Mr. Dirt Biker has two problems: he’s writing about “guys” (plural) but he allows them only one “face” and one “eye.” He needed to eliminate “one of” and just go with “these guys.” Then he would have to make “face” and “eye” plural.  One problem solved.

The second problem is that he used “glean” for “gleam.”  “Glean” means “to gather.”  I hope Mr. Dirt Biker is a better rider than writer.

My knee is great.  It was a very productive appointment.

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April 29, 2013 · 6:04 PM


Cover of "The Oxford English Dictionary (...

Cover via Amazon

If you’re not familiar with those initials, they stand for the Oxford English Dictionary, undoubtedly the most revered dictionary in the English-speaking world.  Not your typical dictionary, it gives not only etymology and spelling but examples of word usage from the first example to more recent ones, including dates of those instances. Researchers began working on it in 1857.

Today on “All Things Considered,” the about-to-retire Chief Editor of the OED, John Simpson, was interviewed. He has been delving into words at the OED for 37 years now and thought it was time to spend his time in areas less apt to change than is language.  In the interview, he was asked if the next revision of the OED would include words that first appeared not on paper but in cyberspace, and the answer was a definitive yes.

In case you think the OED would be a nifty dictionary for your bookshelf, it currently runs to

Cover of "The Professor and the Madman: A...

Cover via Amazon

20 volumes.  Years ago I joined the Book of the Month Club because as a bonus for signing up I could get the OED in two volumes, with four pages of the larger edition on each page. The slipcase contains a drawer with a necessary magnifying glass included.  You can get the OED online, but it is quite pricey.

A wonderful book about the OED and one of its most diligent and fruitful researchers is The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester.  Here is a brief Amazon synopsis:

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857; it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Tell me that doesn’t grab you!  The Professor and the Madman is a compelling book I recommend without reservation.

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April 27, 2013 · 12:55 AM

Now Translate This!

Here is another jawdropper from the corporate world:

“…a strategic framework to catalyze positive and consistent operational improvements…”

What do you suppose that means?  Here is my guess—but it only a guess:

“…a plan to bring about positive, regular improvement [in some area, which is not defined but should be].”

Have you noticed these days how almost everything is defined as being “strategic”?  Apparently, if it’s not “strategic” it’s not important (in the corporate mind).  The most common use is a “strategic plan.”  Don’t all plans require strategy? You think through what is needed to solve a problem and then implement it. How can you plan without using strategy?

Too often writers don’t think about the words they want. Because we are bombarded with verbiage (that word carries a negative connotation) every day, we have these chunks of bullshit floating over our heads. It is so easy to write by just reaching up and grabbing a chunk that sounds oh-so-impressive and may hint at the meaning we want, and then shoving it into our own writing.  The result is vague, upholstered language that makes the reader guess at what we really mean.

It’s worth picturing your reader sitting across your desk while you explain in plain English what you really mean. It won’t take much time, and you will eliminate guesswork and errors caused by misinterpretation.

Off my soapbox I go.

Wikimedia Strategic Plan cover image

Wikimedia Strategic Plan cover image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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April 15, 2013 · 7:42 PM

Another Round of Shameless Promotion

cover for ebook

My ebook, Your Kid Said This! is now available on Amazon for the Kindle (PC and Mac), and through iTunes as well as Barnes and Noble.  You can read a free excerpt, and the whole shebang, complete with illustrations by children, will set you back $2.99.

I have collected adorable, funny, insightful quotes from children on various topics: Love, Sex, Brothers and Sisters, Grownups, Food, Potty Time, Language, Logic, Manners, Religion, School, Clothing, and Swearing.  I’d be so pleased if you would just take a look and read the free sample and then let me know what you think.

Thank you!



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April 12, 2013 · 8:53 PM

Old Books (But New to Me)

A dear friend recently gave me four tiny books, all written between 1915 and 1923, all having to do with English:  Better Say; Faulty Diction; S.O.S. Slips of Speech; and Mend Your Speech.

My husband and I are both language nerds (that’s a good thing) and have both enjoyed dipping into these four little gems and reading examples to each other.  (Aren’t we a fun couple?) To my surprise, many of the rules we use today were valid almost 100 years ago.  All languages change over time because of common usage but not as quickly as most of us probably imagine.

On the other hand, one of the books devotes a lot of space to making the distinctions among the following words: abrasion, cut, gash, graze, incision, scrape, scratch and wound.  I do hope you have not been using gash for cut!

I’ll be dipping into these four books from time to time to bring you rules of yesteryear that may or may not still be applicable today.

Of course, I have no idea why you can’t see all four books. But you get an idea of what they look like.


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April 4, 2013 · 11:54 PM

Is It the End of the Apostrophe?

After my last post with the photo of the sign for the “Sport’s Bar,” a reader e-mailed me saying that because so many people have trouble with apostrophes, particularly those showing possession, “they” (whoever “they” are) are predicting that punctuation mark may be eliminated.  Then you will be free to write “Joes car,” “Donnas career” and “the Joneses five cats.”

What do you think?  Do we really need the possessive apostrophe or will it go the way of the Stegasaurus? I doubt it will take anything as dramatic as a meteor to kill it.

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March 26, 2013 · 6:31 PM


When you write items in a series, keep them all in the same form (parallel construction). It’s easy.

Incorrect:  Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and likes to help.

Correct:  Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and helpful.

Incorrect:  A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and can be relied on.

Correct:  A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and reliable.

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March 19, 2013 · 7:17 PM

Affect or Effect?

One word that drives me nuts is impact.  Call me hypersensitive, but every day I hear sentences like these:

How will this impact our bottom line?

The impact of her decision is going to be costly.

John’s speech impacted the audience so greatly that they gave him a standing ovation.  (Some would even dare to say John’s speech was impactful—but not around me.)

The only reason impact is so prevalent is that many people do not know the difference between affect and effect.  So they figure, “The hell with it” and use impact in all cases.  This default is in my Top 10 Everyday Verbal Annoyances.

AFFECT is a verb 99.9% percent of the time.*  Think of it as a verb 100% of the time:

How will this affect our bottom line?

John’s speech affected the audience so greatly…. 

Do you see the action in those two sentences?  You want the verb.  You can also think of the A in affect as an upside-down V, for verb.

EFFECT is a noun 99.9% of the time**, and again, go for 100%.  When you go to the movies, you see special effects.  Those effects are things, nouns.  Think of effect as referring to the end (or outcome, which is a noun).  If you need a noun, use effect. Whenever you write about a thing, use the E-word:

The effect of her decision is going to be costly.

* As for the other uses, affect can be a noun when it applies to a person’s facial expression.  Psychologists might refer to a patient’s “flat affect,” meaning that person has no expression on her face.

**  Effect is at rare times a verb and almost always is used in this manner:  Sandra’s actions will effect changes in her department.

I suggest you ignore the uses with asterisks and focus on the use of affect as a verb and effect as a noun.  Please lose impact except in rare cases.  Lose impactful permanently.  Thank you.


March 18, 2013 · 6:01 PM

Subject-Verb Agreement

If you can’t figure out what verb you need for your subject, here’s a handy hint:

The subject of a sentence is never in a prepositional phrase.

Why is that handy? Sometimes the subject and verb might be separated by one or more prepositional phrases, and it’s easy to mistake the noun in a prepositional phrase for the subject and choose the wrong verb.  (Almost every prepositional phrase ends in a noun.)

For instance:

The thought of lying on the couch after working for many long hours (is/are) appealing.

The prepositional phrases are of lying, on the couch, after working, and  for many long hours.

Every one of those ends with a noun (and yes, working is a noun in this case—it’s called a gerund, in case you were dying to know; when you can put the words “the act of” before a word that looks like an —ing verb, it’s a noun (gerund)).  But not one of those nouns is the subject.  The subject is thought, at the beginning of the sentence, so the verb has to be the singular is.  But you can see how some people might think the subject is hours and then use the plural verb are.

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March 17, 2013 · 10:33 PM

Flounder vs. Founder

Only one letter separates these two words, but they mean quite different things:

FLOUNDER means to flail, to struggle:  The tired swimmer floundered in the choppy ocean.  Think of a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat: a floundering flounder.

FOUNDER means to sink.  A ship might founder, as might someone’s plans:  Jason’s plans for reorganizing his department foundered because of a lack of funds.

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March 15, 2013 · 7:14 PM

Common Redundancies

Pay attention and you will frequently see and hear the following redundancies. To write (and speak) well, it helps to—gasp!—think about the words we use.  Strive to make your writing as concise as possible; if a word does no work, cut it out. Sharpen your axes:

Circle around

Absolutely free

Absolutely nothing

Free gift

True fact

The month of July

Final conclusion

I personally feel that

In my opinion, I think

Exactly identical

Entirely eliminated



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March 14, 2013 · 6:03 PM

Appraise vs. Apprise

Here are two more words that are often misused:

APPRAISE means to establish the value of something, to evaluate:  The expert appraised the antique furniture and paintings in the house.

APPRISE means to inform:  The owners of the house were apprised of their antiques’ value.

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March 13, 2013 · 6:33 PM

Language quotes

Since this is a language blog, here are some teasers from my new e-book, Your Kid Said This!   Children’s language and art are original and fleeting.  At some point they learn the prevailing rules and something happens to stifle that creativity.  Write down what your own children and grandchildren say while you still remember their precious words.

Samantha (5) came in the house and said, “Mommy! I have the hookups!”


Dani (6) announced, “The Hunchback of Motor Dame” is my favorite movie!”


Catherine (5) heard about Saddam Hussein and asked her mother, “Why didn’t that bad man live in a house like we do? Why did he have to live in a rock?”


Jonathan (3) had put a belt through a cardboard paper towel roll and was snapping it at a stuffed animal. He told his family, “Watch me lion tame at this elephant!”


After Jesse (7) moved to a new house, he told his grandmother he had his own closet but there weren’t any “hookers” in it.


Keegan (6) on discovering a cattail bush at the park:  “Mom! Look! A cocktail bush! We gotta plant a cocktail bush, cuz then we’d always have cocktails!”

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March 12, 2013 · 1:31 AM

My E-Book Was Born Today!

















Finally! For several years I have been collecting funny things children have said and now have them in an e-book: Your Kid Said This! 

The quotes cover various topics: Love, Sex, Manners, Swearing, Language, Logic, Brothers and Sisters, Grownups, Food, Potty Time, School, Religion and Clothing. It’s illustrated by children and will make you smile and possibly even LOL. Here’s the link to the book:

You can read part of it at no cost–and the whole shebang is only $2.99. OK, I’m done with my shameless self promotion. But I’m very happy with the result. It’s been incubating a long time.

cover for ebook


March 10, 2013 · 1:49 AM

Fewer wrinkles! Fewer!







You can count wrinkles.  Sad but true.  For things you can count, use FEWER.  After seeing this package advertising at Costco a couple of hours ago, I went to Trader Joe’s and stood on the express line, under a sign that said “12 Items or Less.”

It was not my day.  I hope I will have fewer days like this in the future.



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March 9, 2013 · 1:59 AM