I've Been Verbed

Last night, in spite of the icy roads, I drove down to Indy Reads Books for the monthly Indy WordLab. Little did I know that I would be immortalized in fiction. Even littler did I give much thought to how I might feel about such immortalization.

Regardless, my friend Erik Deckers not only referenced me in his little bit of flash fiction, but he verbed my last name. Take five minutes to check out his story Peter and the Disembodied Voice.

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Plus Ca Change

To all the bloggers, journalists, and nonfiction writers out there, I share this excerpt:

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Today's word: myrmecoid

I've been reading Thomas McCormack's The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. I recommend it to any adult who is or wants to either edit or write fiction — or, like some of us, both. I specifically recommend it to "adults" because it's written for readers with a pretty high reading level. It takes a slow, careful reading to fully take in and appreciate the book.

Not to imply that it's plodding, though. Reading McCormack's book isn't like walking through knee-high mud — a lot of effort to go a little way. It's more like good cheesecake — best savored slowly, with pauses for palate cleansing to make the next taste more delectable. One could shove the whole piece of cake (book) into one's mouth at once, but it wouldn't be enjoyable and would probably cause a stomach ache.

It's not an easy book, but it's worth the effort. Had I tried to read it in high school, I would have struggled with the vocabulary alone. Even now, I had to pull out my dictionary a few times.
Take, for example, this nice metaphor from page 72:

...editing can't be done well by winging instinct alone. Nor does 'long experience' guarantee much. Or myrmecoid industry on the lawn of the book.
Myrmecoid doesn't get its own entry in my Merriam-Webster's, but its meaning is easy to discern from what is there. A quick lookup reveals that myrmeco- is a combining form to indicate a relation to ants. Myrmecology is the study of ants. Myrmecoid, then, means "ant-like" or "relating to ants."

McCormack's "myrmecoid industry on the lawn of the book" is a metaphorical recapitulation of a recurring idea: that an editor can put a lot of work into a novel, find a lot to fix and improve in the novel's language, characterizations, and organization — its lawn — without improving (or even recognizing the need to improve) the deeper, structural problems a book might have — what lies beneath the lawn.


I'm a sucker for superhero movies, but it's an honest-to-blog coincidence that this word myrmecoid came into my life just a couple days after the first TV broadcast of a trailer for the upcoming Ant-Man movie. From what I saw in that trailer, Michael Douglas plays the part of some sort of cutting-edge myrmecologist, or maybe a myrmecophile physicist.

Assuming the word shows up more than once in the movie, legions of moviegoers may add myrmecologist to their vocabularies by the end of summer.

You get a head start.


Logodaedalists take note: The similarities between the words myrmecoid and myrmidon lend those words to interesting puns, comparisons, and intentional malapropisms.

Myrmidons were specifically the Thessalians who marched with Achilles into the Trojan War. More generally, a myrmidon today is, according to Merriam-Webster's, "a loyal follower; esp: a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or unscrupulously." In other words, a myrmidon is a minion, a thug, a henchman.

One can easily draw comparisons to a swarm of ant drones possessing legendary (relative) strength, thoughtlessly carrying out the work of the army.

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The Year in Review (Is the Most Cliched Post Title Ever)

The year 2014 was, overall, a difficult time for me as a writer and an editor. I could write up a whole retrospective of what happened in the last twelve months, but it would come off as one long whine.

Let's stick to the blog, shall we?


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Language Predictions for 2015

English is a vibrant, changing language. Some language change is good (e.g., drifting away from sexist language), and some is bad (e.g., incentivize, office used as a verb). But regardless of our personal reactions to language change, it is inevitable.

New technologies and unexpected situations can sometimes suddenly give new life to old words or bring new words into the fold. These types of changes can be difficult to predict. Other changes, though, we can see coming. (Did anyone really expect on-line and e-mail to retain their hyphens?) If we're thoughtful and observant, we can spot where trendlines might shift or innovations might occur.

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Today's Etymology Quiz

How's your Latin these days? Care to put it to the test? On Friday, I published a little etymology quiz in which you have to match up the Latinate adjective (e.g., aquiline) with the bird it describes (in this case, the eagle).

There are ten more match-ups to make over at Copyediting.com, and the answers will be posted on December 26.

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Plugged Back In to the Current Decade

I just discovered that this post has been idling as a draft since November 10th. No idea what I didn't post it way back then,but here it is:


My fortieth birthday came and went, and with it came an important “gift” I bought for myself. With the help of the women who donated to my FundAnything campaign (and they have my thanks), I have been able to replace my stolen laptop!

I can’t replace all the data (that is, all the writing) that I lost on my laptop, but I can get started on the future of my writing much more easily now.

I’ve had it since last Thursday night, and I am generally enjoying the freedom it affords. But seriously, this newest version of Office is messed up. Maybe I was set in my ways. Maybe I’m the only one who preferred the 3-D look of previous versions to the hip “flat” interface. Maybe I’m simply turned off by the ALL CAPS tab headings. Whatever it is, I’ll need time to get used to it.

Of course, the Office interface is nothing compared with switching from Windows Vista to Windows 8. I miss my Start menu. (If anyone can point me to a tutorial that shows how to reinstate it, I would appreciate the link.)

But I’ll deal with all this. Human beings are infinitely adaptable, and I am one of those, so I’ll be all right. And it’s wonderful to be connected again.

Now, on to my next hurdle!

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Can This Be Smoothed Out?

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Super-Prem...
At least share! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We know that a baby teethes and a good bourbon soothes the nerves, but when your significant other finds out you spent almost $400 on a bottle of 23-year-old Evan Williams Kentucky bourbon, you might be looking for an expensive gift that smoothes things over with him or her.

Or do you need a gift that smooths things over?

Which is it, smoothes or smooths?

It depends on whom you ask, because the evidence is surprisingly inconclusive. I've written all about it over on Copyediting.com, so learn more about this difficult little word over there.

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The Borg Download a Thesaurus App


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On Turning 40


I understand that very few people who have spent any time beyond the age of 40 have any interest in reading of the anxieties and introspections of someone who just now nears that milestone. I imagine it’s like hearing about someone else’s root canal after having had one yourself: you don’t want to hear about it because either a) you know it isn’t as horrible as people have made it out to be or b) your experience was so horrible that no one else’s could possibly match it.

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Claimer and Disclaimer

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely mine. None of the opinions necessarily reflect the beliefs of my friends, family, or employers, past, present, or future. I reserve the right to be wrong.

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