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.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A New Old Word for the Political Season: bomfog

Yesterday, in honor of Presidents' Day but two days late, I published "Presidential Coinages" at With a lot of help from Paul Dickson's book Words from the White House: Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America's Presidents, I highlighted eleven words that had been coined by U.S. presidents.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A New Look for

A screen shot of the new layout. is wearing some nice new threads these days. Go to the website now and ooh and aah at the slick new look. (What's even better than how it looks for readers is how it works for contributors.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Eleven More Homophones You Didn't Know Existed

Back in December, I published one of my more popular posts, "Ten Homophones You Didn't Know Existed." There are certainly more than ten. And because I enjoy learning wonderful new ways to spell words I'm so used to pronouncing, I figured, why stop?

So here, then, are eleven more homophones you didn't know existed.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Silence of the Limns

There's this word limn that isn't exactly widely used, or even widely known, but somehow I've seen it used at least three times in the last week. If I believed in signs, I would take that as a sign that I should write about it.

And I'm going to write about it anyway.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Writing Prompt: Another Childhood Memory Reclaimed

I won't claim to understand in the slightest the whole bronies thing — adult men who follow My Little Ponies with more energy and spending money than its target audience of little girls. Now coloring books for adults are landing on best-seller lists. (I understand this more — the almost meditative act of filling in white space and the urge to create.)

That leaves me wondering, what's next?