Monday, December 23, 2013

The Logophilius Christmas List

Dear Santa,

You’ve disappointed me in the past, so much so that I considered not sending you my wish list this year. On the other hand, I’ve disappointed myself a few times, too, so I figure I should give you another chance.

This year, my Christmas wishes aren’t solely for me, but for all of the English-loving bibliophiles, logodaedalists, and graphomaniacs out there. Here’s what we would like for Christmas:
  • Over the next year, have your magical elves remove all the unnecessary apostrophes on all the grocers’ signs, storefronts, and tea party placards. By November, you should have enough apostrophes to stand in for everyone at Fox News for all of 2015.
  • Teach the world’s children the difference between i.e. and e.g. and to stop using both.
  • Stop filling young people’s stockings with like and fill them with descriptive verbs. Or at least thoughtful pauses.
  • Stop Justin Bieber. Just, stop him.
  • Let all the world know that trust-fund douchebags with Ivy-league degrees their fathers bought them are entitled, but that movies and books are only titled.
  • Please make all Internet trolls look more like trolls with each new inflammatory comment.
  • Alert English teachers everywhere stop harping on split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions and focus instead on teaching students how to write well.
  • No more zombies interposed into pre-existing literature of any grade. Pretty please.
  • Let everyone know the joys of Seasonal Work.
  • Put anyone who writes looser instead of loser on the Naughty list until they learn better.
  • And finally, I wish everyone around the world will find in their stocking this Christmas an old-fashioned literally that means “literally” and not “the opposite of literally.”
I know this is a big order, but if anyone can do it, you can.

This is your last chance, Santa. Even if you can deliver on only one of these Christmas wishes,* it will reaffirm my faith in you as a legendary bringer of jollity and neat-o stuff.

But if January comes, and everyone is all like, “This Belieber literally came out of left field and like asked me if I wanted to see that like awesome-looking new movie, e.g., Moby-Dick, The Zombie Whale, so I said yes because I didn’t want to look like a looser, and I don’t own a copy of Seasonal Work.” then I give up.

And it’ll be nothing but Festivus next December.

* Please make it the Justin Bieber one.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Subversive Copy Editor Encourages Editors to Spend Time Online

Carol Fisher Saller (aka the Subversive Copy Editor), senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, answerer of questions at the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A, editor extraordinaire, and wonderful person overall, recently posted an insightful and interesting article called "What Copy Editors Can Learn Online (Maybe Not What You Think)" that I encourage both writers and editors new and old to read (in lieu of an original posting of my own).

To be brief, the three points she highlights -- the three things you can learn online -- are
  1. How not to copy edit
  2. What the experts are thinking
  3. How to solve almost any problem
Those points can apply to nearly every discipline, but we word people aren't interested in every discipline. (Well, maybe we are, but not right now.)

My favorite part: When writing about looking through blog comments sections, she advises, "Lurk but don't touch."

Both good advice and a sweet turn of phrase.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

19th-Century Criminal Slang

Rebecca Onion over at Slate as posted a fun romp through criminal slang in the mid-1800s. Here's the lead paragraph of the article:
The following list of slang terms is drawn from a book compiled by the first New York City Police Chief, George W. Matsell, in 1859. Vocabulum, or the Rogue’s Lexicon, which you can read in full text via the Internet Archive, includes an index of criminals’ slang with definitions, short stories written using the “language,” and appendices cataloging the specialized slang of gamblers, billiard-players, brokers, and pugilists.
There are some great ones in there. For example, it seems the 19th-century equivalent of today's douchebag was Billy Noodle; a Lushington, which sounds ripe for a Grey's Anatomy character nickname, is slang for a drunk (e.g., Drinky von Lushington); and a pap lap is an infant.

Go check out the longer list, and Rebecca's commentary on it: Some Excellent Mid-19th-Century Criminal Slang That's Ripe For Revival

Friday, October 11, 2013

Alice Munro and Paraleipsis

I was thrilled to hear that Alice Munro, master of the short story, was named as this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.

I was also a little embarrassed that I haven't read any of her work. Not yet, anyway.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The (Super)Power of Language: Tony Noland's "Verbosity's Vengeance"

Tony Noland was one of the first people I really connected with on Twitter. I wish now I could remember exactly how we ended up finding one another, but it certainly had something to do with our mutual love of limericks, our penchant for puns, our fascination with flash fiction, and our general, unabashed logophilia.

Since then, he has been one of my greatest supporters as a writer. He has offered me feedback and encouragement, has helped me connect with a wider audience, and has even retweeted some of my most groan-inducing puns. In short, he's been a good friend.

Inasmuch as one can be good friends with someoneone has never met. At least not in person. (Such is the wonder and joy of social media.)

Today, Tony is releasing his newest novel, Verbosity's Vengeance. I got the opportunity to read an earlier version and provide some feedback some time ago, and — knowing how good it was then and that it has only improved since — I wholeheartedly endorse it. With this novel, adult grammar geeks, word nerds, language lovers, and even the odd Grammar Nazi finally get a superhero just for them.

But here, let'a have Tony tell you about it himself:

I love the power of language. A well-turned phrase, a word that is just right, a clear and cogent expression of an idea . . . these are the things that make my little heart go pitter-pat.

At the same time, one of my least favorite things is sloppy writing. I actually don't object to bad writing nearly so much as bad writing mechanics. Hackneyed clichés, predictable plots and bad dialogue may truly represent the writer's talent level, or meet the expectations of the writer's audience. However, when someone uses inconsistent verb tenses or pronouns with uncertain antecedents, I'm yanked out of the story. That interferes with the purpose of the writing.

The rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation exist to support the clarity and consistency of the written word. They are foundational to effective communication; without them, you have incoherent confusion.

This doesn't mean you always have to follow those rules. Far from it! Serious art can happen when you break the rules, but it has to be done with clear understanding and deliberate intent. These rules are powerful things, not to be trifled with lightly.

The dour, dusty scold who snarls on the internet at every misplaced apostrophe and every split infinitive is missing the point. Grammar isn't about adherence to inherited wisdom solely for the sake of orthodox purity. It's about communication, connection, communion. Grammatical speech doesn't restrict you; it makes your ideas shine. There's a joy in linguistic expertise that is unknown to those who can't tell a well-constructed sentence from a poorly-constructed one.

All of which brings me to the central idea behind my new book: Words have power, but their power is magnified when they are given clear expression. Grammar and punctuation amplify the strength of ideas.

What if that power weren't metaphorical or conceptual, but actual?

Verbosity's Vengeance is about the Grammarian, a superhero whose powers are all based on grammar and punctuation. Although the concept is tongue-in-cheek and there's plenty of word nerd humor throughout the book, the Grammarian is a real superhero facing real problems as he hunts down his arch-nemesis, Professor Verbosity. The Grammarian has to find out what Verbosity's big plan is and stop him before it can threaten Lexicon City.

His job isn't made any easier by the interference from a grandstanding, second-rate superhero named the Avant Guardian, or by the distraction of an intriguing (and attractive) scientist with a strong interest in superheroes and their technology. It's Batman meets WordGirl meets Thursday Next.

The Grammarian is no blue-pencil prescriptivist, waving a copy of Strunk & White like immutable holy writ. Nor is he an out-and-out descriptivist, eschewing established patterns in order to embrace the formless NOW. He lives and breathes the power of grammar and punctuation, using them in all their flexibility to stop crime and protect the innocent.

It's a fun, exciting book. I hope you like it!

Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel is on sale at Amazon for $2.99. 

Tony Noland is a writer and editor in the suburbs of Philadelphia. His blog is call Landless, which is its own bit of wordplay,  and you can find him on Twitter as @TonyNoland and on Facebook at Tony Noland's Author Page. Verbosity's Vengeance isn't his first publication; check out his GoodReads author page to see what else he's been up to.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blog Editing Tip: How Much Editing Advice Is Too Much?

Originally published at, July 15, 2013.

Whether you’re talking about writing, editing, or trimming your nose hairs, advice on how to do it well (and how to do it right) is abundant. Every bit of advice you get, though, is really just an opinion. Some opinions come from years of experience and study, some come from adherence to received dogma, and some come from pure personal taste. Some opinions are shared by large numbers of people, and others are hoarded like canned meat in a bomb shelter.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blog Editing Tip: Actions Speak Louder as Verbs

Originally published at, July 8, 2013.

No word in the English language is as insidious as is is. Is is everywhere. Sometimes is is a helping verb, and sometimes is is a linking verb. Sometimes is is the only verb that will work, but all too often, is isn’t. Part of the art of writing and editing is deciding whether is is or is not the exact right verb.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Blog Editing Tip: Don’t Let Cliches and Idioms Get Out of Hand

Originally published at, July 1, 2013.

Unless you’re blogging about something that’s intensely personal, you aren’t the only one blogging about that subject. And even then, a post about your childbirth experience, your struggle with cancer or your frustration with Microsoft joins a large and ever-growing army of bloggers writing about similar situations.

With so much competition, the only way to get your blog noticed is by offering something that other blogs don’t. Something creative and original. Something better.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Blog Editing Tip: The Secret to Too Many Verb Tenses Is Simple

Originally published at, June 24, 2013, as “Blog Editing Pro Tip: How Do You Handle Too Many Verb Tenses?”

Do you know the difference between future progressive, present perfect and past perfect progressive? Though you might not know them by name, you know how to use them, and you probably use them all the time. Maybe you use them too much.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blog Editing Tip: Use Adverbs Carefully

Originally published at, June 17, 2013, as "Blog Editing Pro Tip: Get Your Adverbs Here"

Adverbs tell us when, where, why, how, how much and how often. Without adverbs, we wouldn’t have massively multi-player online role-playing games, no one would have “boldly go[ne] where no one has gone before” and we would have reveled in stories “From the past, in a distant galaxy” instead of in stories from “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Adverbs can add context, imagery and clarity to sentences that other words can’t.

But as great as adverbs can be, they can easily be overused.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blog Editing Tip #1: Read It Again

Originally published at, June 10, 2013

If you care at all about the quality of the writing on your blog — and you should — then perhaps the single greatest thing you can do to improve your posts is this: Read it again. Just read your post one more time before you set it loose onto the Internet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Albert Nobbs by George Moore

My rating: two gender dilemmas out of five

At 98 pages, George Moore’s Albert Nobbs is a sliver of a novella. That’s why I picked it up in the first place. I was trolling the shelves of my local public library and looking for something I could finish in about a weekend, and this book’s thin black and orange spine jumped out at me. Mostly because it seemed to have two authors’ names but no book title.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are You Really Editing Your Blog? Should You Be?

Originally published at, June 3, 2013

Well, yes. You should.

If you don’t already recognize the importance of quality writing, if you believe that as long as your readers know what you mean, it’s good enough — heck, if you believe in “good enough” — then you’re so far off the mark already that there isn’t much I can do to help you. You don’t need someone to fix your writing; you need to someone to fix your outlook.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forget About Building Out Content, Build It Up Instead

Originally published at, May 29, 2013
It should shock no one to hear that there’s a lot of crap on the Internet. A lot of that crap ended up there because online businesses and website developers clung to old-fashioned, offline marketing techniques that didn’t translate well online. Then, marketing changed and became more content- and customer-focused. Give people a little of what they want, the marketers said, and they’ll come back to buy more. That was great at first, but as redundancy piles on redundancy, the flow of information (and misinformation) is reaching critical mass.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Literary Child Stars

"Any sign of him yet?" Mark asked into the intercom.

"No, Mister Flyleaf," Janice's voice buzzed through the electronics. "But I have a couple of walk-ins waiting out here who've finished filling out their applications. Should I send them in?"

According to the wall clock, Mark's ten o'clock appointment was now fifteen minutes late. "Are they here separately or together?"

"Oh, they're definitely together, Mister Flyleaf."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's All About Me! (An Interview)

I forget things. We all do sometimes. We see something that needs to be done and we tell ourselves, 'Don't forget to do that the next time you get the chance.' And then, the next time we get the chance, we've forgotten about it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Words and Language, But Not on This Blog

I'd love to say I've been working on something wonderful and important, and that's why I haven't been blogging. But that would be a lie. I've just been working.

Not that I haven't been blogging. Just not here, where I really want to.

So today, in lieu of a fresh helping of logophilic madness, I direct you elsewhere.

First, Kory Stamper's latest at harmless drudgery is not to be missed. Lately, she has been womanning the Merriam-Webster inbox and dealing with questions from the idiot masses. On Friday, she posted answers she wishes she could have sent, and they're hilarious.

And second, some of what I've been doing. I've been writing a brief series about blog editing in my new position at digitalrelevance, and I'm up to 5:
Watch that blog the next two Mondays for the last posts of the series.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Building Content: Think King Arthur, Not Genghis Khan

I'm rather bummed that most of my last few blog posts have just been links to my work-related posts at digitalrelevance. (That doesn't mean I'm going to stop doing it, just that I'm bummed about it.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kindle Worlds: Will True Communities Get Lost in the Amazon?

I'm not a fan of Amazon. I've heard too many horror stories, seen too much mistreatment, and watched the company scrub out the spirit of entrepreneurship and capitalism too often. Amazon is the online equivalent of Wal-Mart.

And I'm less than happy with Wal-Mart.

Having said this, it should come as no surprise that I'm not shaking the pom-poms about Amazon's newest venture Kindle Worlds, a marketplace specifically for fan fiction. Amazon has negotiated copyright agreements with a small handful of brand rights-holders to let their fan fiction writers publish their works free and clear of any copyright problems.

This may be the second-worst thing Fifty Shades of Grey has ever done.

I talk about the main players in this venture and what they have to gain and lose over at the digitalrelevance™ blog. Check out The Four Faces of Amazon's Foray into Fan Fiction: Kindle Worlds.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Book Is Here!

Big announcement day! Presenting not one but two books with my name on the cover!

The first is Duncan and the Lonely Giant. I wrote it as a Christmas present for my younger son last November, but I only just now got around to getting it printed up, right in time for summer break.
Possibly coming soon to an e-reader near you.
This book isn't widely available, though — I printed only three copies. One for my son, one for my mom, and one for me. After I get a few opinions, I might take this one to Smashwords.

The other book is the previously promised e-book collection Seasonal Work. And you can actually read this onenow! Go get your copy at Smashwords, and don't forget tell me what you think of it.

Even if you don't like it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Writing to the Smallest Audience

My first blog post with digitalrelevance is up over at their blog. It's about the idea of writing to just one person instead of to a broad, varied audience. Check it out, and make me look good at my new job.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time Flies When You're Having a Breakdown

Did you miss me?

Yes, my plan to celebrate National Poetry Month with daily poetry readings fell through. And yes, on top of that, I haven't posted in two weeks.

And yes, I went to the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) and haven't even blogged about that yet. But I have a good excuse: I took a new job.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Thank you to the seven of you who entered my 500th-post contest!

That's right, seven of you. As if I have a seven-sided die.

Instead of going to any great lengths to pick one of seven, I did the unfair thing. I eliminated Tony Noland from the running and used a standard, six-sided die to make a decision among the rest of you.

(Why Tony? Because I had already planned to send him a free copy of the finished e-book anyway.)

So I rolled a die and counted down from the top of the list, in the order that I saw them (reverse chronological). And the winner is . . .

Chuck Allen!

So, Chuck, I'll be contacting you in the near future.

Everyone else keep an eye on this space for my forthcoming e-book later this month.

We'll try this contest thing again when I hit 1,000 posts, sometime in 2018.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Today's Poem: Oh Captain! My Captain!

Today I feature a Walt Whitman poem whose opening exclamation was made famous (at least to people of my generation) by the wonderful and wonderfully sad movie Dead Poets’ Society. It appears in his famous collection Leaves of Grass in a section called “Memories of President Lincoln,” and it’s a great example of metaphor.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Today's Poem: John Clare

Today's poem comes from John Clare, an Englishman who spent a lot of time in British asylums. He couldn't always remember who he was and at times claimed to be married to women he wasn't married to, and even claimed to be Lord Byron or William Shakespeare.

Whether his poems, which were distinctly unselfconscious, were a reflection of his mental problems or an escape from them is anyone's guess. But here is one in which he recognized who he was.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Today's Poem: Complaint of the Skeleton to Time

Today's reading is not of my doing, but of the poet's . . . and his friends. Here is Allen Ginsberg reading his own poem, "Complaint of the Skeleton to Time," from the album The Lion For Real (and courtesy of Spotify).

Monday, April 1, 2013

April is National Poetry Month!

As the title says, April is National Poetry Month.

Last year, I wrote a bunch of silly poems throughout the month. This year, I decided to mark the month a bit more seriously . . . and play around with some new software at home. Throughout April, I'll be featuring poetry readings here on the blog — every weekday if I can manage it. And they'll be snazzed up with background music and a little something to look at.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Milestone Post with the Milestone Contest

Milestone blog posts always deserve some sort of fanfare, and this is my 500th post on Logophilius, so let’s seen how my fans fare.

First, though, let me thank any of you who consider yourself a fan. (Even you, mom!) If I could mention you each by name, I would...but I really don't have any idea who you are. So, to all my anonymous and seminonymous readers: Thank you thank you thank you!

Monday, March 4, 2013

I Don't Know Grammar: An Editorial Confession

I have been copy editing for over a decade, and in that time, I've had to come to grips with my personal editorial shortcomings (every editor has some). And today, National Grammar Day, seems like the perfect time to confess one of those shortcomings to you, dear readers:

I don't know what grammar is. Not really.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Double Ent-tendres

It's Three-Word Wednesday time, and today, we use the words douse, naughty, and pale.

Some trees come alive in the night
After Luna has doused her pale light.
Naughty pines, like an eel,
Writhe and wriggle until
Morning would find them standing upright.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Way to a Man's Heart

My triumphal (or at least monumphal) return to three-word Wednesday begins with the words heave, ponder, and valid. So here's a limerick for you:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Write When You Don't Feel Like Writing

It’s easy enough to get behind the idea of writing every day, but finding the time and the inspiration to actually do it, day after day, every day, is another story.

As it turns out, writing is hard.

But it’s also really easy.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Romeo and Juliet, an Alternate Ending

Valentine’s Day is all about love, of course, and when you think about love, what literary piece first comes to mind? Since you can’t help but see the title of this post right above this paragraph, you ought to already be thinking about Romeo & Juliet, which would be the right answer.

Though R&J is all about love, it has that sad, tragic ending. We so want those two to live happily ever after, and finally bring the feud between the Capulets and Montagues to an end. What kind of romance is it that instead of giving us a happy ending gives us death for two young lovers?

So I’m here to change that.

Monday, February 4, 2013


At least three separate people, on three separate occasions, have recommended the works of Christopher Moore to me. Weird, quirky, fun, they said. Right up your proverbial alley.

I remembered seeing Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal on the new fiction shelf at the library, and I thought it sounded intriguing back then. (I do so enjoy irreverent explorations of religion.) So when it came time to pick my next book, I set about tracking down Lamb.

But Half-priced Books didn’t have it. Indy Reads Book didn’t have it. The library had a waiting list in double digits. And I didn’t (don’t) have the money to risk paying full-price on a book by an untried author.

So I picked up Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings from the library instead. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

I was surprised when I found this novel on an unarranged shelf of hardcovers at the local Dollar Tree. It didn’t seem so surprising after I finished it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Bit about Roget and Thesauruses on Thesaurus Day

Today is Thesaurus Day, marking the birth in 1779 of Peter Mark Roget, whose name has become synonymous with synonymous.

Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition1 grew out of his incessant list-making, which he developed as a coping mechanism.2 And he had a lot to cope with. Both his father and his wife died young, and an uncle committed suicide in Peter's presence.

It seems logical, then, that Peter struggled with depression. And like many depressed souls before and since, he turned to words to battle the sadness.

The word thesaurus comes from the Greek thesauros, meaning both "a treasure" and "a giant, talkative lizard with an overinflated ego."3 Those who hold to the notion that the way words were should be the way words are can use the plural thesauri; for the rest of us, thesauruses is just fine (and fun to say).

You can call a person who writes thesauruses a thesaurist, but really they're just another form of lexicographer (lexicos = "of words" + graphikos = "of writing").

A good thesaurus can be a great writing tool, but it can also be overused. Some turn to a thesaurus in an attempt to add variety to otherwise dull and repetitive writing. That word-processing programs come with built-in thesauruses makes it even easier to pursue this shortcut.

This can lead to some awful (or hilarious, depending on your point of view) results.

And that is how I choose to mark Thesaurus Day, Peter Mark Roget's birthday: By repeating the content of this blog post a second time, but with (supposedly) synonymous substitutions of words from MS Word's built-in thesaurus.

Happy Thesaurus Day!

Presently, it is Thesaurus Day, marking the naissance in 1779 of Peter Mark Roget, whose appellation has become identical with synonymous.

Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition propagated out of his unremitting list-making, which he industrialized as a surviving contrivance. And he had an allocation to muddle through. Both his pater and his helpmeet croaked fledglingly, and an uncle committed recklessness in Peter's manifestation.

It appears commonsensical, then, that Peter thrashed with melancholia. And similar to many dejected atmospheres before and since, he turned to verses to scuffle the despondency.

The word thesaurus emanates from the Greek thesauros, denotating both "a prize" and "a colossal, garrulous lizard with an outsized self-image." Those who hold to the conception that the manner words were should be the tactic words are can utilize the plural thesauri; for the remainder of us, thesauruses is just adequate (and pleasurable to vocalize).

You can call an individual who engraves thesauruses a thesaurist, but categorically they're just an alternative form of lexicographer (lexicos = "of words" + graphikos = "of inscription").

A virtuous thesaurus can be a prodigious writing utensil, but it can also be hackneyed. Some journey to a thesaurus in an endeavor to enhance multiplicity in otherwise leaden and pedestrian lettering. That term-handling applications are originated with integrated thesauruses makes it even cooler to hunt this shortcut.

This can produce some horrific (or uproarious, contingent on your idea of vision) outcomes.

And that is how I've cherry-picked to mark Thesaurus Day, Peter Mark Roget's centenary: By resaying the content of this editorial a subsequent time, but with (evidently) equal changeovers of words from MS Word's integral phrasebook.

Joyous Thesaurus Period!

1 Also the name of Fiona Apple's next album.
2 If Wikipedia is to be believed. I went all-out for this research, eh?
3 One of those two translations of thesauros is inaccurate.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Someone's Wrong on the Internet, A Sonnet

A Three-Word Wednesday sonnet. Today's words are dismal, luscious, and waffle.

The luscious colors of a well-made page
Bedazzle eyes that stare into the screen
That mirrors back this electronic age
When beauty, with a single click, is seen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


When Hillary’s passport was new, each fresh expedition brought the thrill of the unfamiliar and the hope of a lifetime of new experiences around the world. And there were many experiences on many expeditions.