Sunday, June 23, 2019

5 Podcasts for Logophiles (and Then Some)

Only in the last year have I begun swimming in the warm, infinite ocean of podcasts. And in that time I've found a handful of wonderful islands of wordy goodness. Here are my five favorites, plus a few others I also enjoy. Every logophile should check them out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Phenomena Phenomenon?

In the last week, I have heard two people who should know better misuse the word phenomena. I didn't think this was word that needed much explaining, but twice in a week? (At any rate, maybe these flubs will be the impetus that gets me blogging here more regularly again.)

Here's how it works:
  • Phenomenon is the singular form: The blinking purple light hovering over the White House remains an unexplained phenomenon.
  • Phenomena is the plural:  Three or four strange phenomena were occurring there every week, so the city banned food trucks in the clown cemetery.
Any time you find yourself saying or writing "a phenomena," pause and think. Unless you're using the word in some modifying phrase, like "a phenomena-explaining discovery," you want to use the word phenomenon instead.

I have generally been shying away from writing about words from a strictly prescriptivist point of view. I don't want to be the guy who tries to tell you how you must use your language. Rather, I'd like to be the guy who shows you how to do more with your language, and to use it to better effect.

But singular phenomena just won't float. Sure, a couple decades hence we might be having the same arguments we used to have about data being singular or plural, but we're not there yet. And besides, misuse of these two words might be more dangerous than data ever could be.

Legend has it that if you stare into a mirror and say "phenomena" three times in a row, a pair of eerie pink monsters will appear behind you.


Scarier still, if you say "phenomenon" three times, John Travolta will show up and try to recruit you to Scientology.
Although these phenomena are unproven, I advise you to use these words with care.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Buddies (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

The door swung open, and a small but severe young man in a gray, secondhand, pinstriped suit sauntered in. Behind him, filling the doorway, was a wall of a man, six-and-a-half feet tall if he was an inch. He clasped his huge, calloused hands respectfully in front of his genitals over faded denim overalls. He had to duck to get through the door, showing the top of his navy blue newsboy cap that, though it was probably the largest size they made, seemed two sizes too small for his cinder block of a head.

Mark stood. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting two of you. I’ll have Janice bring us another chair.”

The smaller man waved his hand. “No need,” he said. He turned to the larger man. “Have a seat, Lennie.”

Monday, December 24, 2018

Oliver Twist, Zombie Hunter? (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

"Do you know who I was?!" the scrawny blond boy screeched.

"Yes," Mark said, trying to remain calm. "Of course. I understand that—"

"I was Oliver. Bloody. Twist. You hear me? The original. From Dickens' pen itself."

"Yes, I—"

"I've been fan-fictioned, bowdlerized, plagiarized, and reimagined like you would not believe."

"Yes, I understand, but—"

"I've been a musical, a whole slew of movies, and three graphic novels. And now I hear that Oliver Bloody Twist is going to be in a new novel fighting zombies, and I wasn't offered the part?"

Monday, December 17, 2018

Amherst Meets Arkham (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

Mark had just taken the first sip of his morning coffee when the intercom on his desk crackled to life.
“Mark, Emily Dickinson is on line one.”

Mark sighed and set down his coffee. Emily had been calling more and more frequently, and it always turned out the same way.

He pushed the intercom button on his desk and thanked Janice and then picked up the receiver of his black rotary phone.

“Good morning, Emily!” he said, trying to sound exuberant.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Literary Child Stars (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

The following story, "Literary Child Stars" was originally published on this blog on July 11, 2013. I have deleted that post and republished it here to keep it alongside its fellow Flyleaf stories.



"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."

Monday, December 3, 2018

Night Hours (A Mark Flyleaf Story)


Mark unlocked the glass front door of the Bureau of Fictional Character Placement and pushed his way in, letting it swing silently closed behind him. The waiting room was dimly lit by the single security light above Janice's vacant desk. She put in her time during the day; Mark didn't expect her to hang around for his night hours. She had, though, left an application on her desk with a memo saying that a new client had made an appointment to see him. He picked up the application and scanned the information. Then he turned and yelped, sending the memo into the air to flutter to the floor.

The grizzled old man standing silently behind the coffee table hadn't been there a moment before.

"Good evening," the old man said in a thick Hungarian accent.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Melville-ous Pair (A Mark Flyleaf Story)



Mark and his new client sat on opposite sides of the desk. Mark scanned the man’s application.

Well, what can we do for you Mister... I’m sorry. I can’t make out your handwriting on the application.”

Call me Ishmael.”

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Bureau of Fictional Character Placement


What follows is the first of six (currently) Mark Flyleaf stories. I'll be publishing a new one here each Monday morning through Christmas Eve. I hope you enjoy them.

The Bureau of Fictional Character Placement



"Good afternoon Mister . . . " Mark glanced at the form on his desk " . . . Burton. Please, have a seat." Mark gestured to the chair opposite his desk and then sat down himself.

"Please, call me Jim."