Monday, January 31, 2011

A Sucky Weather Synonym Explosion

The alphabetical forecast: The weather outside? Oh, it's cold, algid, arctic, biting, bitter, bleak, chilly, freezing, frigid, frore, frosty, frozen, gelid, glacial, heatless, icy, nippy, piercing, rimy, Siberian, snowy, subzero, and wintry.

It's also pretty aggravating, appalling, cheerless, crappy, desolate, detestable, disagreeable, disconsolate, dismal, dispiriting, distressing, dreadful, dreary, ghastly, horrible, irksome, irritating, joyless, loathsome, odious, repugnant, repulsive, reviled, shitty, terrible, troublesome, unwelcome, and vile.

And I'm sick of it!

Friday, January 28, 2011

What's Wrong with Peevologists?

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a peeve as "a feeling or mood of resentment" or "a particular grievance or source of aggravation."

Yesterday, a minor ruckus was raised in the Twitter circles I fly in about the nature of and problems with so-called peevologists. Although peevology may be a relatively new term, it's an age-old concept that finds "language authorities" great and small obsessing over and harping on the grammatical errors and usage choices that get under their skin.

The general sentiment was that peevologists' rants were at best counterproductive and at worst downright hurtful. Or, as @StanCarey put it,
Peevologists have a compulsion to seize on perceived lapses in spelling, grammar, & style—often at the expense of context, manners, & facts.

A few Twitterers tentatively questioned/objected to the idea that peevology is such a horrible thing. I don't think they were wrong to question it, but I believe that the conflict arose because there are levels of peevology that weren’t taken into account. Lumping all peevologists together and denigrating them simply isn’t fair.

All writers, readers, editors, and English teachers have peeves. (Show me an editor who doesn't have any peeves and I'll show you an inexperienced editor.) Discussions of writing and editing peeves, like discussions of politics, can be fun, can be educational, or can be irritating, depending on how well a person recognizes peeves as personal bugaboos instead of crimes against language. How fair and how badly an peevological argument goes depends on a person's ability to recognize the difference (or, in some cases, that there is a difference) between grammar, syntax, usage, and style; or between shouldn't and can't; or between right and acceptable.

For example, the first sentence of this post illustrates one of my personal pet peeves. I hate it when speeches or articles start with the formula "Such-and-such a dictionary defines such-and-such a term as . . ." You might not have batted an eye about it, but I hate it. There's nothing grammatically wrong with it; it's a matter of style, and it's a style I simply don't like. It irks me when I see it.

You've probably already picked out some other phrase in the beginning of this post that you either think is wrong or at least badly written. These are your peeves. Maybe it was that I wrote can be three times instead of omitting those two needless repetitions. Maybe you were vexed by the fact that I wrote between and followed it with four items instead of only two. Or maybe it just rubs you the wrong way that this sentence begins with a conjunction.

The point is this: We all have peeves. But we don't all deal with our peeves in the same way. Below, I outline the different "levels" of peevology that I’ve dealt with, from the most heinous and damaging to the ones that are actually helpful. I also give them my own fun little names, which you can do with as you please. These “categories” are by no means mutually exclusive, and one might fall into different ranks at different times, depending on what’s being discussed or argued.

The Grammar Nazis

All writing is formal writing; all speech is formal speech.

At the top of the list are those who don't accept that the English language has changed — with the exception of the addition of new words — since the "experts" set the rules in stone in the 19th century. This type of peevologist believes that, in all cases, there is One Right Way, and all other ways are wrong. And, of course, the choices they make are the One Right Way, and if you choose otherwise, you're wrong. Consequently, there are only two ways to write: properly and badly. They don’t recognize their peeves as peeves; they are, after all, standing up for what is Right, not what they prefer. These are facts, not opinions.

These Grammar Nazis* are the people who tsk-tsk you for splitting an infinitive, slap your hand for starting a sentence with a conjunction, and unleash hell if you end a sentence with a preposition. As writers, these peevologists are mere annoyances. People who make a living with their words simply do their best to ignore them. As copy editors, Grammar Nazis are a little more dangerous and definitely frustrating. But there are a lot of copy editors out there, a lot of good copy editors, so you don't have to deal with Grammar Nazi editors for longer than a single project.

As educators, Grammar Nazis are extremely dangerous. Students of this type of peevologist must learn by rote a set of rules that don't make sense, and then somehow must reconcile on their own the fact that the great writers of English break all of these rules at one time or another. Ultimately, students of Grammar Nazis either learn to hate writing or become Grammar Nazis themselves — judgmental, friendless misers with their noses held high.

Well-Meaning Martinets

What does your textbook say about that?

Some people become peevologists because they try too hard to make their writing "fit" with what they were taught. These people treat their reference books like Bibles, turning to them for answers to every editorial conundrum. They just know that there is some formula for great writing hidden in these books, if only they could connect the dots.

The well-meaning martinets learn their peeves by comparing what their reference books say with what people are writing. In all cases, when the writer’s constructions don’t match the reference, the writer is wrong. When faced with conflicting sources (e.g., Oxford comma or no Oxford comma), they set aside the text and argue over which reference work is correct.

In the end, well-meaning martinets understand the science of writing but not the art of it. As writers and editors, martinets produce text that is grammatically correct and well-structured but is otherwise clinical, dry, and stale. As educators, they teach students a streamlined, bare-bones style that will certainly help them with professional writing — medical research, finance, statistical analysis, etc. — but won't teach them how to write anything interesting.

Cocksure Combatants

I know a little somethin' 'bout readin' and 'ritin'.

Cocksure combatants are those who have a handful of literary “weapons” that they strike with whenever the chance arises. They believe, whether from inexperience or from pure egotism, that they have an unerring grip on a particular minutia of writing, and whenever they see someone stray from their prescriptions, they pounce. They peevologize.

People who imagine themselves writers and editors but who don’t write and people just beginning careers in wordsmithing often fall into this category. I know I did a decade ago, and I might look back on this a decade hence and put my present self in this category. 

Some do it out of some noble sense of defending (what they believe is) the proper use of the English language; some do it because they really don’t understand English but want to join in the conversation; and some do it just because they like to argue, and they ultimately would rather be Right than accurate. If they are at all open-minded and willing to learn, these peevologists can be brought around to a more moderate outlook and can contribute meaningfully to the discussion. But here be trolls, too, who search the Internet for minor guffs that they can call out to make themselves feel superior, who carry Sharpies to mark up mispunctuated grocery store signs, and who write “authoritative” books called Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Descriptive Historians

Great writers have been doing that for centuries.

Descriptive historians’ peeves aren’t so much about the choices that writers make but about the arguments that ensue because of those choices. The Historians’ ultimate source of information is, nobly, the great writers of English. It certainly stands to reason that if we are qualitatively judging writing, some writers must exemplify that literary nirvana we’re pursuing. When peeves collide, and peevologists argue choice A over choice B, the descriptive historian is there to point out that different great writers have at different times successfully used both choices: Shakespeare and Milton did it one way, Twain and Poe did it another way, so either way is acceptable and respectable.

Descriptive historians are correct to point out that arguments about Right and Wrong in writing are pointless, because there is no immoveable Right or Wrong. Historians change the spin of the argument, but they ultimately don’t contribute to it becausing showing that either of two choices is acceptable doesn’t help the writer or editor choose which one to go with — and a choice must be made.

As editors, the descriptive historians need an extensive style guide and convention sheet. They’re more liable to let a writer’s mediocre phrase pass — because there isn’t anything technically wrong with it — instead of shaping it and making it better. As writers, they can be difficult to edit, because they can argue against every edit you make with historical examples proving that what they originally penned is perfectly fine. As teachers — well, they don’t teach writing classes, they teach literature.

Experienced Aggravated Editors

Writing — and it’s corollary, editing — is both an art and a science.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The number of rules that hold for every form of human communication is exactly zero. Experienced editors know this. They know that as the variables change, the “rules” change, and that some “rules” are entirely arbitrary. The variables — audience, tone, mood, style, and others — are what make a piece of writing more than just a collection of words on a page. (I believe that the only thing that all writing shares is that they are collections of words; everything else is variable.)

An experienced editor (and that includes experienced writers, who must self-edit) recognizes that these variables change and, like a mathematician setting aside complex trigonometric formulae to do his taxes, she changes with them.

But they do get aggravated by what they read. In many cases, they get aggravated from seeing the same bona fide mistakes over and over — except/accept, your/you’re, there/their/they’re — and they just wish that people would learn the distinctions. They have other peeves, too, though, that are based in personal preferences. If given the choice (that is, if it isn’t outlined in house style or on a convention sheet), they will always choose the same. But the important thing is that they recognize that there is a choice, and if house style contradicts their own personal preference, then they have no problem following house style.

But still, there’s that deep-seated desire to have everyone write the way that editor likes to write, not because one way is more correct, but because that’s just the way she likes it. Experienced editors feel the same about their peeves as they do about bad drivers: No one expects bad drivers to ever disappear, but we sure wish they would learn to drive better. It's the same with writing.

For example, I prefer to include a space on both sides of an em dash. I will choose the Oxford comma every time I have the choice. I really hate seeing an s on the end of toward. I wish everyone would agree with me and just start writing that way all the time, but that’s never going to happen. And I can accept that.

This is the type of writing teacher you want to have, the type who can separate the style from the syntax. This type of teacher can separately evaluate the quantitative mechanics of what you write and the qualitative personality and impact of what you write, and help you improve in the area that needs the most help. These are also the best editors and writers, who know when and how to bend the rules to make a more beautiful phrase. They bring poetry to prose and art to language.

* My apologies to @Trochee, who wrote "[P]lease don't Godwin yourselves by calling those people Grammar Nazis." Sorry, but the comparison fits too well. If your writing doesn’t meet up to the Grammar Nazis’ rigorous demands, it is destined for the oven.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Anagramatical Awesomeness

I wish I could lay some claim to this awesomeness, but I can't. It just passed through my tweetfeed, and I couldn't not share it:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do Me a Quick Favor, Dear Reader

Just leave a quick comment for this post!

So here's the deal: Like any blogger, I'm outrageously curious about how many people are reading my blog. I've had Google Analytics keeping track of some blog traffic for a while. (Incidentally, it's amazing how a single picture of Jessica Alba will bring people to a blog. I can expect a small but steady stream to this post now that it, too, mentions Jessica Alba [twice!].) And according to my stats, seven people are following this blog through Blogger.

Earlier this month, I rerouted my RSS feed through Feedburner hoping to get some idea of how many people get this blog through an RSS feed. I was surprised to find, a few days later, that the magic number was 38 (which has since risen to 40). Based on the small number of comments my blog posts usually get, I'm cautious about believing that number.

So consider this a verification of the those stats. Just leave a comment to this post. Say hi, and let me know how you found this post: an RSS feed, Facebook, a link from another site, whatever.

If you're a regular reader, first, THANK YOU. Second, let me know what type of posts you enjoy most. I can make this blog anything I want it to be, so I might as well make it something that I know people are interested in reading. Or just tell me your favorite word. Or your favorite cat name pun. Or whatever.

And thanks for reading!

Word of the Day: pasquinade

pasquinade: A lampoon or satire, especially one posted in public.

Although pasquinade is normally a noun, Poe verbed it up in "The Murders at the Rue Morgue":

Chantilly was a quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, becoming stage-mad, had attempted the rôle of Xerxes, in Crébillon's tragedy so called, and been notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.

Quodam,a great Scrabble word, means "former or sometime."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Word of the Day: esprit de l'escalier

I quickened my step to slip onto the elevator before the doors closed. Inside, three bundled women waited impatiently.

"Everybody going down to one?" the woman nearest the buttons asked. We grunted our agreement and she pushed the button for the bottom floor. "We're all ready to get out of here and go home, I guess."

One of the women looks at me. I don't know her well, but I do know her, and being the youngest person on the elevator and the only man in the quartet makes me easy to single out. "You don't want to go home, do you, Andy?" It was simple small-talk, a simple bad joke.

"Nyah." I shrugged, unprepared for conversation.

The doors opened. One by one, we stepped out onto the first floor and headed for the snow-covered parking lot. Halfway down the hall, my mind clicked on and I realized what I should have said: "That depends. What are you making for dinner?"

This real-life example is brought to you by what the French call l'esprit de l'escalier, "the spirit of the staircase," that witty comeback, sexy melliloquence, or dextrous logodaedaly that would have been the perfect reply, but that didn't form in your mind until the moment had passed and it was too late to say.

In his book There's a Word for It, Charles Harrington Elster claims that Kirkpatrick Sale coined the English term stairwit and Bernard Cooper coined retrotort to mean approximately the same thing. It looks like CH Elster found both of these coined words in Jack Hitt's earlier In a Word: A Dictionary of Words that Don't Exist but Ought To, but I can find no evidence of either of these two men coining the word outside that book. That is, I can't find evidence (online) that either of these terms were used "in the wild" by either of these men.

I did, however, find stair-wit in an English translation of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, which appears to have been translated by AA Brill, though Google Books cuts off much of the Translator's Notes section, so I'm not entirely confident. The evidence shows, though, that Brill is both a neurologist and a German-English translator.

At any rate, on page 210, we find this footnote:
A supplementary interpretation of this dream: To spit on the stairs, led me to "esprit d'escalier" by a free translation, owing to the fact that "Spucken" (English: spit, and also to act like a spook, to haunt) is an occupation of ghosts. "Stair-wit" is equivalent to lack of quickness at repartee (German: Schlagerfertigkeit—readiness to hit back, to strike), with which I must really reproach myself. Is it a question, however, whether the nurse was lacking in "readiness to hit"?

I'm pretty sure the footnote is from the translator and not from Freud himself. The book was published in 1913, which means, at any rate, that Kirkpatrick couldn't have been the first to use the term stairwit; he was born in 1937. Regardless, stairwit hasn't caught on.

Like déjà vu, esprit de l'escalier (or, sometimes, esprit d'escalier) is a French term that doesn't really have a suitable English equivalent. I don't understand why esprit de l'escalier isn't more commonly known and used than déjà vu. I, for one, encounter esprit de l'escalier much more than déjà vu.

Especially if I'm trying to talk to a beautiful woman.

Do have fun or embarrassing stories about what you should have said to someone that you'd like to share? Please do: Comments are open.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Three Word Wednesday: Yellowstone Apocalypse

Today's words are dark: descent, kill, surreal

I had heard that some geologists believe that a giant volcano lives under Yellowstone National Park, and that the geological pressures have been building up for thousands of years. I had also heard that said volcano is long overdue for an eruption, and that, because it's so long overdue, the eruption would be so catastrophic that it could end all life on Earth.

I hope they're wrong, but that's what I had in mind when I wrote

Yellowstone Apocalypse

Apocalypse has come. The cityscape
I’d marvelled at for my entire life
Is now surreal, a nightmare mouth agape
With jagged teeth that bite a sky that’s rife

With death. But the descent to Hell on Earth,
Which followed not John’s Revelation (no,
The end came suddenly, for what it’s worth),
Came not from skies above, but from below.

No rumbling temblors warned of woe, no shocks;
But pressures building under Yellowstone
Burst forth; the sky fell down, a rain of rocks
That crushed the reign of man, who must atone.

Our Mother Earth lashed out with rage infernal
And killed the life that once we thought eternal.

This one starts and ends well, but I'm not thrilled with the middle. It's too oddly constructed to make the iambic pentameter work. I like the first stanza and the last couplet...maybe someday I'll keep these and create a better, probably longer, middle section to tell the story more. Perhaps limiting myself to a standard 14-line sonnet form was to strict.

But still, this was an interesting exercise for me.

Want to participate in Three Word Wednesday? Start here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eleven Words That Don't Mean What You Think They Mean

Now that it's 2011, we're all dispensing with top-ten lists in favor of top-eleven lists, right? Here are eleven words that don't mean what they look like they ought to mean. Have you been using them correctly?

As an added bit if trivia fun, each of the "Good form" examples below is taken from a piece of classic literature. How many can you name without using Google? Each of the "Bad form" examples are true, in-the-wild examples that I've found on blogs. (Ah, the benefits of editing.) And I've been really mean by including a link to the misuse.


Although the word enervated looks like it might give you energy and nerve, it in fact does just the opposite. A person is enervated when he loses his nerve, or when he is weakened.

Bad form: "Why is it that if I were at GenCon and had not slept and rested the same way I'd feel enervated and ready to go for the convention?" link
Good form: "But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out? What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations? Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives?"


Although some people insist that enormity always refers to great wickedness, great writers have been using it in a wider sense for ages. Enormity does not, however, simply mean "very large." Along with (often figurative) size comes a sense of importance or of monstrosity: the enormity of the AIDS epidemic in Africa; the enormity of Nazi crimes against the Jews.

However, if you use enormity to mean anything other than "great wickedness" (e.g., the enormity of James Earl Ray's actions), a lot of people won't like it and will challenge you on it. Be prepared to defend yourself.

Bad form: "The enormity of the planet and relatively small numbers of humans in early historic times lessened the global impact of hunter gatherer land management practices . . .
Good form: "I wish my people to be impressed with the enormity of the crime, the determination to punish it, and the hopelessness of escape."


This one bugs me because it is misused so often and so badly. Movies are not entitled. Books are not entitled. TV shows are not entitled. They are simply titled. People who purchase a ticket are entitled to see the show. People who earn their driver's licenses are entitled to operate automobiles. Ignorant, uneducated, dilettante daughters of millionaires feel entitled to party all night, every night. To be entitled means to have grounds for claiming or doing something.

(To be fair, there are those who believe it's perfectly fine to use entitled to mean titled because it has been misused so often as to become acceptable. To that I say bollocks. Regardless, you'll make your editor and your readers happier by differentiating between titled and entitled this way.)

Bad form: "I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled The Columbian Orator." (It's lasting writing like this that gives the entitled = titled argument some teeth. This is from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.)
Good form: "[I]t hath been said that, not being concerned in the taking the thief, he could not have been entitled to any part of the reward if he had been convicted . . . "


Something that's grisly is horrifying or inspires disgust. Because it's a homophone, it's often mistaken for the grizzly in grizzly bear. And because of that mistake, some people believe that a grizzly bear is so named because it is the meanest type of bear, or most likely to attack, or just the ugliest. That isn't true. Like the brown bear and the black bear, the grizzly bear is named after its color. Grizzly, or grizzled, means streaked or dotted with gray.

Bad form: "Looking every bit like a sexy grisly bear, Hugh Jackman picked up his daughter from school in New York, New York on Thursday, January 6th, 2010." link
Good form: "It was a grisly thing, this light touch from this noiseless and invisible presence; it made the boy sick with ghostly fears."


If you think that latter means "the last option in a list," you're only partly right. Latter is specifically the second choice out of two -- the opposite of former. Latter and last follow the same pattern as better and best, younger and youngest, and elder and eldest. 

 It can also mean "of a later time period," as with the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Bad form: "The tablet, which is now available only in Japan, presents itself in 3 variants- 10 inches (pictured below), as well as a 7-inch version and a 4-inch device. The latter of the three new tablets is a bit similar to a smartphone." link
Good form: "Judith was a girl of quick sensibilities and of impetuous feelings; and . . . she sometimes betrayed the latter with a feeling that was so purely natural as to place it as far above the wiles of coquetry as it was superior to its heartlessness."


Even though this word is 66% limp, it has nothing to do with limpness. Limpid means physically clear (like a mountain stream) or in a clear and simple style (like a Shel Silverstein poem). It can also mean serene. It's related to the word lymph, which comes from the Latin word for water.

Bad form: "She was sweaty and pale, her long, curly black hair damp and limpid." link
Good form: "[The river] flowed noiselessly, swift, and cold to the eye; long, thin grasses huddled together in it as the current drove them, and spread themselves upon the limpid water like streaming hair . . . "


Meretricious can be used in a few different ways, and none of them are positive. Something that is meretricious is plausible, but only in a superficial way. Saying that we can fight international terrorism by murdering all Muslims is a meretricious (and odious) argument.

Meretricious can also mean alluring in a superficial or showy way. Some have argued that the movie Avatar was meretricious because people were taken in by the lush alien landscapes, the high-tech 3D, and the supposed epic scope of the drama, in spite of the fact that the story is really just a mashup of Pocohontas and the Smurfs.

And finally, meretricious can mean "of or relating to prostitution or prostitutes."

Meretricious is NOT the adjective form of merit. You want meritorious instead.

Bad form: "Don received a meretricious service award having served in The Ordnances Gaze Frestal 1966-1969 in Germany." link
Good form: "There is nothing showy or meretricious about the man. He believes in mineral paint, and he puts his heart and soul into it."


Noisome isn't about noise. It means obnoxious or objectionable to the senses, especially the sense of smell. It's a synonym of noxious and malodorous, not cacophonous or dissonant. It's related to annoy.

Bad form: "Sasch BBC presents a playful anthem, interlaced by elements of noisome percussion and luxuriant atmospheric chords." link
Good form: ". . . as the Yahoos were the most filthy, noisome, and deformed animals which nature ever produced, so they were the most restive and indocible, mischievous and malicious . . . "


Not a synonym for noisome, odious has nothing to do with odors. It means evil, vile, deserving of hatred. Odious turns into odium as a noun.

Bad form: "The carpet still lingers in some distant odious past, fresh whiffs of the good old days occasionally assaulting my nose. I billed the landlord for two bottles of Febreze, and intend on purchasing another." link
Good form: "She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making, and it was odious to her that her husband should make a show of himself before the servants."


This one always throws me because it's an oxymoron. If a person is a spendthrift, he isn't thrifty; he spends his money wastefully. (And just because I'm blogging about it here doesn't mean that I'll remember the next time the possibility of using this word comes up. Thank goodness for dictionaries.)

Bad form: "Constitutionally, I'm a bit spendthrift. I'll splurge on sushi and have an affinity for sneakers (euphemisms), but do my apparel shopping almost exclusively at thrift stores. I use coupons religiously . . ." link
Good form: "I paid three pennies for my breakfast, and a most extravagant price it was, too, seeing that one could have breakfasted a dozen persons for that money; but I was feeling good by this time, and I had always been a kind of spendthrift anyway . . . "


Although wizened looks like a description for a wise vizier, it actually has nothing to do with either wisdom or wizardry. If something is wizened, it's dry and wrinkled with age. Granted, as someone ages and becomes more wizened, one hopes that they also become wiser, but the two aren't etymologically linked.

Bad form: "After a couple years of these type of individuals I have grown wiser, and it has been a very, very frustrating journey. So, here I am, (understatement) cynical, very cynical but smart and wizened to bullshit, and avoiding it." link
Good form: "The wind was so nipping that the ivy-leaves had become wizened and gray, each tapping incessantly upon its neighbour with a disquieting stir of her nerves."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Nasty Three-Word Wednesday Limerick

Warning: The following limerick, in true limerickian fashion, is rated PG-13, which means that if you're 13 years old and your parents read this over your shoulder, they will be quite embarrassed. If you want to embarass them more, ask them to explain what the limerick means.

Your immediate response to this limerick should be "Ew!" If it wasn't then either I haven't done my job, or you're one sick puppy.

You have been warned.

Today's three-word Wednesday words are plausible, taint, and willingly.

To That Girl I Went to School With but Who Shall Here Remain Nameless Because There's No Reason to Embarrass Her or Her Family Now (But You Know Who You Are)

Though your sexual advances are quaint,
A plausible girlfriend you ain't.
Though you willingly show it,
I hope that you know it:
No one wants to look at your taint.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Today's Words: councillor & counselor

A councillor (or councilor) is someone who sits on a council -- notice how one word contains the other. This perfectly gender-neutral* word is fading out of common use in favor of councilman, councilwoman, and the horrid councilperson.

A counselor is someone who gives counsel -- advice, words of wisdom, and so on. Again, counselor contains counsel.

The Councillors of the Jedi High Council

When Yoda sat on the the Jedi High Council, he was a councillor. After the dissolution of the Jedi Order, he moved to Dagobah and, later, became Luke's counselor.

* At least, I hope no one ever thought that a woman on the council should be called a councilless or councilatrix.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Can't Get No (Editorial) Satisfaction

Sunday night, I was copy editing a project on my laptop while Windows Media Player shuffled through some of the tunes I've saved to my hard drive. In the course of editing, I noticed that this author had inexplicably used 'single quotes' instead of "double quotes" to call out a specific word.

Now, all copy editors have their specific pet peeves that drive us batty. Most copy editors, however, share (in the intellectual sense) a mental list of common writing errors that just agitate us -- those errors that we all see, that we all hate, and that we all know we'll see again. One of these errors is the random and/or inexplicable use of quotation marks. Misused quotation marks can sometimes be confused with "scare quotes" and thus transmit a meaning that is opposite of what was intended.

For example, if you see an advertisement for a "free" T-shirt, do you really think it's free? Would you prefer fresh seafood or "fresh" seafood? How would you feel about setting you up with a handsome, intelligent "man"? (For more, check out The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, whence the following image originated.)

I'm sure all their sewing machines "work" perfectly.

But before I spin off into a tangent about editorial peeves, let me try to circle back round to what I had intended to write about. After finding this misuse of single quotes,* I typed a quick tweet indicating my irritation into TweetDeck. No sooner had I poked Enter to send that tweet into the ether than David Bowie began singing "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" from my computer speakers.

I don't really know what "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" is all about. I hope that it alludes to some book, some movie . . . some extramusical element. Otherwise, the lyrics really don't make a lot of sense.

At any rate, though, when I heard Bowie sing "The heart's filthy lesson falls upon deaf ears," I thought it the perfect song for my mood. And for editing in general. It does indeed feel at times like the lessons that editors have to teach too often fall upon deaf ears.**

And thus began a currently very short list -- what will grow into multiple lists -- of "Editing Songs" that you can help me fill out.

List 1: I know there are plenty of people out there who can't read, much less edit, with music playing. It's just too distracting. (Personally, I can edit only with familiar music playing -- music that my mind can register without actually having to listen to. It's certainly less distracting than the random grunts, sneezes, elevator bells, and HVAC noises that fill the air around my cubicle.)

For those of you who prefer or need music playing when you edit (or, for you noneditors, when you're reading primarily to learn, as opposed to reading for entertainment), what music works for you? Do you hope to build your brain with Mozart or with Bach and the Baroque masters? Do you put on the electronica and become an editing machine? Do you attack the text with rage, with a screaming soundtrack to match?

List 2: Footballers have "Benny and the Jets," astronauts have "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man," and mimes have "The Sound of Silence." What do we editors have? If you were going to put together a collection of "Songs of the Editor," what would you put on it? (Aside from "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" might have a place on there, alongside Morris Day's "Word Up.")

List 3: Here's the easy one: What songs would show up on "Anti-Grammar Rock"? First up is the Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."***

List 4: What well-known songs can you subtly alter to make them about editors and editing? Do you hear Prince singing "Purple Pen"? How about Billy Joel's "New York Stet of Mine"? Or, to use an earlier song, should Elton John be singing "Benny and the Stets" instead?

This fourth list has been played out with the Twitter hashtag #EditingSongs before, I know. But (relatively) ancient tweets aren't easily accessible through their accompanying hashtags. And not everyone is on Twitter yet. (But everyone reads blogs, right?)

If I get enough comments about any or all of them, over the various social media outlets I use, I'll follow up this post with one listing some of the best submissions.

* in a paper written by an American who had, until now, had no troubles in the quotal area. (I add this to preempt editors who might argue that single quotes were, perhaps, actually correct here. They weren't.)
** That's only how it seems, of course, and that's a purely selfish belief. I don't work with any single authors often enough to know whether their writing actually improves after they've looked over my edits. Even if I do manage to instill the difference between comprise and compose into one writer's mind, I'm still left correcting it in all those other writers' works, so the corrections seem endless and unnoticed.
*** And no, I'm not suggesting that this classic tune would be improved by "correcting" its grammar.