Monday, April 25, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: G

This week, the gallimaufry continues with a short list of G-words that people goof up.

Grisly, grizzly, and grizzled

This trio of words landed on Eleven Words That Don't Mean What You Think They Mean back in January. This is a differentiation you'll just have to memorize. Here are the basics:
  • Grisly: Horrifying or inspiring disgust. "Tornados ripped through the trailer park, leaving behind a grisly scene."
  • Grizzly, grizzled: Streaked or dotted with gray, be it a big old bear or a wicked old man. "His scraggly, grizzly beard bespoke his many lonely years in the wilderness."
  • Grizzle: To make gray or become grayish; or to cook food over coals or propane outdoors in a Snoop-Dogg-wannabe's back yard. "On the Fourth of Julizzle, me and my homies are gonna grizzle some hambizzles at the hizzie."

This is one case when being able to pick out a language pattern will send you in the wrong direction. Gris means "gray" in both French and Spanish, so it would be only natural to think that grisly has something to do with grayness. Nuh-uh. The "griz-" is the gray, and the "gris-" is horror.

It also doesn't help that a grizzly bear attack on a grizzled old man would lead to a pretty grisly scene.

Friday, April 22, 2011


A little Friday Flash. A fantasy, of sorts, called "Asking."

"Do you think," Joshua began, "that there's any chance that, maybe, you might be interested in having a . . . different kind of relationship?"

"What do you mean?" Maria asked from across the small round table.

Joshua tipped his ceramic mug back and peered inside. Except for the few motes of damp coffee grounds stuck to the bottom, it was still empty. "You know. Like a . . . a romantic relationship." He gripped the mug tightly to hide his trembling fingers and continued staring into it.

"A romantic relationship? With you?" Maria said.

Joshua forced himself to look up. Maria stared back at him, her head tilted to the side like a curious puppy, but twice as adorable. Joshua curled his toes down into the soles of his shoes, trying to root himself to the floor.

"Yeah," he said.

A silent moment passed while they just stared at each other. Then Maria straightened her head and eased back into her chair. "Joshua, are you asking me to be your girlfriend?"

Joshua instinctively crossed his arms in front of him. He realized immediately his defensive stance and uncrossed them. Then he didn't know what to do with his hands, so grabbed his knees under the table. "Uh, yeah. I guess I am. If you want to think of it that way."

Maria rested her chin in her hand, stretched her index finger up to her perfect cheekbone, raised an eyebrow, and studied Joshua. Her expression revealed little of her mind's machinations. The turned-up corners of her pink, closed lips could have masked a grin, a grimace, or a sneer. Joshua couldn't tell which.

Her silent stare was too much. Joshua was finding it hard to breathe.

"I know we don't know each other very well," Joshua said, breaking eye contact, "But what I do know about you . . . I like. I think we might have a lot in common."

Maria put her hands in her lap, tilted her head again and bit her lip. That little movement made Joshua melt inside.

"What . . ." she started. She took a quick breath and started again, quietly, "What is it you like about me?"

A simpler question has never been asked. Joshua had been thinking about Maria continually since the company Christmas party six months earlier. After all that time, he could see nothing but her best qualities. "I like that you like to try new things. I like that you're creative and artistic. I like that, no matter what you're doing or where you're going, you always look so self-confident. Assured. Not in a snooty, superior way, but like you always know what you're doing."

"You think I look confident?"

"Completely." Joshua looked across the table into her blue eyes, and this time Maria broke eye contact. She smiled and looked down at her hands in her lap. She might have been blushing.

Joshua picked up his mug again. It was still empty and cold. When he couldn't stand the silence anymore, he said, "I know that there's a little age difference between us. And you're probably wary about . . . dating . . . a divorcee. I don't have a lot of money. I'm a little, um, pudgier than I'd like . . . there are a million reasons why you shouldn't be interested in me--"

"You're right," Maria interrupted.

Joshua was hit by a wave of nausea. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

But then he felt a warm touch on his hand, still clenching the mug.

"You're right, Joshua," Maria said. "We don't know each other very well." She took both of his hands in both of hers. Her warmth radiated up his arms, settled in his chest, and burned there.

"Let's remedy that," she said.

[Edited 5/15/11 to fix the spelling of breathe. Hat tip to RedPenner.]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Today's Word: ictus

Ictus comes from the Latin icere, meaning "to strike." In the arts, it refers to the recurring beat in a rhythmic or metrical series in poetry, prosody, and music. And in medicine, it can mean a sudden attack or seizure, or the sting of a bee.

I saw this word for the first time today thanks to a link from Stan Carey to a 1922 article. Here it is in the wild:
[Quack is] the favorite epithet for all dissenters from Allopathic faith and practice, and has been applied indiscriminately and with equal ictus to the scholarly founders of the Homeopathic and Naturopathic schools of thought, and the illiterate vendors of hair tonics and corn plasters."

At first, I thought this loquacious writer was just flaunting a large vocabulary (or a new thesaurus). But all of the definitions of ictus seem to equally apply to this writer's sentiment, whether literal or metaphorical. It implies that practitioners of Allopathic medicine use the epithet quack so frequently as to have created a regular rhythm to it, that the word is used as an attack, that it is applied equally (i.e., with equal emphasis) to both studied Homeopaths and illiterate snake oil salesmen, and that it stings. And the fact that the author is using the jargon of Allopathic practitioners against them cannot be overlooked. It's really a masterful word choice.

Too bad it relies an a word that few people have even heard (at least today, 89 years later).

Monday, April 18, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: F

My ongoing list of the grammar and usage choices and mistakes that writers make that get under my proverbial skin.

This week’s list is rated PG-13. It is, after all, all about F-words.

Farther vs. further

I’m willing to let a few slip-ups pass unmentioned in normal conversation; I’m not a grammar Nazi. But if you’re writing — be it a speech, a short story, or directions to the local meth lab — you really have little excuse for getting farther and further mixed up.

It has been said a million times before, and I’m sure it will be said a million times more; nonetheless, here it is: farther refers to actual, measurable distances, and further refers to figurative or metaphorical distances.

“If you want to delve further into organized crime in this suburb, there are two more meth labs half a mile farther up the road.”

Further can also be used to mean “more” or “additional.” I have nothing further to say about these two words.

Fewer vs. Less

There is a “rule” floating around that fewer is used for countable items (like kittens, kielbasas, and kidney stones) and less is used for uncountable, mass items (like time, treachery, and TARP money). Taking a side in the ongoing “fewer vs. less” express-lane battle is like picking sides in Star Wars v. Star Trek: utterly pointless.

You could side with grammar hard-liner “Weird Al” Yankovic and go around correcting supermarket signs, or you could take a larger, more historical and laid-back approach, like Motivated Grammar and the linguists at Language Log.

But no matter which side you take, you will find both grammatical allies and editorial enemies. If I learned anything from the 1983 movie WarGames — besides how gorgeous Ally Sheedy is — it’s that the only way to win a war is not to play in the first place. (Granted, grammar is a far cry from global thermonuclear war, but the passion that some people show over the “less vs. fewer” issue might fool you into thinking they’re equally important.) So, rather than throwing my hat into the ring, let me lean toward refereeing and offer some friendly advice. First, some advice about usage: Instead of thinking about things that can be counted (fewer) and things that can’t (less), think about using fewer with plural nouns and less with singular nouns. Thus, having fewer dollar bills leaves you with less money. If you have fewer seconds, you’ll have less time. Fewer acres means less acreage.

Regardless of whether you come at it from the singular/plural or countable/uncountable angle, there will be exceptions. Few people would argue (though a handful would) that carrying less than 5 grams of cocaine looks and sounds better than carrying fewer than 5 grams of cocaine. And it’s hard to argue that Tom Thumb is less than 12 inches tall instead of fewer than 12 inches tall (or worse, fewer than one foot tall).  

[NOTE: Five years later, the confusing construction of this last sentence has been brought to my attention. It really is bad. What I intended to say was that "less than 12 inches tall" sounds so much better than either "fewer than 12 inches tall" or "fewer than one foot tall."  This strikes me as a bit of a false argument now. The editorial choices isn't so much between less than and fewer than as it is between less than 12 inches tall and under 12 inches tall. In that argument, both forms are acceptable (at least to me), and the choice should be governed by one's editorial ear. ABH 9/7/16]

But that still leaves us with the old “15 items or less” express lane, which leads me to my second bit of advice.

Rule #1 when you’re dealing with other people’s grammar and usage foibles: Don’t be a dick. (Actually, it’s rule #1 for almost any interpersonal relationships. Consider this rule the Strunk-and-Whited, all-needless-words-omitted version of the Golden Rule.) There are good and bad arguments for both sides of this issue, and winning such an argument earns you absolutely nothing. Intent will not be lost. English will not collapse. And with so many errors in the produce section, your editorial efforts can be better spent elsewhere.

And finally, a suggestion to supermarket marketers (would they be supermarketers?): If you want to create some viral online buzz about your business, try changing those express-lane signs to read “A dozen or so items.” Doing so is bound to draw the attention of Weird Als and Language Loggers alike.

Flammable vs. inflammable

What bugs me about this particular pair is that THEY BOTH MEAN THE SAME THING. Inflammable comes to us from the word inflame. Although the in- prefix usually indicates the opposite of what follows — as in incapable, ineligible, and infallible — it can also mean “toward,” “within,” or “on.” Infiltrate, increase, and incumbent use the prefix in the same way. Regardless, inflammable was confusing because people thought it meant the opposite of what it does, which in this case could lead to some very dangerous situations. So people used flammable instead. The important thing to remember is not to light up a cigarette next to a big tank with INFLAMMABLE printed on it. Things that can’t catch fire were given the word nonflammable. If anyone reading this post ever sees a sign that uses the word noninflammable, please take a quick picture of it and let me know in the comments here. That’ll be a great discussion starter, and maybe a decent T-shirt.

Forego vs. Forgo

Forego means "to go before." We don't see this word very often outside of the phrase "a foregone conclusion." Forgo means to go without. Foregone appetizers are the shrimp cocktail you just ate. Forgone appetizers means you didn't get any yummy shrimp cocktail.Try not to mix these two up anymore.

F#¢%ing self-censorship

Unless you’re doing it in a funny or sarcastic way, don’t replace letters in curse words with random symbols. If you feel strongly enough that a swear word is needed, use the damned swear word. If you don’t feel strongly enough about the statement to use a swear word, don’t hint at the possibility that you might be considering using a curse word by altering letters; just use a different word. Look: margarine isn’t butter, and sh*tfaced isn’t shitfaced, so don’t expect us to believe it is. And as a general rule, if you find yourself typing “I’m a f#¢%ing bada$$,” you are not, in fact, a fucking badass.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: E

The fifth part of my alphabetical ravings against that-which-I-do-not-like, whether they be mistakes or just unpleasant choices.

This extended enumeration, in my estimation, expresses some of the most egregious editorial errors ever employed in the English language.

e.g. vs. i.e.

Most people don't really need these abbreviations at all. If writers around the world just stopped using e.g. and i.e., you know who would notice? Copy editors. A whole bunch of happy, happy copy editors.

But anyway, here's what you don't need to know about these two abbreviations:
  • e.g. stands for exempli gratia and means "for example."
  • i.e. stands for id est and means "that is."
That's the easy part. The hard part is remembering how to use them. Remember this:
  • They are not interchangeable.
  • Unless you have an oversized, infected tongue piercing, when you say the word example, the first syllable sounds an awful lot like "eg." Now, which abbreviation do you use when you're showing an "eg-xample"? That's right!
  • If that doesn't steer you to the right abbreviation, try this: The abbreviation for "that is" has an i in it, just like "that is" does! "For example" doesn't have any is.
  • Both abbreviations should be followed by a comma.
  • Don't end a list that follows e.g. with an etc. Inherent in e.g. is the fact that you're showing examples, not a comprehensive list.Use e.g. or etc., but not both.
  • They are not interchangeable.
Here's how they look in action: Your body's most visible muscle (i.e., the tongue) should not be decorated (e.g., pierced, split, tattooed) in any way if you want to be able to taste your beer well into your eighties.*

Enormity vs. enormousness

Plenty of editors, linguists, and lexicographers will tell you that enormity can be a synonym of enormousness and can be used in the same way. I'm not one of those editors.

Enormity, people like me will tell you, refers to something that is metaphorically large, in a wicked or outrageous way, meaning that it has huge repercussions. The enormity of discovering intelligent life on another planet. The enormity of Hitler's "final solution." The enormity of the decision to donate a kidney.

A few editors might occasionally let you get away with phrases like, "I can't get over the enormity of this cruise ship!" But most won't, especially if they weren't invited on the cruise.


It would be wrong for me to say that enthuse isn't a word; but it wouldn't be such an awful thing to say. Enthuse, Bill Bryson tells us well in Troublesome Words, "is a back formation — that is, a word coined from an existing word on the erroneous assumption that the new word forms the root of the old word."

Some back formations have become so common that we don't realized their backward origins — bartend, bulldoze, decadent, and swindler, to name just a few — and these are all perfectly good words. But not all back formations are so pleasant.

No back formation (with the possible exception of orientate) rubs me the wrong way quite like enthuse does. So the next time you think about saying or writing about how you enthused about something or other, try raving about it instead. Or rhapsodizing. Or talking up. Or just be excited or enthusiastic about it.That might be why enthuse bugs me so much: Its creation didn't fill a specific hole in the lexicon — not the way the back formation I mentioned earlier did. Instead, it squeezed itself into a spot that was already flush with better words.

So please? Can't we all refuse to enthuse?

Et cetera

Even if you abbreviate et cetera as etc., the et at the beginning means "and." You would no sooner want to write "and etc." than you would write "and and so on."

And remember that etc. is a stand-in for the rest of the list, not a stand-in for one item on the list. I don't care how many times you've seen The King and I, one etc is all you need!

*Yes, I know that the tongue comprises sixteen different muscles, not just one. So sue me. This is a blog for logophiles, not physical therapists.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Friday Flash: Last Night

This is something I wrote a while ago that I've re-edited — and hopefully improved.


Johnny lay in the clearing, staring at the night sky, the damp grass cooling his skin. For twenty-three years, he had wished for nothing more than this: To be outside . . . alone . . . and free.

He knew he couldn’t enjoy it for long; one of the guards had taken care of that. Even now, he could hear the search dogs yowling their way toward him, pulling their shotgun-toting masters behind them.

But it didn’t matter. He could feel his warmth draining from the hole in his side, but it brought him comfort instead of fear. The coolness grew and blossomed in his chest, and he enjoyed it because it was his and his alone.

Patchwork clouds shimmered in the light of the full moon. Johnny remembered sitting on the porch swing with his mother, making a game of picking out shapes in the clouds, his youthful legs dangling in a cool spring breeze.

Tonight, every cloud looked like a key. Johnny smiled.

The dogs were getting closer, he knew, but somehow the jingle-jangle of their collars and tags and the grunts of their handlers dwindled. He knew they wouldn’t find him in time, and he smiled even wider.

The cloud-keys dimmed; the dazzling moon blurred into a hazy tunnel. Johnny knew that soon, very soon, he would be in a place without locks, without cages, a place with no limitations at all.

The prison guards would eventually find his body. Will they be disappointed, Johnny wondered, to find a smile on my face? To know that I died happy? To know that I died a free man?

With that thought, a door unlocked and opened, and Johnny stepped through.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: Different to, um, Because

The second half of this week's list of editorial annoyances. If you missed yesterday's post, you can find it here.


When you’re speaking, only the most uppity, self-important panjandrum would call you on saying “different than” or “different to” instead of “different from.” In print, though — and especially in print that you’re getting paid to write — different from is preferred. Many house style guides either dictate or at least nudge editors toward different from as the way to go.

Note, though, that differs from is always the correct usage; you’d never say that one thing differs than another.

Sure, you might be able to slip a different than through once in a while, but if you stick with different from, you’ll never have any problems. And you’ll make your copy editor’s job just a little easier.

The real editorial peeve here, though, is when people insist that this is an important distinction. It really isn’t. But editors are bound (some more loosely than others) by their house style guides and are expected to change it.

Donuts vs. doughnuts

With the international success of a certain breakfast restaurant chain that shall remain nameless (rhymes with “chunk in yo’ nuts”), I feel I must finally concede that the dough has been taken out of doughnuts. Though I will continue in print to refer to those yummy round thigh-stretchers as doughnuts, I recognize that doing so will attract the same snorts and quizzical looks that I get for writing drive-through instead of drive-thru.

Apparently, America runs on dropping silent letters.

Doubt, not having any

First, the rule: Never use doubtlessly; doubtless can already be used as an adverb, so the -ly suffix is pointless. Using doubtlessly makes as little sense as these examples:

Bad: He ran roughshodly over the defensive line.
Bad: He needs to write fastly if he’s going to meet his deadline.
Bad: This blog post is wellly done!

Now, the options: Sentences that use doubtless as an adverb just sound weird. I know this because I’ve spent the last five minutes trying to come up with a good example sentence, and none of them sound right. (The first draft of this post was written longhand in the library. I will doubtless be able to find a good example online with a simple Google search when I get home. See how odd that sounds?)

Avoid the problem altogether by using undoubtedly. Better yet, use indubitably; it means the same thing and is more fun to say. It’s like scat singing: “In-doobie-doobie-dubitably”!!!


I’m going to step back from the print word for a sec and talk about drowning and how it should be pronounced, because this has bugged me since I was, I don't know, five or six.

Unless you’re using the past tense drowned, there is only one d in the word: Last week, Vanity Smurf was drowning in debt. Yesterday, he drowned himself in Gargamel’s moat. Tomorrow, Smurfette will drown in sorrow for her loss. Hundreds of Smurfs drown whenever more than an inch of rain falls.

There is no drownding. You don’t stay off the ice for fear that you might drownd. And, for the love of all that’s good and true, no one ever drownded in a retention pond.

Stop saying it like that! Just stop it!

Due to the fact that

The phrase “due to the fact that” has a nice rhythm to it if you’re a fast-talking rapper (as many of my readers are). If you ain’t representin’ on the mic (I am so gangsta!), do us all a favor and never ever ever EVER use “due to the fact that.” Just say or write because.
This isn’t a grammar issue, it’s a style issue. You just don’t have enough style to pull off “due to the fact that.” So don't even try it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: Data to Dialog(ue)

An ongoing, alphabetical list of things that make this editor cringe. Read the inroduction here.

This week, I discovered that a large number of things that start with D annoy me, so I am forced to break the list in half. Don't worry, you'll get the other half soon!


This bothers some people a lot more than it bothers me. Data is supposed to be the plural of datum, just like curricula/curriculum and addenda/addendum. For example, the number of Smurfs I stomped today is a datum; the names and ages of the Smurfs who met their end from my fickle foot of flatness in the last year is data.

In general writing, though, data has become both singular and plural. It makes sense, too. If you’re writing about the Semi-Annual Death Questionnaire of the Department for Smurf Safety and Superbluity, it's singular. You don’t want to have to write that out every time, and the initialism (SASQDSSS in its untranslated form) is just too clunky, so you might just refer to it as “the data.” You’re still referring to that single set of information, so it seems logical to go with a singular verb.

I’m sure there are plenty of purists out there ready to argue with me about this. Before you start typing away, though, consider this: opera is technically the plural of opus. What is Wagner famous for that doesn’t involve infidelity or Nazis? Put that in Papa Smurf’s pipe and smoke it.

Notice, though, that I conditioned my previous pronouncements with “in general writing.” If you’re a demographer, statistician, or other scientific researcher, you are expected to know that data is plural, and to use the “proper” verb. In that case, just forget that datum even exists and always use a plural verb.

The real peeve here, though, is pronunciation. Like most Trekkers, I prefer the pronunciation used for the name of Brent Spiner’s character — “DAY-tuh” — but I really don’t care if you pronounce it “DAA-tuh.” What I hate is when people pronounce data one way but then pronounce the first two syllables of database the other. Make up your mind already!


Why is it that people who have no problem talking about dictionary definitions; who wax poetic about infinite space, infinite love, and infinite stupidity; and who understand that their checking accounts hold a finite amount of money can continue to blithely write and type definately instead of the correct definitely? (Notice how all those italicized words are related through that finit in the middle, from the Latin finire meaning “to limit.”)

My hunch is that it has to do with pronunciation. To my Midwest ears, that third vowel sound comes out sounding like a schwa instead of some form of i: “DEH-fih-nuht-lee.” And since any vowel can, at some time, lead to the schwa sound (champion, umbrella, effigy, leavened), people just pick the first one. Though I have no data to back up this hunch, it would explain why there are so many definatelys and so few definetelys, definotelys, and definutelys.

Or maybe people are just uncomfortable having so many is in a row. (Note to self, or to anyone else interested in such things: How often does verisimilitude get misspelled?)

Regardless, it’s definitely spelled D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y. Need a mnemonic to help you remember how to spell definitely? The answer is in the question: How do you spell it?

Defuse vs. Diffuse

Bad: “It may be necessary to repeatedly acknowledge the customer emotion to diffuse the situation and reassure the customer . . .” (How to Respond to Angry Customers)

Bad: eHow offers How to Diffuse Someone that is Yelling at You, a double-whammy: should be “defuse someone who” instead of “diffuse someone that.”

Bad: “Set up your umbrellas so that they allow you to defuse the light to create a softer appearance.” (How to Use Umbrellas in Professional Photography, again from eHow.)

To keep a (literal or metaphorical) bomb from exploding, you defuse it — you take out or otherwise render useless the bomb’s fuse.

Diffuse means, as a verb, “to scatter widely,” and as an adjective, “scattered widely.” If you look up right now, you might see a diffuser — a translucent cover — over the lights. That diffuser spreads the light over a wider area, lighting up the entire office, room, or workspace instead of acting as a headache-inducing spotlight.

If you yell “Bomb!” in a crowded public place, diffuse describes what the people do: they scatter in all directions away from you. When the bomb squad arrives, they will try to defuse the bomb. Later, you will attempt to defuse a stressful situation by explaining to the judge that you yelled "Bomb!" to prove an editorial point.


Peeve 1

For a time, I proofread (and later copy edited) general-reference how-to books about tech topics. I’ve had my fill of Windows, Microsoft Office, and other computer applications, utilities, and operating systems. One of the first things I had to learn in that position was that those little pop-up windows that every program uses — whether to let you name a file you want to save, adjust a default setting, or verify that you do indeed want to reformat that hard drive — are called dialog boxes.

Yes, I lamented the loss of those two silent vowels at the end of dialogue, but I was powerless against the might of our house style guide. I had to either accept it or go back to working retail. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails than work retail, so I’ve accepted dialog boxes as a part of my life.

But here I implore you to help me save this word dialogue. Let’s leave dialogs to computers and retain dialogues for people, whether real or fictional. Don’t let dialogue suffer the same fate as catalogue!

A side note: Some people have noticed that a monologue is a speech given by a single person, and that the “oneness” of a monologue is indicated by the prefix mono-. This is correct. Some have then taken a look at dialogue and decided that the di- at the beginning must be a prefix meaning “two” — as it is in dilemma, diode, and dihydrogen monoxide — which leads to the argument that a dialogue must necessarily take place between exactly two people. This is incorrect for one simple reason: that unaccounted-for a.

The prefix in dialogue is dia-, meaning "across." The prefix is shared by words like diaspora, diameter, and diaphragm.

Peeve 2

I am (literally) literally on my knees as I type this: Please please please do not use dialogue as a verb. It’s a noun, and it ought to stay that way. “Dialoguing” ranks right up there with “interfacing” and “incentivizing” as a way to get people to stop listening to you.

Although it’s okay to “have a dialogue” with someone, most people would prefer to talk, discuss, speak, or even converse instead.

I’m talking to you, business-jargonizers!

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion tomorrow morning!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Books, Movies, and the Library

I went to the public library today to work on this Monday's post.* Before I left, I took a closer look at the "decorations" adorning the library walls. There were a few, smaller posters of the "READ @ your local library" variety, but the largest posters, the ones demanding the most attention, were movie posters. I found this sad.

I grant you that the posters weren't entirely out of place in a library. They mostly advertised either movies adapted from well-known books (Last of the Mohicans, Charlotte's Web, Laurence Fishburne's Othello, and the ubiquitous Harry Potter) or movies about writers and writing (Finding Neverland). But even those smaller, less-emphasized READ posters featured well-known actors.

Although it's nice to know that every single actor in the Twilight movies supports local libraries, it still struck me as sad and wrong that a library -- an institution indelibly linked with books -- had to resort to marketing its wares with icons from an entirely different medium.

That isn't how it should be. People shouldn't look at a book as a thing that might lead to a good movie, or to look to Hollywood to tell us what books are worth reading. We shouldn't be using icons of movies -- a passive activity -- to promote the value of books and of the idea of reading, which requires active participation. It's too incongruous. It sends the wrong message.

We don't look to professional musicians to get us excited about watching movies. We don't go to art museums to find out about good music. Why, then, do we rely on Hollywood to point us toward literature? Why shouldn't we instead look to the icons of literature to remind us of the joy of reading?

Were I a graphic artist, correcting this mismatch would be a great cause for me to pursue. If I had the skills and the equipment, I could create "movie posters" for classic works of literature and do what I could to get them in public libraries, perhaps donating two or three for every one I sold.

And these wouldn't just be poster-sized versions of front cover art. They would get the full treatment: tag lines, blurbs from other authors, starred literary views, and recognition of awards -- anything that drives home the joy, excitement, and importance of the work and of reading in general and places good books on par with good movies.

Because we, the readers and writers, know that books are far superior to movies.

I could do all this, of course, only if I had the skills, the time, and the equipment, which I don't. I might, though, from time to time, try to play around with the idea here in purely digital form. I encourage you to do the same (to be safe, stick with books in the public domain) .

If someone picks up this idea and tries to run with it, or if someone is already doing this, please let me know here. I'd love to get involved.

* It turns out that I have a lot of editorial peeves that start with D. I might have to split next week's posting in twain.