Monday, May 23, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: K

My ongoing alphabetical list of editorial peeves, those little things that people do with their words that rub me the wrong way.

If you're just joining us, why not start from the beginning?

Words that really start with C (or worse, Q)

This isn’t so much a problem in written works, but in company naming. But it’s a deliberate word-choice issue that really bugs me, so I’m putting it here.

I grew up in a small farm town nestled between the Indianapolis suburbs to the north and acres of cornfields to the south. Most of the businesses in my hometown, like the shops in many hamlets and villages around the country, were little family-run affairs. One such business that appeared in the mid-80s was a “salon” that the owners called Korner Klips.

Even at that young age (let’s say I was about 8), the name of that establishment irked me. I had seen K-sounding Cs replaced with Ks before so that multiple words started with the same letter. King’s Kars, maybe. Or Kids’ Kuts. I would roll my eyes at these “creative respellings” but then quickly move on.

But Korner Klips was different. Here, they took two words that already started with the same letter and respelled them with a different yet still matching letter. Why? Presumably because a K looks like a pair of scissors. (A C, on the other hand, looks more like a pair of calipers,* and no one wants to know how much of a fathead they are when they get their hair cut.)

It doesn’t take long to compile a list of similarly mangled business names online. There’s Korner Kuts (which also bears the unwanted association with cutting corners), Kleen Kars (a double-whammy, with the extra misspelling of clean), Khaos Krew, and myriad others. I hate them all.

Worse still are names like Kwik Kopy, Kwik Kleen, and Kwik Lok, with the qu- swapped out for a kw-. (Makes me shudder just to look at them.) I don’t know why people are so averse to Q words. I see no sign of the opposite (let’s call it the “alternate misspelling”) catching on: no “Quick Qopy” or “Quick Qlean” or “Quick Loq.” (If you qatch sight of one, snap a kwik piq and let know please!)

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I don’t think names like these say “We are creative and witty.” They say “We kan’t spell.”

And for what it’s worth, I never got my hair cut at Korner Klips.

Karats and carats and carets and carrots

Homophone heaven!

A karat is a measure of gold fineness equal to one-twenty-fourth pure gold in a metal alloy. This means that a chunk of pure, unadulterated gold is 24-karat gold. If someone tries to sell you a 28-karat gold ring, run-don’t-walk away. A carat is a measure of weight (equal to 200mg) of precious stones. So an expensive ring might have 5 carats worth of diamonds set in 24-karat gold.

My dictionary also lists karat as a variant spelling of carat, but not vice versa. If you’re dealing with a jeweler, you’ll want to keep the two separate.I don't know how you'll keep it straight, though. If you have a mnemonic that helps you keep your carats separate from your karats, feel free to leave it in the comments.

A caret is a little wedge shape that editors and proofreaders use (or used, before everything was done on computers) to indicate where some new text needed to be inserted. The caret shares a key with the 6 on your computer’s keyboard.

And finally, a carrot is a pointy, edible root that apparently got named after they named the orange.**

If you have a hard time keeping them straight, don’t feel too bad. Leave it to Bugs Bunny to exchange karats for carrots.


A kerfuffle is a disturbance, a ruckus, a brouhaha. I like this word and I wish people would use it more often. It sounds like someone farting in a church pew.

* Note:Tangent: “X-Kaliper,” is a trademarked name for a laser caliper used to measure large objects. I love the play on the name Excaliber (which doesn’t contain a K), plus it gets a bonus for the X because it measures XL-sized objects. But why in the world did they change the C, the only caliper-shaped letter in the name, into a K? Does the madness never end?

** I stole that joke from Demetri Martin.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: J

In my opinion, J is an underused letter. More words should start with J.

But they don't. Which is why this week's list of editorial peeves is so short.


When I started researching this post, I learned that the word jargon has a number of different (and downright contradictory) definitions. I had planned on peeving all over the use of jargon in general text, but the more I researched, the more I realized that jargon deserves a post of its own here on Logophilius. I hope it will come soon, don't you?

But the use and avoidance of jargon boils down to the basic tenets of good writing: write for your audience and be clear. It's as simple and as difficult as that.

Just Deserts

This is a shining example of a popular eggcorn. The phrase is "just deserts," not "just desserts" (they're pronounced the same, though). It's not too difficult to remember once it's been pointed out to you. If someone gets their just deserts, they're getting what they deserve. The relation between deserts and deserve isn't accidental; deserts used as a noun this way comes from the Old French word for "deserve."

The eggcorn makes sense, though, doesn't it? Dessert is what one gets at the end of the meal, and just deserts is what one gets in the end. Because the eggcorn version makes so much sense (more sense than the original, in my opinion), I don't expect "just desserts" to go away anytime soon.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Coping on the Job, Editorially and Otherwise

Every job involves some bit of repetition. Some jobs, like trash collecting and assembly-line work, consist almost entirely of repetition. Other jobs, like, oh, President of the United States, involve little repetition: Every day is something new.

For copy editors, that repetition is the continual correction of common grammar and usage errors and style choices.

There are, to be sure, shining moments in a copy editor's life when the art of editing shines through the science of it. It might be a headline that manages to be both witty and SEO-friendly, or the perfect pun that lightens the mood without getting in the way, or the metaphor that reveals in two sentences what would otherwise take two paragraphs to explain. Those sparkling moments happen occasionally, but the bulk of a copy editor's efforts are spent on those common, niggling errors, on the reptition.*

Lately, this repetition has been getting under my skin. (If you've been following my A to Z of Editorial Peeves series, you already know some of the things that I'm tired of fixing.)

My biggest gripe is wordiness, and (at least with what I'm working on now) it's the most common problem. Why are you writing with participial phrases when simple present tense is clearer and more succinct? Why are you making use of things instead of just using them? And why oh why do you favor long, nested strings of prepositional phrases instead of single-word adjectives?

And if I have to change one more utilize . . .

It seems like every time I open a new file, I make the same edits I made in the previous file, and the one before that, and the one before that.

But I'm not going to spend this time griping about all the problems I have to fix over and over again — I have a 27-part weekly series just for that. What I'm interested in is how other people — specifically you, dear reader, whether you're an editor or a garbage collector — deal with the dull drudgery if repeating the same task again and again and again.

Do you look to social media for commiseration, sharing your pain with Twitter and Facebook (I do that) or throwing the worst offenses into the blogosphere, like Shit My Students Write? Do you shout profanities — either literally or online in comments sections (not mine, please)? Do you take a more passive-aggressive approach and sabotage your coworkers? Do you take two smoke breaks an hour?

How do you calm the creative side of your mind long enough to get the auto-pilot stuff finished? How do you keep from going crazy?

Comments are open. Please help before I punch a hole in my cubicle wall.

* The truth of this statement is dependent on the skills of the writer, of course. If you're working with a good writer, copy editing can be like polishing a gold statue. If the writer stinks, it's more like regrouting a shower.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: I

A cluster of textual problems that annoy me to no end, each fronted by the 9th letter of the alphabet.

i.e. vs. e.g.

If you don't know how to use these, don't. See e.g. vs. i.e.


Impact ought to be reserved for craters and wisdom teeth, and it ought to remain a noun and an adjective.

I started writing a long bit here full of examples of how people use impact to mean "have an effect on," but I thought better of it. Just trust me: Every editor and avid reader and listener of the English language will be a little bit happier if everyone stopped using impact as a verb.

Hell, if you really love the word impact, you can still use it. Just say that something "had an impact on" something else. That's fine. It's ambiguous and unoriginal, but it's fine.

And don't even get me started on impactful.

Heed my words: If you continue using impact as a verb and impactful as anything, the only listeners who won't immediately tune you out are those who are just one incentivize away from a Corporate Jargon BINGO.

In a ______ fashion

The English language has evolved to include an ingenious little animal that lets you bypass this four-word prepositional phrase — indeed, any number of lengthy prepositional phrases — with a single word. That animal is known as an adverb. You should learn about adverbs.

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you might have already deduced that I am a big fan of efficiency. Though I'm not a fan of how they phrased the "rule," I completely understand the sentiment behind Strunk and White's admonition to "Omit needless words" in The Elements of Style. Many word nerds have misconstrued this "rule," I think unfairly, to mean that any word that isn't needed to convey the meaning of the sentence should be deleted, and then attacked the concept based on that misconstrual.

I think this is a much too limited definition of needless. There is, after all, more to a string of words than just their meaning. By that limited definition, all redundancies, for example, are "errors" and should be eliminated. And indeed, if you were to eliminate all redundancies, the stark meaning of a sentence would be clear, and the words would be efficient. But then so much would be left out — ironically, what most people would refer to as a writer's style. "His mother made him clean up all the popcorn he spilled," conveys the acts, but it has no style. It isn't as telling as, say, "His mother hovered over him as he painstakingly picked up every last, little speck of the spilled popcorn, which, like in the moments following the Big Bang, seemed to have spread with inconceivable speed to the four corners of the room." The difference between the former and latter sentences isn't just needless words.

Lest I preempt my own discussion about redundancies (it'll come when I get to the Rs), let me curve back around to the foul phrase at hand: "in a ______ fashion." There's certainly nothing grammatically wrong with this phrase, and in a few cases it might even be the best choice. But, overall, I think it contains a lot of needless words that ought to be omitted.

Don't place your doilies in a dainty fashion; place them daintily. Don't harvest your coffee beans in an ethical fashion; harvest them ethically. Don't plop onto the couch in an exhausted fashion; just collapse on the couch, exhausted.

Sometimes, you save only one word but create a much stronger sentence. Imagine Rush Limbaugh crawling around on all fours in a dog-like fashion. Nuh-uh. He's crawling around on all fours, like a dog. (See how that conveys not just what Rush Limbaugh is doing, but how you I feel about Rush Limbaugh?)

This is not a call to cease using "in a ______ fashion" completely. If you're obfuscating, deflecting blame, or intentionally and intensely trying to maintain neutrality, "in a ______ fashion" might be the way to go. But if you're writing something that you want people to show some interest in (e.g., fiction of any type), "in a ______ fashion" is a cop-out. It leaves the interpretation up to the reader, and that interpretation may be the opposite of the story that you're trying to tell.

If you want your readers to see and feel a certain thing, you can't do it by equivocating.

Yes, it means more work. But if you find yourself typing "in a ______ fashion" (or its feeble brother, "in a ______ way"), take a second look at it. You can probably build a stronger, more streamlined sentence.


I still don't know what the hell this word means, whether it's the employees who are incentivized or the desired outcome that's incentivized. Or something else. This word sucks. Don't use it.

If you're thinking about jumping down into the comments and giving me a definition for incentivize, don't. I don't want to know what you or anyone else thinks it means. There's nothing you can say about this word that will convince me that it has any worth.

Look, I'm a huge fan of wordplay. I love taking words apart and putting them back together like Legos. But all neologisms are not created equal.

Read that again: All neologisms are not created equal. New words are created every day. Some rise to the top and are adopted by the masses; others sink to the bottom and disappear. Incentivize is down there deep with mondo, shibby, and phat, only somehow it refuses to die.

Do us all a favor and kill it whenever you can.

Inflammable vs. flammable

There really is no "vs." here. They're on the same team. See flammable vs. inflammable.


I won't be so irrational as to declare that irregardless isn't a word, or that it has caused irreparable damage to the language, but it would be irresponsible of me not to mention this irregular, irredeemable little editorial irritation.

I don't entirely understand why this piss-ant of a word has become so irrepressible as to become irremovable from the lexicon. But that's irrelevant. You can find plenty of irrefutable evidence that irregardless is the wrong word choice, unless you really want to sound stupid (or irreverent). The word you want is regardless.

And if you're still irresolute about using irregardless, feel free to use irrespective instead.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Today's Word: factitious

I had intended to complete and publish a bit of flash fiction today about how I think the first test of a time machine might go. But responsibilities and distractions piled up, and I haven't finished it yet. (Watch for it next week!)

So instead, I bring you a word I wish I had known 20 years ago: factitious.

If you notice that fiction and fact are opposites, you might come to the conclusion that fictitious and factitious are also opposites, thus making factitious an overlong synonym of factual. It's a perfectly reasonable and logical conclusion to draw, but it's wrong.

If something is factitious, it is unauthentic, artificial, a sham. Rush Limbaugh's recent "praise" of President Obama after the death of bin Laden, for example, was factitious praise — it wasn't actual praise. Factitiousness often goes hand-in-hand with sarcasm, and scare quotes like the ones used earlier in this paragraph are a sign that you might be dealing with something factitious.

It's not always about sarcasm, though. Laugh tracks and applause reels are factitious responses added to some TV shows that either don't have a live audience or just aren't very good. I bet North Korean sitcoms use them a lot.

I could make plenty of jokes about how the GOP, the TEA party, FOX news, et al. can always be relied on for factitious information, but I'll leave that to my more hilarious, less reserved readers.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: H

Have a healthy helping of a few of the errors that writers make that they need to stop making right now!

In my opinion.


Note the spelling. It's harebrained (as in, as foolish as a hare), not hair-brained. Just keep a particular long-eared cartoon rascal in mind to keep it straight.
As you write about Donald Trump's forays into presidential politics, feel free to use "hair-brained"; just recognize that you'll be making a homophonic pun. "Rug-rat" is a nice choice, too.

Hail vs. hale

More often than not, the word you want is hail.

Hale means "being in sound health," and it often appears in the alliterative and redundant phrase "hale and hearty" — and it's "hale and hearty," not "hale and hardy."

Hale can also mean to "compel to go," most often in "haled to court." (While people complain about being hauled into court, haled is what will show up on official records.)

And, just to be complete, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" were reportedly the last words of Nathan Hale before being hanged by the British.

Everything else uses hail: You hail a cab. Hail covers your car in dimples. Barack Obama hails from Kenya Hawaii.