Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Five Reasons You* Should Go to Blog Indiana 2011

With apologies to my regular readers (both of you), I'm going to get a little meta here and blog about blogging.

Blog Indiana's fourth annual conference on blogging and social media (BIN2011) is slated for August 11 and 12 in Fishers, Indiana. Whether you're a new blogger trying to get yourself heard or a professional blogger working for a Fortune 500 company, these two days promise to be educational, eye-opening, and downright fun.

Here are five great reasons you* should go to BIN2011, or, as the case may be, five great reasons why your* boss(ahem) should pay your way in:

Expand your social media arsenal

Sure, the centerpiece of the conference — Friday morning's keynote presentation — is "Writing Secrets the Pros Use" with Erik Deckers, but this isn't just two days of "How to Write a Good Blog Post" lectures. Nor is it all about blogging. Over the course of these two days, you can also learn something new and wonderful about infographics, online branding and marketing, affiliate programs, online video, and even how to use Foursquare to enhance your business.

Perhaps the session I'm most keen to drop in on, though, is Thursday morning's keynote speech with Jay Baer, "How to Hug Your Calculator: The 6-Step Process to Measuring Social Media." It's getting so that I can't click the Stumble! button anymore without landing on some new post about that analytic pie in the sky: How to measure a business's success with social. But many of those posts are filled with the same empty equivocations and generalizations (ROI isn't just about money! It's about conversation! It's about engagement!) but with very little concrete information that one can use to start building a social media analytics strategy.

Jay describes his six-step process as "sure-fire." If he's right, that one keynote speech will be worth the cost of registration. (I have high hopes, Jay; don't let me down!)

Learn what works from the people who have made it work

There are kajillions of bloggers, Twitterers, and Facebookers out there, and a least a bazillion of them live here in Indiana. But Blog Indiana didn't just pull people in off the streets and slap "Social Media Expert" stickers on their foreheads. Oh no. These are the people who have been doing it well, doing it right, and doing it successfully. And they are all being drawn in to Fishers for one reason: To tell you how they do it.

Put real faces and personalities to the usernames, blogs, and cartoon avatars

Who will be attending BIN2011? A whole mess of people you follow on Twitter, or will want to follow on Twitter in fairly short order. A plethora of writers who create the blogs you already read or that you'll start reading even before the conference is over.

And by the end of the conference, they won't just be 128-pixel-square images anymore.

And that will include you, too, if you go. You'll meet people who read your blog or who will be excited to start reading it soon, and you'll meet people who already follow you on Twitter or who will start following you. They could end up becoming major players in your social media lifestyle.

It has been said so often that it has almost lost meaning, yet it's true: Social media is all about connecting with people. But no amount of tweeting, twittering, commenting, trolling, or flaming can hold a candle to the connections that can be made from just sitting down with someone over lunch and making a conversation.

Get to know these people, and let them get to know you.

Good old-fashioned networking

In order for your blog to be successful, you have to connect with your readers. But the blogosphere has gotten so immense that that's no longer enough; you have to connect with other bloggers, too.

Events like this offer myriad opportunities for the imaginative mind. Hoping to parlay your late-night personal blogging experience into a job blogging for a nice company, with a salary and benefits? You can find opportunities. Got an idea for a great group blog, but just need to find the right bloggers? You'll find receptive ears. Think you have the next great thing in social? You'll find people who want to hear about it.

Who knows what you'll find? Guest bloggers? Corporate speakers? Job opportunities? Or just new friends? (Not Facebook friends, IRL friends. Remember those?)

Refill your mojo

Do you remember publishing your first blog post? The excitement? The anticipation? The hopes you had for your blog, how it would raise awareness for a cause, or get people talking about something you love, or just get you writing more often?

Do you still feel that way when you click the Publish button?

I started this blog almost four years ago, and it certainly hasn't turned into what I thought it would. It started off just being about fun words and wordplay. I had no idea it would lead to things like Three-Word Wednesday, to a limerick about political sexting, or to a sonnet about keeping a girl in a pit on your basement. I never dreamed that I would find something as great as Friday Flash, which would get me writing and posting short-short fiction, and which would lead me to an April Fool's Day blog swap.

But as great as those things are, if you look at the posting dates, you'll see some substantial gaps between posts. I would love to put out a little something fun for every Three-Word Wednesday, and work ahead by weeks to have some polished prose to post for every Friday flash. I might complain that I don't have the time, but really it's a matter of motivation. As much as I want to blog all the time (every bloody day!), I'm just not as excited or motivated as I once was.

And I'm sure I'm not alone.

But if spending two days surrounded by people who do the same things you do — who are excited about it, who want to talk about it, and who encourage it — doesn't energize you, doesn't rekindle that excitement in you, doesn't, as the heading says, refill your mojo, then you're already dead inside.

Blog Indiana is a great opportunity to remind yourself why you started blogging in the first place and to get you excited about doing it some more.

I would absolutely love to go to Blog Indiana this year. It would be good both for me and for the people I work for and with. Until July 14, registration is only $199, after which it goes up to $229.

Unfortunately, the only in "only $199" applies just to people who don't have my checking account. If only someone would read this, see the possible benefits, and pay my way in.

If only...

* By you and your, I really mean I and me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Because of a combination of bad planning and technical difficulties, this week's list of editorial peeves has been put on hold. To tide you over, though, here's a good word to add to your vocabulary.

WARNING: Using this word correctly at work could result in a visit from Human Resources.

doxy: A woman of low morals -- specifically, a prostitute.

From Don Quixote, wherein the title character gets a beat-down from a 16th-century pimp:
The worthy carrier, whose unholy thoughts kept him awake, was aware of his doxy the moment she entered the door, and was listening attentively to all Don Quixote said; and jealous that the Asturian should have broken her word with him for another, drew nearer to Don Quixote's bed and stood still to see what would come of this talk which he could not understand; but when he perceived the wench struggling to get free and Don Quixote striving to hold her, not relishing the joke he raised his arm and delivered such a terrible cuff on the lank jaws of the amorous knight that he bathed all his mouth in blood, and not content with this he mounted on his ribs and with his feet tramped all over them at a pace rather smarter than a trot.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Three Word Wednesday: Politics

I've been away from Three Word Wednesday for too long. This week's words are gag, maintain, and omit:

When the press calls for total disclosure
About your alleged Twitter exposure,
And the trending hashtag
On your twitpics is #gag,
It's hard to maintain your composure.

Oh. Wait a minute. Crap. There's something missing here -- ironically so.

Er, no problem!

When one of the words was omitted
From the Three-Word-Wed post you submitted,
You must work double-quick
On a new limerick
Even if the result sounds dim-witted.

Writing is . . .

I was tagged by Tony Noland earlier this month with the question "What does writing mean to me?" I've been thinking about this question a lot throughout these busy weeks, when I haven't had much time to write.

When the last weekend rolled around, and hadn't written anything substantial in weeks, I was feeling emotionally weird, like the Sunday comics when the colors don't line up the way they're supposed to. Blurry. Discombobulated. Unbalanced.

And then the answer to that question (and a few others) was clear. I just had to find the time to write it down.

Writing is balance.

Writing is like balancing a scale. On one side of the scale are life, living, humanity, and a million other things I don't understand, from the mundane (sleeveless turtlenecks, tandem mountain bikes, British spelling) to the sublime (ignorance, death, women). I write to fill the other side of that scale and find or create balance — either in the world or just within myself.

Writing is an attempt to balance ignorance with knowledge, intolerance with understanding, and stupidity with . . . well, normally sarcasm and irony. (I have a really hard time understanding stupid.)

All the greatest works of literature have one thing in common: They show what "being human" means and, in the process, show us how to do it better. This is what I try to do when I write: to find some shortcoming — a misunderstanding, an error, a sin — and balance it out. Show that it isn't so complicated or powerful or impossible after all. Hopefully, that shortcoming loses its weight, bringing the scales closer to balance.

I hope now that these lucky bloggers will answer the question, "What does writing mean to me?"
  • Melissa Ecker (@MelissaEcker), who, as a writer of erotic fiction, probably writes for completely different reasons. [Looks like someone else tagged Melissa just last week. You can read her answer here.]
  • Sherry Noik (@SherryNoik), who is not only a writer, editor, and logophile, but a Canadian to boot. So I'm just asking for trouble.
  • Pauline Campos (@AspiringMama), who will probably block me on Twitter for tagging her.
  • Alexa Offenhauer, (not on Twitter, unfortunately [nudgenudgewinkwink, Alexa!]), who not only writes well and passionately, but teaches writing, too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: O

An onslaught of editorial odiousness in my continuing series of editorial peeves.

On a Daily Basis

On a daily basis is unnecessarily wordy. Cut it. Do things daily or every day instead.

"Daily" isn't the only "basis" to watch out for. Instead of doing things on a regular basis, on a similar basis, or (perhaps the worst) on a one-time basis, do them regularly, similarly, or once.

In fact, whenever you can replace a prepositional phrase with a single adverb, it's worth considering. It can make your writing more efficient and less bulky.


Place an adverb as close as possible to the word or phrase it modifies. This applies to all adverbs, but only is the worst offender. Consider these sentences:
  1. Only I eat Bibles on Thursdays.
  2. I only eat Bibles on Thursdays.
  3. I eat only Bibles on Thursdays.
  4. I eat Bibles only on Thursdays.
  5. I eat Bibles on only Thursdays.
  6. I eat Bibles on Thursdays only.
Notice how the placement of that one word, only, changes the meaning of the sentence:
  1. I am the only person who eats Bibles on Thursdays.
  2. I might read Bibles on Wednesdays or build forts out of them on Fridays, but on Thursdays, I only eat them.
  3. On Thursdays, I eat nothing but Bibles.
  4. If I'm eating a Bible, it must be Thursday.
  5. This one is just awkward.
  6. This means the same as #4, which proves the point: When only modifies "on Thursdays," it should be right next to it. Since "on Thursdays" appears at the end of the sentence, you can put your only either before or after it.
When you're speaking, you can get away with "sloppier" adverb placement because the spoken word has something that the written word doesn't: emphasis. When you're speaking, you very clearly, and without thinking about it, emphasize words in such a way that people understand which modifiers go with which words, even if they aren't according-to-Hoyle in the "right" place.

But with the written word, you can and should be more careful. Your readers will appreciate it.


Totally personal choice: I don't have any problem with "opting in" to something, like e-mail newsletters, but I really can't stand it when someone "opts for" something. You really don't sound smarter when you "opt for" one choice over another, so you might as well just "choose" it.

If only to make me happier.


Bill Bryson, in Troublesome Words, writes:
Orientate is not incorrect, but it has nothing to recommend it over the shorter and simpler orient.
I'm not going to argue with him and say that orientate is actually incorrect. But it ought to be. Don't use it.

And while you're at it, try not to conversate, administrate, or certificate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: N

Today's gripes are brought to you by the letter N. If you're just joining us, why not start at the beginning and gripe along with us?


This word is simply overused. Not in the text that I edit, but on signs and in ads. How old can something be before it stops being new?
We have these other two great words that don't get used often enough: newer and newest. There's a big difference between, say, "Kurt Vonnegut's new novel" and "Kurt Vonnegut's newest novel." The difference is that the first is an outright lie, and the second isn't. Vonnegut died four years ago, and the last novel he wrote, Timequake, was published in 1997. It isn't new, but it's certainly his newest.

How about some truth in advertising? Anyone?


Face it: nonplussed is just a troublesome word. If you're nonplussed, you're flummoxed to the point of inaction. A nonplussed person might also be flabbergasted or gobsmacked and just stand there gaping.

I wrote a whole blog post about nonplussed and why I think it's such a tough word to use. The point, though, is that you either need to learn how to use it, or don't use it at all.

Numbers vs. Numerals

Numbers are the abstract ideas of quantity and subdivision. Numerals are the characters we use to represent those abstract numbers.

When you think about the size of a standard jury, you hold the abstract concept of "twelve" in your head -- that's the number twelve that you're thinking about. When you write it down, you can use a numeral or numerals, normally 12, but if you're feeling quirky: XII, 1100 (binary), or C (which is twelve in hexadecimal notation, but the Roman numeral for 100). The numeral 12 isn't the number twelve any more than your name written on a piece of paper is actually you.

I'm not a total snooty, prescriptivist grammar snob. You can get away with an occasional number when you really mean numeral, especially in speech but also when numeral would seem unnecessarily clinical. But if you ever try slip in numeral when you really mean number, you're asking for a six pack of editorial whoop-ass.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Anti-Esquire List

Last week, Esquire published "The 75 Books Every Man Should Read," which was billed as "An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published." It seemed innocent enough at first, even the type of post that should be encouraged if it gets more men to read great fiction.

But then we started taking a closer look at the books that made the list. We got rankled, and rightfully so. The author warned us that the list was biased, so we were expecting to see more books of a particular genre. Thrillers, maybe. Or mysteries. Or sci-fi. Or even erotica.

But the bias apparent in that list of 75 "of the greatest works of literature ever published" was of an entirely different and unexpected sort.

Of the 75 books on the list, only one was written by a woman (Flannery O'Connor).

(Although I have no proof, I'm convinced that Ms. O'Connor's appearance on the list was itself accidental. Flannery isn't a common name; perhaps Esquire's author thought Flannery O'Connor was a man. Because, with all respect to Ms. O'Connor, there are a few female authors who should have made the list in front of her, Harper Lee being the first. How can To Kill a Mockingbird not be in the top 75 greatest works of literature ever published?)

Though I don't have nearly the reach that Esquire does, I'm here to do what I can to balance the scales. Here is my anti-Esquire list, a collection of 75 other authors whose works are just as great and just as important as any named on Esquire's list. It, too, is "unranked [it's in alphabetical order], incomplete, [and] utterly biased."

75 More Great Authors Who Could Have Made Esquire's List

Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits
City of the Beasts

Laurie Halse Anderson


Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
Oryx & Crake

Jean Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Jane Austen

Nothanger Abbey
Pride and Prejudice

Simone du Beauvoir

The Second Sex

Judy Blume


Erma Bombeck

The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Gwendolyn Brooks

Annie Allen (poetry)

Pearl S. Buck

The Good Earth

Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Kate Chopin

The Awakening

Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express
And Then There Were None

Mary Higgins Clark

On the Street Where You Live
Where Are the Children?

Beverly Cleary

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy

Emily Dickinson

Collected Poems

Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (nonfiction)

Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Living by Fiction (nonfiction)

Lois Duncan

Killing Mr. Griffin

Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary

Cornelia Funke

The Inkworld trilogy

Nadine Gordimer

The Conservationist
Burger's Daughter

Jane Hamilton

The Book of Ruth

Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun

S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders

Alice Hoffman

Fortune's Daughter
Practical Magic

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Erica Jong

Fear of Flying

Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees

Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible
The Bean Trees

Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior

E.L. Konigsburg

A View from Saturday
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies

Anne Lamott

Imperfect Birds
Bird by Bird (nonfiction)

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

Lois Lowry

The Giver
Number the Stars

Katherine Mansfield

Short story collections

Daphne du Maurier


Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye
Song of Solomon

Alice Munro

The Love of a Good Woman

Iris Murdoch

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

Anaïs Nin

Henry and June

Joyce Carol Oates


Dorothy Parker

Death and Taxes (poetry)

Ann Patchett

Bel Canto

Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia
The Master Puppeteer

Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Katherine Anne Porter

The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann Porter

Annie Proulx

The Shipping News

Anna Quindlen

Object Lessons

Ayn Rand

We the Living
Atlas Shrugged

Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea

Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire
The Vampire Lestat

J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter Series

Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones

Anne Sexton

Live or Die (poetry)

Mary Shelley


Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries

Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres

Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Mary Stewart

The Crystal Cave

Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge

Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club
The Kitchen God's Wife

Anne Tyler

The Accidental Tourist
Breathing Lessons

Alice Walker

The Color Purple

Eudora Welty

The Optimist's Daughter

Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome
The House of Mirth

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway

I hope that the women of the world understand that Esquire does not represent what real men are really like — especially men who read.

And I hope that Esquire's editors recognize that they are doing a disservice to their readers by providing such a limited definition of "great literature."

Monday, June 6, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: M

I'm up to the Ms in this list: the end of the first half of the alphabet, and the first half of this series. And I'm going to make something of it.

Make Certain

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the phrase make certain — and especially make certain that — is unnecessarily wordy and, to my mind, horribly awkward. If you really want to make something of it, make sure is a more acceptable colloquialism, but you can un-make the phrase altogether with double-check, ensure (but not insure), or even just be certain. Sometimes, though, you can just delete the phrase entirely.

As with a some of my other peeves, this isn’t a grammatical issue but a word choice issue. I'm sure someone will make certain to include make certain in a comment to this post. Or maybe not, since I beat them to the punch.

Make Settings

You might never have seen this ghastly phrase if not for this post. (If that's the case, I apologize.) I see it too often, though, in how-to articles about computer software.

Say, for example, that you want to set up your color printer so that, by default, it always prints in grayscale. You go online looking for help, and you find a few articles about how to do just that. An article written by someone whom I didn’t edit might direct you to open your printer’s Preferences menu and "make settings on the Color tab." (I shudder just typing that.)

The problem is, you don’t make the settings. The programmers who designed the software make the settings. You adjust them, customize them, tweak them, or just change them.

Make Use of

Make use of is only slightly better than utilize. I hate them both.

Most of the time, changing make use of to simply use can create a more streamlined, fluid, and understandable sentence. But why stop there? Use is such a dull word; with a little thought, you might be able to create a more straightforward and interesting sentence.

For example, only a lawyer would ask, "Do you ever make use of your computer to watch adult videos?" It’s only marginally better to ask, "Do you ever use your computer to watch adult videos?" Better yet, and more interesting: "Do you ever watch porn on your computer?"

I wrote a little about make use of about a year-and-a-half ago in a post called "Make Use of the Red Pen." It also comes into play a little later.

On the Make

The main problem that I have with both make and use is that, even though they are active verbs, there isn't a lot of action in them. Make and use by themselves don't tell you anything about what's going on; the words around them define what they really mean.

Of course, they can't be completely avoided. Make and use both have active lives in verb phrases ("You should make up with your girlfriend even if she uses up all the toothpaste.") and in idioms ("Use your head, boy! I told you to make the bed!"). But too often they're used just as sentence lengtheners, pushing the actual action farther from the beginning of the sentence.

Not only can weeding out bland, unnecessary makes and uses lead to more fluid, readable prose, but it can help you avoid sounding like an equivocating, double-talking, untrustworthy politician.

Muphry’s Law

No, that’s not a typo. Muphry’s Law, aka Skitt’s Law, aka McKean’s Law, aka Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation states that whenever you write something that is critical of editing or proofreading (such as this ongoing list of editorial peeves), there will be an editing or proofreading error in what you’ve written. (You can find a big stupid example of Muphry’s Law on this blog by following that link to "Make Use of the Red Pen," above.)

As all blogging editors know, online grammar trolls live on Muphry’s Law. Say you write a well-researched, beautifully written essay about what Chaucer’s poems reveal about the changing syntax of the English language and how it directly relates to how William Shakespeare coined new words. Wonderful stuff. Pulitzer-worthy stuff. You then post that essay to your blog and tweet it to your followers, hoping to spark some interesting conversation, and what’s the first comment that some anonymous troll leaves under your masterwork?

"You used who where you should have used whom . . . "

And they, of course, extrapolate from there:

". . . If you’re going to write about grammar and syntax, you should learn about grammar and syntax. Mistakes like this make me distrust both your facts and your opinions on such topics."

Well, that’s what the trolls mean. What actually shows up in their comments is closer to this:

"its WHOM, dickwad!! learn 2 speak fuckin english b4 you start spouting off with this shit!!! you don’t know what the hell your talking about!!!!"

Oh, the infinite variability of the English language.

But of course, a grammatical or usage mistake in a post about grammar and usage isn’t a sign that the writer is a hack; it’s a sign that the writer is human. Sometimes our heads work faster than our fingers, or vice versa. Sometimes muscle memory takes over when we don’t want it to. (The -tion suffix is so ingrained in my hand muscles that I can’t type the word ratio without first typing ration and then hitting the backspace . . . if I notice the mistake.) And when we edit or proofread our own writing, sometimes we see what we meant to type instead of what we actually typed.

I don’t believe a book has ever been printed that didn’t contain some error in it — from a missing apostrophe to a malaprop. (If you ever do find printed material that is ridiculously error-free, let people know. That book’s editorial team deserves praise, because that is a notable accomplishment.) So we will write on in the shadow of Muphry’s Law, hoping that we can lessen its effect, but knowing that, like the common cold, we can’t really hope to extinguish it altogether.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: L

L is for LATE, like this post. The plans I laid for my long Memorial Day weekend fell victim to, well, me and my personal issues. Nonetheless, here is this week's list of language lamentations.

Latter vs. Last

There were a few missions carried out under Fred, such as the attempted theft of plans for an orbital laser cannon, an attack on Zartan, and an attack on Destro's castle in Scotland. None of these missions were successful, however, and the latter of the three resulted in Destro taking control of Cobra, with Fred and the rest of the Cobra hierarchy in executive positions. (link)

More than a year ago, I was introduced to hardcore punk with bands such as Dayglo Abortions, Toxic Narcotic, Black Flag, and Aus-Rotten, the latter of the four being my favorite punk band. (link)

Between August 1988 and March 1992 six at‐sea experiments were performed in which sea surface backscattering strengths were measured from ∼70 to ∼1000 Hz utilizing explosive (SUS) charges. . . . The latter of the six experiments (CST‐7) was particularly interesting. . . . (link) (This also holds the dreaded utilize, a word I detest.)

Although you have no problem understanding what the writers of these three excerpts were trying to say, each excerpt suffers from the same error: Each of those latters should have been lasts.

Latter refers to the second of two options; last refers to the final item in a list of indefinite length. If you think about it for a moment, you’ll notice that latter/last follows the same pattern as some other adjective pairs you know: younger/youngest, elder/eldest, and even former/first. (Although the histories of these words might not play out any actual etymological links among these pairs, there’s no reason you can’t link them in your own mind to help you remember.)

I talked about latter a bit back in January in Eleven Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean. That’s a fun little blog post; go check it out.

Regarding the blatant misspelling of latter as "ladder": That’s a mistake native English speakers are allowed to make only once.

In the fourth grade.

On a Monday.

Lay vs. Lie

You would probably expect me to harp on this oft-botched pair. I can't . . . I have too many problems with them myself. The only thing I can ask is that you recognize that this is troubled ground. When you encounter this minefield in your writing, do what I do: Find a good map. (That is, look it up in a source you trust.)

Less vs. Fewer

I have my preference, you have yours. The secret is really no secret at all: Don’t be a jerk about it. See my earlier entry, fewer vs. less.

Light Year

A light year is the distance that light travels in a year.

Chant it with me: "A light year is a measure of distance, not time. A light year is a measure of distance, not time. A light year . . ."


If liquefy looks weird to you, then you've probably been spelling it wrong for a while. (I'm talking to you, creators of the Photoshop "Liquify" command!)


People have been griping about the misuse of literally for a long time. AMbrose Bierce was complaining about in 1909 in his Write It Right. Ninety-some years later, the now-defunct MadTV series even created a series of sketches that took the misuse to extremes, as in this video from May 2000:

More recently, Robe Lowe’s Parks and Recreation character, Chris Traeger, has made an artform out of misusing (and overusing) literally:

It appears that using literally to mean its opposite — figuratively or metaphorically — has become a part of the modern English language (and I here use a very broad definition of modern).

People who defend the idea that literally can mean “figuratively” or can otherwise be used as an intensifier in descriptions of non-real actions and situations aren't helping. With all respect to Mark Liberman, Benjamin Zimmer, Jesse Sheidlower, and other learned linguists and lexicographers, I just don’t buy it. From the viewpoint of examining usage both among the general population and by the greatest writers of English, their arguments make sense. But from an editorial point of view, I just can’t let it pass.

We need a word that means “in truth, without exaggeration.” Truly no longer cuts the mustard. (Have you ever stopped to think about what "Yours Truly" means?) Really is long gone. We still have genuinely, but how long can that hold out in a world where people buy and sell “genuine reproductions” every day?

No. We have to make a stand somewhere before all we’re left with is the horrible phrase “in actuality.” I stand by the literal meaning of literally in both my writing and my editing. If I'm editing something of yours and you want to use literally to mean figuratively, you had better be prepared to defend it. If you show any signs of wavering, your literally will bleed red.

Or purple, depending on what color pen I'm using to cross it out.

Loose vs. Lose

Loose — the opposite of tight — rhymes with goose, which leads to “loosey-goosey.” It also rhymes with noose: You might be able to cheat the hangman and slip out if the noose is loose enough.

Lose — the opposite of win — rhymes with snooze: If you do the latter, then you do the former.

Looser and loser are often mixed up, too. People like me who grew up in the ‘80s should remember that posers and hosers are losers (the first two rhyme with each other, but neither rhymes with the last).

I have no such mnemonic for remembering looser except to equate it with nooses and gooses, er, geese, and then adding an R at the end. If you have a better mnemonic, please leave it in the comments!