Category Archives: Words

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Dumb Writing Advice, Part 1: Word Prohibitions

An Überflip page by Andrea Ayres-Deets is headlined “5 Weak Words That Are Sabotaging Your Writing.” If only there were a few words that you could simply expunge to get an immediate improvement in your prose! But of course it’s nonsense. Writing advice can’t be reduced to word prohibitions; and the prohibitions recommended here would be ridiculous overkill.

Here are the words you should allegedly shun: (1) really; (2) things and stuff; (3) I believe, I feel, and I think; (4) the be of the passiv…

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Dudgeons and Dragons

High dudgeon. No it’s not a charming village outside of Oxford, but it’s a place all right, and it’s where a lot of us academic types live.

The Google NGram Viewer would suggest that dudgeon, meaning something like a fit of temper, enjoyed its heyday in the century or before World War II, a point at which, perhaps, the scale and language for anger and outrage was recalibrated.

Dudgeon is a lovely word, not to be confused with gudgeon, about which more in a moment.

The OED’s first definition for

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Pausing Over Pronunciation

islet copyA little over a year ago, I found myself standing in front of a class of almost 100 students, staring at a pronunciation conundrum. I was reading aloud a couple of key sentences from a quote on a PowerPoint slide, and my eyes jumped a line ahead and saw the word islet barreling toward me. Not a word I say aloud all that often, let alone one I have to say loudly in front of a roomful of people.

My brain started searching in a panicky way for memories of how to say this word. “Eye-let!” recomm…

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6 Likes, Liked and Disliked

index

Like No. 2

Linda Hall writes in The Conversation about strategies for getting students to make less use of the hated monosyllable like. She cites (and admits that she respects) an essay by David Grambs, “The Like Virus,” in the August 2011 edition of The Vocabula Review, a subscription-only online periodical of linguistic peeving (it is reprinted in Exploring Language, edited by Gary Goshgarian, pages 303-310).

Grambs (could that be a clerical error for “Gramps” or “Grumps”?) doesn’t just hate y…

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The Vortex of Authorial Avoidance

vortex_artWelcome to the vortex, the tourbillion, where we turn and turn in the widening gyre of authorial avoidance of whatever truly dire error we may have committed in the penning of our novel. Step right into the typeset proofs. There—feel that hot wind blowing at your neck? It’s urging you to seize on something—anything, so long as it is minute, fixable, of no importance to anyone save you and the managing editor, to obsess over until the deadline for returning the galleys. Let it draw you onwa…

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Why?

My favorite question word is: Why?

Why?

Because, as journalists and children know, it’s the best way to get people talking.

Questions are different from statements. If you’re listening to a statement (I’m happy with this), you aren’t expected to do anything. But a question calls for a response.

The least response is to a yes/no question. (Are you happy? Yes.)

An interviewer can get more out of a person by asking a wh- question: who, where, when, what.

Who? (a person).

Where? (a place).

When? (a …

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Dumber and Dumb

Steven Pinker: "so cliche' is so wrong.

Steven Pinker: “So cliché” is so not good.

The other week, I got an email that referred to an online article I wrote last year, “7 Grammar Rules You Really Should Pay Attention To.” The email read, in its entirety: “There are three grammar errors in the title of your article.”

I was pretty sure that one of the alleged errors was using a preposition to end a sentence with, which isn’t an error, and isn’t really a question of grammar. But I couldn’t figure out the other two, so, against my better …

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Better Together for Whom?

yes-no2The organization campaigning for a No vote in the September 18 Scottish independence referendum chose as its name, and initially its primary slogan, the phrase “Better Together.” Recently the campaign has been floundering, and showing signs of panic. Its political missteps have been much discussed in Britain. But the vagueness and evasiveness of the “Better Together” slogan has not occasioned much comment.

Better together is an adjective phrase [or sometimes, as a commenter below reminds me, an …

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The Case of the Sinister Buttocks

The common mature musicians also the recent liturgy providers are looking to satisfy additional Herculean, personalised liturgies to tarry fore of the conflict.

 

The story behind this strange sentence was first told by Times Higher Education and has since been summarized (often inaccurately) by more than 7,000 other news sources. Lucy Ferriss alluded to it here on Lingua Franca last week. Its reference to musicians and liturgies might suggest a musical or religious theme. But no, this se…

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Got ‘Gotten’?

Lena Dunham

Would Lena Dunham really have written “I had got”?

I can imagine the scene. Christopher Beam, a young writer based in China, excited to be publishing his first piece in The New Yorker (a very good one about the sometimes violent conflict between doctors and patients in the country), looks at the edited version of the article. There it is, in just the third sentence, a reference to the maladies of the story’s main character: “During that time, his illness, an excruciating inflammation of the spin…