Charles Harrington Elster

Quote of the Week:

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
— Samuel Johnson

Click on Writings in the menu bar to read about The Latest Outrageous Accidents of Style.


. . . are in the works!

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) — the publisher of several of my previous books: Tooth and Nail; Test of Time; What in the Word? and The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations — will bring out my recently completed book, How to Tell Fate from Destiny and Other Skillful Word Distinctions, in October 2018. I'm pleased to report that it will be my first book with illustrations!

HighBridge Audio, an imprint of Recorded Books, will at the same time bring out the audiobook version, narrated by me.

My personal project, The Enthusiasms of Charles Harrington Elster, will be published in two volumes and will feature the language maven as you've never read him before.

For more information on these projects, see "Elster Update" on the Comments page.

In the Articles section in the sidebar on the right I've added an essay called "The Right to Say No," which will appear in the first volume of Enthusiasms. I wrote it in 1987 about an experience I had in middle school in the 1960s, but its topic — refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance — is suddenly relevant again now that the football player Colin Kaepernick created a national stir by exercising his First Amendment rights and sitting during the national anthem before games. (Other athletes have since joined him, although Kaepernick is now out of a job.) I applaud his courageous protest, and I urge you to read my essay for an explanation.


I invite you to join me (I don't believe in following) at Charles H Elster @​ElsterWords.


The audio edition, narrated by Charlie, is also available.



Can you find all the accidents of style in the following sentence? (Hint: There are six.)

After the judges verdict, they were neither reticent to discuss the financial debacle at CoproCorp or loathe to accept responsibility for the havoc they'd wrought.

For the answer, click on The Accidents of Style under Books in the Selected Works sidebar on the right.

To read Charlie's collection of The Latest Outrageous Accidents of Style, click on Writings in the menu bar above.


"You have no idea what it's like to be a 'just between you and me' person in a 'just between you and I' world."— cartoon caption in The New Yorker

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
— Samuel Johnson

When Dorothy Parker was asked to give her two favorite words in the English language, she replied, "Check enclosed."

The Knickerbocker Rule for Writers: "Apply ass to chair."

"A man begins by fooling around with language, and at some point it becomes his life." — Patrick Cavanaugh

"A writer has to have his books. He's not a writer otherwise."
— Chuck Valverde, legendary San Diego bookseller and antiquarian

"Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."
— Winston Churchill

"Writing is both tiresome and hard."
— Robertson Davies

"So much detail goes unnoticed in the world." — Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer

Obsolete: No longer used by the timid. Said of words.
— Ambrose Bierce

Punctuation: A set of symbols that a writer uses to establish the rhythm of a piece, which an editor then uses to destroy it.
— C. H. Elster

"Author not neurotic dork."
— headline in The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 10, 2005, p. E12

Welcome, Word Lovers!

You have landed at the website of writer, radio commentator, and logophile Charles Harrington Elster, aka the Grandiloquent Gumshoe. (If you're wondering what a logophile is, it's a lover of words.)

Bring up the subject of language and I'll talk your ear off. Hand me a dictionary and I'm lost in its pages for a week. Ask me to find an obscure word and I won't sleep until I track it down. I am an unrepentant, irremediable word nerd and proud of it, for language is the most pleasant obsession I know.

The Grandiloquent Gumshoe scours the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Day and night, weekday and weekend, I am drawn to the luminescent screen of my computer, there to wrestle with strand upon strand of sticky syntax. If you want to find me, listen for a bunched clamor of keystrokes. Look for a forehead furrowed from straining over where to place a comma or delete a word. Look for eyes gone blank from focusing too long on the cobwebs quivering in the corner of the ceiling. Look for a man seduced by the sound of syllables and caught in the web of words.

If you are a fellow woolgatherer in the world of words, or simply an inquisitive visitor searching for verbal entertainment or enlightenment, I invite you to explore my website and learn more about my work.

When I tell people I'm a writer and they ask what I write, my stock answer is, "I write about the English language for a general audience." In other words, I don't write textbooks and I don't write academic tomes. I write popular reference books for people who want to learn more words or learn more about words.

For many years I have also been a radio commentator, and for five and a half years I cohosted a weekly public radio talk show on language called A Way with Words. I am also a voice talent, with more than 25 years experience narrating audio programs and books.

Here is an audio excerpt from the introduction to Word Workout, my eleventh book, published by St. Martin's Griffin. The audiobook, narrated by me, is available from Macmillan Audio.

The logophile with his first love,Webster's New International Dictionary, second edition, 1934.

At the top of this page, click on Biography to find out more about me. Click on Writings to learn more about my books and articles, and also to read my list of The Latest Outrageous Accidents of Style. Click on Events for information on my book signings, speaking events, and radio interviews. And click on Blog to take a word quiz and read my ravings and musings about language, writing, and the writer's life.

You're also welcome to share your thoughts or post a question about language on my Comments page. If you would like to contact me directly and privately, click on WRITE TO CHARLIE in the "Quick Links" sidebar to the right.

Good words to you!

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Charlie at the 2011 TwainFest in Old Town San Diego, where he read Mark Twain's 70th-birthday speech.
Photo by Carmen Veronica Elster.

Entire contents of this website: Copyright © 2003-2018 by Charles Harrington Elster.
All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.
Click on WRITE TO CHARLIE in the sidebar on the right to request permission to reproduce or quote.

Selected Works

Colin Kaepernick and Charles Harrington Elster have something in common: exercising their First Amendment rights.
In the cover story for the October-November 2013 issue of Copyediting, Charlie looks at how the relative pronoun who is taking over the traditional role of that and which.
Read Charlie's amiable rant on redundancy, which appeared in the August-September 2012 issue of Copyediting.
Timeless tips for aspiring vocabulary builders.
Charlie beats up on Merriam-Webster in the Boston Globe.
At a loss for words? Read one of Charlie's guest "On Language" columns for The New York Times Magazine.
Read Charlie's guest "On Language" piece about resistentialism.
Shopping for a new dictionary? Here's some sage advice.
Charlie's brave new words for a wireless world.
Read one of Charlie's articles in SPELL/Binder.
Read a profile of Charlie in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles.
Charlie explains why he left the public radio show.