Charles Harrington Elster


resistentialism: "seemingly spiteful behavior manifested by inanimate objects"
— Paul Hellweg,
The Insomniac's Dictionary

Resistentialism was coined by the British humorist Paul Jennings in a brilliant send-up of Jean-Paul Sartre and the philosophy of existentialism published in The Spectator in April 1948.

For more information about this feisty word, read Charlie's article "Things Are Against Us" in Selected Works in the sidebar to the right.

Reckless Driving

Hardly a day goes by that I don't come across a reckless sentence that breaks my cardinal rule for accident-free writing: "Proofread, proofread, proofread before you unleash your words on the world!"

For example, a plaque outside a new building in my neighborhood invites the public to "Enjoy our smoke free environment." Oh what a difference a hyphen can make. If they had made it "Enjoy our smoke-free environment," it would mean that smoking was not permitted in or around the building. But without the hyphen the invitation implies that this is an environment in which you may smoke free (at no charge).

And here's a real beaut that appeared in Bill Center's "Padres Report" in The San Diego Union-Tribune (March 21, 2012, D4):

"Orlando Hudson is scheduled to return to action today after missing six gays with a groin injury."

Yes, you read it right. Where have all the copyeditors gone?

Profile of a Logophile

(Photo: Randy Hoffman)

Charles Harrington Elster is a writer, broadcaster, and logophile — a lover of words.

His books include Tooth and Nail and Test of Time, vocabulary-building novels for high school students preparing to take the college entrance exams; There’s a Word for It, a lighthearted look at unusual — and unusually useful — words; What in the Word? a salmagundi of word lore and wordplay in a question-and-answer format; The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly; and The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, which the late William Safire of The New York Times hailed as "the best survey of the spoken field in years."

Charlie is also the author of the popular vocabulary-building program Verbal Advantage and the narrator of the audio version (for which he has not received royalties in more than ten years because the publisher reneged on the contract, so please buy the book instead).

Charlie's latest book, Word Workout, published by St. Martin's Griffin, is a vocabulary-building companion to Verbal Advantage, with an entirely different set of keywords and even more information on synonyms, antonyms, pronunciation, and usage. Word Workout is also available as an audiobook, narrated by Charlie. In October 2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish Charlie's next popular reference book, How to Tell Fate from Destiny, and Other Skillful Word Distinctions. An audiobook version, narrated by Charlie, will be released by HighBridge, an imprint of Recorded Books.

Charlie was a consultant for Garner's Modern American Usage (now titled Garner's Modern English Usage) and an orthoepist for, and he is the pronunciation editor of Black's Law Dictionary. He has several times been a guest "On Language" columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and his articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Copyediting, Verbatim, and other publications.

Charlie has been talking about language on the radio since 1985. He has been interviewed on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered and been a guest on hundreds of radio shows around the country. He is currently a guest on the Mandy Connell Show on 850 KOA-AM Denver the third Thursday of each month (please check the Events page for more details).

In 1998 he cofounded A Way with Words, a weekly public radio talk show on language, and cohosted it until 2004. Charlie is also a voice talent with 30 years of audio narration experience.

Charlie was born in Queens, New York, in 1957 and was educated in the New York City public schools, at Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and at Yale, where he earned a B.A. cum laude in 1981. He lives in San Diego, California.

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Copyright © 2018 by Charles Harrington Elster.
Media outlets may reproduce or broadcast the text of this page.

Charlie at work in his home office in San Diego, on an ancient computer he long ago recycled.

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.