Charles Harrington Elster

"Give me my typewriter and my dictionary, and just let me suffer!"
— Robertson Davies

"Writing is at the mercy of the largest number of amateurs—almost the entire population."
— Jacques Barzun

"When a writer thinks of his readers, common sense will tell him that a few of them will certainly not be his intellectual equals, but that the majority will be so, and that there will be some who are greatly his superiors; he should comport himself as a gentleman toward all of them." — Robertson Davies

"Nearly every fiction writer in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope, and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom."
— Roald Dahl

Copyright © 2003-2018
by Charles Harrington Elster

Note: Every article on this blog page, and on this website, is protected by copyright. Reproduction of any kind without permission is prohibited.


Below are ten abbreviations of Latin terms. Do you know what they stand for in Latin and in English?

1. MS or ms.
2. PS or P.S.
3. i.e.
4. e.g.
5. N.B. or n.b.
6. c. or ca.
7. et al.
8. cf.
9. q.v.
10. ibid.

Answers are on the
Comments page, in the left sidebar.

To Err Is Inhuman

“I’m afraid that surprise, shock, and regret is the fate of authors when they finally see themselves on the page. . . . Seeing one’s inadequate English frozen into type is a humiliating experience.” — Julia Child, My Life in France

“I think of it as it could have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied.”
— From the dedication page of
H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926)

The Accidents of Style is a crash course in careful usage.

The Accidents of Style is in USA Today.

One Writer's Ravings

A Logogogue's Blog for Language Lovers

Mark Twain: Prescriptivist Writer

December 15, 2010

Mark Twain was born in 1835, a year in which Halley's comet appeared after its customary 75-year absence. Shortly before his death in 1910, Twain said that because he came in with the comet he might as well go out with it. And that's just what he did, departing this earth at age 75, the day after the comet made its closest approach to the earth. Any Twain aficionado has to wonder whether the great writer's soul ascended to that wandering celestial body or to the Christian heaven that he mocked so irreverently and hilariously in Letters from the Earth: "From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet . . . it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place." (more…)

Don't Stupidsize Me

December 9, 2010

Tags: Verbal Advantage, sciamachy, Ezra Pound, Mark Strand, Eavan Boland, destrier, chryselephantine, impact

After my book Verbal Advantage was published ten years ago, I was invited to be a guest on, answering questions in an author forum called “Table Talk.” It was a lively discussion. At one point a participant commented that many of the keywords in the book struck her as “trivia questions more than elements of a working vocabulary.” And she asked, “As much fun as it is to know a word like sciamachy [fighting with a shadow or an imaginary opponent], do you really think it should be part of everyday discourse?” This was my response: (more…)

Why All This Verbal Pickiness?

December 1, 2010

Tags: descriptive linguists, language mavens, prescriptivists, Douglas Martin, David Shulman

Descriptive linguists are fond of accusing prescriptive language mavens like me of being “opposed to change.” That’s just silly. I’m not opposed to change in language any more than I’m opposed to change in the weather. You can’t be against change, and you can’t be in favor of it. Change is inevitable. (more…)

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.