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

Writers Are Made, Not Born

January 7, 2014

The turning of a new year often makes us look back to evaluate what we've done, and then look forward to what we hope to do. This holiday season gave me an opportunity to dig up some of my childhood memorabilia. Among the many paper artifacts of my youth (both handwritten and typed on ancient manual typewriters) was this pencil-scrawled letter from August 3, 1965, when I was eight years old and away at summer camp in Connecticut. I reproduce it here exactly as it was written:

Dear Mom
I glad I Finall got to wright to you. I having a great time. Were going on a sleep-out tonight. All sleep-outs we go out on it rains. We alway's go out on trips but somthing alway's goes wrong. Please send me a letter!!
Love, !

My almost-100-year-old father likes to tell a joke about the stranger in New York City who asks an old Jewish guy on the street, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" And the guy says, "Practice, practice."

Let's just say I've come a long way since composing that semiliterate missive, thanks to some excellent teachers, lots of reading, and the word "autodidact." As the title of this post indicates, writers are made, not born.


  1. January 26, 2014 11:07 PM PST
    Hi Charles,

    Happy new year! I really like this short blog. I had a big laugh :-) I learned four wonderful words (logogogue, memorabilia, missive, autodidact ) in such a short blog. How sublime it is! So your father is almost a centenarian. How lucky you are!

    I really look forward to reading your "word workout". Any news when it will come out?

    - Michael
  2. January 27, 2014 3:05 PM PST
    Thanks for your post. I'm delighted that you learned some new words from my blog. That's what I keep saying everybody should be doing — looking for words they don't know whenever they read. In this case, three of the words you found are covered in Word Workout: missive, autodidactic, and logogogue. The book will come out in early December of this year. An audio edition is also in the works. — CHE
    - Charles Elster
  3. January 28, 2014 4:48 AM PST
    Hi Charles,

    Great to hear that! I love the audio version! I'm glad those three words are included in the new book. So I have a ___ eye for new words. I was looking for a word to fill in the blank. good eye? I think there must be a better one. Could you give me a hint?

    Today a colleague sent me a link to a piece of music and I really liked it. Then I thought, the music ___ my ears or me. click, resonate? But they don't sound right? Could you help me out here also?

    - Michael
  4. January 28, 2014 2:50 PM PST
    How about a keen, sharp, acute, or discerning eye for new words? And how about the music titillated (TIT-i-lay-tid) your ears, or charmed or enthralled you? -- CHE
    - Charles Elster

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.