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One Writer's Ravings:       A Logophile's Blog for Language Lovers      

Don't Stupidsize Me

After my book Verbal Advantage was published ten years ago, I was invited to be a guest on salon.com, 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: Read More 
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Why All This Verbal Pickiness?

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. Read More 
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Passionate Preferences

I recently received an emissive from Emily, an appreciative reader of my new book The Accidents of Style. At the end she noted that in my discussion of the misuse of disinterested for uninterested “you admit that the mistake has become so common that dictionaries are including it. I have to ask: at what point do you accept the mistake as an irreversible step in the evolution of the English language? Once a mistake is included in dictionaries, is it reasonable to expect it to ever come out?” This was my response: Read More 
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Words Into Typo

In my last post — more than a month ago (sorry, I’ve been busy) — I promised to enter the publishing confessional and tell you about some of the exasperating mistakes that squeaked by my copyeditors, proofreaders, and my own squiffy eyeballs and became enshrined in my books. If you can groan and bear it, read on. Read More 
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Go Ahead, Unmake My Day

In my last post I compared the experience of writing and publishing a book to that of bearing, birthing, and tending to a newborn child. What I failed to underscore was that the exhilarating birth is all too often followed by a wicked case of postpartum blues. What is a proud father supposed to feel when he discovers to his horror that the obstetrician has given his beloved baby a deformed outie, and that the trusted mohel has botched the circumcision? Read More 
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Happy Birthday to <i>The Accidents of Style</i>

Today is the official publication date of The Accidents of Style. It is also the tenth time I've birthed a book. That's eight more times than I've helped bring children into the world. And bringing forth a book, I've often reflected, is much like having a baby. Read More 
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Born to Correct

In his review of Dan Epstein's Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s (New York Times Book Review, June 6, 2010), Bill Scheft points out a serious factual error that appears on page 38, one of several "chaw-swallowing" blunders Scheft uncovered in the book. "When an author pulls that big a rock that early, you start reading differently," Scheft writes. "We don't want to be copy editors. We'd rather not keep score. But you cannot hit .900 with facts." Read More 
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Introducing the Orthoepist

It's official: As of today I am the orthoepist for the online dictionary project Wordnik.com. What's an orthoepist? It's a fancy word for a pronunciation expert. And wouldn't you know, the orthoepists themselves can't agree on how to pronounce it. Some stress the second syllable, or-THOH-uh-pist, while others stress the first, OR-thuh-wuh-pist.  Read More 
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CANtankerous

I called AT&T this morning to make some changes to my account. Predictably, I first had to endure several minutes of inane "conversation" with an inanimate voice, answering pointless questions until the voice was satisfied that it could not and would never understand me. Then I had to wait on hold for several more minutes (during which I hurled invective at AT&T concerning the stupidity and cruelty of recorded customer service) until an actual person finally came on the line and — also predictably — said, "Can I get your phone number?" Read More 
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You Don't Control Your Destiny

The more that public broadcasting becomes infested with corporate advertising — "brought to you by . . . and by . . . and by" ad nauseam -- the murkier, cheesier, and more nauseating the language of the ads becomes. This morning's emetic batch of corporate commercials on San Diego's schnorrer public radio station, KPBS-FM, included some insipid fluff for Vanguard mutual funds that ended with the words to help you control your financial destiny. Does anything about that phrase strike you as incongruous? Read More 
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