Friday, July 29, 2011

Just for Fun: Scientists Dash Hopes of Time Travel

Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by

My husband loves to play a game—a thought exercise, if you will—that involves the following premise:

If you could go back in time (to visit, not to live), 
what time period would you choose and where in the world?

Alas, it would seem that is not meant to be. (If you watch the video until the end, however, you'll see that some may disagree!)

I discovered this on The English Blog.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are You the Debbie Reynolds or the Elizabeth Taylor?

Fun article over at The Hairpin; seriously, I love reading this girl's stuff:
Once a victim, always a victim.  Once a winner, always a winner.  Which brings me to the third and final thing to understand about Elizabeth Taylor and the stars, past and present, who've been cast in similar gossip roles: They will always make mincemeat out of the Debbie Reynoldses.
Read the full article by clicking the link: "Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Elizabeth Taylor, Black Widow."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Barbigerous


def.: bearing a beard

as in

Every year, the World Beard and Mustache Championships brings together hundreds of barbigerous contestants who show off their ability to grow facial hair.

But awesome is this word?!?!

More pics like the one to the left here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Just Learned: AP Style Hates Italics!

There are tons of style guides* out there. Add to these style guides all the individual business and organization style guides, and you have to almost feel sorry for the writers and editors who have to deal with them all.

All that to say, sometimes you learn new things about style guides when you're in the midst of a job—and this happened to me yesterday. The revelation?

The AP Style Guide avoids italics at all costs.

Crazy, right? What do you do with book titles? Ship names? Magazine and journal titles? How can you emphasize a point?

Apparently, for all except the last, you revert to quotes—which in CMS are reserved for different items, such as article titles, TV shows, and chapter titles. I'd like to say that that's one less thing to remember—but really it means I have to remember to not use italics where I usually do!

Additional Resources: "The Case of the Missing Italics"
AP vs. Chicago: "Titles"
Ask the Editor: AP on Italics

*Curious about which one you should be using for your current project? Take my "Which Style Guide is for You?" quiz!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who is...Louisa May Alcott?

Author of: thrillers, short stories, novels, and children's books, most notably Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys

Important because: as a feminist and abolitionist, she was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, MA. However, her fame mostly stems from the fame of her works.

Important to me because: she was another author whom I loved and read growing up. What I remember most, however, is going from reading the three big ones (listed above) to her novel A Long Fatal Love Chase. It is the night to Little Women's day and my first "romance novel" and was very shocking (to me) at the time...ah, good times. Her books make for some fun reading!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Homonyms Happen: Waive & Wave

I'm married. To a Latin man. Let me tell's AWESOME.

That was only slightly off-topic. I bring it up because it is the reason I'm attempting to learn Spanish (bilingual kids = YES). And one of my biggest beefs with Spanish is that so many words sound the same. If you've ever tried to learn Spanish, you know what I mean.

I used to think that English didn't have that many words like that, but the more I've started paying attention, the more I've realized we have a lot. So now I'm not so angry at the Spanish language.

Today's sometimes-language-sucks-for-being-confusing words are waive and wave.

Waive: to relinquish voluntarily or to refrain from enforcing* 
Wave: successive curviness, as with water or light* 
To remember the difference, focus on the one letter that differentiates the words: i. If I relinquish my rights or if I refrain from enforcing a fine, then I (the doer) am in the word: waive. 

*As per usual, definitions are courtesy of Merriam-Webster.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"When the heck am I supposed to use commas?"

A few weeks ago, I posted an opportunity to ask me questions on Facebook. The one response I got (thank you!) was:

"When, the heck, am I supposed to use commas?"

I'm glad you asked! Well, rather, not see, that question requires a very complicated answer in order to fully inform you (but as a side note, there should not be commas separating "the heck" from the rest of your on to find out why). However, I will now attempt to cover the basics—general rules of thumb that you can use without wading through grammar jargon and endless rules. At some point, I will do a few more technical posts on commas...just not yet. :)

  • Consistency matters the most. More than where, more than how many, more than any other comma factor—readers will notice your consistency. Even if you don't know what you're doing, if you use commas in a consistent fashion, (most) readers will think you have a reason and they just don't know what it is.
  • A comma is meant to separate ideas. Think of the comma as a friend of the reader: it helps readers know when one idea ends and another begins; it helps readers know when to take an imaginary "breath" before plunging into the next thought. It organizes lists, descriptions, and independent ideas so readers "view" them independently. This is also why there should not be commas in my reader's question; if you were to ask me this to my face, you most likely wouldn't take a breath before and after "the heck."
  • Read your writing out loud to find missed commas. If you take a breath before going on, chances are that some form of punctuation should go there (a period at the end of a sentence; a comma inside a sentence). If you don't take a pause, there probably shouldn't be a punctuation mark. As an example, read point 1 above out loud; you'll see you pause every time you come to a comma; now imagine those sentences without commas—much more confusing, right?
  • Finally, err on the side of fewer commas. I almost hate to say this, because I am a huge fan of commas, but if you're shaky on when to use commas, try to use as few as possible. Generally, you won't need as many commas as you think you will, and too many commas will make your writing choppy and hard to follow.

Happy writing! Keep a look out for more technical comma posts coming soon! And remember, I'm always ready to answer questions. Visit my Contact page to leave a question, or email me; I'll tackle any subject you send my way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Word Wednesdays Goes LATIN!

Every time we go to Panama, there are three things I ALWAYS want to get to eat that you can't get here in the States:

  • Empanadas so fresh and delicious that it's a battle between eating it all at once and savoring every last bite. We get them from a stand on the side of the road a half hour outside of the city. It's next to an abandoned gas station and looks SO sketchy...but the empanadas....mmmmmmmm.....
  • Carimañolas, which I just discovered the last time we were down there, almost cannot be described. I can tell you what's in them (mashed yucca and seasoned beef), but you will not be able to understand WHY they are so good unless you try them. Unfortunately, like many tasty items, they are fried and really bad for you.
  • Batidas de frutas, however, have become my all-time must-have treat when we go to Panama, and it is this that will be our word for today.

translation: fruit shake

as in

We get batidas de frutas from this little shop that sits next to one of the main streets in Panama City. I'm told they're made with a mixture of fruit and ice cream, but I secretly think they must add something more, because no fruit shake I've ever had or attempted to make has ever been anywhere close to as delicious as the batida de fruta I get from there!

Don't let its appearance fool you...this little buddy is life CHANGING.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to Effectively Use Passive Sentences (Part 3)

So far in this series, we've looked at two instances when it's actually better to use the passive voice than the active voice—when the doer is unimportant and when the action is more important than the doer. In this final installment, we're look at the last case where it's good to break the rule.

The Doer is Obvious
When it's obvious who performed the action—and they're not important to your sentence—use the passive voice. This keeps your sentences short and your readers' attention on the right stuff.

Squash is typically planted only in July and August.


Typically, farmers plant squash only in July and August.

Obviously, the doer is the farmer, but who cares? I'm more interested in what is planted when. This is particularly important in context. If you write a paragraph where the subject is squash and include the second sentence—whose subject is farmers—you've directed your readers' attention to an unimportant and obvious detail. Now your readers will have to redirect their attention to squash. (Note: Obviously, that's not a big deal for the subject of squash. But when you start writing on more complex matters, your readers will thank you for making it easy to stay on track!)

Other Examples of This:
I was born on a wintery night in January. (It's obvious that my mother gave birth to me, but again, is this about me or my mom?)
Music has been enjoyed for thousands of years. (People—or some variation of the idea—are the obvious doers, but this passive sentence keeps readers' attention on the subject I want them to pay attention to—music.)
Last summer, the forests around my house were burned almost to the point of extinction. (The doer is obvious—fire. But I want readers to focus on the forests, not the fire.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jim Bianco's "Apostrophe S"

This song came up on my Pandora list and I thought I'd share it because I think it's a fun song. It doesn't really have that much to do with grammar or writing, but it is clever. :)

To hear the song, you have to click on the "Play" button on Jim Bianco's "Apostrophe S" page.

Jewelry vs. Jewellery

I learned something new today!

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Panama, his home country, for a friend's wedding. On the plane ride there, I came across an ad for jewelry (see left) that had the word spelled as "jewellery." I was incredulous that a fine jewelry ad could misspell the word!

But then I cam home and did some research. Apparently, this is yet another British/American English difference. In the States, it is spelled jewelry. In the UK, it is spelled jewellery.

So, it would seem, we're safe. Jewelers still know how to spell. :)

A close-up of the not-actually-a-misspelling:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Banns

Just got back from almost a week traveling in Madison, for a friend's wedding, and Chicago, because it's so close to Madison. Amazing time, really. So in honor of the wedding, today's word is wedding related!


def.: public announcement of engagement

as in

In today's society, banns probably occur more often on Facebook than everywhere else combined.

And as promised, a few pictures:

Cute ceremony in the park!

All the gals I love and miss from our UF days

Reception! The weather was beautiful.

The Bean

Chicago! I loved the city.

Don't know the name for these but they're pretty neat. :D

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grammar Tip: Of vs. Have

There are lots of errors that can be blamed on the difference between written and spoken English (also true in Spanish, and I would assume, in most languages). These differences come mostly from dropping syllables or truncating words and can be blamed on one thing: laziness.

After all, if people know what you mean, why take longer to say it? Who wouldn't rather go to the gym than to the gymnasium? When you're really hungry, why say "I have got to eat something" when you could say, "I gotta eat somethin'"?

Now, don't worry—I'm not going to insist that you should speak the way you should write. Part of what's great about language is the ability to play around with it. However, sometimes this can lead to bad grammar—and it does, often, in the case of "of" versus "have."

In spoken English, have is sometimes shortened to sound like of:

He should have stopped at beer six.


He should 'ave --> He should of --> He should of stopped at beer six.

Now, hearing it sounds fine because your brain can deal with these nuances of pronunciation. This particular nuance, however, is tricky because the shortened version is also a word in English. Using "of" when the situation requires "have" weakens your writing and, for those of your readers who know the rules, destroys your respectability.

So, how do you know when this is happening?

Well, replace "of" with "have" and if the sentence still makes sense, then it should be "have."

For example:

I had twenty of those mini cookies yesterday. --> I had twenty have those mini cookies yesterday.
"Have" does not make sense should stay "of."

I could of been a millionaire! --> I could have been a millionaire!
"Have" definitely makes sense here...change the "of" to "have" for a grammatically correct sentence.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who is...Ernest Hemingway?

I'm in Chicago today. I can't tell you how it is, because I wrote this post last week. But when I get back—there will be pictures! In keeping with the Chicago theme, our author today is from Chicago. :)

Authored: A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and several more novels, short stories, and articles.

Important because: An author and journalist who partook in World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 for his ability to create authentic stories in a style that greatly influenced 20th-century fiction writing. After the wars, he lived for several years in Key West (if you go, check out the Museum's exhibit on Hemingway—it's incredible!), before moving to Idaho, where he committed suicide.

Important to me because: The Old Man and the Sea was one of the first things I read that left me with a dissatisfied feeling—not in the writing or story itself, but in how I reacted to it. For once (in my up-to-then-uneventful life), there was no cut-and-dry happy ending.

A Farewell to Arms I read in college and was much more prepared for its style and tone. Still, as a naturally optimistic person, the confrontation with another person's struggles with the ugliness in the world—even encased in fiction—was a learning experience for me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Homonyms Happen: Role & Roll

I've got to admit it—the role/roll homonym is a hard one for me. It's one of the ones that I know there are two different words with two different meanings, but in the heat of the moment of writing and revising, I always write "roll." Over time, I've learned that about myself and now I always check for that error, in my writing and in my clients' work.

Role: a part to play

Roll: to move forward by turning on the axis; a document that can be rolled up; a list of names

The way that I remember this is that role has ONE l and ONE definition: to play ONE part. Alternatively, roll is in SCROLL—a document that can be rolled up and that can be used to create a list of names.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How to Effectively Use Passive Sentences (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I listed the first instance when using a passive sentence is more effective than using an active sentence (when the doer is not important). The next instance, although similar to the first, takes it one step further.

The Action is More Important than the Doer
When the doer is important to the idea of the sentence—but you want the emphasis to be on the action—use a passive sentence. The difference is subtle, but there:

Divers have explored over 3,000 caves worldwide.


Over 3,000 caves worldwide have been explored by divers.

Notice how the reader's attention is naturally more focused on the subject of the sentence—in the first example, on "divers," and in the second example, on "caves." I, the author, want readers to focus on how many caves have been explored rather than on the fact that divers did it. But unlike the example in Part 1, the doer is important because it clarifies that I'm talking about underwater caves versus dry caves.

Other Examples of This:
The coffee was prepared by the wives before being drank by the husbands. (The coffee is what I want readers to focus on, but the doers still matter.)
Peace can be had by those who follow Christ. (The emphasis is on the peace to be had, but who the "havers" are matters as well.)
Wars can be fought and won by words and diplomacy. (The emphasis is on the wars, but how they're won is still important to the meaning of the sentence.)

Part 3!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Winchester Geese

Every once in a while, I come across an expression I've never heard before that upon learning gives me a particular pleasure.

Such is the case for "Winchester geese," an expression that The Virtual Linguist explains is another name for a prostitute:
The Bishop of Winchester was a major landowner and regulated all the goings-on in his territory. Among his tenants were a number of prostitutes, and the bishop had the job of licensing them. And license them he did.
The prostitutes in Winchester's fiefdom were thus dubbed Winchester geese. The Church collected rent from the brothels in the area, too (then known as stews). Having taken the women's money quite happily, the Church then denied them a Christian burial when they died.
To substantiate this definition, she goes on to inform us:
Winchester goose is in the OED. Prostitute is one of the meanings, the other, earlier, meaning being venereal disease. Shakespeare uses the term in a couple of his plays. 
People are so creative—and the craziest idioms stick.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Reading: The Devil in the White City

A few years ago, I was on a buy books binge and found this one on sale at a Barnes & Noble. I was drawn to it because it's based in true events, in true stories, but I didn't expect it to be spectacular.

Boy, was I wrong.

Since then, I've raved about this book to anyone who brings up wanting something new to read. It was absolutely amazing—the detail, the story structure, the patching of holes in the true story so subtly. Then today I came across NPR's List of Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers for June 30 only to discover that the book I had purchased on a whim years ago is still being discovered and loved by new readers today!

So, here's my assessment: buy The Devil in the White City and read it. You'll learn a lot about that time period, about the city of Chicago (do you know why it's call the Windy City? Not because it's windy!), and the effect the World Fair had on the world of the time, all while following a story line that is both intriguing and entertaining.

Truly, a great read.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

So much is happening in these next few weeks!

Today is 4th of July, then on Wednesday I'm heading to Wisconsin for one of my best friend's wedding, then to Chicago for a few days, then to Panama for one of my husband's best friend's wedding. I'm going to do my best to post every week day, but we'll see how that goes... :)

I mentioned to a friend recently that it seems a little weird to me that we're celebrating an independence that was won over 200 years ago. It's not new news or anything anymore! But as we kept talking, we came to the agreement that at this point, it is more a celebration of the values the country was founded on—a reminder of how we got here and what we should still be trying to attain.

And in that respect, are we doing a great job? I'd argue no.

So, to do my part in reminding folks why we're here and what we should be trying to attain, a few quotes from some of the guys who made it all happen:

Thomas Jefferson tells us:
"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."
"Don't talk about what you have done or what you are going to do."
 James Madison tells us:
"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty." 
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. Philosophy is common sense with big words."
George Washington tells us:

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” 
I hope you all enjoy today!

Friday, July 1, 2011

How to Write Captivating Captions

It's a late start for me today; we've figured out a way to block out the morning sun in our bedroom and it's making it harder and harder to get up early...might need to bring the sun back to get my butt moving!

My sister and her boyfriend just came to visit us and we had a blast. I wanted to post some pics from the trip and decided to incorporate a lesson (after all, that's what this blog is about, no?).

So, a quick how-to for creating captivating captions:

  • Captions should be short and sweet. Nobody wants to spend all day figuring out what part of the caption identifies what's going on in the picture.
The Phoenix Police Museum has some great police memorabilia—this old police car, for instance.
  • Captions should be written with the audience in mind. That means if your audience does not know the people or places in the picture (and you want them to), you'll need to identify them.
My sister and her boyfriend atop Camelback Mountain

  • Captions should note the specific details about why you included that particular picture. That way, readers can't miss your intent.
Who knew the joy that arcade tickets could evoke on the faces of men?
  • Captions should contain active words as often as possible; try to get readers feeling as if they were in the picture, too!
At the Arizona History Museum, we invested more time in
creating silly pictures than we did in learning AZ's history.
  • And finally, captions should be correctly punctuated. It is acceptable to use incomplete sentences as captions as well as to use complete sentences; incomplete sentences do not require a closing punctuation mark but complete sentences do.

Montezuma's Castle is over 1,000 years old!

A shot of Sedona, AZ's majestic red mountains

We had a ton of fun during my sister's visit and took many pictures deserving of captions. Now get out there and create great captions for your best pictures, too!