Friday, September 30, 2011

Reading: The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman

Have you ever gone back to reread a book you really enjoyed and can't remember why you liked it so much?

This has happened to me these past few weeks with The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. I still remember the details of the story that struck a chord with me the first time I read it, most of which I have not reached yet.

However, it is her style of writing that has surprised me so much this time around. It seems as if, so far, she writes as a narrator might narrate a movie, easing into her story slowly—something that isn't too bothersome when the narrator is constrained by time to keep it short, but can feel tedious when it takes over forty pages.

Perhaps as I get into it farther, I will again appreciate the way she approaches her story; right now, I'm rueful that this particular book made the trek across country with me.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Family: A Quote (or three)

My parents got here yesterday and we're having an awesome time! Don't want to waste any time I have with them, so today is a quick post—quotes!



I will post about their visit (and pictures!) when they've gone. :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Word Wednesday: Matthew Effect


def.: a term, based on Matthew 25:29, used to express the idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer

as in

Children who do not receive much stimulation for learning at a young age tend to fall victim to the Matthew Effect and are rarely able to catch up to those who did.

I came across this term recently and was struck by the juxtaposition of the idea it represents with the morals of the Bible—the hopelessness that it conveys compared to the hope the Bible offers.

The term has been used to describe the social media world, the education world, and the science world. It has also been applied, obviously, to the finance world.

Do you think this is real? Have you seen examples of it? What other areas would you say may be suffering from the Matthew Effect?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homonyms Happen: Chord & Cord

When I was younger (and not really analyzing language—because, really, what kid sits around and analyzes language?), I used to think that chord and cord were just different ways to spell the same thing.

Not so.

Chord: three or more musical tones played simultaneously

Cord: a long, flexible, woven strand; an insulated electrical cable used to connect an appliance with a receptacle

How to Remember
Your computer uses a cord. But you play a chord on your cello, which borrowed chord's h sound, since it already has three or more musical ones.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Always Use Spell Check

I'm a firm advocate for not making things harder than they need to be. This can be applied to every area of life, including your writing. It's difficult enough to create great content in an appealing package without also depending solely on one person (whether yourself or someone else) to find every single error.

Here enters spell check.

While this is by no means a substitute for proofreading or editing, it can save you time and energy by taking care of the "easy stuff"—for example, transposed letters in a word—so you can focus on the more complicated stuff—for example, "from" instead of "form" or convoluted sentences.

So my message today is simple: no matter how short your piece is,  no matter how many times you've read through it, no matter who else you've gotten to critique it:

Always use spell check.

Make it the first thing you do before you start the editing process and the last thing you do before you click the Print or Send button.

You'll be amazed at what you missed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Homonyms Happen: A Complete List

I've decided to create a list of all the homonym posts I do—that way, you have access to them all at once! Click on the homonym set and it'll take you to the explanation and definitions, as well as (usually) a way to help remember which is which. I will periodically update this list as I write more Homonyms Happen posts. Feel free to leave a comment, requesting new homonym explanations!

Acolyte & Accolade

Assent & Ascent 

Assure, Ensure, & Insure

Bases & Basis

Breath & Breadth

Chord & Cord

Discrete & Discreet

Ensure, Assure, & Insure

Flour & Flower

Insure, Assure, & Ensure

Palette, Palate, & Pallet

Role & Roll

Waive & Wave

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Too. Many. Periods. Make. Reading. A. Bear.

Although I think the title of this post makes my point, I realize it's a bit of an exaggeration and further explanation may be helpful. :)

The Problem of the Short Sentence
Remember Dick & Jane? Perfect example of
short, choppy sentences
that would drive most competent readers crazy!
Everybody knows that a run-on sentence is almost impossible to follow. We read as we speak—taking (and needing) breaks between phrases and clauses to fully understand what is being conveyed. Sometimes, this run-on sentence skittishness can lead to writing sentences that are too short; although they contain complete ideas, they break up ideas that naturally go together. If your writing has too many short sentences too close together, readers will get annoyed at the choppy effect and, perhaps, will quit reading.

How to Identify Short Sentences
Short sentences tend to have the following traits:

  • They contain one subject and one verb.
  • They convey only one idea, rather than several related ideas.
  • When you read them, the flow of the text feels choppy—that is, you are forced to mentally take breaks consistently and often.
  • They contain fifteen or fewer words.
If, when editing and proofreading your work, you consistently notice any of these traits, you should most likely go back and rewrite sentences to create a better flow.

How to Fix Short Sentences
There are many ways to "fix" short sentences, but the easiest and quickest is usually to combine two short sentences with coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or subordinating conjunctions (to the left).

Typically, ideas that go together will be right next to each, but are separated by periods, creating short, choppy sentences. Combine them by doing the following:
  • Identify two closely related sentences (ideas).
  • Describe their relationship: is one more important than the other (use a subordinating conjunction)? Are they equally important (use a coordinating conjunction)? Is one influenced by the other (use a subordinating conjunction)?
  • Pick the best conjunction to combine the sentences and make them one!

He could see that she was angry. He wanted to fix it. He didn't know how. He felt so lost.

We've got four short sentences and a plethora of conjunctions to fix it, depending on which sentence you want to emphasize.

He could see that she was angry and he wanted to fix it. But because he didn't know how, he felt so lost.


He could see that she was angry. Even though he wanted to fix it, he didn't know how. He felt so lost.


Although he could see that she was angry and he wanted to fix it, he didn't know how. He felt so lost.

Sometimes, you don't even need to add words—a few key punctuation marks placed in the right spots can do the trick:

He could see that she was angry; he wanted to fix it, but he didn't know how. He felt so lost.

Not All Short Sentences Are Bad!
Notice how in the previous examples I consistently kept the last sentence, "He felt so lost." Sometimes, a short sentence can be used for rhetorical effect. The choppiness is what you are looking for—you have one specific idea that you want your reader to be forced to stop and focus on. For example,
  • Opening sentences can be short, since you're still trying to grab a reader's attention. They can be used, metaphorically, as a trail of bread crumbs to entice readers into the bulk of your piece.
  • Punch lines—that is, the essential point you are trying to make—often are great places for short sentences. You've thoroughly explained this theory and now you want to present it as succinctly as possible for readers to mull over.
  • Intentional pauses are best served with short sentences. This is the category that the above example (He felt so lost) would fall into. 

So, don't be afraid to use short sentences—just remember that they have a purpose and too many of them can be as damaging to your piece as run-ons. And there are many ways to spice up a short sentence! I'll come back to this topic later to cover more. 

Until then, what is your take on the short sentence? Is it the one thing that really bothers you when you're reading? Or do you think I'm being too hard on them?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I'm one of those people who sometimes miss the obvious—you know, because you don't think it through or connect the dots? This happened to me recently when I decided to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was bored somewhere and decided to look for free books on my Android and had never read Gray so I downloaded it. I have a few, rather unrelated, things to say about my experience thus far.

Digital Reading
First of all, this is my first experience reading a digital book and I have to say I like it. It's not cumbersome, it's not hard to read, I don't feel sad that I'm not holding a book. The only annoying aspect I've encountered is the short width of my phone's screen—an annoyance that isn't present in eReaders, since most of them are much wider than my phone screen. I will be getting more books to read digitally, there's no doubt about that!

Oscar Wilde
I am absolutely in love with "The Importance of Being Earnest,"* which is by Oscar Wilde. If you've never read it (or seen it, as it is a play), you MUST. His wit and playfulness with the English language is amazing and the seriousness with which he approaches absurdity is delightful.

As I was reading Gray, I kept making connections with the style of writing between it and Earnest; imagine my surprise (and slight shame) when I finally connected the dots that they're by the same author! So, of course, I was excited that a) I had been able to identify the similarities between the two (even if I didn't realize why right away) and that b) I was reading another masterpiece by Wilde.

Quick Wit & Masterful Punch Lines
Before punch lines were called punch lines, Wilde was delivering them like crazy. As much as the story of Gray flows from one chapter to the next, I can't help but notice the punch line-esque quality in so much of his writing.

And I love it.

As a writer of sorts, I am always amazed at the absolute mastery some people have over language, people who obviously put a lot of work in and take a lot of pride in what they write. It is indeed something to aspire to.

I am not going to link to details about The Picture of Dorian Gray. Instead, I'm going to challenge you to read it—even if it is just the free Google book version on your smartphone. :)

I will, however, tease your interest by listing a few quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

"I am so sorry, Harry," he cried, "but really it is entirely your fault. That book you sent me so fascinated me that I forgot how the time was going."
"Yes: I thought you would like it," replied his host, rising from his chair.
"I didn't say I liked it, Harry. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference."
"Ah, you have discovered that?" murmured Lord Henry.
(Speaking of Sibyl Vane, an actress who committed suicide because of heartbreak): "No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But...the girl never really lived, and so she has never really died. To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays and left them the lovelier for its presence...The moment she touched actual life, she married it, and it marred her, and so she passed away. Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled. Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio died. But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they are.
 "Yes," he continued, "that is one of the greatest secrets of life. Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping commonsense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
 "How dreadful!" cried Lord Henry. "I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect."

*Wikipedia's entry for "The Importance of Being Earnest" is entertaining. If you're interested in reading the full text, you can do so at, or you can listen to the whole play at LibriVox (which is what I did—it's pretty good!). If you want the short version, SparkNotes will oblige, or if you want a mobile version, Google Books will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who Is...Shel Silverstein?

Author of: cartoons, children's books, poetry, plays, music, and more; The Giving Tree is his most popular children's book, but he wrote and illustrated many, as well as many adult-oriented plays and collections of cartoons.

Important because: mostly, because his unique writing and illustrating style created unforgettable stories loved by millions of people in over 30 languages.

Important to me because: before being homeschooled in the third grade, I went to a public school, like most kids. One of my most vivid memories was leafing through Where the Sidewalk Ends, one of Silverstein's collections of poetry. And I love The Giving Tree so much, it's already on my bookshelf to read to my kids...when I have them.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) started out as a cartoon illustrator, but at the urging of a friend, began also writing and illustrating children's books and poetry. His cartoons appeared in multiple outlets before he acquired a position with Playboy, traveling the world for his column. Over the years, he would write and compose songs, create screenplays, and write and illustrate adult and children books and poetry.

If you're interested, a new book has just come out, Every Thing On It, with never-before-published cartoons and poems.

Here's a taste of his adult cartoons:
"That's funny — I always wondered how
you of the west could carry so many things with your hands."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kitty-Corner, Katty-Corner, What?

A few months ago, I was giving directions to a friend and used the expression, “kitty-corner.” He gave me a blank stare, which was followed by a conversation about what it means and what’s the correct way to say it.
A little bit of Internet research* settled the discussion.
Regardless of how it’s spelled, the expression comes from a combination of a French word and an English word: quatre, which means “four,” and corner.
It means diagonally across and can acceptably be spelled in several ways—kitty-corner, catty-corner, catercorner.
Example use: The hotel is kitty-corner to the grocery store.

*A breakdown of my research:
Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of kitty-corner shows all three.
Wiktionary shows the etymology and all three versions as well.
The Word Detective goes into a little more detail into this expression's past, if you're looking for more info.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Editing Tip: Spelling Names

I'm currently working on proofreading a book that has liberally used quotes—something I personally love because I love quotes in general. One quote specifically stood out to me:
You should be the change you want to see in the world.
The author credited it to a Mohandas Gandhi and it struck me odd. I've always heard of this as being credited to Mahatma Gandhi. A little research revealed that Mohandas and Mahatma are one and the same, so I left it alone. It brought up a good point, however:

When you are talking about a person, place, or thing that is known by multiple names, pick one and stick to it.

Consistency translates into smooth flow and readability for readers, especially if your writing includes multiple different names and places (think One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez); the fewer the reader needs to remember, the better.

If you are making up names (your piece is fiction), be sure to keep track of how you spell things and to go back and verify that spelling is the same in all places.

Exceptions to the Rule
Rules aren't really rules if they don't have exceptions, right? Exceptions to this rule would include the following:

  • If the person, place, or thing you are writing about has a really long name, it's ok to spell out the full name at the first instance—or the first instance in a while—and use a shortened version more frequently. Try to stick to just two versions, total (one full and one shortened).
  • If different characters in your writing refer to the item differently, it's ok to use the appropriate multiple names (for example, a teacher with kids would be known as mom by her kids, Mrs. Bentley by her students, or Joyce by her spouse and colleagues).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Home (and a Picture!)

def.: the place one lives permanently

as in

I just got home from visiting my family's home in Florida this morning. I'm still on Eastern time, which means it feels later than it is and I'm sleepy!

I did the Word Wednesday on this word today because I've been thinking about its definition a lot recently. I was telling someone on the plane today that, since I lived in Florida for so long and my family still lives there, it still feels like home—yet with my husband in Arizona and our plans and actions that entail settling down there, Arizona is also feeling like home.

I guess, for now, I have two homes. :)

A photo from my cousin's wedding this past weekend:

Me, my dad, and my sister Sarah! We had tons of fun. :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hugged by Books

I love this picture! There are many times when I feel this way from the books I read. :) Found this at Blossom Dreams.

More Than & Over: Is There a Difference?

Woohoo—get excited with me!! I'm getting on a plane to visit my family today. I miss them terribly because I have not seen them for over eight months, the longest period ever in my life.

...or should I say more than eight months?

Well, ladies and gents, let me enlighten you. I came across this issue a month or so ago when a client pointed out that there was a mistake on my About page. His premise was that I had used "over" when I should have used "more than" in explaining how long I've been in this line of work.

The More Than versus Over "Rule"
Being an I-don't-believe-it-until-I-see-it kind of person, I immediately went looking for confirmations for a rule I had never heard before. Short version, here's what I discovered.
  • In American English, there is an acknowledged distinction between "over" and "more than"—mostly that "more than" is always used for quantifiable numbers—but this distinction is not backed by a grammatical rule.
  • In British English, there is no such distinction and the two can be used completely interchangeably.

The Proof
Grammar Girl admits, "I could find no grammatical rule stating that over cannot be used in place of more than."

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, on her Business Writing Blog, quotes half a dozen sources, with opinions that range from using "more than" only in formal writing to using "more than" for numerals to calling the distinction between the two "baseless crotchet."

WSU Emeritus Professor of English Paul Brians calls this issue a "nonerror," claiming that "this absurd distinction ignores the role metaphor plays in language."

The Follow Through
Unless you're following a specific style guide that requests it (usually in the newspaper biz), don't stress about this rule; go with what sounds the best in each specific instance. A professor once told me, "You don't want to be the first person to adopt a new practice—but you also don't want to be the last." I'll be watching this distinction to see if soon we'll follow British English and ignore the arbitrarily assigned distinction.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who is...George Orwell?

Author of: most famously, Animal Farm and 1984, but also of several other books, poetry, and pieces of literary criticism and journalism

Important because: aside from his impact on the world of literary criticism (which is indeed intense*), Orwell has impacted popular and political culture with the ideas he presented in his writings. We get words (and the ideas associated with them) such as "Orwellian," "doublethink," "thought police," and "Big Brother" from Orwell, not to mention the creepy feeling that someone is always watching us!

Important to me because: to be honest, I was impressed with 1984 but not so much so that it made a lasting impression on me. However, if you read the news even sometimes, you'll notice the word "Orwellian" popping up everywhere.** Orwell's impact on the way political ideas are presented is profound and long lasting, probably in no small part to the fear upon which his cautionary tales play.


*Orwell had these six tips for writers, in "Politics and the English Language":

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Not bad, huh?


**Need some proof?
The 9/11 Decade: Civil Liberties Today by Adam Liptak
The Times They Are Derangin' by Dan Carpenter
Orwellian Language of NHS 'Reform' by The Guardian
Republicans, Dems Cast Orwellian Shadows over State Redistricting by Peter Marcus
Big Brother is here and he's looking at us from the mirror by Ronald Nelson

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pets: A Quote

Today's been an interesting day. My cat, Chloe, decided it would be a great idea to eat a dryer sheet and it caused enough damage that she needed (a rather expensive) surgery. What we do for our pets...

In recognition of how much pets end up being family members, a few quotes about pets:
We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words. ~ Anna Sewell
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. ~ Anatole France
People really do spend a lot of money on their pets—sometimes more than themselves. ~ Oksana Baiul
Here's hoping Chloe feels better soon!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Homonyms Happen: Palette, Palate, & Pallet

I know I've said this before, but homonyms really are everywhere! It makes me feel bad for English learners. Today's homonyms come in three: palette, palate, and pallet.

Palette: the board on which a painter holds and mixes paint

Palate: the roof of the mouth; also, the sense of taste

Pallet: a wooden frame on which goods are loaded

So how to remember the difference? 

A palette has lots of letters (compared to the other homonyms) and lots of colors!

Your palate is what makes you want a hamburger late at night.

A pallet (the only homonym with two l's) has l-shaped boards.
Cheesy, I know, but you'll never confuse them again!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Play Ball! (Quotes about Baseball)

Yesterday, my husband and I went to our first Diamondback baseball game here at Chase Field in Phoenix. Since neither of us is a huge baseball fan, we got there a little late and left a little early, but we still had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the in-between-plays festivities.

In case you're unfamiliar with Chase Field (and let's face it, most of us are), it's a unique field because it a) is domed, meaning there's a roof and air conditioning for the 110+ degree weather here, and b) has a natural turf field. It is pretty impressive.

In any case, in honor of our time at the game, here are a few baseball quotes celebrating the game and life, all in one. Happy reading!
Baseball players are smarter than football players.  How often do you see a baseball team penalized for too many men on the field?  ~Jim Bouton, 1988 
No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games.  It's the other third that makes the difference.  ~Tommy Lasorda 
Things could be worse.  Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.  ~Author Unknown