Daily Archives: February 19, 2009

Let her who is without error…

I’m told Carol Fisher Saller of the Chicago Manual of Style, in her new book The Subversive Copy Editor, recounts how she convinced an author that that of him who seeks should be that of he who seeks.

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Ms. Saller! You’ve clearly been staring at this stuff too long! You’ve simultaneously overthought and underthought this one. Overthought because you’re letting your ideas override your ear; underthought because you haven’t properly analyzed what’s going on here. Continue reading


This word seems like a comic-strip sound effect for being bent over sharply on a mattress frame or other instrument of torture. Or perhaps a ducking move made with arrows flying over your head. The two z‘s and the mouth shift from puckered at u to wide at a give a clear sense of sharp reversal or turn, like a pull and a push; the first g – especially if you pronounce it properly, as [k] – is a sudden stop, augmented by the mechanical catch of the [ts] sound of the z‘s, and the final ng resonates, even moreso with the aid of the [v] sound from the w. A word like this could only get by, at least in English, with referring to something unpleasant. So what is it? German, unsurprisingly. The zug root means “pull” originally (and still), and from that we get German Zug “train” and also Zug “move,” which is the sense here. (Note that in German nouns are capitalized. But this word has been adopted by English, and as an English noun it is not capped.) The zwang means “compulsion” or “obligation.” A chess player will tell you what you get when you put them together: a forced disadvantageous move. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, between a rock and a hard place, not knowing whether to sh*t or go blind, all roads lead to Hell and you have to take one of them. Imagine zugzwang being the sound of a magician firing a nasty spell in the form of a lightning bolt from his hands. If you’re the chess player putting the other in zugzwang, you get that feeling (suppress evil laugh). If you’re the one being zapped, you may notice a slight resemblance between the first part of the word and sucks