Monthly Archives: September 2019

About the serial comma

People have opinions about the serial comma (also called the Oxford comma). Sometimes very strong opinions. So I sat down with my lunch, some Cheerios, and a Martini to tell you the truth.

Oktoberfest pronunciation tip

Yes, of course you can say “Oktoberfest,” and however you say it is going to be close enough, especially if you’re holding a stein or two. But how about Weltschmerz, Zeitgeist, Weltanschauung, Schadenfreude, Götterdämmerung, Wunderkind, gemütlich, Weissbier, and dunkel? (By the way, nouns are compulsorily capitalized in German, but adjectives aren’t.) Watch my latest video to find out!

pumpkin

It’s orange, except when it isn’t. And it’s big, except when it isn’t. But when it’s big, it can be very big, and it can keep getting bigger and bigger, sometimes until it’s too big and it just breaks right open. Hazards of competitive growing! Continue reading

scholy

This word is marginal at best.

“This word,” Samuel Johnson wrote in an explanatory note, “is, I fancy, peculiar to the learned Hooker.” And which learned Hooker would that be, which erudite textworker? We get some idea with the quote Johnson appends for further amplification: Continue reading

hammock

Hammock. From a Cherokee word meaning ‘to dump abruptly on the ground.’

No, no, I’m kidding. It’s from English ham plus mock and first meant ‘to make fun of a pig.’ Continue reading

How to write gleefully

This article was first published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada.

There are times when you want to make your prose more lively – if not flagrantly flippant then at least glancingly gleeful. Your words could land with a thump or splash or flit by with a twirl, but they must be sprightly. You want to write like a child. Well, no, not like a child – children aren’t very good writers; their sense of sentence structure is a bit squishy and scrawny – but like a child would write if a child had the skill of an adult. You want to be extra expressive. Continue reading

kefalotic

Some people, you just don’t know what is going on in their heads. Continue reading