Tag Archives: Spelling counts!

The Comma Queen

I’ve written before about how Mary Norris’s job at the New Yorker is one I not-so-secretly would prefer to the job I actually have. An excerpt of her forthcoming book (Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) appeared in this week’s issue of the magazine. The whole article is just cool (someone else has already called it “exquisite”); in it she says delightfully witty things like “The serial comma is a pawn in the war between town and gown.”

confessions_comma_queenAnd, her book is the #1 new release in the etymology category on Amazon! Etymology was another career-choice-other-than-accounting that I sometimes fantasized about. This was probably around the time I was reading Beowulf — Seamus Heaney’s version with the side-by-side Old English and modern English — for a Medieval Literature class.

Even if you don’t get as excited about grammar and punctuation as I do, you should go check out this article. All the discussion about how meaning is affected by how we choose to say things — simple comma placement and questions of authorial intent — this is stuff I love to think about. In her own words:

To understand how the language works, though — to master the mechanics of it — you have to roll up your sleeves and join the ink-stained wretches as we name the parts.

Because there’s nothing cooler (to me) than knowing exactly what you mean to say, understanding how to say it, and saying exactly that.


My Favorite Mistake (So Far)

You may have noticed the silence around these parts. I’m very sorry to say that I’ve been absolutely buried at work and that it’s likely to continue for some time, and it’s been overwhelming and exhausting already and I’ve only had enough energy to read the kinds of things I have nothing to say about.

A huge contributing factor to my workload lately is that the standards that govern a large part of what I do for a living changed last year (to be implemented this year). At one point in my career that might have been exciting, but eleven years’ eye-opening experience have colored my glasses with tones of cynicism.

So I hope you can picture my glee, when toiling away last night with my new book of standards in hand, I came across a spelling error in the “guiding literature” governing these changes:


It’s “occurrence”!

It was the sort of thing that made me want to happy dance my way out of the office yesterday evening and drink umbrella drinks. Because that’s just inexcusable. Basic word processing software should have highlighted that as an error, not to mention the fact that being able to correctly identify “occurrence” as an assertion is Auditing 101, and getting it spelled correctly is probably Copy Editing 101: both skills I’d expect the purveyors of these new standards to have more than mastered.

Notes of Meringue


I for one would like to harangue Trader Joe’s until they correct the spelling of meringue on their chardonnay.

Actually, I wouldn’t. I’m not one given to haranguing; I was just swept up in enthusiasm for the idea of juxtaposing words which end in the same sound spelled differently. More likely, as enchanting as “notes of lemon meringue” sound in a chardonnay, I’ll refuse to try it until this spelling travesty is corrected.

C What You’ve Been Missing

I spotted this on my way out of work the other day.

One of several electric vehicle charging stations.

One of several electric vehicle charging stations.

I work for the local utility company. Its principal business line is electricity. This is one label you’d really expect them to get right.

Author’s Note: When I was young, one of the occupations I thought of pursuing when I grew up was that of editor. It seemed like the second-best thing to writing books, really. As a solid speller in my elementary days, and possibly notorious in college for rewriting everyone else’s paper sections in those dreaded group papers, I suppose I thought I’d be good at it. Given my staunch preference for the Oxford comma, the only publication whose policies I feel I could enforce with any personal integrity would be the New Yorker, and I’m pretty sure they’re not interested in hiring a hopefully-former accountant / unemployed librarian as an editor or fact checker (although I believe I make a very good case for the attention to detail required for success in auditing predisposing me to excel at those jobs, and that’s not even touching on my of-old avid enthusiasm for the Oxford comma and — more recently — the dieresis).

A while ago, my sister suggested I start a series on my blog of misspells, grammatical errors, and other editing failures, committed by those who ought to know better. I dedicate the series to my sister, who suggested it, and a certain professor in grad school whose attention to our grammar, punctuation, and adherence to any style guide was excruciating. This is the first of those posts. If you’re a fan and want to see more, let me know in the comments!

Words. I love them. That is all.

Last week, The New Yorker‘s Culture Desk launched a game show via social media, called Questioningly. The first question asked was:

“If you could eliminate a single word from the English language, what would it be? Reasons can vary—overuse, etymological confusion, aesthetic ugliness—and need not be explained. Simply propose a word…” (Read more here.)

I was a little disappointed that the first I’d heard of this contest was via my facebook feed today, when they announced the results. I thought Mr. Greenman’s post describing the contest results was quite funny, so I hope you’ll pop over and read it. And I didn’t love it only because he used the abbreviation “cf.” Or because of his defense of the word “actually”. Or because the “runaway un-favorite” was “moist”, a word that I and my friends have discussed at length for its grossness. I loved those parts, but I also loved it because people participated! People cared! People voted for their most-hated words!

I love words. I wanted to study literature and linguistics in college, but for a variety of too-boring-to-tell reasons, I didn’t even explore it once I got there. Still, I feel little thrills of joy when I’m reading and someone surprises me with their words.

But while I love words, I guess I don’t love all of them, because I definitely agreed with a number of the nominations. Fecund, phlegm and all forms thereof. Irregardless, which, when I discovered the article at work today, sparked much discussion and inspired a coworker’s vow to use the term as much as possible in the foreseeable future. It’s not a word. And to all people who use it as a word, I would just like to say, once and for all, that because it’s a double negative, I don’t think it means what you’re thinking it means.

Here are some words I would have nominated:

  1. puss: Every time I read this word in one of Barbara Pym’s novels, I consciously replace it in my head with kitty.
  2. remediate: Because people use this word with me all the time at work, when what they really mean is “remedy.”
  3. chuckle and any variations thereof: The New Yorker says I don’t need a reason.
  4. nugget: State Spelling Bee, circa 1993-ish. Plus, I just don’t like it.

What words would you have nominated?