Category Archives: Nerd Candy

Grammar or Sex? Decisions, decisions…

I was visiting the “Ask an Editor” section of John Ward’s Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+ — because I’m like that — and found this interesting little glimpse into how we editors think: Then vs Than

Which proves one thing for sure: editors would rather talk about grammar THAN sex.

And THEN, I flashed back on a personal WordNerd moment, because “then” vs “than” gave me one of my earliest hints that I would be an editor (for good or ill). (Most would say ill.)

I was reading about some ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT science… thingy in 8th grade, and came across a “then” that ought to have been a “than”. In a textbook. For shame!

I brought it up to my science teacher: “This should be ‘than’, right?”

He — apparently in the “oh, you know what I mean!” camp — said, “Yes, I suppose it should.”

Well, I didn’t mean to ask him whether there was a mistake (there was) or whether my correction was… correct (it was). What I was really asking, as seemed entirely clear to me, was this:

“There is a glaringly obvious error in this book; may I write in the book to fix it? Please? Because otherwise it will bother me from now until the end of time?”

But, of course, this otherwise brilliant man did not fully appreciate the error as the ELE it clearly was. I plowed ahead: “May I write in the book to fix it?”

I think “bemused” would be the best word for his expression; he apparently found it charmingly odd that I would a) notice, b) care, c) go so far as to fix the error, and mostly d) find such obvious heart-and-soul satisfaction in doing so.

I knew I wasn’t… I won’t say “normal”, maybe “typical” is a better word. I wasn’t a typical kid when it came to language. My parents loved language, and I didn’t realize that people who found hyper-precise word choice a positive laugh riot were few and far between.

For example, here’s a family-culture joke from my childhood. Let’s say there was a cake in the fridge. (There wasn’t. Like, ever. But let’s just say.) Given that there wasn’t EVER a cake in the fridge, such a thing would hardly go unnoticed or, for that matter, uneaten. Because cake.

“This cake,” one of my parents would declaim, “is PURPLE.”

Which meant that it was not to be touched — or, most especially, eaten — because it was reserved for some special purpose. Why purple? Because why say something boring like “off limits” when it would be ridiculously precise — and therefore highly amusing — to say…? 10 points if you can guess…?


And thus, “purple”.*

Because, come on! That’s comedy gold right there!

At least I thought so in 8th grade, about the time I was so genuinely, physically pained by a word-choice error in a textbook that I felt the need to actually write in said textbook — a major infraction — to correct it.

And, looking back, I suppose I should have registered the importance of my science teacher’s bemusement. At the time, I could not hear the cosmic “Yoink!” of predestination. At the time, I was just too chuffed about crossing out “then” with a neat little rectangle and printing “than” above it in my best approximation of the font in the textbook.

And so, yeah. Editor. And as I heave a heavy sigh and DRAAAAAG myself to my computer every morning, I look back on that moment and think to myself…

“Somebody wants to PAY me for this? Woo-hoo!”

…and I happily swap “then”s for “than”s all the doo-dah-day!



*It occurs to me now that it would have been funnier to announce “this cake is NOT PURPLE!” Because INviolate. Get it?

(cricket… cricket…)

OK, nevermind.

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Filed under Editors: What is Wrong with Us?, Nerd Candy, Nerd o' the Day

Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors

“What do we get out of this exchange, other than Elle’s stubborn resistance to having a catfish chew on her arm?”

OK, if the title didn’t, THAT little gem has to get you — how do you not click immediately to read the excerpt that inspired a glorious sentence like that? You don’t. I mean, you do. Click, that is…

Oh, just click already; it’s K. M. Weiland, how do you go wrong there?!

(You don’t!)

via Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors.

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World Wide Words Newsletter: 13 Apr 2013

Michael Quinlon on the word “Scrumptious”:

We commonly use this to refer to some especially appetising item of food or a very attractive person. Roald Dahl, who wrote the script for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, felt it was appropriate for the character Truly Scrumptious, which must be in contention with Pussy Galore for the worst-ever* invented female movie name.

Critics have not been kind to scrumptious. In 1921, H L Mencken described it as an “artificial word”, lumping it with sockdolager, hunky-dory, spondulix, slumgullion and similar creations of American linguistic ingenuity. In his Dictionary of Modern English Usage in 1926, H W Fowler classed it as a “facetious formation”.

Many dictionaries just say “origin unknown” or “origin uncertain”, not wanting to engage in complicated but ultimately unsatisfying discussions about etymology. This writer has no such qualms.

via World Wide Words Newsletter: 13 Apr 2013.

*or BEST-ever, depending on your perspective.

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Filed under Etymology, Fancy Words, Nerd Candy, Wordy Websites

Because That’s How the Word Nerds Roll (World Wide Words Newsletter: 30 Mar 2013

De-extinction Several readers pointed out that, strictly speaking, it’s not possible to de-extinct the California condor, since it is not yet extinct, though despite a captive breeding programme it remains endangered.

via World Wide Words Newsletter: 30 Mar 2013.

PS. — if you don’t receive this newsletter there is a vast, aching hole in your life that can never be filled. Um, except by this newsletter. Or something.


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Editorial Facepalm O’ The Day

“You can rely on our firm to provide you with the assistance you need to secure the effective results which you can expect.”

I am not making this up.

What’s an editor to do?

Well, OK, I know what I am to do, because I already did it. What I’d really like to know is…

What would YOU do?


Filed under Nerd Candy, Rewrite

Life After NaNoWriMo: What’s Next for Your Novel?

Shameless Self-Promotion time! ePublish Unum just published my article “Life After NaNoWriMo: What’s Next For Your Novel?” on their blog. Exciting! This is one of a series of articles that will eventually feed into an ebook, tentatively titled “Editors Explained”.

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Filed under Extra! Extra!, Nerd Candy

An article about publishing articles written the way articles should be written. Or something.

“Skeuomorphism is traditionally attached to design decisions. We bring the mechanical camera shutter sound to digital cameras because it feels good. We render paper page flips in our digital reading applications because it’s familiar.”

via Subcompact Publishing — by Craig Mod.

Read that over again.

OK, let me tell you two things about that short paragraph.

First, it does not come after a definition of “skeuomorphism”. It’s slung into the middle of the article without even a how-d’ye-do.

Second, it’s better than any dictionary definition.

Third… OK, I guess it’s three things.

Third, the mental exercise you’ve just gone through, figuring out what a ridiculous-looking word like “skeuomorphism” might mean based on what at first looks like zero evidence? And then feels like “more than ample” evidence? And then reveals itself as that elusively elegant “just barely enough” evidence that I’d kill to have written myself? Yeah, you have to do that for the whole article. Genius.

This is not the “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em — tell ’em — tell ’em what you told ’em” essay we all learned to write in high school. This is something else entirely.

I used to tutor at the Northeastern University Writing Canter, one of my many duties as a graduate slave. I particularly liked this one, because I got to work with many EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students and learn how other languages arrange themselves. One student I worked with was Japanese, and was having trouble with the blunt, ham-fisted American thesis structure.

In Japanese writing, she told me, elegant prose does not just BLAH the main point right off the bat. Elegant writing speaks around the topic, leading the reader to a very satisfying “aha!” moment at the conclusion. And you’ve gotta admit — readers are far less likely to say “so what?” to a point they’ve seemingly arrived at themselves.

That’s what Craig Mod is doing here — leading us through examples that contribute to but do not entirely define the topic. Its up to us to build the thing as we go along.

Give yourself a treat — set aside some time to read this slowly, and truly appreciate the writing skill involved.

Oh — also you might be interested in the information about compact publishing. I guess.

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“It would have been truly spectacular if they had wound up with a talking mouse.”

A Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks –

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now genetically engineered a strain of mice whose FOXP2 gene (identified in 1998 as the human gene for language) has been swapped out for the human version. Svante Paabo, in whose laboratory the mouse was engineered, promised several years ago that when the project was completed, “We will speak to the mouse.” He did not promise that the mouse would say anything in reply, doubtless because a great many genes must have undergone evolutionary change to endow people with the faculty of language, and the new mouse was gaining only one of them. So it is perhaps surprising that possession of the human version of FOXP2 does in fact change the sounds that mice use to communicate with other mice, as well as other aspects of brain function.

via A Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks –

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Filed under Nerd Candy, The Science of Language

Omnivoracious: Unnecessary Words, Blah Words, and Just Plain Wrong Words

Excellent advice from Excellent writer Susan J. Morris:

“There are some things you want to be invisible, like panty lines, pet hair (that’s taken up residence on your shirt), and pimples. And there are other things you definitely don’t want invisible, like doors, fast-moving cars, and your pants. One of the jobs of a writer is to successfully sort things into those two camps, and assign words accordingly. Otherwise, you end up with plenty of panty lines, pet hair, and pimples, but no pants, as you slam into an invisible door, fall, and are painfully but not fatally run over by . . . something. Look, it had tires, if the tracks on your shirt are any indication, but after that, you really have no idea.”

via Omnivoracious: Unnecessary Words, Blah Words, and Just Plain Wrong Words.

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Filed under Fancy Words, Nerd Candy, Writing and Writers

Ruth Carter: Amazon Best Seller!

Now, this is really exciting.

I had a blast working with Ruth, and the book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Fired, Sued, Arrested, or Killed, is really great.

And now it’s an Amazon best seller!

NOT only that, but Ruth put her editor and her cover designer in the meta data for the book! That’s super kind.

Mazel tov to Ruth!

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Filed under Nerd Candy, Wordy Awesomeness of the Day, Writing and Writers