Category Archives: Nerd o’ the Day

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

NERD Nerd o’ the Day

This little bit if awesome does not precisely fit the Word Nerd category, but I can’t help it. I heard an interview (NPR, natch) about this unbelievable event, and in honor of its gorious nerdosity, I nominate as Dispatches from Wordnerdia‘s NERDnerd O’ The Day… Former U.S. Attorney Patrick “Last Honorable Man” Fitzgerald!

(And why didn’t I nominate any of the other dudes involved in this thing? Because P. Fitzy is funnier than all of ’em combined. And also pretty easy on the eyes. What, he is!)

ANYway, what did Attorney Fitzgerald do to deserve this humbling honor?

Get this:

“Star litigators in Chicago are preparing to retry a controversial 2,400-year-old free speech case that famously resulted in the death of Socrates, now considered the father of Greek philosophy, when he drank a cup of poisonous hemlock.”

(Did you hear that? That momentary silence? That was the sound of a million nerdy hearts skipping a beat.)

This is a fundraiser for the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, and popular demand for the event is such that they’ve already moved it to a larger hall. If you’re in Chicago and you have a spare $100 lying around… send it to me! Or, sure, I guess you could go to the trial. If you do, please congratulate Attorney Fitzgerald on his Major Award from Wordnerdia! (Leg lamp not included.)

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Word Nerd o’ The Day: Karen Conlin of GRAMMARGEDDON!

Today’s Propeller Beanie Award goes to our Word Nerd o’ The Day, Karen Conlin of GRAMMARGEDDON!  Because along with some very entertaining rants (you know we love those!) Karen and her co-conspirator Ray Vallese provide some extra-handy advice  for writers and editors, FOR EXAMPLE:

PSA: When choosing sites, Tweeters, Plussers, etc. from whom to gather writing and/or editing tips, make sure they’re using the same general rules you are at the start. That is to say: If you’re based in the US, and you begin using tips from someone in the UK, you’ll soon find that your editor (or supervising editor, perhaps) will be making wholesale changes because the style is incorrect for the country’s usage. US usage calls for double quotes when writing dialogue; UK style is single quotes. US usage puts punctuation before a closing quote (most of the time); UK usage puts it after. US usage calls for a period following an abbreviation like Dr. or Mr.; UK usage does not. (UK usage also refers to such abbreviations as contractions, a term that US usage reserves for words like “aren’t.”)

Tips about word usage tend to be far less problematic than those on punctuation. US and UK word usage isn’t all that different in most areas. (The immediate example I come up with is that US usage is “different from” [or “different than,” more casually]  while UK usage is “different to.”)

By all means, follow grammarians and wordsmiths and editors and writers–but If you are not already conversant with your country’s usage rules, I strongly suggest obtaining a copy of a style guide (mine is CMoS, but I also have APA and MLA to hand) against which to check any advice you consider taking. Failure to do so can lead you to writing perfectly well, yet also quite unacceptably.

via (1) Google+.

See? Very handy indeed. And here’s my +1 comment because I know my readers (all 14 of them) will be fascinated:

Huh — thanks for “different to” — I hadn’t noticed that one! I always have to switch gears for “-ise” (UK) and “-ize” (US). Not to mention the “u” vs “ou” thing. So where we would “glamorize”, in the UK one would “glamourise”. Except one wouldn’t. Because it’s the UK.

As the editors among us have doubtless already noticed, I use the “logical” UK quotation style (putting the periods and commas OUTSIDE the quotation marks when that’s where they belong) as opposed to the “why on earth would you want to do that?!” US style of imposing commas and periods upon the quoted material no matter what. I have done this defiantly (even though it still looks odd to me) since I found out why we do this silly thing, see this footnote from the Darling Guide to Grammar and Punctuation:

Don’t even get me started about the INFURIATING but perfectly correct (I guess) UK usage of “which” for “that”. I might have to point out all the UK grammar rules, which are stupid. (<– See what I did there?)

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Grammar Girl tackles 101 troublesome words –

Congratulations to the talented and, as it turns out, super-cute Mignon Fogarty on the publication of her new book, “Grammar Girl’s 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time”.

As usual, Fogarty’s explanations are clear, complete, entertaining — and disgustingly generous on questions of right and wrong:

“One the one hand, I think people should be careful about the words they use,” she says. “On the other hand, the book is sort of a warning to people who are out there correcting others all the time. Maybe the rules are not as clear and straightforward as you think.”

(Oh, Grammar Girl. Why have you forsaken me?!)


via Grammar Girl tackles 101 troublesome words –

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Nerd o’ the Day: Deborah Bancroft!

Yes, it’s true. I have given myself the coveted Nerd o’ the Day award. But hear me out! Today, my client-turned-friend Patrick E. McLean released the sequel to How to Succeed in Evil, which I edited, entitled How to Succeed in Evil: Hostile Takeover… which I also edited. And I was ridiculously pleased to read this nice credit: “carefully proofed by the meticulous Deborah Bancroft”.

That’s what made my day. Someone called me “meticulous”.


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NOT Safe for Work… but totally worth it

…although the guy talks so fast you really have to pay attention to hear the naughty words.

Which you’re going to do anyway. Because who can resist our Word Nerd o’ The Day Mac Lethal rapping — with mind scrambling speed and enunciation clear enough to make my Grandma Ridgely swoon — about the difference between “your” and “you’re”?

Not you, that’s for sure. Unless you are so offended by standard expletives (and uncalled-for references to male genitalia resembling trombones) that you’d rather pass this one up… in which case too bad for you, because it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

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Filed under Grammar, Nerd Candy, Nerd o' the Day