Merriam-Webster’s Election ‘Coverage’


On the eve of Election Day in the United States, there are all kinds of words swirling around. Let’s look at the vocabulary of an election. (All definitions are from

Rhetoric: 1. the art of speaking or writing effectively…; 2. a: the study   skill in the effective use of speech; b:  a type or mode of language or speech; also:  insincere or grandiloquent language; 3:  verbal communication:  discourse

Partisan: 1.:  a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person; especially:  one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance

Campaign: 1. a connected series of military operations forming a distinct phase of a war; 2.  a connected series of operations designed to bring about a particular result <election campaign>

Stump:  5. a place or occasion for public speaking (as for a cause or candidate); also:  the circuit followed by a maker of such speeches —used especially in the phrase on the stump

Swing:  ato cause to move vigorously through a wide arc or circle <swing an ax> b:  to cause to sway to and fro; c (1 :  to cause to turn on an axis (2) :  to cause to face or move in another direction <swing the car into a side road> [A swing state is a state whose voting may swing the election in one direction.]

Pollster:  someone who makes questions for a poll, asks questions in a poll, or collects and presents results from a poll

Those headed out to vote tomorrow can now feel secure in their knowledge of election terminology. Have fun!


Ooh! Talk Jargon to Me – Not!

talkjargontome“The product availability situation is resultant from an undertooled matrix team deficient in chronological implementation systems,” declared the CEO.

Adolescent commas and dashes squealed and swooned in ecstasy to hear the jargon.

“Name and goodwill and payment of the Holders from service of the Plan Years, the Warrant certificates are no portion of the Warrants which will emanate from Licensor,” crooned the lawyer.

“Don’t they just talk fancy!” one dash proclaimed.

Fancy, yes; intelligible, definitely not.

Jargon in general writing is a blatant symptom of “I want to sound smart” syndrome (IWTS3). Remember? We talked about this. The way to be smart is to write clearly, not to write so no one can understand you.

Yes, there is a place for jargon – among people in the same occupation. That’s because jargon is like a shorthand for people with a common background for quick communication. It’s like another language, which is exactly the reason it shouldn’t be used in mixed company.

When using jargon, IWTS3 sufferers display

  • an uncontrollable desire to be admired for their enigmatic words,
  • the mistaken idea that people actually enjoy trying to sift through the dreck to find the kernel of meaning, and
  • a smug power high which radiates, “You’re too ignorant to understand.”

How do we cure IWTS3 sufferers from using jargon?

The old treatment was to slap the writer upside the head with a pica stick*.  That turned out to be pretty ineffective (no matter how satisfying for the editor).

Modern treatment is to lock the writer up with a group of copy editors and grammar geeks screaming, “Revise! Revise! Revise!”

The length of exposure depends on the persistence of the condition.


*In the “bad old days,” editors used a stick with pica measurements to make sure headlines would fit. Talk about using jargon!

Is It Labor If You Love It?

9-5-2016 computer-clipart copy

When I was a journalist, the owner of the local construction and demolition company would always let me know when they were taking down one of the old, historic buildings in town.  I’d go and photograph the demise of the local landmarks.

The company owner liked to recycle some of the old fixtures, so it wasn’t a quick smash job. It was a surgical removal, and the guy in the backhoe was Dr. Demolition.

He used to rumble toward the building in his huge backhoe, the massive bucket with those nasty looking teeth poised over a wall, and he would gently, ever so gently, start prying away the roof, the walls, the floors.

It was an entrancing process. I watched for hours. It reminded me of those nature shows where the baby elephants run through the legs of the mammoth adults without getting injured.

Dr. Demolition was a master at this craft and obviously loved his work.

That’s the way I feel about writing and editing. It’s hard work, but I am always striving to hone my craft. I don’t just say, “I’m a good editor and writer.” I don’t sit on my laurels. I’m constantly watching webinars, visiting other people’s blogs, and practicing.

I love looking at all the variables involved in writing and how best to apply the language to accomplish the goal. This is the same whether it is writing this blog or helping a company polish its web content.

Sure, there are points when yet another comma splice feels like the last straw – a sure sign I need a coffee break. Yet I keep going back. I’m head-over-heals enamored with communicating with the English language!

How about you? Do you love your “work”?

What’s in a Phrase?


Can a phrase be one word?

A little while ago, I decided to do some light reading (Hermione Granger style) and stuck my nose into It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande.

Such a great title, but I didn’t get very far before I found some areas of contention — not surprising in grammar geekdom. The most glaring is her definition of “phrase.”

In Chapter 3, Ms. Casagrande defines a phrase as “a single word or cluster of words that together work in your sentence as a single part of speech.” In Appendix A, the definition is “a unit of one or more words that function as either a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective, or a prepositional phrase.”

This seems pretty straightforward, yet the idea that a phrase can be a single word throws a wrench into the works for me. I’ve looked all over the place — in dictionaries, style books, and grammar texts — and every definition of “phrase” I encounter specifies that it is a group of words. Plural.

“Pshaw, Annette!” you say. “Why concern yourself with such a petty detail?”

I find it hard enough to get people to understand the different parts of speech without complicating things. Ms. Casagrande, in her appendix, gives examples of phrases including regularly (adverb phrase) and enjoy (verb phrase).

Why confuse learners by saying regularly is both an adverb and an adverb phrase? Enjoy (present tense) is a verb; a verb phrase in my mind would be has enjoyed.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just being too picky. What do you think?



😕 My Emoji Anxiety 😓

Yesterday (July 17) was World Emoji Day, and I felt a bit like Chicken Little. chickenemoji.png

The thought of emoji taking over human communication flashed across my mind, and I feared for the state of the written word. 😥

Are we falling back into the age of hieroglyphics? Will we lose the nuances only a written sentence can provide? Can emoji actually help communication cross language barriers or will cultural perspectives trip us up?👸👳💂

Just look at the emoji translation of the first line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:EmojiCallmeIshmaelI don’t get it.

Will I be forced to learn a new language? (Seriously, I’m finally getting English straightened out in my head!) 😖

To calm my fears, I did what I usually do: I looked on the Web to see what other people are thinking. Turns out, most “experts” believe that emoji will augment writing much like facial expressions and hand gestures augment speaking.🙆

As someone of Italian descent, I think I can live with that.🍕💁


P.S. I’m not fluent in emoji. If I’ve created something negative or off-color, it was unintentional. 😳

Writing Explosions


It’s July 4, and in the U.S.A. that means fireworks!

I struggled to write a blog about how to make a blog explosive when I tripped across Explode the Moment. This is a module for language arts curriculum designed to build descriptive writing.

I think it could be a lot of fun. The idea is to take one moment in a story and explode it with details. Put the scene into slow motion detailing thoughts and describing what you’re sensing.

Here’s the scene: You’re John Hancock. It’s July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia and you’re just about to put your name on the Declaration of Independence.

Have fun and share your moment with us!


Here’s a quick version from me:

It was 76 degrees and humid, a bit uncomfortable despite the breeze limply rifling the curtains. It wasn’t just the layers of linen and silk of his suit or even his wig that caused small beads of sweat to sprout on John Hancock’s forehead. The subdued conversations, foot shuffling, and coughs in the room only too clearly demonstrated how precipitous things were. The noises in the room mixed with the clip-clop of hooves, snatches of conversation, and shouts of the street merchants drifting in from the open windows.

The men were tired from a night spent arguing points and rewriting phrases. Many mouths yawned wide.  A few soft snores escaped. Smoke from the many pipes made a thick cloud layer near the ceiling and gave the room an acrid smell.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were seated together. Jefferson, even seated, towered above most in the room. Adams had a bulldog attitude. Franklin was leaning forward in his chair, both hands on the head of his walking stick, a slight smirk on his face. He reminded Hancock of an old, fat, gray, cat sitting there ready to pounce on any weakness. Hancock wondered if he looked like a mouse to Franklin.

Seated at his desk on a raised platform facing the representatives, Hancock toyed a bit with his ebony walking stick with the ivory knob that leaned against his chair. His stomach was tight with anticipation and trepidation. Charles Thomson, secretary to the Continental Congress, placed the document, the Declaration of Independence, before Hancock and stood nearby as witness.

 Hancock confidently scooped up a quill from the table before him. With dramatic flair, he plunged the quill with its rough, stiff shaft into the inkwell. A few drops of ink spilled out onto the green cloth that covered the desk.

“Gentlemen,” he nodded to the group.

With wide, forceful strokes, the quill scratching on the parchment, Hancock signed his name in huge letters across the document. He was sure Franklin could read it from where the old man sat.

“There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!”

It was done.

Why I Rove Through Dictionaries

Just a few dictionaries
Just a few of the “crew.”

When I tell people I own lots of dictionaries (a number recently swelled by a trip to the thrift store), they give me The Look.

Oh, you know The Look, where the eyes go askance and seem to say, “She’s just too weird to look at directly, but I can’t drag my eyes totally away.”

I mean, who in her right mind collects dictionaries? In my life, they’re like those hairpins that cloud around the witch in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon. I have at least one in every room. (Not the bathrooms; I’m not that odd! Although…)

In an age that provides instant access to words and their meanings (and just about anything else), why would I clutter my life with books that contain just words?

See, that’s what people just don’t understand. A dictionary is not “just words.” Each holds such a wealth of information that it makes me almost giddy. You can find out all about a word from a good dictionary – where it comes from, how it’s pronounced, what its job is, and how it can transform itself.

I’ll often just wander through a volume looking at different words. This usually happens when I need to look up a word during a task I’d rather avoid. I end up going from one interesting entry to another pursuing words that catch my eye. This can last hours.

That’s one reason I have physical books instead of going up on an internet site. In a book, I can thumb through pages and have words jump out at me that I just have to check out.

Am I a closet lexicographer? Or am I just a logophile — or is that lexicomane or lexophile? I’ll have to go look them up.

Weekend Wrinkle: Are You an Idle-headed Snipe?

normal_Jack_SnipeI was watching a program about life in the Middle Ages recently, and the gentleman was discussing falconry and expressions still in use that come from it. We still use phrases like “under one’s thumb” and “wrapped around his little finger.”

This got me thinking about origins of today’s expressions, which morphed into changes in word use, which made me think of one of my lessons on slang, which brought me to a website on Elizabethan insults. (Whew! finally made it.)

Elizabethan Oaths, Curses, and Insults has this neat little program that lets you generate an Elizabethan insult! How fun is that?

It seems to be written for those in the Renaissance Faire biz, but the idea that Shakespeare’s contemporaries got so creative with their phrasing of insults is just a blast. (Of course, they had a lot more time on their hands to think this stuff up.)

Come on, don’t you agree that “Verily, ye be a droning, idle-headed snipe” is much more interesting than “You are so dense”?

Maybe I can get away with, “S’wounds! Thou art a beslubbering, flap-mouthed moldwarp!” when I’m driving.

Think about how much more interesting road rage would be.


Weekend Wrinkle: Even the Best Vocabulary Can Go Awry

Even people with good vocabularies can make mistakes, especially when words are close in meaning.


Recently, I saw a job posting for a large company looking for someone with skills to “compliment” the company’s values.

I guess they’ll get lots of cover letters that describe the values as smart, attractive, and progressive. I’m not sure how well those candidates’ skill sets will fit together with (complement) what the company needs.

One blog post said a sports team “wreaked” of apathy. I’m sure what the writer meant was reeked.

The one that caused a double take and which I actually had to look up was one blogger’s need to “allude” a poor situation. I knew it was wrong; I just needed to check to make sure that the writer wasn’t referring to the situation but looking to avoid (or elude) it.

Hey, I’m the woman who always has to check continual versus continuous.

The moral is: Don’t assume, just because you have a really good vocabulary, you won’t make mistakes.  When in doubt, look it up.

Does Culling Vocabulary ‘Dumb Down’ Future Writing?

In “Elegy for lost verbiage,” Economist Obituary Editor Ann Wroe  wrote a wonderful piece using words that are disappearing from the SAT verbal test in 2016. RIP vocabulary

The piece was sent to me recently by my friend (and clipping service) Barbara S. Rivette. The editor in both of us just can’t let items like this pass by.

Now, I’m not opposed to eliminating antediluvian words such as cleave, gourmand, pellucid, penurious, vituperate, and obstreperous. However, I think the College Board has gone a little too far.

Among the words headed for the garbage heap are garrulous, virtuoso, duress, licentious, dirge, bashful, quaint, negligent, and (appropriately) extraneous. I think these are words that can pinpoint meaning and give just the right seasoning to our writing. Other words on the chopping block that I think are vivid and useful are maelstrom, nadir, beguile, morass, tirade, and anachronistic.

With immediate access to online dictionaries, why are we eliminating these words from the vocabulary of our young people? Will we revert to monosyllabic synonyms to ensure students can pass their SATs with enough points to get into college? What then?

One of the best things about English is its lush, expansive vocabulary. It has a huge inventory that allows for beautiful verbal creations. Can you imagine poets 25 years from now not having diaphanous in their word arsenals?

By not expecting students to stretch their vocabularies, are we doing a disservice to future writers?