Good grammar

Speed Bump by Dave CoverlyHappy National Grammar Day!

March forth today (on March 4) to “speak well, write well, and help others do the same.”

As a writer and editor, that’s actually my job every day of the year. But, today, the entire country joins in to celebrate all things good grammar.

So, in honor of National Grammar Day 2014, try not to misuse the word “literally,” think twice about where to put that comma, and—please—double check that text before pressing send!

2013 Word-pocalypse

Every year, I look forward to New Year’s Eve, when the snarky word police at Lake Superior State University (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) release their annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

banished!What began 39 years ago, when some administrators at the university created a list of annoying words and phrases, has become an international phenomenon—through the years, the university has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list. Clearly, there are a lot of opinionated linguaphiles out there; count me among them!

Did your favorite—er, least favorite—make the cut?

Selfie – Everybody’s doing it: from Kim Kardashian to President Obama. But does it really need its own term? What’s wrong with “photo”?

Twerk – This word became so popular that it made the Oxford Dictionaries Online this year. I like the word about as much as I like the dance …

-ageddon and –pocalypse – Snow-pocalypse? Ice-ageddon? I don’t recall hearing about them in Sunday school.

Twittersphere – Is that above or below the mesosphere? Either way, I tend to keep my distance.


Mister mom


____ on steroids

Intellectually/morally bankrupt



Fan base

It’s National Punctuation Day!

Eclipse by Jose Maria Cuellar Think an ellipsis is when the moon moves in front of the sun?

Then today is for you.

Take some time on this 10th annual National Punctuation Day® (NPD) to brush up on the proper use of punctuation—because, as the NPD website reminds us, “a semicolon is not a surgical procedure.”

Happy National Punctuation Day, everyone!

We’re “literally” changing the dictionary

Dictionary by greeblie.In case you haven’t heard, Google recently updated its online dictionary to include a new definition of the word literally: Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

Now, linguaphiles like myself shudder at the frequent misuse of the word that has invaded sports, the media, and pop culture:

“In his youth, Michael Owen was literally a greyhound.” – soccer pundit Jamie Redknapp

“Joe Biden literally takes a beating on Twitter” – New York Daily News

 “I literally want to rip your head off!” - Robin Scherbatsky, How I Met Your Mother

But, according to Google and other dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster and Cambridge, the word can now be used in a similar way to “metaphorically.” That is, in addition to its traditional definition: In a literal manner; word for word.

To me, the move by Google (although deeply distressing) brings up bigger questions about the role of dictionaries: Do they exist to catalog the language as it should be spoken or as it actually is spoken? I’d argue that the role of a dictionary is to do both. Therefore, it is up to us, the grammarians and linguists of the world, to ensure that people know the difference between the two.

For the correct usage of the word, please check out my previous post: I’m literally sick of the term “literally” … well, not literally.

Say what?

dialect survey results mapWhen I first met my husband, we had a lot of fun comparing dialects. You see, he’s from the Midwest, and I’m from New England (or “out East,” as his family still calls it), and, when it comes to verbalizing certain words and phrases, it seems like we come from entirely different countries.

“Say ‘coffee,’” his siblings would goad me on my first visits to his home. “Caw-fee,” I’d oblige.

“Order a soda,” my friends and I would urge him. And he’d humor us with a “pop, please”—much to the chagrin of our New England waitress, who figured he wanted a popsicle or a lollypop.

Recently, Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics at North Carolina State University, published a group of visualizations that examine regional dialect variation in the continental United States. You can view the maps on his website.

The results I found the most fascinating include answers to the following questions:

How do you pronounce Mary/merry/marry?
According to the results map, 99% of the country believes the answer is “the same.” This shocked me because I live in the 1% that believes all three are different!

What do you call a sale of unwanted items?
To me, it’s always a “yard sale,” whether it’s on your front yard, in your garage, or on your porch. To my husband’s family, it’s a “garage sale”—even though they always have theirs in their driveway.

What do you call a traffic situation in which several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point?
Here in New England, where the roads are tight, crowded, and anything but parallel or perpendicular, these things are everywhere. We call them “rotaries.” People in the mid-Atlantic call them “traffic circles”; people out West call them “roundabouts.” The first time my husband encountered one, while driving in a particularly busy area, he had another word for it—one I can’t repeat here. ;)

B strong.

B strong

Sometimes, it’s OK to break the rules of grammar.


Celebrate Grammar!

grammar T-shirtGrammarians, unite—and celebrate!

March 4 is National Grammar Day, a day to “speak well, write well, and help others do the same.” It’s a mission we writers and editors promote all year long.

So, how will you celebrate National Grammar Day 2013? Here are some ideas:

Play the AnaGrammar Game, and unscramble grammar-related anagrams to win a prize.

Download free wallpaper for your desktop (Check ’em out—they’re quite witty!).

Read some funny typo stories—or share your own!

Buy a language-themed T-shirt.

Write a grammar haiku.

I plan to spend the day—red pen in hand, stylebook at elbow—editing brochures for a client. A perfect way to observe this special day. However you choose to celebrate, do it with good humor—and great grammar!


(No Cursing??) Sign by christopherdaleEach year, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., releases its “List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.”

Compiled from thousands of nominations, the list is comprised of overused words and phrases and pet peeves from everyday speech, the media, technology, advertising, and politics.

Here are a few terms from the list that I would love to see banned in 2013:

Well, we didn’t tumble over it, but I sure wish the people who keep using this phrase would tumble over some kind of cliff.

This acronym for “You Only Live Once” is really just an excuse to do stupid things. Thanks, Twitter, for yet another incredibly pointless and annoying contribution to the English language.

The term “SPOILER ALERT” is really not all that effective when it’s immediately followed by the plot point or sport score it’s attempting to protect us from.

If there’s something you want to do before you die, then stop writing about it and just do it. Let’s kick this term out of our vocabulary, shall we?

Why? Seriously. Why?

What makes a food “super”? Good marketing, apparently. According to the medical community, açaí is no more nutritious than an apple.

The rest of the list:


Building Excellent SchoolsCongratulations to Building Excellent Schools and the creative crew at Pagano Media on their recent Gold International Davey Award for Website Design (Education Category) from the International Academy of the Visual Arts!

SmithWriting is proud to have partnered with this award-winning team, helping to tell the compelling story of Building Excellent Schools, a national nonprofit committed to improving the academic achievement of underserved students in urban centers by starting and sustaining charter schools of excellence.

With nearly 4,000 entries, the Davey Awards honors the finest creative work from the best small firms, agencies, and companies worldwide—the “Davids” of creativity. Like the Biblical David who defeated the giant Goliath with a big idea and a little rock, these small firms derive their strength from big ideas, rather than big budgets, like many of the giant firms in the industry.

The Davey Awards is judged and overseen by the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA), a 200+ member organization of leading professionals from various disciplines of the visual arts dedicated to embracing progress and the evolving nature of traditional and interactive media. IAVA is comprised of media, advertising, and marketing professionals from such organizations as Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Yahoo!, Estee Lauder, Wired, The Webby Awards, Bath & Body Works, Brandweek, Polo Ralph Lauren, ADWEEK, Coach, MTV, HBO, The Ellen Degeneres Show,, and many others.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Autumnal punctuation by justmakeitSeptember 24 marks the ninth annual National Punctuation Day® (NPD), the holiday that, according to the NPD website, “reminds America that a semicolon is not a surgical procedure.”

As grammar lovers know, there are many ways to celebrate this special day: Read a newspaper and correct all of the punctuation errors you find with a red pen. Bake your favorite pastry or bread in the shape of a punctuation mark. Or take photos of punctuation marks you find in nature.

Punctuation (and political!) pundits are encouraged to enter this year’s NPD contest and vote for your favorite “Presidential Punctuation Mark” in one, highly punctuated paragraph (see website for details).

However you choose to observe NPD, do it with style! (And consistency. And proper grammar …)

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