Nov 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #146: “I couldn’t care less” vs. “I could care less”

You know who could care less? This little guy. But. It's. So. Hard. Squirrel!

You know who could care less? This little guy. But. It’s. So. Hard… Squirrel!

Hint: if you’re talking to a writer or editor, even on social media, try hard to get this phrase right. Heck, if you’re talking to anyone, it’s worth knowing the difference.

If you couldn’t care less about something, that means that you already care so little about the subject that it’s impossible for you to be interested in it even less than you already are. I couldn’t care less about calculus. Or glittering vampires. Or most forms of reality tv. (Sorry, but it’s true).

If you could care less about something, then that means that you do indeed care about it. You maybe aren’t singing it from the rooftops, but there’s room for less interest. And maybe you are singing it from the rooftops; that’s possible too.

This is a writing and speaking tip really. I have faith you can get it right. I’d say I couldn’t care less if you do, but I just do. I really, really do.

Nov 18

Wednesday Writing Tip #145: Empowering Every Sentence (i.e. not starting with “It was…”)

It was a dark and stormy nightNot since “It was a dark and stormy night,” has “It was…” been a recommended start to a sentence. And, really—if we’re getting down to it—the famous Edward Bulwer-Lytton quote could have been stepped up a notch.

Just think about the difference between “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the stormy night was dark.” The switch is a simple one, but suddenly, the line is more direct and a bit ominous.

A writer could (and should) take it further, practicing the old advice of show don’t tell. This exercise might lead to a more evocative sentence still: Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 11

Wednesday Writing Tip #144: Until vs. Till vs. ‘Til

Until vs. Till vs. 'TilQuick, think fast. Which of these three is the oldest form of the word?

Have your answer?

Are you sure?

I’ll be honest. I assumed the wrong answer for a long time, and this assumption lead me to dark, ungrammatical places. Not so scary, perhaps, but not a place any writer wants to be.

Okay, ready? Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 04

Wednesday Writing Tip #143: Regard vs. Regards

In regards to or in regard to

Of course, the argument could be made that “in regard to” is business jargon that could be replaced with “about” or “concerning” for a better effect, but that’s another discussion.

Regarding “regards” or “regard,” remember that the singular form of “regard” is proper in phrases such as “with regard to,” “in regard to,” and similar forms. This seems to be a loose rule these days, since it’s found incorrect so often—even in edited material—but if you’re looking for a straight right-and-wrong answer, there you go.

The plural form of “regards,” is correct in signatures and sign-offs such as “best regards” or “warmest regards.” It’s also the proper form when you’re “giving your regards”—to Broadway or anyone else. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 28

Wednesday Writing Tip #142: “Up and Adam” vs. “Up and at ‘em” vs. “Up and Atom”

If you've always thought the expression all goes back to Adam and the Garden of Eden, it's time to rethink the expression.

If you’ve always thought the expression goes back to Adam and the Garden of Eden, it’s time to know the truth.

Is the expression Biblical in origin? Abbreviated? Scientific? I have seen all three forms of this one written, and I could almost see a logical argument for each version; however, only one is correct.

To clear up the confusion, “up and at ‘em” is the proper form, as in “up and at them.” The colloquial idiom means, in essence, “it’s time to get moving.” It has nothing to do with Adam’s existence in or out of Eden, and it has nothing to do with quantum physics. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 21

Wednesday Writing Tip #141: “Extract Revenge” vs. “Exact Revenge”

"Extract Revenge" vs "Exact Revenge" owl

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this owl is up to something. And I might be a little scared.

If you were a magical being and you were to “extract revenge” from some cauldron of calamity, maybe you’d be using your words correctly. However, for most writers plotting vengeance for their characters (or themselves?), the proper idiom is “to exact revenge.”

***insert menacing music here***

Revenge is a delicate subject. I could see how handling it properly seems like something you might do with a pipette and a beaker, but that’s just not the case.

To “exact revenge” calls back upon an old usage of the word “exact,” specifically to both demand and obtain, most commonly by force. Yikes. A bit more intimidating than pipettes, right?

Oct 14

Wednesday Writing Tip #140: Wreak vs. Wreck Havoc

VCU Havoc

Okay, maybe we’re a month away from basketball season, but VCU fans, I can’t write this post without a shout-out to you.

Pronouncing this phrase, there isn’t often confusion, but when it comes to writing “wreak havoc,” fingers somehow tend to get confused as they type away on their keyboards. Has this happened to you? If so, here’s a gentle reminder:

  • To “wreak” means to inflict or create; thus, to “wreak havoc” means to create havoc or to create chaos or mayhem.
  • If you’re “wrecking havoc,” you’re truly a force to be reckoned with since you’re destroying chaos. Watch out for you. I know I will.

Watch your spelling, and make sure you know what you’re saying, folks. Throwing a hashtag in front of “havoc” isn’t enough to save you.

Oct 07

Wednesday Writing Tip #139: “Hunger pangs” vs. “Hunger pains”

Hunger pangs vs hunger painsGrowing pains are legitespecially when they star Kirk Cameron and young Leonardo DiCaprio—but “hunger pains” are less so. Have you been saying and writing this idiom correctly?

The proper phrase is “hunger pangs.” What is a “pang” you ask? Why a brief feeling of emotional or physical pain, of course. Confusing? Absolutely.

The muddle over the “hunger pangs” vs. “hunger pains” is understandable, but when there’s a correct answer, you’ve got to go with it.

You might have back pains, growing pains, or pains in the neck, but you don’t have “hunger pains.” Unless there’s major malnourishment involved, “pang” is the word you need.

Happy writing and bon appetit!

Sep 30

Wednesday Writing Tip #138: Doing a 180 (not a 360)

turning 180-physically-metaphorically

Be careful with your walking and your writing with this one.

When someone makes a drastic direction change, they are not turning in a full circle. If you miswrite this common phrase as “doing a 360” or “pulling a 360,” you would be metaphorically going 360 degrees around to face in the exact same direction—turning in a circle, which is 360 degrees.

To turn and go the opposite direction, either physically or metaphorically, you would turn 180 degrees.

Tap into those old geometry recollections and remember what you heard there—it was more than just the squeaky leather shoes of your teacher. Now let that basic math knowledge wash over your writing, and you’ll be all the better for it.

Happy writing, everyone!

Sep 23

Wednesday Writing Tip #138: Cutting Sensory Verbs in Description

Cutting sensory verbs in descriptionWhen we have a clear image of a place or a moment in our heads as writers and we want to convey this picture to our readers, multiple challenges arise. How long should our descriptions be? How do we make sure description doesn’t kill the momentum of the story? How much is too much?

What should we leave up to our readers’ imaginations?

Yet in all of the questions about description, one stylistic choice can dramatically improve the end result: cut the sensory verbs that introduce your description.

Let’s take a look at two examples to showcase my point. Read the rest of this entry »

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