May 20

Wednesday Writing Tip #121: What is the Plural of Dwarf?

Tolkien-Dwarf-187x300J.R.R. Tolkien is famous for the invention of elaborate fantasy worlds, with their own languages, mythos, and races of beings, but did you know he is also largely the root of a common misspelling? Not getting into the correctness of using the noun “dwarf” for anything but the fictional beings, do you know the plural of this word?

“Dwarves,” you might say—that’s what Tolkien uses, after all. But then, of course, you’d be wrong. The plural of “dwarf” is actually “dwarfs.” Don’t believe me? Disney got it right when they titled their movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Astronomers talk about “white dwarfs.” The non-traditional plural ending “-fs” is in fact the correct answer.

When you use the word “dwarf” as a verb, the same form appears. For example, “In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, an elf dwarfs a dwarf.”

Was Tolkien trying to continue his original world-building by using the non-traditional ending for the plural of dwarf? Who knows. All I know is that I see it incorrect all of the time.

But no longer from you, dear reader, right?

May 13

Wednesday Writing Tip #120: Fortuitous vs. Fortunate

fortuitous vs fortunate bubbleThere are words in our vocabulary that we misuse all of the time—think nauseous vs. nauseated, famous vs. infamous, convince vs. persuade, historic vs. historical, etc. Another easily confused pair is “fortuitous” and “fortunate.” Are you aware that both don’t necessary imply any degree of luck.

Yes, to be “fortunate,” is to be lucky or auspicious.

For something to be “fortuitous,” however, it means that it happened by chance or by accident. There is no positive or lucky implication inherent in this word.

Of course, the English language is a malleable thing—whether the by-the-book grammarians of the world like it or not. Because of this fortunate/fortuitous confusion, recent dictionaries have started to include a second “informal” definition of “fortuitous” as “something favorable or lucky that happens by chance.” Is this the true meaning? No. But just like literally now can mean to opposite of literally, “fortuitous” can now mean a misunderstood version of its definition. Sigh.

Take it or leave it, but now you can at least be aware you’re annoying the grammar-righteous. And knowing you’re troubling people is the first step, I suppose.

May 06

Wednesday Writing Tip #119: Spigot vs. Spicket


The earth laughs in flowers…especially when your spigot is working.

When you’re referring to your outdoor faucet, are you using the right word? Think fast. How do you spell it? How do you pronounce it?

“Spigot” is the correct answer. Did you get it? “Spicket”—though commonly said and written—is not actually a word. This confusion dates back to the Middle English “spyket,” according to Merriam-Webster though, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about it if you had it wrong.

Now you know, right?

Okay, back to watering my garden…

Apr 29

Wednesday Writing Tip #118: Overdo vs. Overdue

Overdo overdue

Don’t overdo it with your overdue books.

When you do something over, you don’t “overdo” it; you “redo” it. When something needs to be returned, it’s “due.” When it’s late, it’s “overdue.” When perhaps the barometric pressure has a weird effect, maybe there’s such a thing as “overdew.” Okay, I might have made up that last one.

Admittedly, this is one that sometimes makes me stop and think. But remember, “overdo” always involves the verb “do” as in “doing” something. “Overdue” always goes back to that “due date.”

Am I overdoing it with these grammar tips? I hope not. Do I have any library books that are overdue? Possible. Did my feet get wet because of some “overdew” when I walked through the grass this morning? I’m going to call artistic license on that one.

Happy writing, everyone.

Apr 22

Wednesday Writing Tip #117: Wack vs. Whack

Whac a MoleYou know what’s wack? Spellcheck. It isn’t up with the times—and by “times,” I don’t just mean the past few decades.

“Wack” has been an accepted term for someone who is a bit odd for a long time (originating roughly in the 1930s), most likely coming from the adjective “wacky.” More recently (roughly the 1980s), it became a term for something of dubious quality or something inferior or bad. It’s slang, sure, but when it has a unique spelling, you need to make sure you’re not misusing it when you mean something else.

“Whack” (with the “h”) has a few definitions from striking forcefully to the strike itself to murdering and beyond, but that “h” is necessary in all of these forms.

And here’s a twist: remember that old arcade game where you whack moles with a big mallet? That was called Whac-a-mole. I know. It’s wack.

Thus ends today’s random lesson in word confusion.

Apr 15

Wednesday Writing Tip #116: Regardless vs. Irregardless

“IrregardlessIrregardless is not a word” is not a word. Please stop using it. Don’t you love it when things are simple?

Apr 08

Wednesday Writing Tip #115: Raised vs Rose

The fog rose or the fog raised

Think fast: the fog raised off of the fields or the fog rose off of the fields?

Much like lay and lie, we have another transitive-intransitive verb situation on our hands. Darn it. I lost you with more grammar language again. Strike that! I meant cat riding a skateboard! Puppies snowboarding! Donkeys driving speedboats! Back with me? Okay, let’s dive in.

We’re working with two different words here: raise and rise. Both mean to move upward, of course, but the difference is whether the subject is moving or the subject is moving an object.

“Raise” is the transitive verb (stay with me!). It requires an object. For example, she raises her head; we raised a glass.

“Rise” is the intransitive verb (You’ve come this far. Hang on!). It doesn’t require an object. For example, the sun rises in the morning; I rose out of my bed.

You can see from my examples that “raised” is the past tense of “raise” and “rose” is the past tense of “rise.”

Of course, you have to keep a look out for “razed” as well, but that is a whole other story. We’ll leave that destruction to another day.

Apr 01

Wednesday Writing Tip #114: Disinterested vs. Uninterested

disinterested uninterested writingThere are some words that people use as synonyms when they really aren’t. Yep, this is me calling you out again, language lazy friends. Or perhaps that’s too strong. Maybe it’s not laziness so much as ignorance. Grammar naiveté. So often these are subtleties never taught, after all. So how are you to pick them up on your own? That’s what I’m here for, folks.

“Disinterested” and “uninterested” are another example of words that are treated as synonyms but actually have different meanings.

To be “disinterested” means to be impartial. A disinterested person wouldn’t have a stake in the outcome. To be “uninterested” means that you simply don’t care. This is a subtle difference, but one worth noting.

For example, a disinterested referee would call the game fairly. An uninterested referee might not be paying much attention.

Have you been using these words correctly?

Mar 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #113: You’re Welcome

welcome welcomed cute dog

“Welcome!” says this welcome little bundle of cuteness. (You’re welcome.)

A welcomed question came my way last week. Or was it a welcome question? You see where I’m going here. The word “welcome” can be one that you overthink since it has so many forms. It can be an interjection (“Welcome, friend!”), a verb (“He welcomed them into his home”), or an adjective (“a most welcome language tip”).

Remember that only verbs have to worry about tense. Even if something was welcome last week or last year, if you’re using the word “welcome” as an adjective, you never need to add on that “d” or any other conjugated form. The same thing goes for interjections, of course, but I’m not convinced that’s one that you’d be confused by. (“Welcomed!” “Welcoming!”—Yep, it sounds weird no matter how you do it).

Great question, grammar-concerned friend. Does anyone have any others?

Mar 18

Wednesday Writing Tip #112: For all intents and purposes (not “intensive purposes”)

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger – Portrait of Henry VIII – Google Art Project

He was Henry the eighth, he was. Henry the eighth, he was, he was.

Did you know that the origin of this tricky idiom goes back to a single member of English royalty? Henry VIII is the one for whom you can blame this phrase. Its first recorded use appears to be a 1539 proclamation of parliament. And yes, it was written “for all intents and purposes,” not “intensive purposes.” As you know, it means “for all practical reasons” or simply “in effect.”

If you were first introduced to this phrase in spoken English rather than written English, I can understand the confusion, but be sure not to sound silly if you use the expression yourself. For all intents and purposes, “intents and purposes” is the way to go.

Got it?

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