Sep 02

Wednesday Writing Tip #135: “Tick” vs. “Tic”

Tick or Tic

My intention was to include a picture of a tick here–as in the insect variety–but have you seen how creepy those things look up close? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Thus, I present to you… a ticking clock. Perhaps still stressful but not nightmare inducing.

When the exterminator comes around, you might have a “nervous tick,” but if you’re referring to a sudden muscle spasm, you need the word “tic.” There are a few definitions to be aware of with these homonyms actually.

Specifically, a “tick” (noun) can be:

  • a bloodsucking arachnid (related to spiders, who knew?),
  • a recurring beat or click (as in a clock),
  • a small dot or check (perhaps marking something off of a list), or
  • a movement in the price of a stock on the Stock Exchange.

On the other hand, a “tic” (noun) can be:

  • a sudden muscle contraction (as noted above) or
  • a personal quirk.

I know this seems complicated. Clocks “tick-tock,” and you can play “tic-tac-toe”; where Rikki-Tikki-Tavi falls in the midst of this, I don’t know.

One little letter can make all the difference. Make sure you know what you’re doing.

Aug 26

Wednesday Writing Tip #134: Recur vs. Reoccur

reoccur vs rocur

Do you have a reoccurring or recurring fear of heights? Does it happen at random or every Sunday when you hike in the mountains?

A reoccurring confusion appears over “recur” vs. “reoccur.” Sometimes it’s a matter of which one to use when. Sometimes it’s a matter of realizing that these are in fact two different words.

  • “Recurring” means that something happens regularly (on a schedule). A weekly meeting is a recurring meeting; a monthly bill is a recurring bill; my recurring writing tips are posted every Wednesday.
  • “Reoccurring” means that something will happen again, but it’s a bit more random or less scheduled. The springtime can have reoccurring thunderstorms; one might have reoccurring typos; your reoccurring reference to my new grammar book might improve your writing skills. (Alright? Not All Right: 100 Writing Tips for the Curious or Confused is now on sale!)

This word choice comes up a lot in corporate communications. I say, impress your supervisors, and teach your team all about it. Shouldn’t savvy language use be one more tactic to get ahead?

Aug 19

Wednesday Writing Tip #133: “Awhile” vs. “A While”

"Stay awhile" or "Stay a while"?

Stay awhile, won’t you?

The trouble with understanding “awhile” vs. “a while” is that their meanings are so gosh darn close that it’s easy to get it wrong. I hate explaining my writing tips by arguing purely about parts of speech, but that’s largely what’s at play here.

“Awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a short time” (e.g., they relaxed awhile by the water then made dinner).

“A while” is an article plus a noun referring to a length of time (e.g. It’s been a while since they visited the lake house).

If you’re stuck with which one to use, think about whether you could swap it out for another adverb (e.g., they relaxed happily/dramatically/ ridiculously by the water). If that doesn’t make sense, think about whether you could swap it out for another duration of time (e.g., it’s been a decade / a day / a year since they visited).

This adverb-noun conundrum baffles time and time again. But I have faith you can get it right. Understanding may take a while, but you’ll get there.

Aug 12

Wednesday Writing Tip #132: Complement vs. Compliment

compliment-complementI would like to give a compliment to you. Perhaps it’s your fabulous grammar know-how. Perhaps it’s your bravery to tackle the sometimes nonsensical English language head-on. Perhaps it’s your awesome earrings. (Where did you get them? Can I borrow them sometime?)

Whatever the reason, remember my first sentence: “I would like to give a compliment.”

If you are looking for the word meaning an expression of praise or admiration, you’re looking for a word with an “i” in it: compliment.

If you are looking for the word meaning something that completes, balances, or pairs well with something else, you’re looking for the form with an “e”: complement.

So if I just complimented you on your earrings, I could note that they complement the necklace that you’re wearing. Or perhaps the sparkle of sun on the Venice canals. Either way, you get the idea.

Aug 05

Wednesday Writing Tip #131: Hone vs. Home

Okay, sure, the ornithologists in the crowd might call me out on the fact that this is not a picture of a homing pigeon.

Okay, sure, the ornithologists in the crowd might call me out on the fact that this is not a picture of a homing pigeon.

Anyone else always call the carrier birds used as little avian messengers “honing pigeons”? No? Me neither. That would be silly.

Why would it be silly? Because while “hone” and “home” are commonly confused, they are two distinct words.

  • Hone – (verb) to sharpen, perfect, or make more acute.
  • Home – (verb) to aim toward a destination with accuracy.

You can hone a skill. A falcon might home in on its prey. One could hone a knife before whittling. A missile might home in on a target.

You shouldn’t ever “hone in on something.” There’s an implied target there, so “home” is the correct word you’re looking for. Pigeons or no pigeons.

Jul 29

Wednesday Writing Tip #130: “To” vs. “Two” vs. “Too”

For the love of grammar, please get this one right, folks!

For the love of grammar, please get this one right, folks!

When we type quickly, our fingers sometimes get spelling amnesia. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking two too to it.

Take the time to edit yourself, and remember the spellings you learned a long, long time ago:

  • To – most commonly a preposition (e.g., from here to there; east to west; pedal to the metal)
  • Two – a noun or an adjective, what one plus one equals
  • Too – an adverb, meaning “also” or “extremely”

Are there more subtleties to these words? Sure. But we’re not getting into those here. Just remember the basics, and please don’t just rely on spell-check. Spell-check isn’t always your friend.

Jul 22

Wednesday Writing Tip #129: Flesh Out vs. Flush Out

flushing out ideas

On the brink of genius, sometimes a kid just needs a little help getting the ideas out. (Flushing out brilliance? I don’t think so.)

If you’re trying to flush out an idea, are you trying to scare it out of hiding? Is that really what you mean? Maybe in some sort of complex psychotherapy that is beyond me, this makes sense, but I’m guessing that wasn’t what you were going for.

“To flush out” is an expression that originates in bird hunting. Perhaps dogs could help flush out the quail, to get them to leave their hiding spaces.

“To flesh out” means to give substance to. If you had a skeleton of an idea, you could flesh it out to give it weight.

Personally, I smile every time I see people writing that they are “flushing out” their thinking. Our ideas can be sly sometimes, I suppose. We have to get at them however we can. Who am I to judge?

Just make sure you know what you’re saying, folks.

Jul 15

Wednesday Writing Tip #128: Mute vs. Moot


Say it with me. “Moot. Moooooot.” (Does seeing the cow help?)

Make sure you know what you’re saying before you start arguing something is a “mute point.” Please. Let’s tackle this one for the sake of lawyers and grammarians everywhere.

If you’re looking for the term for when something isn’t relevant anymore, you’re looking for “moot.” If you’re looking for the term for silencing the tv, you’re looking for “mute.”

I see the rough logic in calling something a “mute point,” as in perhaps it’s not valuable because it’s so darn quiet and presumably unimportant. But that’s not the expression, folks. You might just be snickered at for using this phrase. And I’m not talking about lawyers. Grammarians have their rude days. Cows too actually (they have a great handle on this one, I think: “Mooooot.”)

Sure, there’s a lot going on in our lives, but using the correct words isn’t a moot point. At least when you’re not on mute. Right?

Jul 10

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Kris’s Master Class at the James River Writers Conference is filling fast, so register today!

Jul 08

Wednesday Writing Tip #127: Accept vs. Except

exceptional peacock

A peacock’s feathers are indeed exceptional. Oh, did I just throw you a curve ball?

The English language is full of exceptions that we have to accept. Should we dub them “acceptions” (exceptions that you have to accept even when they annoy you)? Okay, maybe I made that up, and maybe it’s not as clever as it was in my head. Let’s just stick to basics here.

There is a clear difference between “accept” and “except,” and it’s more than just the first two letters.

Accept (think “acceptance”) – a verb meaning “to consent to receive something” or “to come to see something as suitable/valid/right.”

Except (think “exception”) – a preposition meaning “not including” or “other than”; a verb meaning “to exclude” or “to omit.”

I’m pretty sure we know the difference on this one and just write too quickly sometimes. I’m pretty sure. That’s what I tell myself anyhow. You surely won’t make that mistake anymore, right?

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