I love teaching, I really do. I should be retired by now, and for the most part I am. I teach two online classes but don’t show up at 8:00 ready to “rock and roll.” Nor do have committee work, an office, or a dress code. The absolute best part is that I still get to interact with students. Sometimes they write something humorous like “for all intensive purposes” when they mean “for all intents and purposes.” Funny, huh? Yeah, it kinda is.
It’s not so funny, though, when you learn, as I did, that one’s own writing can be humorous, too.
I’m not judging, especially since I’ve been reading bits of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.I introduced the author a couple of blogs back. So far, he’s the only editor/writer I’ve ever read who’s both amusing and instructive. He adds personal anecdotes and interjects witty comments throughout. He’s taught me a lot, including things I thought I knew.
- I’ve been overheard saying, “We were chomping at the bit to get out of the house.” You probably have too. The correct phrase is “champing at the bit,” but since champing is an unfamiliar word to many people, they don’t use it. Either is fine with Dreyer; he sees the condemnation of chomping as trifling. Me too.
- Nonplussed is an interesting word, one that I misused for years without a single soul letting me know. Perhaps they were ignorant too. “Accustomed to waiting in line, she was nonplussed at the length of the queue at the highway department.” Was she cool, calm, and collected? Yes. Was she nonplussed? I don’t know. Not unless she was confused.
- “Fake it ‘til you make it” is a phrase I often write…or used to. No more. Dreyer calls it a prissyism and takes a look at the words till and until. Till is an older word than until and since they mean the same thing, he encourages his readers to write, “Fake it till you make it.” Learning that bit of information was almost worth the price of the book. Almost. Every time I’ve written ‘til, I wondered why and yet did it anyway.
- My writing group has put a couple of anthologies together, an engaging project in many ways. The undertaking engaged our time, energy, thoughts, and dreams, and it provided ample opportunities for us to participate (engage) as a group. One of the excellent writers and I did most of the editing, and when we came to a story using alright, I felt uneasy about it. Better look it up in a big thick style guide, I thought.
- My sources were definitive–no quibbling about it; all right was right, not alright. We presented the information to the writer and let the decision be his. We weren’t Random House, after all, and we wanted to retain the integrity of each writer’s work (or something high-minded like that). He went with the correct term—all right. Dreyer says that although alright is making inroads, he’ll continue to wrinkle his nose at the sight of it.
Question: what about alrighty?
“I want to spell colour with a u whether I live in England or not,” he said.
“But you live in America, and here we spell it color,” she replied.
“I don’t give a fig about how people in Iowa or Colorado spell it, and that’s that,” he said.
“Well, alrighty then,” she said with a sigh.
- My siblings and I wrote a family history a year ago, and whenever I used the word forebearers, that red zigzag line immediately showed up beneath it. I learned there was no such word; forebear, yes; forebearers, no. My brother did the same thing, and we could have sworn (hackneyed phrase, but it fits) we’d seen it before—often, in fact. But we were wrong. Dreyer doesn’t mention forbearer, but he does caution his readers about confusing forbear (refrain from) with forebear (ancestor).
Why this blog? Why this topic? Writing, editing, and revising aren’t easy, but they’re worth it if you want to produce something decent. I’m willing to learn. What about you?