The first rule of clichés is: Don’t use them. The second rule of clichés is: If you are going ignore Rule 1, at least get your clichés right. In the past month I came across a claim that two people in the news “are cut from the same mold.” Another writer noted “a pattern that … More It’s a doggy dog world
Good editors help their clients to write clearly. At least they try to. Unfortunately, some clients dislike the simple, declarative sentence. This can be especially true with business executives who want to brag about how wonderful their companies are. They’ve been tricked into thinking that dense, convoluted sentences convey a kind of corporate gravitas. Or … More Fresh gibberish
If you are writing fiction and having trouble making up character names, take a cue from people who have had to name themselves in real life. It’s hard for a cowboy to swagger into a saloon when his name is named Marion Morrison. But once he changed it to John Wayne, he sounded like he … More Naming names
Hone, as a verb, means to sharpen. (As a noun, it’s the tool that you use to do the sharpening.) Home, as a verb, means to send something home. (As a noun, it’s … well, I shouldn’t have to tell you.) So when you review and improve the points you want to make, you are … More Hone on the range
Good writing often is about precision, picking just the right word to convey an idea. As frustrated editors sometimes cry out in anguish, “Words mean things!” But what does a given word really mean? At one extreme we have the purists who seem to believe that a word means only what Noah Webster said it … More That’s not what I mean!
Dorothy Hammerstein was not shy about making sure that her husband, Oscar, got credit for his lyrics. There are several variations of an anecdote where she corrected someone who gave Jerome Kern all the credit for writing “Ol’ Man River.” “Mr. Kern did not write ‘Ol’ Man River.’ Oscar wrote ‘Ol’ Man River,’ ” she … More Words and music
To the long list of jobs I am not suited for, I must now add running the World Bank’s Development Economics Group. This has to do less with my weak grasp of economics and more with my constant harping on the need to write clearly. Paul Romer, who has a very strong grasp of economics, … More The fear of clarity
Way back when my hair was dark and my stomach was flat, I got a job on a small daily newspaper. Hiring me was a subjective decision on the part of the editor. Even back then newspapers had a high ratio of applicants to jobs. As typically happens with the new guy, I was handed … More You are not objective
For an exercise in fiction writing, record a few minutes of casual conversation between two people and then type it all out. Very quickly you’ll notice that most people don’t converse in carefully measured prose. No, they interrupt each other. They talk over each other. Speak in fragments. Go off on tangents. They repeat … More Realism vs. reality
English is not a single language. There’s British English, and American English, and Canadian English, and Australian English, and a few other varieties. If you want to decode the Canadian version, or slip some Canadian patois into your writing, you might want to dip into A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. The Dictionary’s … More Speak Canadian? You betcha!