Pesky grammar mistakes


Everyone has their own grammar secret; I have trouble with lie/laid/lay and I used to find apostrophes (with plurals that end in s) a nightmare. Don’t tell. This is my second grammar piece (the first on frequently confused words) and it offers more specific advice on prepositions and punctuation.

Many of my examples come from First up is the use of “absolutely” and the way it is now used instead of a simple “yes” or used to describe something more emphatically, e.g. it was absolutely outrageous. Their point, I think, is that the use of the word is so ubiquitous that it has ceased to mean anything at all. If you need help with commas or a quick revision of colons and exclamation marks, then this is for you. Or if you need help to unpick a couple of idioms, “in store for” and “in the works” read here. Further reading of common preposition mistakes can unpick “at that moment”, “accused of murder” etc.

Finally, this is a great selection of copywriting mistakes from Benjamin Dreyer (Copy Chief) at Random House. Not only does he go over everything that’s a bit tricky (enmity vs. emnity, when it’s okay to use every day vs. everyday) but it looks beautiful too.

All clear? Absolutely.

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Tech innovation for writers


Tech innovation offers us so much more than just a computer to write and store our stuff. There are tons of new apps and products available to writers. Some tech lets you write, distraction-free. You can buy the Freewrite, a computer masquerading as a typewriter, that’s portable, with an e-paper screen and downloads everything to the cloud (pictured*). Or download an app (freedom) that disables your computer from letting you do anything but type for as long as you tell it (to stop you eating up the hours, surfing the net or going on facebook).Continue Reading

Feefle, flindrikin and unbrak; cultural vocabularies to help you write

What do feefle, flindrikin and unbrak have in common? Well, they’re part of a group of over 400 different Scottish words to describe snow and it was reported recently that they’re all being compiled into a new online Scottish Thesaurus (future topics include food, drink and rain). As The Guardian reminds us, the Scots are not alone; Hawaiians have 47 different words for describing bananas, the Inuits have possibly hundreds to describe snow, and the Baniwa tribe in Brazil have 29 ways to describe edible ants.

It seems that it’s very common for cultures to assign a number of different words to describe things that are important to them and is a key indicator of cultural preferences and importance (see Adam Jacot de Boinod’s wonderful article on what vocabularies tell us about culture here). I love how the idea of language defines peoples’ characters and personalities (or is it the other way around?). If you want to blow your mind, watch Tom Scott’s amazing youtube snippet on “Fantastic Features We Don’t Have in the English Language” here. I had never thought about how when we use our verbs, we have to give a time period. The Chinese don’t apparently. Who knew?

This is all really interesting stuff and it has an obvious relation to us as writers. The idea that Eskimos have hundreds of different words for snow is now an obvious cliché (it’s even listed on wikipedia as fact) but it’s worth thinking about in terms of dialect and speech. If you are writing about specific cultures, make sure you’re aware of the differences in language between them. If I was writing about the English for instance, I’d probably mention the rain…

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“I feel impelled to tell you”; frequently confused words


On a recent family holiday, my sister totally confused us all. She was adamant that we’d been using the word compel wrongly and that we actually needed to use impel. I completely forgot about it until I just read it in an Enid Blyton book with my daughter, “he felt impelled to go and look at it” where she had used it in exactly the same way that I would have used compelled. Turns out, after a bit of research, that my big sister was right.Continue Reading

Writing tools; emotions

emotionsI stumbled upon a lovely Guardian article this week by Tiffany Watt Smith, which gave a wonderful take on everyday emotions such as anger and nostalgia, reminded me of less commonly felt emotions, such as shadenfreude (when we feel happy at someone else’s misfortune) and introduced me to emotions I didn’t realise had a name (like awumbuk, the emptiness you feel after visitors depart). A real joy for writers and a perfect complement to the Colour Thesaurus.

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Writing tools; The Colour Thesaurus 3

I often get stuck on colours; trying to find the right words to describe how red something is, or to find a colour for yellow that isn’t, er, yellow. So it’s amazingly useful that Ingrid Sundberg has created a colour thesaurus for writers everywhere – not only is it eminently practical, but each colour sheet looks wonderful too. I’ve added the colour palettes below, but these are all taken from the original article on her blog here. Go check it out!

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