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Daily Writing Tips Blog
Daily articles on grammar, spelling, misused words, punctuation, fiction writing, freelance writing and more!
“Meaningless Buzzwords”?
2023-01-09 05:11
I read that a political commentator, whom I will not name, asserts that five particular terms are “meaningless buzzwords.” Labeling these particular words “buzzwords&rdquo&helli…Read More
To Be A Writer
2022-12-26 12:11
There’s a saying that “everyone has a book in him.” Since self-publishing has become so easy, quite a few people seem to be trying to expel it. During the month of Novemb… Read More
GPT-3 Writing Assistant: What Is It?
2022-12-22 15:48
Artificial intelligence is increasingly present in our lives, gaining new applications every day, including in the realm of writing! Generative Pretrained Transformer 3rd Generation, or GPT… Read More
4 Perennially Misused Words
2022-12-16 13:38
Some word pairs will probably always continue to be confused. Here are five such, all of which have been mentioned on this site in the past. The examples in this post date from recent month… Read More
List Of Free And Paid AI Writing Generators
2022-12-13 17:10
Producing articles and other types of texts seems to be getting easier and easier with the arrival of AI writing generators. The vast majority of AI generators and assistants use GPT-3, a s… Read More
Beginning An Email With Dear?
2022-12-12 17:37
A recent request for linguistic advice ends with a plea that makes me feel like Obi Wan Kenobi: O Maeve, … I hope you can help because the silent scream starts every time I send an… Read More
A Plumb Interesting Set Of Words
2022-11-03 14:08
When I saw the following passage on the Simon Schuster site, I was plumb surprised: When twelve-year-old Jamie Dexter’s brother joins the Army and is sent to Vietnam, Jamie is plum th… Read More
Urgency, Exigency, And Moonshots
2022-10-24 10:49
A reader asks: Can you explain clearly the difference between urgency and exigency? Thank you. Also, any thoughts on the concept or process of “moonshoot”? Heard the term when P… Read More
Pronunciation Guides
2022-10-17 10:49
A reader, wondering about the pronunciation of caricature, asks if I would consider including the phonetic pronunciation of words I discuss. Many years ago, when I first began writing for D… Read More
A Lie Is A Lie Is A Lie
2022-10-10 10:48
A web search for the term “crisis of truth” brings up more than a million hits. Public figures have always lied in order to advance their careers, but in former times, they had… Read More
Seep And Steep
2022-10-03 10:48
The writer of an article in the Washington Post about the funeral arrangements for the late Queen Elizabeth II remarked that the events were “seeped in tradition.” It may have b… Read More
Fringes, Fringes Everywhere
2022-09-20 13:47
Lately I’ve been struck by the frequency with which I encounter the word fringe in the media. I can recall a time when my only associations for the word were with the trim on my moth… Read More
Career And Careen
2022-09-13 13:47
A reader asks: Could you clarify whether a car “careens” or “careers” off the road? Are both usable? The original meanings of the words are quite different. Career… Read More
Punctuating Appositives
2022-09-06 13:47
A reader requests clarification on the punctuation of appositives: I would like to see a piece on the punctuation of appositives. Decades ago, I somehow came to believe that an appositive i… Read More
Honest, Candid, And Frank
2022-09-02 15:32
I’m always glad to receive topic suggestions from readers. Sometimes I may not quite understand what is wanted, but comments can still trigger a train of thought leading to a post. Re… Read More
A Tin Ear For Pronouns
2022-08-25 15:31
Another of my certainties has been shattered. Like anyone who has tried to explain why we do not say “Jack and me went to France” or “They invited my wife and I to the par… Read More
Addendum To Legal Terms In The News
2022-08-18 15:31
A recent post about legal terms in the news drew several interesting comments from readers, prompting this addendum. One reader pointed out that I’d omitted the term “stare deci… Read More
Them’s The Breaks
2022-08-11 15:31
Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order. I was a… Read More
Disavowed And Disabused
2022-07-27 13:40
One day, not long ago, I read a story in the Guardian about a man who mistook an alligator for a dog. The following sentence made me grab my pen: But the man was quickly disavowed of his be… Read More
Biased And Prejudiced Against
2022-07-20 13:39
In a recent post about confusion between the words precedent and precedence, a reader commented on a similar confusion between noun-adjective distinctions like bias/biased and prejudice/pre… Read More
Legal Terms For Reading The News
2022-07-13 13:39
As investigations, hearings, and trials flood the news media, a short glossary of legal terms may be useful to readers. Anyone who has watched enough Law & Order episodes probably alre… Read More
No More Grammatical Dummies
2022-07-06 12:49
Common terms used in teaching the expletive use of it and there are “dummy it, ” “dummy there,” and “dummy subject.” expletive: Of a word or phrase: se… Read More
Esteem And Ratchet
2022-06-29 12:49
Esteem An old-movie buff, I recently watched White Heat (1949) for the second time and wanted to know more about the making of it. I found an excellent review, but my inner language nerd puz… Read More
Writing Fiction For US Adults
2022-06-22 12:48
Writers of children’s fiction are constantly aware of the need to write with their readers’ reading level in mind. Writers of adult fiction—perhaps not so much. Technical… Read More
Same Phrase, Different Meanings
2022-06-15 12:48
Recently I read two articles back-to-back in which the phrasal verb to make up was used with two entirely different meanings. That set me thinking about phrasal verbs that have two or more… Read More
Precedent And Precedence Are Different
2022-06-08 20:00
A writer recently complained that Amazon had rejected her book title. She said that the title should be approved because the objectionable word in it “had a historical precedence.&rdq&helli…Read More
Body Parts As Metaphor
2022-06-01 20:00
Many of the nouns used to name body parts have corresponding verbs that describe the literal functions performed by the body part in question. A fighter knees his opponent in the ribs. A d… Read More
“Disembodied” Does Not Mean That
2022-05-24 20:00
In a very interesting BBC News article about ancient gardens, the writer describes an ancient relief that shows the vegetation-loving but brutal ruler Ashurbanipal and his wife reclining un… Read More
Apparently And Presumably
2022-05-17 20:00
A reader has asked for a discussion of the difference between the words apparently and presumably. A meaning for presumably is easy to pin down. The OED gives one current definition: presu… Read More
“Elite” Is Not A Dirty Word
2022-04-26 11:26
Used mostly as a noun or as an adjective, elite derives from an Old French verb meaning “to choose.” The elite are “the Chosen.” As a noun, elite is “the pick… Read More
Falling Prey To Error
2022-04-12 11:26
In researching articles for Daily Writing Tips, I stumble upon all kinds of interesting topics and curious examples of usage. One recent search led me to a site dedicated to clinical philos… Read More
Updates To Posts Draft
2022-04-10 13:46
Update to “Then” or “Than” post: Why Do People Confuse “Then” and “Than”? Unlike some other commonly confused words, such as affect and effec… Read More
Butt Redux
2022-04-05 11:26
Seven years ago, I wrote a post called “The Ubiquitous Butt.” In it, I admitted my own distaste for the word, but acknowledged that butt had by then won a place in general usag… Read More
The Many Uses Of “Set”
2022-03-29 17:24
The OED has nine entries for the ubiquitous word set: an acronym, two nouns, two adjectives, two verbs, an obsolete conjunction, and the combining form that appears in such words as setback… Read More
May Or Might—Does It Matter Which?
2022-03-23 17:24
The verb may is one of the oldest in English. Through the centuries, it has been used with a variety of meanings that need not trouble modern English speakers. Only two forms survive: may a… Read More
What Does “Mien” Mean?
2022-03-16 13:24
Until recently, I thought everyone agreed on the meaning of mien. Dictionaries do. Someone’s mien is their general appearance and manner, especially the expression on their face, which… Read More
Supremist, Supremacist, And Agent Nouns
2022-02-24 13:38
Reader venqax poses a question about the use of the four-syllable agent noun supremacist in preference to three-syllable supremist. On the topic of “new” words, I’m curio… Read More
Amelioration: A Nice Semantic Shift
2022-02-17 13:38
Semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with meaning in language. Students of semantics trace the ways that words and phrases change meanings over time. Semantic change—also… Read More
Apposition And Anarthrous Premodifiers
2022-01-26 14:11
A reader wonders if this sentence containing nouns in apposition has enough commas: As a club, we must extend our thoughts and deepest sympathies to John’s wife Hazel, and his childr… Read More
The Name Is Not The Person
2022-01-19 14:11
Words as labels The first principal of semantics is that the word is not the thing. Words are labels for things that exist in the physical world or in our thoughts. The word air is not ide… Read More
Inception And Conception
2022-01-12 14:11
A reader has asked for a post on the words inception and conception, speculating, “Might they be synonymous?” Conception comes from a Latin verb meaning, “to become pregna… Read More
Words Of The Year
2022-01-07 14:10
Since the 1990s–beginning with the American Dialect Society—various entities, including dictionaries and individual lexicographers, have announced Words of the Year in English… Read More
Does Past Tense “Turnt” Have A Future?
2021-12-22 17:17
A reader, commenting on one of my posts about the -ed past ending, suggests that turnt for turned may have a future: Where I live, more and more I’m hearing the word “turnt&rdqu&helli…Read More
We Gotta Use Words
2021-12-16 17:17
In T.S. Eliot’s play, Sweeney Agonistes, Sweeney complains, “I gotta use words when I talk to you.” Every day, I see evidence that much of modern discourse doesn’t u… Read More
Data Is And Media Are
2021-12-09 17:17
Some speakers continue to insist that the noun data must be used only as a plural, but the consensus is in. Although the singular of data is datum, in nonspecialized contexts, using data as… Read More
Highlighted And Greenlit
2021-12-02 17:17
A reader encountered the question of what past ending to use with the verb to highlight as in “to mark text with a highlighter” or “to cause something, such as text or an… Read More
When S Says Z And F Says V
2021-11-25 12:38
Browsing the comments attached to a previous post, I came across this lament about two changes in pronunciation that seem to be catching on with younger speakers: I can’t keep track o… Read More
Dupe, Greenhorn, Sucker, And Easy Mark
2021-11-18 12:38
A few posts ago, I wrote about the multitude of ways English provides for calling someone “stupid.” Now I’ll address some negative terms that target another human failing… Read More
When Only Standard Usage Will Do
2021-11-11 12:37
When I began writing about English usage, I would label sentences as “correct” and “incorrect.” I don’t do that anymore because what is “incorrect&rdquo&helli…Read More
2021-11-04 12:37
One of my teaching dictums about parts of speech is that “a word is not a part of speech until it’s used in a sentence.” The word run, for example, depending upon context… Read More
2021-10-27 11:31
Almost right is not good enough. I read this in the Daily Mail during hurricane season: . . . the National Weather Service issued a slurry of alarming tweets. Presumably, the writer meant t… Read More
2021-10-20 11:30
The term half-life existed before the term was applied to the breakdown of a radioactive substance. One earlier meaning was “an unsatisfactory way of life.” Another was “t… Read More
Color Symbolism In Writing
2021-10-13 11:30
Advertisers pay a great deal of attention to the colors that go into their marketing materials. There’s even a branch of psychology that studies the way color can affect human behavio… Read More
Endearing And Ravished
2021-09-29 16:28
English has such a rich vocabulary, writers have little excuse to use a word that is almost right. As Twain famously put it, The difference between the almost right word and the right word… Read More
Fossil L-Words
2021-09-22 16:28
An aspect of English spelling that fascinates me is the existence of what I call “fossil words”— words in which a letter is embedded like a fossil in the rock—there… Read More
Demise Of The -er Comparative
2021-09-15 16:27
Perhaps, like me, you were taught in elementary school that most one-syllable adjectives, plus two-syllable adjectives that end in y, form the comparative and superlative by adding –e… Read More
Calculus Etymology
2021-09-08 16:26
I did not take calculus in high school. (I barely made it through basic math.) All I know about calculus is that it is a branch of mathematics that involves a certain type of calculation th… Read More
Writing The Pandemic
2021-09-01 18:30
Since the media’s first faltering coverage of the coronavirus called COVID-19, the disease has not only embedded itself in the world’s population, it has also claimed a place in… Read More
30 Ways To Say, “You’re Stupid”
2021-08-24 18:30
I’ve been bingeing on the Shetland mysteries by Ann Cleeves and have finished them all. The novels are set in the Shetland islands to the extreme north of the UK. One of the many enjo… Read More
Words To Describe The Way People Talk
2021-08-17 18:29
If there is any one interest and practice shared by every human being on earth, it’s talking—usually to other people, but not always. Unsurprisingly, these 7.9 billion talkers p… Read More
Pandemic Vocabulary
2021-08-10 18:29
This post was prompted by a reader who poses the following question: What is the preferred way to write Covid-19 in prose English? Answer: If you write for publication, it will depend on yo… Read More
Critical Race Theory
2021-08-03 17:02
An academic term receiving a lot of attention these days is Critical Race Theory. When a previously specialized term makes its way into the general vocabulary—beg the question, moot… Read More
Important News For Free Email Subscribers
2021-07-29 17:38
DailyWritingTips started in 2007. Right after that we launched a free subscription to our content. Three years ago or so the free subscription was substituted by a paid, more complete subscr… Read More
2021-07-27 17:01
eponym The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott. exonym A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-sp… Read More
4 Effects Named For Famous People
2021-07-20 17:01
Among the meanings of the noun effect is this: Any of various distinct phenomena (originally in physical science, in later use also in other technical fields and in general contexts), frequ… Read More
Some Rules About Periods
2021-07-13 17:00
The first rule a child learns about the period (Br. “full stop”) is that it ends a sentence. Where else is this little dot used, and when is it omitted? Abbreviations Abbreviat… Read More
12 Words That End In -nym
2021-07-06 13:03
Most of us are probably familiar with these -nym words: synonym a word that means the same as another word: little/small antonym a word that means the opposite of another word: little/big h… Read More
Anaphora, Epistrophe, And Symploce
2021-06-29 13:03
Three rhetorical terms that describe a type of repetition are anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or sequence of words at the beginning of successive cl… Read More
A Willing Suspension Of Belief
2021-06-22 13:03
The origin of this expression lies in literary criticism. The term represents a contract between reader and writer. In recent years, however, the phrase has escaped from literary criticism… Read More
The 7 Deadly Sins And Their Synonyms
2021-05-25 16:18
Traditional views about religion and sin may be in decline, but the human behavior catalogued as the Seven Deadly Sins remains very much with us. The sins and their synonyms provide writers… Read More
Awkward And Untoward
2021-05-18 16:17
Both these adjectives are in frequent use on the web: awkward: about 163,000,000 hits in a Google searchuntoward: about 5,290,000. Language, as the media illustrates daily, can be used to i… Read More
2021-05-11 16:17
Perhaps the quintessential American card game, poker gained its first popularity on the riverboats and in the saloons of the 19th century West. Based on a European card game that involved… Read More
Two Literary Syndromes—AWS And OHS
2021-04-21 16:11
Several fictional characters are so memorable that their names have been attached to physical and psychological maladies. Some of the so-called syndromes can be found in medical sources. O… Read More
AP Quiz Top Two Anathemas
2021-04-15 16:10
On March 4 this year, National Grammar Day, the AP Stylebook editors tweeted a question for their readers: What grammar rule do you find yourself getting wrong no matter how many times you… Read More
Shakespeare—for All Time
2021-04-09 16:10
According to T. S. Eliot, April was :the cruellest month.” For me, April is Shakespeare’s month, a time to reread some of the plays and perhaps watch some of the film versions… Read More
The Preposition “Amid”
2021-03-22 11:00
This post was prompted by a headline in the Washington Post: US deports former Nazi guard whose wartime role was noted on card found amid sunken ship The phrase “amid sunken ship&rdqu&helli…Read More
Uses Of “Rhetoric”
2021-03-15 10:59
Rhetoric is one of those academic words that has migrated into the popular vocabulary and is frequently used as if it can be defined as “empty words.” For example, in the afterm… Read More
2021-02-19 14:50
Every writer has had the experience of submitting a piece of writing in the certainty that it is free of error, only to find at least one embarrassing typo or other fault in it as soon as i… Read More
Calques: Linguistic Immigrants In English
2021-02-12 14:49
English vocabulary includes thousands of words that originated in languages other than Old English. Some of these linguistic immigrants never quite acculturate. They continue to sound fore… Read More
2021-02-05 14:49
Reader ApK has asked for a discussion of the words sarcastic, sardonic, and facetious— all examples of verbal irony. verbal irony: the expression of one’s meaning by using lang… Read More
Epistemology Vs Agnotology
2021-01-19 16:07
Once upon a time, I encountered the word epistemology and its forms only in academic writing. Lately, I’ve been seeing it all over the place, often unaccompanied by any definition. E… Read More
“Become” And A Question Of Syntax
2021-01-12 16:05
A sentence in a biographical piece in the Washington Post about the gifted librettist Randy Rainbow got me thinking about syntax and linking verbs: His closest friend became his caustically… Read More
Code-switching Is Not Cultural Oppression
2021-01-05 16:07
Until recently, I thought that most English teachers shared my view that mastering a standard form of English is the acquisition of a desirable skill that is as much a basic of a general ed… Read More
Autogolpe —Another Word For Seizing Power
2021-01-05 16:05
During the recent unsettled times, I have come across a new word (new to me) to describe an extralegal maneuver to seize power in a country that has an established government: autogolpe. a… Read More

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