Yoo-hoo, Writer Peeps!
Do you know why high-heeled shoes get a hyphen, but running shoes do not? Why the president-elect gets a hyphen, but the vice president elect does not? What if I told you that the white-and-gold dress was also blue and black? Some people think hyphenating is random, that whatever looks right is right. Sorry, but no. We have rules. We can’t just let people hyphenate all over the place, willy-nilly. But I’ve got your back. I’ll walk you through this.
The following guidelines are just a tip of the iceberg of hyphenation, but it’s a place to start. They’re in accordance with the current (16th) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS is the most commonly used American English style guide for fiction, and for social sciences and historical nonfiction. Now let’s get started.
USE A HYPHEN
DO NOT USE A HYPHEN
WHEN YOU’RE NOT SURE
As I said, these rules are just the tip of the iceberg. It would take many blogs to cover all of the hyphenation rules. Your best bet is to get an up-to-date style guide, like CMOS. Remember words that are usually or always hyphenated will appear hyphenated in the dictionary, so look up words when you’re not sure. Merriam-Webster is the standard dictionary. And you can always ask me. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.
Did you figure out why president-elect is hyphenated, but vice president elect is not? Because the word elect is always hyphenated as part of a compound–unless the office it modifies is an open compound (vice president, lieutenant governor, etc.). Okay, that one counts as one of the random rules of American English. But it’s a fun one.
How many of these rules did you already know? Do you have a question about a specific hyphenation rule? Just ask. We’re all in this together.
Hello Writer Peeps,
As a child, I called my nephew “mentally retarded.” I adored Ronnie, and would never make fun of him. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, mentally retarded was polite. In time, he went from retarded to special, from Mongoloid to Down’s. And now we say a person with an intellectual disability and a person with Down syndrome.
This illustrates one of the biggest changes to American English in recent years: an emphasis on the person first. That is, we no longer define human beings by their descriptors. I’m not talking about Political Correctness. I’m talking about grammar.
Language evolves and adapts to social experiences, and we writers need to stay up-to-date. We can’t hold onto the language of our childhood, or even of last year, if we expect to write for today’s readers (unless you write historical fiction). Did you know, for example, that the official, Merriam-Webster definition of literally is now either “exactly,” “basically,” or “figuratively”? So if I said that the word means literally nothing, that is technically, but not exactly, correct.
It is no longer acceptable to call people names, even if no offense is intended. Do not refer to a person as autistic, a cripple, a gay, a deaf-mute, etc. Every publication uses a style guide, so check yours. Some of these labels are still in common usage, but are technically no longer correct.
Do not say: “He’s autistic.”
Say instead: “He has autism.”
(In the first sentence, He equals autistic, as if the label defines him. In the second sentence, autism is something he has, but it does not define him.)
Do not say: “The handicapped entrance is around the corner.”
Say instead: “The entrance for people using wheelchairs is around the corner.”
(The entrance is not handicapped. It is for people who have a specific need.)
Do not say: “A group of Catholics met in the park.”
Say instead: “A group of Catholic people met in the park.”
(In the first sentence, the group is defined only by their religion. In the second sentence, Catholic is used a descriptor for people.)
Do not say: “This wedding chapel welcomes gays.”
Say instead: “This wedding chapel welcomes gay couples.”
(Using gay as an adjective describing couples, rather than as a direct object, emphasizes people, rather than sexuality.)
Do not say: “Braille is a tool for the blind.”
Say instead: “Braille is a tool for blind people.” (or …people with visual impairment.)
(Same as above. Use the descriptor blind as an adjective, and emphasize people.)
Do not say: “the learning disabled”
Say instead: “those who have been diagnosed with a learning disability”
You get it, right? People come first–not necessarily in word order, but in importance. This applies to anybody who may be discriminated against or slighted because of stereotyping of their sex, gender, social status, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or physical characteristics, among others.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
One last word of advice comes from the Chicago Manual of Style. “What you should strive for—if you want readers to focus on your ideas and not on the political subtext—is a style that doesn’t even hint at the issue.” (CMOS 5.224)
Are you keeping up with America’s ever-changing English? What changes have you seen? What expressions do you wish had stayed the same? Are these changes literally blowing your mind? Let us know how you feel in the comments. We’re all in this together.
Please help support this blog.
One is the number of unity, so I set up donations to take one dollar at a time. Of course, the more unity, the better. 🙂
Scott Dannemiller’s excellent post, The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying, about the misuse of the word blessing, got me thinking about other things that Christians say that we should probably re-think. One of these is, “I’ll pray for you.” We say it (usually) with good intentions. But to the unchurched, it can sound confusing or even divisive.
When to say it: Tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” if (1) you’re actually planning to pray for them (make sure you follow through), (2) you know they would be happy for you to pray for them, and (3) you think it will encourage them to know you’re praying.
If those three conditions are met, saying, “I’ll pray for you” makes perfect sense. Go for it. But here are some examples of inappropriate uses of “I’ll pray for you,” and what you can say instead. (You can still pray, even when you don’t say so.)
As Christians, we believe that when we pray, we approach the throne of God and enter into His presence (Hebrews 4:16), so let’s not treat prayer so flippantly. Let’s give it the respect it deserves.
What other Christian expressions have you heard used in a confusing or divisive way? How did you handle it?
Manahoana, Writer Peeps!
It’s been a week since I officially set aside copy writing and copy editing to focus on writing the words of my heart. My writing time seems more precious as my eyes grow out-of-focus and dimmer each day. My goal is to write my stories on days that I can see, for as long as I can see. It’s non-specific, but it’s still a goal, and I’m going for it.
We don’t say it, but we all kind of believe we’ll live forever, healthy, free, and with a sound mind, don’t we? So, with all the time in the world, we wait. Wait until the Muse plays nice. Until we get the perfect software. Until life gets easier.
Check out The Procrastination Rut by Flylady (Marla Cilley)
for inspiration on cutting procrastination and living the life you were meant to live.
I’m not used to budgeting my writing time if someone’s not paying me to do it, so I
procrastinated came up with a couple of rules to stay on track. If you have any tips that work for you, please share. We’re all in this together.
What’s missing is accountability. This is where a writing group comes in handy. You can encourage one another to keep self-imposed deadlines. If you don’t have a group, pick a friend or family member that you can trust to ask about your progress, hassle you when you fall behind, and reward you with a mini-celebration only when you reach a mini-deadline, and a big celebration only when you reach a big deadline. Your accountability partner doesn’t have to be a writer, but they do have to be tough. This is one of those ‘whatever-I-say-do-not-let-me-out-of-the-room-with-the-monster’ situations.
Imagine how much richer our writing would be if we let research mull around in our brains and didn’t have to cram it all in at the last minute. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we stopped procrastinating and moved forward.
The world needs your story. Get to it.
P.S. This song is very encouraging for us procrastinators. Lyrics in video or here.
In 1976, Dad and I took a road trip to Indianapolis. On the way, we detoured to Hodgenville, Kentucky, so we could visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. Dad’s ancestors, the Cradys, used to live next door to the Lincolns, and donated some of the land for that first Lincoln memorial. According to the history book, David Crady: Kentucky Pioneer by Evelyn Crady Adams, Thomas Lincoln summoned neighbor Sarah Crady one rainy night to help his wife Nancy as she struggled to give birth to baby Abraham. (I’m guessing he was a big boy.)
We’d visited the museum as a family when I was little, but I remember only disjointed images from that trip: Dad pointing out a plaque with the name Crady on it, a replica log cabin, like the one where a Crady helped her neighbor birth the future president, and a shiny log cabin made of Lincoln pennies, kept under glass.
Dad always started road trips around 3:00am, to get out of Florida and into cooler weather by the heat of the day. And also, I suspect, because I behaved only while sleeping. My older sister, Terry the Beloved, always behaved and always got carsick. In a transparent grab for attention, she’d throw up. But I aways wrestled the attention back. I’d feign car sickness too, so Mom would give me the concerned look, offer me sips of Shasta cola, and tell Dad to pull over and let me “get some air.”
On those trips, I slept curled around the hump of the carpeted backseat floor in our 1969 Buick Skylark, while the Beloved stretched out across the sticky vinyl benchseat. We didn’t use seatbelts. Mom and Dad would take turns driving. We’d stop long enough to use the restroom or eat breakfast, they’d switch places, and we’d get back on the road.
This time, though, it was just Dad and me. I was twelve. We started out from Tampa around 3:00am, as usual. I stayed awake as long as I could. Even though we were heading north, the car felt warm and the monotonous highway made me drowsy. Just about the time we reached Hodgenville, I was out. Dad woke me, but I refused to budge. I slept in the car while he visited the museum without me.
I used to wish that I’d taken an interest in the museum, and in my family’s fleeting connection to one of the greatest men of American history. I used to feel guilty for sleeping through what could have been a good father-daughter bonding time. But Dad just kept teasing me.
He teased me about that trip for the rest of his life. Every chance he got, he told people, “She ain’t interested. I drive miles out of my way to expose her to a little history, show her a little bit of her roots, but she don’t care. She’d rather sleep.” And he’d wink at me and laugh.
Parenting a twelve-year-old can be challenging. I’m so thankful that Dad gave it a try, and that he laughed at me about it for the next thirty-nine years. It was a good father-daughter bonding after all.
Happy President’s Day,
Kon’nichiwa, Writer Peeps!
On spec. As a writer, you’ll hear that a lot. It’s short for “on speculation,” and it means that you write an article, a short story, a screenplay, book, whatever, with no contract and no promise of publication. You send it in and hope the editor wants to publish it.
It’s a gamble, for sure. You can increase your odds of getting that contract, though, if you know when to roll the dice.
WHEN WRITING ON SPEC CAN PAY OFF
WHEN WRITING ON SPEC PROBABLY ISN’T WORTH IT
GUIDELINES FOR SUBMITTING ON SPEC
Boiling it down to its essense, the guideline is: Does the benefit outweigh the risk? If so, go with God. I’m in your corner, too.
Have you written anything on spec? How was that experience for you? Let’s talk about it in the comments. We’re all in this together.
This week, Frazierhead (my husband) said one of the most romantic and loving things I’ve ever heard: “Do it. Write what you want.”
I will still write about writing and grammar and Jesus and holidays and whatever else I want to on this blog. But after nine years of writing what other people want me to write, editing what other people have written, and prioritizing paid jobs over my own creativity, I am pleased to announce that I quit. Now I can start. I’m following my dream.
This decision is a leap of faith for both of us. I always say, “My husband pays the bills and I buy the chocolate.” That is, we can live on his income, but my income gives us wiggle room for luxuries and unexpected expenses. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, my writing income will resume (and increase) when I finish and sell my own work in progress. Until then, we’re bracing ourselves for inevitable changes.
Valentine’s Day is our first test. To celebrate this new chapter in our lives, I searched for Valentine’s Day celebration ideas that don’t require a second income. We don’t need a babysitter, but our teens are still home, so I’d kind of like to get out of the house. Which of these would you suggest?
Local scenery The sidewalk along Bayshore Boulevard is the longest unbroken sidewalk in the world (the world!!). At night, I think it’s Tampa’s most romantic spot. I’m nursing a foot injury, so walking is out, but the bayside rail has built-in seats.
VALENTINE-ISH OFFERS FOR GROWN UPS
Even though these offers look like paid links, they’re not. They are–from my heart–offers I thought worth sharing with you. Which ones would you choose?
What do you think? Have you taken a leap of faith to follow your dreams? Do you have fun and thrifty (PG-rated) Valentine’s Day ideas? Do you know of a great, sorta romantic movie that we can watch on Netflix? Please share your ideas in the comments. We’re all in this together.
Peace, writer peeps!
In February of 1999, David Howard, an aide to Washington DC’s then-mayor Anthony Williams, publicly used the word niggardly. Niggardly means “stingy.” Williams used the word in that context, in a conversation about government funding. The word comes from an old (c.1300 CE) anglicized word nygart, and it has no racial connotations and no racially-linked etymology at all. But because it sounds similar to an offensive word that Howard–a public advocate and a white guy–shouldn’t say, offended semi-literates protested, and Howard was compelled to resign from his job! That really happened!
I’ve got your back. I don’t want what happened to David Howard to happen to you. To help keep writers out of trouble with the outraged ignorant, I’ve compiled a Top Ten list of Perfectly Nice Words that Sound Offensive, along with their true meanings.
But first, The Non-Optional Apology: I sincerely apologize if I used a word that you did not know. I am only in my fifties and we all do stupid things at this age.
#10 honking – making a sound like the call of a goose, often with a car horn
That honking bird should’ve stayed with his flock.
#9 homophones– words that sound alike, but have different meanings and spellings
See? Their, there: They’re homophones, just as I told you.
#8 thespian – a dramatic actor
Mary Tyler Moore was a talented comedy actor, but did you know she was also a thespian?
#7 twite – a type of finch, a little bird
When you purposely make that noise, you sound like a twite!
#6 homogeneous – made up of like parts that are evenly distributed
The school board deliberately broke up homogeneous groups of students with rezoning.
#5 peniaphobia – the fear of poverty
Marcy could afford to live on her own, but her peniaphobia drove her to share a home with Patty.
#4 beanie – a small hat
Marcus nervously twisted his beanie in his hands.
#3 idiom – a cultural expression that cannot be understood by literal translation
That idiom is a flash in the pan.
#2 niggling – slight anxiety or unease
I have a niggling feeling that this list of naughty-sounding words might get me into trouble.
And…*drumroll*… the #1 Perfectly Nice Word that Sounds Offensive……
asp – a venomous snake
If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from that asp’s hole.
*cue wild applause*
WARNING! Think twice before saying any of these words. And maybe gather a committee, hire a lawyer, and do some market research before actually publishing them.
Or you could taunt the shocked and offended with your right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Whatever floats your boat. (Just remember, enough wind can capsize a boat.)
Have any good words ever gotten you into trouble? Do you have more to add to this list? Let’s hear ’em! Or, you know, read ’em in the comment section. Stay safe out there, writers! We’re all in this together.
Whoever you are, right this minute, imagine that God accepts you, and that He calls you “holy, pure, and blameless.” And not because He’s tolerant, but because you are holy in his sight. Not after you clean up. Not after you deal with some things. Right now. This minute. What would that feel like?
Now imagine that whatever you have to offer to God, however flawed, imperfect, or rejected in this world, what if that offering turned into–in truth–a holy, perfect offering, highly valuable. How would that feel?
In the days of Moses, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tabernacle, God established a priesthood to stand as the go-between for His Spirit and regular folks like you and me. The priests were required to wear a seal upon their foreheads, which made the guilt of the people go away, and made their gifts acceptable to God.
“Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.” Exodus 28:36-38, NIV
In those days, if an offering was brought to God by a guilty person, the priest absorbed that guilt, and the person was no longer guilty. The priest’s seal was worn continually, so there was never a time when a person’s guilt could slip by. Whatever gift a person brought for God, that gift became acceptable and holy.
Jesus took on the role of priest and go-between between God and us. As our go-between, Jesus absorbs our guilt, and whatever your gifts may be, they are acceptable to God. You too can be sealed: HOLY TO THE LORD.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel [good news] of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV
God’s seal for us is not made of gold. It is made of His own Spirit. And He continually stays with us, absorbing our wrongdoings, making us truly guilt-free, making all of our gifts acceptable to Him. There is never a time when guilt can slip in.
The seal of the Holy Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven. When you believe in Jesus, your fate is sealed forever.
Jesus said: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3, NIV
Right this minute, in the quiet of your own mind, ask yourself if you have believed in Jesus. If you never have, now is the time.
Once you believe in Jesus, you are sealed. You don’t have to imagine anymore. You are HOLY TO THE LORD. If any guilt lingers or recurs, it is absorbed by the seal of God. It is not yours to bear. And your offerings to God, whatever they may be, are acceptable.
If you want to talk about this, or you have questions, feel free to comment and I will answer.
Hi Writer Peeps!
Today’s blog is about words and phrases that usually identify as one part of speech, but step out and play another role from time to time. I like to think of these as “transgrammars.” Other grammarians–stuffy sorts–call them functional shifts.
The thing about functional shifts is that we get used to seeing a word or phrase in a specific role, so when it takes a new identity, we might not recognize it. If we don’t recognize functional shifting, we make wrong assumptions about the word, about its antecedents, the sentence’s parallelism, and the whole situation just gets awkward. So awkward that we don’t even know which slot to let it use in the sentence diagram.
Functional shifts show up everywhere–not that there’s anything wrong with that. This post can’t cover every possibility, but in order to promote grammatical understanding, I’ll give you some examples of functionally shifting words, so you’ll get the idea.
NOUNS AS ADJECTIVES You know a noun as a person, place, thing, quality, or idea. But when it describes another noun, it functions as an adjective.
Their office romance heated up in the meeting room next to the water cooler.
Before my coffee break, I gathered a file folder and some notebook paper.
ADJECTIVES AS NOUNS Adjectives modify and describe nouns and pronouns. But once in a while, an adjective likes to break out and become a noun.
Only the rich could afford a collectible like that.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” –Jesus (as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew 5:5.)
ADVERBS AS NOUNS Adverbs are swingers. They modify verbs, adjectives, clauses (We’ll talk about clauses in another post), or other adverbs. They have to do with place, time, manner, circumstance, degree, or cause. Most words that end in -ly are adverbs (slowly, loudly, suddenly), but not all adverbs end in –ly (very, almost, ever). We’ll go over adverbs in more depth in another post. For now, let’s look at some adverbs that function as nouns.
Make plans for tomorrow, but enjoy the here and now.
“I believe in yesterday.” –John Lennon, Paul McCartney (from the song,”Yesterday”)
NOUNS AS VERBS When nouns are used as verbs, we call it verbing. The word verbing is itself a functional shift, a noun turned into a verb. Neat, huh? (I love this stuff!) With common usage and time, verbing changes the language, and the word gets declared a bona fide verb.
The rest of the team brainstormed while Gene googled* cheesecake recipes. He said, “I just can’t adult right now.”
*FYI: When used as a verb, the word Google may be–but does not have to be–capitalized, per 2017 Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
VERBS AS ADJECTIVES Verbs are fickle. Verbs show action (I sprang from the bed) and states of being (I am a little teacup). But they like to take on other roles. Here, verbs function as adjectives.
The ceramic owl became a running gag between roommates.
Eighty-nine percent of US children had at least one working parent in 2015.
VERBS AS NOUNS (GERUNDS) When a verb functions as a noun, we call it a gerund. Gerunds always end in -ing.
I prefer swimming over jogging or skating.
Janet passed up the pool for snorkling in the gulf.
VERBS THAT FUNCTION AS NOUNS BUT ARE ALSO PARTICIPLES THAT LOOK LIKE GERUNDS (I’m just showing off now.) Here’s where verbs go wild. A verb that functions as a noun or an adjective is a participle. That’s fun because the present and progressive tenses look just like gerunds, complete with the -ing ending.
Dressing for his date, Mark felt excited but nervous.
So, how can you tell the difference between a gerund and a participle? In a nutshell: if it’s the object of a preposition, it’s a gerund; if it can be modified with an adverb, it’s a participle. But you probably won’t need to distinguish them. They’re both verbs that act as nouns.
For a more in-depth look at the difference between gerunds and participles, check out Grammar Girl’s Participles and Gerunds at QuickandDirty Tips.com.
I could go on and on, but my husband, who just read that last bit glassy-eyed, suggests that I might have already gone on too long. I know you’re still with me, though. You love words as I do, don’t you? In a way that he could never understand.
Now that we’ve shared functional shifting, I won’t have you pre-judging words by their appearances. You and I must vow to get to know words as individuals, and show respect for the functionally shifting. For grammar’s sake.
Can you think of more examples of functional shifting? Are you puzzling over a functional shift, or trying to identify a part of speech? Share your words with me in the comment section. We’re in this together.
I'm inspired, so I inspire
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
A personal blog by John Parsons, author of the Hebrew for Christians web site.
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Psalm 45:1
Using what's on hand.
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
COPYEDITOR ~ WRITER ~ MERRYMAKER
Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi