Charles Harrington Elster



"Give me my typewriter and my dictionary, and just let me suffer!"
— Robertson Davies

"Writing is at the mercy of the largest number of amateurs—almost the entire population."
— Jacques Barzun

"When a writer thinks of his readers, common sense will tell him that a few of them will certainly not be his intellectual equals, but that the majority will be so, and that there will be some who are greatly his superiors; he should comport himself as a gentleman toward all of them." — Robertson Davies

"Nearly every fiction writer in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope, and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom."
— Roald Dahl


Copyright © 2003-2018
by Charles Harrington Elster

Note: Every article on this blog page, and on this website, is protected by copyright. Reproduction of any kind without permission is prohibited.

WORD QUIZ


Below are ten abbreviations of Latin terms. Do you know what they stand for in Latin and in English?

1. MS or ms.
2. PS or P.S.
3. i.e.
4. e.g.
5. N.B. or n.b.
6. c. or ca.
7. et al.
8. cf.
9. q.v.
10. ibid.

Answers are on the
Comments page, in the left sidebar.

To Err Is Inhuman

“I’m afraid that surprise, shock, and regret is the fate of authors when they finally see themselves on the page. . . . Seeing one’s inadequate English frozen into type is a humiliating experience.” — Julia Child, My Life in France

“I think of it as it could have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied.”
— From the dedication page of
H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926)

The Accidents of Style is a crash course in careful usage.


The Accidents of Style is in USA Today.

One Writer's Ravings

A Logogogue's Blog for Language Lovers

How Do You Feel? Good or Well?

March 29, 2018

Tags: Mandy Connell, KOA Denver, Please Tell Me That I'm Right, Oxford English Dictionary

A person identifying herself as "Nerdy Superfan Excited to Ask You Something the First Time," who listens to me on the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver (see the Events page for dates and times), wrote me recently with a complaint about how people use the word good.

"It drives me nuts when I ask someone 'How are you?' and they say good," she said. "The correct answer is well: 'You’re doing well! Superman does good!' One person I mentioned this to responded, 'I think if you ask "How are you?" then good can be acceptable, but if you ask "How are you DOING?" then it must be well.' I would love your thoughts." This was my response: (more…)

A Pronouncement on the Pronunciation of "Pro Tempore"

March 22, 2018

Tags: Toni Atkins, pro tempore, pronunciation, California State Senate

Yesterday, California State Senator Toni Atkins was the first woman and the first gay person to be sworn in as president pro tempore of the state senate. It was a thrilling moment in California history, but it was marred somewhat by the continual mispronunciation, by various speakers on the floor, of the honorific "pro tempore." Perhaps misremembering their high school Latin, or simply fudging it, they said proh-tem-POR-ee or proh-tem-POR-ay. Both those variants are egregiously wrong. (more…)

These Ones or Those Ones?

March 15, 2018

People like to come up with grammar stuff to complain about, and I have certainly been among those complainers. But sometimes the complaint is sensible and sometimes it's just groundless complaining. On the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver today, I fielded a complaint about using "ones" with the plural pronouns "these" and "those." (more…)

What Kind of Internet Reviewer Are You?

March 5, 2018

Today I tweeted this message:

"Friends: Please think before you vomit a review on Yelp, Amazon, or whatever. Remember that the people you are talking about are also people, with feelings, whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by your offhand words, which on the internet NEVER go away." (more…)

If It Ain't Hard to Do, You're Not Doing It Right

August 29, 2017

"I've been working hard to improve my writing skills," writes a fan and aspiring writer. "But the harder I work at it, the harder it gets, and the more I realize how arduous it is to write one good sentence. It is as if I cannot write well without exerting myself. And that exertion sometimes stifles my thought and causes me to quit. Is this how it's supposed to be, Charlie? Does every writer struggle to write well?" (more…)

Should Everyone Get Their Lunch?

August 29, 2017

"Hello, Charlie," writes Roman, a fan of my Verbal Advantage. "Throughout the program you use the noun person with such possessive pronouns as his or her depending on the context. I was wondering if it wouldn't be better to use their instead?

That's not an easy question to answer, I replied. (more…)

Why No "Be" Verbs in Broadcast News?

March 17, 2017

Tags: Letitbe

Why do broadcast news journalists, especially on TV, scrupulously avoid any form of the verb to "be"? And why do they use present participles (the -ing form of verbs, as in "She was running"), or gerunds (the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun, as in "She liked running"), to accomplish that avoidance? A curious question becoming a big problem: newscasters sounding like headlines. That not good, as this excellent article shows: http://www.newslab.org/2012/01/17/tv-news-needs-verbs/.

Talk Is the Enemy of Writing

March 7, 2016

Tags: William Zinnser, Jacques Barzun, William F. Buckley Jr., Verbal Advantage, The Accidents of Style

Some time ago I received this query from a reader: "Recently, I made my brother mad advocating that I don't use words in my writing if I don't use them comfortably in my conversation. I was following William Zinsser's plea from his book On Writing Well. However, in Glenda Winders' feature on your book The Accidents of Style you said that 'too many writers think they are supposed to write the way they speak, and what happens is they come out sounding silly, lazy, and full of accidents of style.' I'm confused."

This was my answer: (more…)

Think Global(ly), Act Local(ly)? Some Adverbial Advice

March 24, 2015

"To you alone can I turn, Mr. Elster," writes Andrew Chaveriat of New York City, adding — as is always prudent when asking for free advice — a bit of welcome flattery: "But first let me thank you for your excellent and matchless Verbal Advantage . . . which I greatly esteem.

"I was wondering if you have a moment to shed some light on the title to a business magazine article published by my bank,” he went on. “The article is about retail banking and is entitled 'Think global, act local.' I informed the editor of our fine magazine that this was nonstandard usage and that the adverbial version of the phrase should have been used: 'Think globally, act locally.' (more…)

Writers Are Made, Not Born

January 7, 2014

The turning of a new year often makes us look back to evaluate what we've done, and then look forward to what we hope to do. This holiday season gave me an opportunity to dig up some of my childhood memorabilia. Among the many paper artifacts of my youth (both handwritten and typed on ancient manual typewriters) was this pencil-scrawled letter from August 3, 1965, when I was eight years old and away at summer camp in Connecticut. I reproduce it here exactly as it was written: (more…)

Selected Works

Books
Articles
Colin Kaepernick and Charles Harrington Elster have something in common: exercising their First Amendment rights.
In the cover story for the October-November 2013 issue of Copyediting, Charlie looks at how the relative pronoun who is taking over the traditional role of that and which.
Read Charlie's amiable rant on redundancy, which appeared in the August-September 2012 issue of Copyediting.
Timeless tips for aspiring vocabulary builders.
Charlie beats up on Merriam-Webster in the Boston Globe.
At a loss for words? Read one of Charlie's guest "On Language" columns for The New York Times Magazine.
Read Charlie's guest "On Language" piece about resistentialism.
Shopping for a new dictionary? Here's some sage advice.
Charlie's brave new words for a wireless world.
Read one of Charlie's articles in SPELL/Binder.
Read a profile of Charlie in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles.
Letters
Charlie explains why he left the public radio show.