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.
5. N.B. or n.b.
6. c. or ca.
7. et al.
Answers are on the
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.
Copyright © 2003-2013
by Charles Harrington Elster.
Note: Everything in this blog, and on this website, is protected by copyright. Reproduction of any kind without permission is prohibited.
May 13, 2013
Paul Convery, a hardworking fellow lexicomane from Glasgow, Scotland, contacted me recently to ejaculate with pride over his latest labor of illicit love, Inkhorn's Erotonomicon: An Advanced Sexual Vocabulary for Verbivores and Vulgarians
. It's the most verbally engorged example of lubricious lexicography since J. E. Schmidt's Lecher's Lexicon
, guaranteed to give wordlovers of all persuasions a safe-lex frisson. Here is what Mr. Convery has to say about it in his introduction: (more…)
May 7, 2013
I am a longtime fan of baseball. If you are too, then you know that part of the fun of being a fan is following the “stats” of the players and seeing how many categories and subcategories can be created from baseball-related information. From RBI (runs batted in) to ERA (earned-run average), baseball wonks have a way of keeping track of everything pertaining to the game. But one thing I’ve been following lately seems to have been overlooked by lovers of all-things-baseball: the extremely weird first names of Hispanic ballplayers. (more…)
April 3, 2013
This is the second year I've been invited to deliver the opening remarks for The Big Read, the annual celebration of books and reading sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and engineered locally by the hardworking folks at WriteOutLoud, Veronica Murphy and Walter Ritter. Following is my kickoff speech for their series of events inspired by Ray Bradbury's classic science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451
January 11, 2013
Well, it's been a while. But the distractions of the holiday season are past and a new year is here, so I'm resolving to be at least a somewhat more frequent blogger.
As part of my resolutions for 2013, I recently cleaned up my woefully untidy home office, which had begun to resemble the Augean stables (minus the manure). Among the papers I sorted was an email exchange between me and an aspiring linguist named Jesse, who took me to task for my prescriptive views on language. Here is what he had to say: (more…)
October 10, 2012
Most people watched the Obama-Romney debate last Wednesday night to hear what the candidates had to say about domestic issues and the economy. The pundits watched it like judges at a boxing match, keeping track of who landed more verbal punches. I watched it for another reason: to see who would have more accidents of style. (more…)
August 31, 2012
In this presidential election season, political scientists and pundits are fond of distinguishing between the so-called high-information voters, the small percentage of the electorate who keep up with the news, are informed about the issues, and can speak intelligently about what's at stake, and the so-called low-information voters, the vast majority of the electorate who know little about the issues, make gut decisions based on whim or prejudice, and can be swayed by rhetoric calculated to inflame their emotions. (more…)
April 23, 2012
If you are someone who has people of a certain age — under 21 or so — hanging around your house or in your life for whatever reason, you may have noticed something unusual about their speech habits. (more…)
March 6, 2012
I’ve always been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, that master of mystery and the macabre, so when WriteOutLoud
asked me to participate in this year’s Big Read
, how could I say “nevermore”? (more…)
November 29, 2011
Remember the old rule: “A good writer never ends a sentence with a preposition”? Well, it’s too bad it was ever taught, because it is wrong, wrong, wrong. If you think I don’t know what I'm talking about, then I dare you to say, “You don’t know about what you’re talking.” (more…)
October 10, 2011
Welcome to TwainFest — WriteOutLoud's annual celebration of Mark Twain's life and words.
Let me begin by saying that it is a wonderful thing, a miraculous and heartwarming thing, in this digitally throttled age of computers and cellphones and iPods and iPads and Kindles and all manner of portable hand-held devices, to address an audience that has gathered for the sole purpose of being read to.
Mark Twain could appreciate that.
Does anyone know where Twain took his future wife, Olivia Langdon, on their first date? (more…)
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
Charlie explains why he left the public radio show.