Posted on August 31, 2011 Posted by Bertha Perez


Vocab Builder: -Er Words

by Erin Brenner on August 31, 2011

Next in our series of words that share suffixes is -er words. The -er suffix changes a verb, such as run, into a noun that denotes a person doing the action, like runner. It also changes nouns, such as ranch, into nouns that are somehow involved with the root noun, like rancher. The ending is native to English, coming to us from Middle English’s -ere and Old English’s -ere, according to Chambers Dictionary of Etymology. Alternate spellings include -or and -ar.

  • abjurer, noun: one who solenmly rejects or abstains from something.

Should the abjurer desire to go to Scotland, rather than across seas, a border town or village took the place of the port of embarkation, and he was directed by the coroner to pass through the place assigned. –Norman Maclaren Trenholme, The Right of Sanctuary in England: A Study in Institutional History (1903)

  • busker, noun: one who plays music in a public place for donations.

Castle Street is a wide park-like thoroughfare given over to foot traffic, mercilessly hard stainless steel benches from another age, the occasional tree, and the obligatory busker or three. –Barry B. Longyear, “Murder in Parliament Street”

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  • warrantor, noun: someone who gives a warranty.

The army is the warrantor of the modern foundations of Turkey. –Focus News

  • bursar, noun: treasurer.

The college Bursar, with an eye to maintenance costs, requested a durable cladding material, which would not only look good, but would require minimal aftercare. –Build.co.uk

  • mollycoddler, noun: a person who excessively indulges or coddles someone.

The politician is more or less of a mollycoddler, but the high school debater having no ax to grind speaks out boldly and brings out many points which the public desires to know about a question. –The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Volume 2 (1916)

You can get the Vocab Builder every weekday by following me on Twitter.



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Francisco Javier
August 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm

A suffix native to English which can move people into action. That’s a smasher of a suffix !

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Posted on August 31, 2011 Posted by Bertha Perez


Nine Words to Avoid in Your Writing

by Erin Brenner on August 25, 2011

Some words really rile an audience up. Just read The Chicago Manual of Style’s Facebook wall on any given day. Suddenly the conversation isn’t about your writing but about your word choice. Online, comment areas are taken over by people vehemently opposed to the way you used one word out of a thousand. But you looked up the word and you know your use of it matches a dictionary definition.

Bryan Garner refers to terms like these as “skunked terms.” In Garner’s Modern American Usage, he writes:

When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another—a phase that might take ten years or a hundred—it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. Some people (Group 1) insist on the traditional use; others (Group 2) embrace the new use, even if it originated purely as the result of word-swapping or slipshod extension*. Group 1 comprises various members of the literati, ranging from language aficionados to hard-core purists; Group 2 comprises linguistic liberals and those who don’t concern themselves much with language. As time goes by, Group 1 dwindles; meanwhile, Group 2 swells (even without an increase among the linguistic liberals).

A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. The new use seems illiterate to Group 1; the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become “skunked.”

Words change meaning; language evolves. In his new book, What Language Is, John McWhorter writes that it is “general silliness” to resist a “language’s moving on as all languages always have … No one in Milan walks around annoyed that people aren’t speaking Latin.” Yet if you use a word that’s in flux or that has grown to encompass a new meaning, especially a meaning at odds with a traditional meaning, there will always be someone who will take you to task … loudly.

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Lake Superior University goes so far as to publish an annual Banished Words List. Not all the words on the list are skunked terms in the sense that they have new definitions people object to, but several skunked terms have made it on to the list over the years, including refudiate (2011), czar (2010), green (2009), surge (2008), and awesome (2007).

Of course, what one person sees as objectionably another doesn’t even notice. Your audience might not blink at refudiate or surge or awesome, or they might storm the castle. For example, when I write for the Copyediting audience, I know that every word will be scrutinized. Many readers are language purists and wouldn’t hesitate to criticize the use of refudiate.

Unless an audience’s unbridled rancor at your word usage is your aim, your best bet is to know your audience and avoid terms that would distract them from your message. Once distracted, they won’t even give you credit for using the other 999 words correctly. Determining what riles your audience is the trick, of course. If they’re more linguistically liberal, you may have nothing to fear. If they are at all interested in language, you can expect them to notice at least the most contested words.

Here are nine to consider avoiding:

Term Traditional Meaning Newer Meaning
bemused to be confused; to be absorbed in thought amused
comprise be made up of make up
data plural of datum datum
disinterested impartial uninterested
enormity state of being outrageous, immoral state of being huge, enormous
fulsome excessively or insincerely flattering copious, plentiful
hopefully in a hopeful manner it is to be hoped
intrigue to secretly plot to arouse interest in
nonplussed surprised, confused unconcerned, not worried

What words rile you—or your audience—up? Share them in the comments section below.

* Stretching a word beyond its accepted meaning because its meaning isn’t properly understood, as with literally and verbal.

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Posted on August 25, 2011 Posted by Bertha Perez


Take a Minute to Write Right

by Erin Brenner on August 4, 2011

Writing books abound. Some are invaluable, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, while others aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Two books I came across recently, This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey and Write Right, offer quick writing tips that you can put to use immediately. The writing in both is crisp, clean, and clear, and the advice is on the money. Oh, and they’re self-published books, demonstrating that DIY books can be worth seeking out and purchasing.

This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey

This short work by Steve Almond focuses on fiction writing and is an example of creativity you won’t find in books from traditional publishers. The first half of the book (or perhaps the second, depending on your point of view) contains 30 very short (1–2 page) essays on writing fiction. Flip the book over, and there are 30 flash fiction stories that back up the essays.

Almond’s writing style is straightforward and no holds barred. The first essay points out the two opposing forces of writing: “an absolute conviction in the importance of your work … that you (and you alone) have stories the world must hear” and “the creeping suspicion that any sustained effort to write is doomed.” The remainder of the essays teaches you to control one or the other force. They’re never completely defeated, of course, but controlling them is the first step to becoming a better writer.

Almond helps you to get your ego under control and to see the reality of your work. Only then can you improve it and make it worthy of readers. And worthy it must be. His Hippocratic Oath of Writing—never confuse the reader—makes the need plain. “Back when I was editing a literary magazine,” says Almond, “the most common reason we rejected stories was not because of shoddy sentences or flat characters but because we were fucking lost.” If readers spend the first few minutes of reading your story trying to figure out what’s going on rather than relating to your characters, they’ll give up. The author lists a few ways to tell if your story is too confusing for readers.

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Another problem fiction writers commonly deal with is trying to be artsy and stylish. “Style is doomed, to the exact extent it implies a conscious effort to shape the language” (author’s emphasis) So what’s the fix? Stop thinking about it and just write, says Almond. Don’t try to shape the language. “Voice is what emerges when you stop performing, when your voice on the page flows from your voice off the page, its particular tone and vernacular” (author’s emphasis).

Write Right: 26 Tips to Improve Your Writing. Dramatically.

The purpose of fiction writing is to tell the stories you have tell in a way that makes readers want to read them. The purpose of business writing is to create results, and Roger A. Shapiro has been creating results for over 35 years. He’s written corporate communications, advertising, speeches, and training materials and led writing seminars and workshops for students and corporate employees. His book is loaded with lessons he’s tried and proven over the years.

The first thing Shapiro wants his readers to understand is what a result is. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are if you don’t know what your writing is supposed to accomplish when you set the words down. Whether your business objective is to increase site traffic, build your corporate brand, increase sales, or something else, the result you’re after is that the reader takes a specific action after reading your copy.

“What do you want your reader to do after taking the time to read [the] marketing tool you created?” says Shapiro. Answer that question, and you’re ready to begin the writing process.

The writing process, however, doesn’t begin with the actual writing. “An average writer quickly accepts writing assignments and hits the keyboard writing,” says Shapiro in the second tip. “A great writer … incorporates a deep pre-writing process” in order to understand what action he wants the reader to take.

As in fiction, readers who spend the first few minutes reading your business message are not likely to read through to the end. In fact, they’re less likely to keep reading because they know they’re being sold to. Shapiro shows you ways to tighten your writing throughout the book, such as eliminating prepositions. Not all of them, of course, but many of them. He offers this comparison:

The wireless router on your network lets anyone in your office access your data quickly and easily.
Your network’s wireless router lets anyone access your office data quickly and easily.

Four words eliminated, and suddenly the sentence is much quicker to comprehend.


I highly recommend both books. The one complaint I have with both of them is the lack of exercises. The best way to really learn a lesson is to practice it. Yes, you can practice on your own, but the results are so much better when you practice each lesson in an exercise designed to help you practice what that lesson was teaching. Repetition can be a great teacher. Without exercises, writers may read the lessons but never put them to work. They are eager to jump into the writing, all the words of wisdom forgotten in the moment. If either of these books is revised in the future, I’d love to see some more guidance for writers in the form of practice exercises.

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Posted on August 4, 2011 Posted by Bertha Perez


Vocab Builder: Greek Syn-

Last week we looked at the Greek prefix epi-, meaning addition, above, or upon, to expand our vocabulary. This week, we’ll look at syn-, a prefix meaning all together or united. Syn- descends from the Greek sun-, meaning with.

  • synchronous, adjective: Two or more things happening at the same time.

In mid-June, the Smokies’ synchronous fireflies-the only species in the country that flash in unison-are at the peak of their group blinking frenzy for a two-week window. —Backpacker

  • syncope, noun: when one loses consciousness because of a drop in blood pressure.

Because vaccinees may develop syncope, sometimes resulting in falling with injury, observation for 15 minutes after administration is recommended. —MarketWatch

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  • synergy, noun: cooperative action of at least two organizations that yields something greater than the sum of the parts.

This sort of synergy created between a creative fan base and a group of players can be magical as we witnessed last night with Miguel Olivo. —Seattle Post Intelligencer

  • synodic, adjective: Relating to the conjunction of heavenly bodies.

No relationship was found between domestic violence calls and either the anomalistic (apogee to apogee) or synodic (full moon to full moon) lunar cycles over the first 2 years, but more calls occurred at the third quarter during the 3rd year. —Journal of Psychology

  • syntax, noun: Rules governing word order in grammatical sentences.

Jim Dwyer, the New York Times columnist, movingly recounted how Ms. Ponsot was groping not only for vocabulary bur for order and placement and usage — in a word, for syntax. —America

You can get the Vocab Builder every weekday by following me on Twitter.

Update: Thanks to Susan Freeman for noticing that I incorrectly labelled synchronous as a noun rather than an adjective. Even editors need editors!

About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug…hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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