Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More



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August 11, 2009

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Latest Comments

Hyphen, N-dash, M-dash

  • March 13, 2010, 12:29pm


You are right! I was misinformed of what the proper keystrokes are. I appreciate the correction—thanks!

Hyphen, N-dash, M-dash

  • March 10, 2010, 11:52pm

I'm with Deb and Justinito on this one. The em-dash–and really, let us at least agree on a spelling for it–is useful, if sometimes overused, punctuation. It was particularly popular with nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers. Kipling loved it, as did Doyle, who often abused it:

“He writhed his hands together as he stood, and his features were in a perpetual jerk–now smiling, now scowling, but never for an instant in repose.”

Doyle was a rotten writer, much as I admire his occasional phrase, like “perpetual jerk.” A modern writer would use a colon in place of the em-dash, and cut a third of the words. Hence Hemingway.

Over-used, the em-dash can give the impression of a scattered mind, of distracted thinking. Journalists should avoid it–and avoid asides in general–but other writers retain full licence. But use it wisely–you are only interrupting yourself.


  • March 10, 2010, 12:15am


Franklin wrote to Webster in 1789.


  • March 9, 2010, 11:29pm

The verbification of nouns is not inherently incorrect, or even unusual. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is emphatic on the issue:

"It occasionally comes as a surprise to the linguistically unsophisticated that nouns can be put to work as verbs. This, like the use of nouns as adjectives, is a practice with a long history."

Now, I'm not calling you unsophisticated. Objection to verbed nouns is not new, nor limited to the unlearned. Benjamin Franklin wrote to Noah Webster to decry the use of "notice" and "advocate," which up to then (1879) had both been nouns, as verbs. Time proved Franklin wrong on both counts, as both denominal verbs have survived.

You cite "letter" as an example of a noun not commonly used as a verb (at least outside of varsity sports). Fair enough. But what about "mail?" That noun, originating in Middle English, has only been used as a verb since the early 19th century (Merriam-Webster). Does anyone seriously object to it as a verb? More recently, "email" has quickly evolved from noun to verb after the same pattern. "Text" – noun and verb alike – follows suit.

It is unclear to me why this normal evolution of the language indicates a "dumbing down" of our society. To the contrary, it shows that English is alive and kicking.

Word in question: Conversate

  • March 1, 2010, 7:03pm

A little history of "orientate."

"Orient" was borrowed from French around 1740. As a verb, originally it meant " to cause to face or point toward the east; specifically: to build (a church or temple) with the longitudinal axis pointing eastward and the chief altar at the eastern end" (Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary). Over time–and not much time–it came to mean "to set or arrange in any determinate position especially in relation to the points of the compass" (M-W again). I doubt that in the century or so before the emergence of "orientate" the ecclesiastical connotation was entirely lost.

And "orientate" did emerge. M-W Online dates it to 1848. It is likely a back-formation from "orientation," which M-W puts at 1839. Objection to "orientate," according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, began in 1945. I suspect that interaction between Yanks and Brits during WWII may have been the cause.

M-W lists and then summarily dismisses all criticisms of "orientate" but one: it is longer than "orient" by a syllable. And to this quibble they give short shrift. They cite several authors, most British, who have used "orientate," including W. H. Auden, Aldous Huxley, Tennessee Williams, and one Robert Morely, who probably thought he was being clever when he wrote: "I don't want to suggest that Chinamen are less aesthetically orientated than I." (He wrote that as recently as 1974, making him a grammatically-challenged troglodyte.)

So while "orientate" may be "not unremarkable everywhere" (a pretty phrase), it is well established and not incorrect.

“and yet”

  • March 1, 2010, 4:48pm

Nigel is correct: "and yet" is a perfectly acceptable idiom. Where would Lerner and Loewe have been without it?

"I was serenely independent and content before we met
Surely I could always be that way again –
And yet
I've grown accustomed to her look
Accustomed to her voice
Accustomed to her face"

However, I disagree with the use of "yet" after a semicolon. A conjunction is not needed after a semicolon; the semicolon replaces the conjunction.

Sarcasm mark?

  • February 23, 2010, 5:18am

Really? Sarcasm is not conveyed through words? I think Mark Twain might disagree:

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

As might Oscar Wilde:

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

Or Groucho:

"I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it."

I particularly like Groucho's choice of tense.

Is sarcasm conveyed through words? To paraphrase Woody Allen, it is if you do it right.

Use of multiple periods

  • February 12, 2010, 2:55pm


The em-dash would be better than an ellipsis for the first example you give. An ellipsis indicates an omission of words in quoted text, while an em-dash indicates an interruption. Typically an em-dash is used to interrupt the structure of a sentence–like this. In the case of an interrupted speaker the words have not been omitted from a quote, they have simply been unspoken.

In your first example, where the speaker is cut off and his word is interrupted, I would suggest this:

“But father, that’s not for each pers–.”

Note that the sentence gets a period–or full stop, if you prefer–just as if the word "person" had been completed (along with the rest of Jamaro's thought).

In your second example the ellipsis is simply not needed, since "out of the mouths of babes" is a complete idiom. The word "snorted" also suggests the use of an exclamation mark.

Incidentally, when an ellipsis does end a sentence it requires an extra period (or some other mark, like a question mark or an exclamation mark). Thus you get four periods in a row instead of three.

Plural last name ending in “z”

  • February 2, 2010, 10:11pm

Google has a translation tool. You will find it in the "more" menu at the top of the Google home page.

Here is an example:

Google hat ein Übersetzungs-Tool. Sie werden es in der "Mehr"-Menü am oberen Rand der Google-Startseite.

(It isn't perfect.}

Word in question: Conversate

  • January 25, 2010, 3:59am

Adrian is even more a descriptivist than me. Which I applaud. Perhaps one day I will catch up.

Meantime, here is an interesting take on the state of the dictionary: