Tag Archives: vocabulary

Editing Quick Hit: Like vs. Such as vs. Including

This is one of those times that spoken English has messed up written English, because casually, we do not care. But in writing, sometimes this one actually matters. (You’ll hope your lawyer understands this grammar rule.)

“Like” means “similar to but not including.”

“Such as” means “similar to AND including.”

“Including” means… including, or, as the dictionary likes to say “containing as part of the whole being considered” (that’s Google’s dictionary, btw). And works as a more flexible catch-all when you’re confused about whether you should be using “like” or “such as”

Let’s just assume the pomegranate is behind the pear back there, ok? Ok.

So putting this to work, an example: If you are picking out a fruit to eat and know you like apples but aren’t in the mood for one right now, you might say “Give me something like an apple” and I might hand you a pomegranate. (Because a pomegranate is similar to, but not, an apple)

If you are picking out a fruit later but now are more flexible on what you’d like, you might say, “I’d like a fruit such as an apple, orange or banana” and I might hand you any of the three or I might hand you a pear. (Because you want something similar to the things you listed, as well as the specific fruit you mentioned.)

If I’m offering you fruit from my selection and just want to list them off, I’d go with “I have a variety of fruits for you to enjoy, including an apple, banana, pear, orange and pomegranate.” If you wanted a grapefruit, I’d have to send you down to the grocery store to buy one yourself.

Got it?

Hungry now? Man, I want a strawberry after all that fruit.


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Editing Quick Hit: Latter vs. Ladder

This is an easy slip-of-the-fingers to make, because when said aloud, “latter” and “ladder” frequently sound pretty similar.
But “ladder” is for the thing with rungs you climb to get to a high place. “Latter” is the much less common word you use in the phrase “the former and the latter” (meaning the one prior and the one second).
I tried but failed to come up with a helpful mnemonic for this: anyone have suggestions?

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It’s Dictionary-Official, Guys.

Thank goodness there is something to talk about besides “twerking.”

Oh wait, no, there’s not, because even the good ole’ dictionary is in on the butt-oscillation trend. It was announced yesterday that a bunch of internet-originated terms, including “twerk” of course, have been included in the Oxford Dictionary Online.

Twerk it.

Cue massive moaning and gnashing of teeth and cries about how the world is probably coming to an end, or worse, English is so over.

There’s a whole crop of “new” words that have been officially recognized by an official-sounding dictionary linked to an actually official dictionary; you can read the whole list here.

(But you probably won’t; it’s TL:DR. Oh well).

And, as always happens when dictionaries do this, people freaked out, because there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the point of dictionaries and the validity of language.

Here’s the truth: Putting a word in a dictionary does not make it “official.” It does not make a word acceptable to use in all cases, and it doesn’t mean it’s more or less legitimate than other words people use. It just means it is a word that has reached an arbitrary threshold of use in pop culture and someone thought maybe you’d benefit from having a definition to help you in the event that you run into it in the wild and don’t know what someone is saying.

That’s it! That’s all it means!

As for appropriateness, you should use whatever words you need to in order to tell your story. If that means inventive, morphine-induced Jabberwockys–power forward, friend! If that means a carefully culled vocabulary from your Scrabble dictionary? Blessings be upon you. One of my favorite books of all time progressively eliminates letters, making it amazing and a challenge I can’t wrap my head around. And that’s great!

As an editor and a reader, I might flag something that I don’t think fits or makes sense, but I’ll never tell anyone they can’t use a word if they want to, dictionary-approved or not. Go ahead! Have a ball!

Actually, I think the Oxford Dictionary Online deserves props for lighting the internet (temporarily) on fire. I mean, how often do you get people to talk about a dictionary, anyway?


Filed under Editing, writing

Oxford Comma: What is it, and how do I use it?

I’ve had a lot of book reviews lately; sorry about that! I’ve gotten a lot of reading done lately, and that doesn’t even include my recent re-reading (via audiobook) of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as read by Stephen Fry (short version: it’s great!).

But a friend today was moaning over people who didn’t understand the merits of the Oxford comma, and I said “Aha!” When I worked in newspapers, I never used the Oxford comma–and I may have even snubbed my nose at it a time or two (it’s true! Forgive me!). But when I worked in academia, it was required, and I came to love that little bugger.

The Oxford comma confuses people, but it’s actually very simple: When making a list, include a comma before the “and” in front of the final list item. Example: “Buy apples, oranges, and bananas.” The sweet little comma between “oranges” and “and”? That’s the Oxford comma.

Some people don’t use the Oxford comma–AP style, used by media organizations, rejects it–and that’s fine, most of the time. As long as the list still makes sense, it’s ok to drop it. The list “Buy apples, oranges and bananas” still makes sense without the Oxford comma! As long as you are consistent in your non-use of that third comma, you’re fine.


Sometimes you really do need that last comma for the sentence to make sense.

This fun little graphic does a good job explaining it:

If you don’t get it at first, read the second version aloud, pausing to take a breath at the comma.

But this is my absolute favorite visual explanation of the Oxford comma. It’s… a little less safe-for-all-audiences.

This has floated around the internet so much, I have no idea of the original source. Whoever you are, thank you! This is my favorite grammar comic of all time.

Strippers JFK and Stalin are just so fabulous.

Anyway, that’s the gist of the Oxford comma. Use it to make your writing clearer, or use it all the time, if you like. It’s just a helpful little tool to keep your lists organized.

And if you need some advanced grammar or style help, you can always hire a pro.


Filed under Editing, writing

Verbal Migration: UK English and its American Cousin

I had the excellent fortune a few years ago to make a friend in England (the marvels of the internet!) who, after listening to me whine about wanting to go abroad long enough, invited me over.

And wonder of wonders, he actually meant it.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I went. Yes, I spent 12 days in a foreign country with a stranger I met online. And it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

I hadn’t been able to study abroad in college because of time (and money) restrictions, but, having spoken to a lot of people who have, I think my experience was even better, because I was able to hang out with people just going about their daily lives, giving me a very real and personal welcome to their country. (Okay, those lucky folks who can spend months abroad maybe have it better, but still!)

I kept a journal of my trip (I highly recommend it!), and one day while on the Tube to London I made a list of all the English-y words I was learning that I would never get to use at home in Texas.

This week I found this lovely Wikipedia page—List of American Words not Widely Used in the United Kingdom—and was reminded of my little list of British Words Not Widely Used in the United States. (Maybe it’ll be of some use to Doctor Who, Downton Abby, and Harry Potter fans.)

Englishisms (and my understanding of their meanings**)

  • biscuit > cookie
  • black pudding > not pudding, best not to ask; doesn’t taste bad, though
  • blimey > an exclamation, mostly of surprise
  • Bubble & squeak > dish made with leftovers, potato, cabbage, and onion (also peas and carrots); like a hash brown potato
  • cashpoint > ATM
  • chips > fries (but thicker)
  • chuffed > pleased, thrilled, excited
  • city > a populated place that has a cathedral
  • cream tea > hot tea served with scones, butter, jam and clotted cream
  • crisps > chips
  • cuppa > a cup of (hot) tea (correct use: “do-ya wanna cuppa?”)
  • curry > all Indian food
  • downs > hills, an old English deriviation
  • dual/single carriageway > highway
  • feck (Irish) > shockingly not a curse word, but used for mild frustration…used liberally
  • fings > Welsh accent for “things”
  • footpath > trail/path
  • hamlet > a small village without a church
  • half-seven (ie. time) > “half” and a number indicates it is half-PAST the following number; ex. Half-seven = 7:30 (note: they’ll also tell time in either 12-hour or 24-hour increments without any trouble at all)
  • holiday  > vacation
  • HP sauce > A-1 steak sauce, served with a full English breakfast
  • innit/indidn’t > “isn’t it,” particularly heard in the West London accent
  • knackered > tired/tuckered out
  • Lockets > a brand of lozenge, only available at a candy store (rather than at a pharmacy as in America)
  • mate > friend/pal/chum
  • mental (gone mental) > crazy
  • moor > upland hilly area with acidic soil
  • myself (Irish) > dropped frequently instead of I or me or my
  • pavement > sidewalk
  • petrol > gasoline
  • (feeling) poorly > to be sick, ill
  • posh > fancy
  • queue > line you wait in
  • quid > pound (like “buck” for dollar) whether in paper notes or coins
  • Rock > hard stick candy found in Brighton; has words inside
  • roundabout > circular road switch point in which is recommended you pray for the right exit
  • scone/scon > deliciousness in breaded form, eaten with butter, jam, and clotted cream
  • spend a penny > to go potty/use the restroom. Comes from penny-pay public bathrooms
  • Sunday roast > roasted meat (beef, lamb, chicken, or pork) served with peas, carrots, broccoli/cabbage, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy
  • scrumping > old word for stealing apples
  • tat > cheap crap
  • tings > Irish accent for “things”
  • toilet/loo > restroom/bathroom
  • Tube/Underground > subway
  • twee > over-the-top whimsy, so overdone and fake it loses any real charm
  • village > populated place that has a church
  • weald > a certain flat plain in the middle of hills
  • Yorkshire pudding > not at all like pudding, actually; resembles a bread bowl
**Any mistakes are either my own doing…or because my host willfully misled me. But they’re probably right. He’s a good bloke.
Yes, it’s true; I mostly ate my way through South England. Can you tell?

What words have you picked up in your travels?

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