The other day I was reading a movie review, and a character in the film was described twice as redoubtable. Before you read on, answer this question: What does redoubtable mean?        Need some help? So did I. I had no idea what redoubtable meant. And I'm an English major, business writing expert, and...
I just finished reading another excellent mystery by Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery. Penny's series of Inspector Gamache mysteries, which take place in Québec, gets better and better with each volume. I'm always looking forward to the next one.  This time I read a library book. To my surprise, a previous reader wrote in the...
Each of the three short passages below has one error in the choice of a word. Can you find all three errors? Test your skills. Passage 1: Bishara's most recent position was principal designer for Barton and Bloss. In the interviews we conducted, his interviewers gave him the highest amount...
Last week I went with two friends to visit an assisted living facility they were considering for their mother. A warm, welcoming man shook hands with us and led us into his office. As we entered, I noticed the door plate. It said Sales and Marketing.  We were not there...
I love it when a book on language teaches me a lesson. The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense, a guide by Daniel Menaker filled with humorous, elegant word errors, taught me that I’d better slow down and think if I want to catch errors that have...
Lately I have been hearing the word "disconcerning." When it came up yesterday in an interview on NPR (National Public Radio), I knew it was time to write about it.  "Disconcerning" is actually not a word--at least not a correct one. I've just checked all my dictionaries and style guides....
If you are an expert in your field or industry, you have probably learned a lot of jargon--and you've earned the right to use it. But you don't want runaway jargon to get in the way of successful communication. Here are ways to get control of your language. 1. Understand...
There is a lot to like in Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. If you live and breathe the world of publishing, writing, or editing, you will enjoy Norris’s stories about the quirky way things are at The New Yorker, where she has copyedited...
Before you discount all clichés as weak, lazy writing, consider a few ideas from Orin Hargraves' new book, It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés (Oxford University Press, 229 pages, $24.95 in hardcover). I recommend the book for writers, editors, and others who care...
This month's e-newsletter, Better Writing at Work, features an article on avoiding gender-based language traps. Below are highights from the 545-word article.  1. Avoid "man" words unless you are specifically referring to an adult male. Avoid expressions such as manpower, man hours, and chairman. 2. Avoid words that communicate a "women-only" category. Use housekeeper rather than chambermaid, ballet dancer rather than ballerina. 3. Avoid...