[per-snik-i-tee]  adjective
1. excessively precise and attentive to detail; fussy
2. (of a task) requiring close attention; exacting

I embrace my own word nerdery; I revel in the history and origin of words. I love the feel of certain words in my mouth and even just rolling around in my brain.

Persnickety is one of my favorites. It has several things going for it: onomatopoeia, flowing syllables and a warm, diminutive “y” (ee) ending.

It has an original negative connotation that has been taken up by persnickety folks such as myself and transformed into a positive. When it comes to editing, being excessively precise and attentive to detail isn’t fussy — it is ideal. I approach every editing job with a persnickety attitude and it never fails to serve my clients well.


Let’s Ditch the e-Hyphen Now

When email first appeared in the public sphere in the early 1990s, it was a blending of “electronic” and “mail.” Oh, we were so young and technologically naive back then! I remember using a boxy beige terminal to “e-mail” with students at a sister university when I was in college. Email at that time required negotiating eye-numbing green text on a black screen, and following directions from a sheet of paper taped to the desk with a series of code entries. By the time I graduated college, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL had turned email into a much more user-friendly affair.

Associated Press Stylebook editors officially turned “E-mail” into “email” in 2011. Many of us had already moved past the AP style and adopted the hyphen-less version, both privately and professionally. The hyphen was dead weight, particularly in the Age of Email and Texting; brevity is king. I think of hyphenates as the “missing link” of language. Newly minted blended words often get the hyphen treatment for a sort of probationary period. (“Today” was once “to-day,” as “tomorrow” was once “to-morrow”!)

But why did it take almost 20 years to finish the blending of “electronic” and “mail”? The Internet has had a major impact on language; in the need to use written words on the web, in the creation of new words based on Internet-related activities and ideas, and in the evolution of those words. We are the lucky spectators of the quickening pace of language evolution, sped up by the quickening pace of technology. Twenty years to go from “electronic mail” to “email” probably doesn’t seem very fast to modern eyes. But consider our friend “today” — it lived as two words for centuries before gaining its hyphen about 500 years ago. Printers, calligraphers and writers carried that hyphen all the way through the early part of the 20th century. It took almost 1,000 years for “to day” to become “today,” and the hyphenated version stuck around for centuries in between! The fact that “e-mail” became “email” in less than 20 years is actually incredible.

As an editor, I now contend with e-commerce, e-business, e-banking and e-books; these electronic versions of real-world activities are still held down by the hyphen. These hyphenated up-and-comers will fade away or find a foothold in daily usage and lose the hyphen, just as the following terms did: “cry-baby,” “ice-cream,” and  “pigeon-hole.”

Technology speeds up so much in our daily lives and the written word is not immune. The joke is probably on me. I spend time worrying about terminology in order to make language as precise and powerful as possible, but I suspect in the near future we won’t bother with the “e” at all. After all, when everyone is banking online, why call it anything other than banking? When all books are uploaded and downloaded, what is the point of declaring them electronic?

Personally, I’m a fan of following in the footsteps of email, and ditching the hyphen for all “e” terms. My reasoning is simple: The majority of people will understand what is meant without the hyphen. In the same way that e-mail became email, e-commerce should be allowed to live as ecommerce. In the age of ever-faster computers, is there really a need to slow down language?

Use vs. Utilized

I do a fair amount of academic and technology editing and one word I am constantly booting off the page is “utilized.”

If you mean “use,” you should feel comfortable using “use.” It’s a marvelous and compact three-letter word that conveys a common concept without hogging character space. It may be one of the greatest words in the English language when you consider its small, unassuming stature compared to its many appropriate applications.

When I see the word “utilize” in any writing, I hear alarm bells. It suggests the author may be trying to sound important, extend the word count, perhaps is grasping for a synonym to shake up her writing or has spent too much time in the science lab.

According to one of my favorite sites, Grammar Girl, “utilize” does have a scientific function. If you are discussing chemical reactions and absorptions, you are correct to choose the longer, specific form. In fact, when we’re discussing any kind of evidence-based research — from chemical reactions to human social interactions — utilize is fine to use.

If you are not submitting to a scientific journal, I suggest you stick with “use.” And consider the glorious history of our 3-lettered friend, as provided by Google:


Comic Neue: Cool or Cruel?

For those of us with an eye for design or a love of typography, the big news this week is about the Comic Sans makeover and the reveal of Comic Neue. If this is news to you, head over to Craig Rozynski’s site to take a look at an old font frenemy with a seriously smooth facelift.

Sure, kindergarten teachers and break-room memo hangers love Comic Sans, but designers and editors consider it to be the red-headed stepchild of the great font family. That is suddenly sad to me because it’s just a child’s font. It seems cruel to pin so much disgust on a kindly sans-serif.

As early as college, Comic Sans was on my list of IGNORE fonts. Along with Brush Script, it just seemed to be trying too hard. It was clearly not cool, even if it was more legible than Brush Script. I’m anthropomorphizing my fonts. Had you noticed? I can’t be the only one. When you spend a lot of time working intimately with fonts, they begin to conjure up personalities in your mind. Of course they do; fonts are designed to convey a message that goes beyond the actual letters.

Brush Script has a strawberry-blonde mustache and four days of stubble. He’s got a slight drinking problem and he shows up six days a week to ride bucking Broncos because it’s the only life he’s ever known. Comic Sans… ah, well, I guess Comic Sans is that kid at a seventh-grade party who just can’t seem to say or do the right thing. Just as everyone starts to relax and enjoy themselves, he jumps up on the couch and announces, “IF YOU SPRINKLE WHEN YOU TINKLE, PLEASE BE NEAT AND WIPE THE SEAT!” He then guffaws and spills Hawaiian Punch on the rug. He’s not a bad fellow, he’s just hopelessly out of sync.

I have spent thousands of hours focused on choosing the right type for the message. I have obsessed about font sizes, kerning, tracking, bolding, underlining and shadowing. I have wrangled and stretched type, sometimes for its own good and sometimes for selfish reasons. In all that time, Comic Sans remained an old, bad joke. Any time a friend posted something online in Comic Sans, I cringed. When editing content in Comic Sans, I encouraged the author to reconsider his font choice. Every time.

There has never been any room for Comic Sans in my life and certainly not in my brochures, my websites or my headlines. But as of today, I feel differently. I feel a bit sorry for Comic Sans. I mean it’s in the name! “Comic Without” or “Without Comedy”? I know I’ve certainly always been humorless in my approach to this outsider font.

The release of Comic Neue has made me realize how much the design community has neglected and bullied poor Comic Sans. As Comic Neue makes the scene — flashier, smoother and just plain cooler — I can’t help but think of Comic Sans standing nearby in the shadows and wishing he could get this much fanfare for once, as he takes a sip of his punch and it dribbles down his chin and on to his new shirt.

This Makes Me Sick

“I’m feeling nauseous,” she said.

“Oh, no! Get away from me!” he replied.

“Why? I won’t throw up on you…”

“If you are nauseous, that means you are causing others around you to become nauseated — by giving off noxious vibes.”

“Get away from me.”

“Why? I’m not the one who is NAUSEATED!”

“Yeah, well you’re making me sick.”

Awful puns aside (they are my favorite kind of pun), nauseous is an interesting example of a technically incorrect adjective winning out over a technically correct version: nauseated. I was taught that describing myself as nauseous meant I was causing others to become nauseated. You see, the proper adjective choice for feeling puke-y is actually nauseated. You can describe a pile of garbage as nauseous or a person who smells terrible as nauseous — the “ous means it is making others sick. In order to describe yourself as feeling sick, you must rely on the “ated” — “I am nauseated and rather sick of writing about nausea.”

Trust me, it’s not like I went around correcting people who said they felt nauseous. You’d have to be a monster to correct the word choice of someone leaning over a toilet bowl. But I took notice of nauseous usage in everyday life: it’s on TV, it’s in books, it’s in movies and plays. Frankly, it’s everywhere. I have heard the proper “nauseated” used maybe a handful of times over the years, and usually only ever proclaimed by a pretentious pedant.

Because language is a living, ever-changing thing, I have been content to sit back and watch as the improper form of an adjective has overtaken the proper form. This blog post is more of a footnote than a call to arms. The word war is over: nauseous wins. I am, however, enough of a word nerd to enjoy sharing this trivia with you.

Nauseous, nauseated, schlemeel, schlemazel — it’s not going to bring society to a grinding halt. And the more compact syllabic structure of nauseous has won out. Frankly, when nausea is a physical reality, brevity is king. If nothing else, you can always avoid nausea forms all together and make use of the many colorful words that mean “to throw up” in English:

vomit   hurl   puke   blow chunks   ralph   chunder*   barf   spew   upchuck   heave   regurgitate   retch   bring up

Language: It’s not all flowery prose.

*Men at Work on chunder: 

I Have All the Answers

Freelance writing and editing has been my full-time job since 2011. Over the years, I have written and edited all manner of content: advertising copy, network defense courses, employee handbooks, websites and so much more. I love turning myself into a content expert with each new project and learning new things so I can better translate them to readers. I’m curious and inquisitive and I enjoy getting to exercise those traits during my workday, no matter the topic.

Today, I can add quiz writer to my skill set. For about a year, I worked on a project to research and deliver short quizzes about all manner of things, including dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians, fictional robots, and even the sense of smell. I ferreted out questions based on how interesting and universal they might be to readers, and I researched answers and clever facts to add to the mix. It was a challenging but fun gig and I’m so proud to watch as the project launches.

I play trivia almost every week at our favorite local bar and Trivial Pursuit is my No. 1 game jam. For some reason, I have the sort of brain that can remember the name of the actress who played Vicki (or V.I.C.I., if you want to get as geeky as me) in 1985’s “Small Wonder.” (It’s Tiffany Brissette.) Obscure history and science questions are pure joy to me. I think I’m very lucky to live in this era, with the history of the world at our fingertips and the Cult of Geekdom opening its arms to all comers. So you can imagine how lucky I felt to have the chance to write quizzes! I learned more about pirates, the history of underwear, and body language than I ever thought possible.

If you are a trivia buff like myself, I’m sure QuizLife will appeal to you. Many writers contributed to the hundreds of quizzes available and the site is a monument to word-nerdery and to the geek in all of us.

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