The Word of the Day Is . . .

Every year, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary adds new words. The addition of words starts with reading by the Merriam-Webster editors, who are looking for words in “their natural habitat for real evidence of the language in use.” The new words are selected based on new meanings and on frequency of use. The 2012 words added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary include (and are quotedwith apologies to those with sensitivities to certain words):

aha moment n (1939) : a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension [Oprah Winfrey’s signature phrase]

brain cramp n (1982) : an instance of temporary mental confusion resulting in an error or lapse of judgment

bucket list n (2006) : a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying [popularized by the movie title]

cloud computing n (2006) : the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet [technology]

copernicium n (2009) : a short-lived artificially produced radioactive element that has 112 protons

craft beer n (1986) : a specialty beer produced in limited quantities : microbrew

earworm n (1802) 1 : corn earworm 2 : a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind [“this summer’s example being the inescapable Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.”]

energy drink n (1904) : a usually carbonated beverage that typically contains caffeine and other ingredients (as taurine and ginseng) intended to increase the drinker’s energy

e-reader n (1999) : a handheld electronic device designed to be used for reading e-books and similar material

f-bomb n (1988) : the word fuck — used metaphorically as a euphemism

flexitarian n (1998) : one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish

game changer n (1993) : a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way

gassed adj (1919) … 2 slang : drained of energy : spent, exhausted

gastropub n (1996) : a pub, bar, or tavern that also offers meals of high quality

geocaching n (2000) : a game in which players are given the geographical coordinates of a cache of items which they search for with a GPS device

life coach n (1986) :  an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems

man cave n (1992) : a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities

mash-up n (1859) : something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as a : a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording  b : a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources  c : a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities from various online sources [“Whether it’s a politician contradicting him or herself with excerpts from different speeches shown in quick succession or Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, mixing Jay-Z with the Beatles, we’ve come to expect combined and rearranged elements that bring new perspectives and new creativity to our culture with mash-ups,” says editor Sokolowski. “It’s a recent phenomenon, made possible with digital editing, and it has a fun and descriptive name.”]

obesogenic adj (1986) :  promoting excessive weight gain :  producing obesity

sexting n (2007) : the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone

shovel-ready adj (1998) of a construction project or site : ready for the start of work 

systemic risk n (1982) : the risk that the failure of one financial institution (as a bank) could cause other interconnected institutions to fail and harm the economy as a whole [the global financial crisis]

tipping point n (1959) : the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place

toxic adj  (1664) … 4 : relating to or being an asset that has lost so much value that it cannot be sold on the market

underwater adj (1672) … 3 : having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth

You will note that many of these are just additional definitions for words that have been used for years (and sometimes centuries). It is comforting to me to know that while our language is constantly changing, Merriam-Webster is making an effort to keep up. Learn them, use them correctly, and prove to everyone just how “current” your language is!

I Am Anxious . . . Eager . . . Ready for Christmas!

Anxious and eager are two words that are easily confused. There is a difference.

The definition of “anxious” is “full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune.” It is derived from the Latin anxius which means “worried, distressed.” Anxious comes from the same root as anxiety. That should help you remember that anxious has a bit of a negative connotation.

Eager, on the other hand, means “keen or ardent in desire or feeling; impatiently longing.” It is something you are looking forward to doing or having. Something that makes you anxious is something you are dreading.

I am anxious for the final exams because I didn’t study and don’t feel that I’ll do well.

I am eager for the final exams because I studied hard and am ready for the semester to be over.

Since I got my shopping done and everything wrapped two days early, this year, for the first time in many years, I am EAGER for Christmas to get here!

If you want more proofreading fun, there is now a Proof That Facebook Page ( where I repost from other grammar and proofreading Facebook Pages and other sites for your entertainment and education. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. My best present this year is your continued support of this blog and the articles that I’ve written for the NALS docket. Thank you! 


Grammar Giggles – In Honor of the Season

Even other than the whole bills created by Christmas thing that this picture reminds me of, there are so many other things wrong. Errors include my number one pet peeve–an apostrophe used to make a word plural–and a comma that is not only outside the closing quotation mark, but a comma that would be better as a period inside the quotation mark. Here is wishing you and yours a very Merry (and bill-free) Christmas!

Confusing Contractions

Contractions are used to indicate where letters are missing in a word. I think that because there may be apostrophes involved, contractions and possessive pronouns are often confused. If the word shows possession, use an apostrophe as necessary to show that possession. (See Apostrophail!) If there are letters missing from a word, the apostrophe shows where those letters are missing. Some of the most confusing examples are:

its (possessive)                       it’s (it is OR: it has)
their (possessive)                     they’re (they are) OR: there’re (there are)
theirs (possessive)                    there’s (there is OR: there has)
your (possessive)                      you’re (you are)

If you’re not sure which is correct, test substituting “it is, it has, they are, there are, there is, there has, or you are,” whichever is appropriate, in place of the word that is confusing you. If the substitution does not make sense, it is not a contraction, so you should use the appropriate possessive form.

The dog was chewing on its paw. (“Chewing on it is paw” does not make sense.)

 HOWEVER: It’s time to get ready to leave for the party. (“It is time” does make sense.)

He said, “Your car is leaking oil.” (“You are car” does not make sense.)

HOWEVER: She said, “You’re welcome” when he thanked her for the gift. (“You are welcome” is correct.)

Their house was beautifully landscaped. (“They are house” does not work.)

They’re in their house with all the lights on. (“They are in their house” is correct.)

Try the substitution test if you aren’t sure if a contraction is appropriate. If it is not, use the proper possessive word. In legal documents, contractions are not used as they are really used for more informal, friendly writing. A legal document is more formal and in an effort to avoid any confusion and keep it more formal, contractions are rarely appropriate. Again, however, this may be a matter of style and preference for a specific attorney. So go out and use contractions at will–except in legal documents and where it isn’t a contraction.

Grammar Giggles – Peas on Earth and Good Meal Toward Men

My son found this for his blog project on Christmas light fails/wins. I love Christmas decorations more than a lot of people, but if you’re going to spell something out, you should make sure it is at least spelled correctly. Otherwise, you are displaying your ignorance for all the world to see. 

Em Dashing and En Dashing Through the Snow

I always knew there were differences in dashes and their uses, but I didn’t understand the difference and now find that I’ve been using them wrong. In the interest of educating us all, let’s dash right into it!

An em dash is called that because the dash is as wide as the capital letter m. If your word processing program doesn’t have the em dash special character, use two hyphens with no space between. Whether you use an em dash or two hyphens, do not use spaces before or after. For instance:

She never tells the truth—ever!

The two-em dash indicates when letters are missing from a word, as in:

          Ms. K—— was the anonymous lottery winner.

An en dash is half the length of an em dash but longer than a hyphen. It means “up to and including” and is used to connect numbers in a range, for example:

          The contract is located at Bates Numbers COR43956–44012.

You should also use an en dash for a minus sign.

Make sure that any dash ends up at the end of a line rather than at the beginning of a line. You would write:

          She has some college—

          a paralegal degree I believe.


          She has some college

          —a paralegal degree I believe.

Apparently you are not supposed to use a hyphen for a dash—which I have been doing wrong for a very long time! Hyphens are used for hyphenation and for compound words, but not in place of a dash.

So now we’ve all learned something (or a least I have). You may now dash on knowing you are using your dashes correctly.

Grammar Giggles – Voodoo Doughnuts

During a recent trip to Portland and the infamous Voodoo Doughnuts, I found this sign that, while it is a sweet remembrance of a man who was apparently a good friend of Voodoo, is rife with grammatical errors, including “Consutlant” rather than “Consultant” and the use of the ordinal figures in the date – which is incorrect when the date is complete with the year. I almost felt guilty even taking the picture, but not guilty enough not to share it with you!

Lists, Bullets, and Punctuation

Lawyers love bullets, letters, or numbers in a vertical list. I see those lists capitalized and not, with periods and not, with commas and not. So what is the correct way to show a vertical list? You can use bullets, letters, or numbers – any of those is correct and a matter of personal style preference.

You should capitalize the first word of the list if it is a complete sentence. If it is not a complete sentence, you can choose whether or not to capitalize the first word, but if you make the choice to always capitalize the first word, you won’t have to try to decide if it is a complete sentence or not. Capitalizing every time has my vote!

As for whether or not to use a period, if each entry on the list is grammatically complete, or if the list completes the introductory sentence, use a period, exclamation point, or question mark as appropriate. If it is a single word list entry or a sentence fragment, you can choose whether or not to use terminal punctuation.

For example:

Can you give me instructions for:

    • Changing the oil in my car.
    • Finding the proper air pressure for my car tires.
    • Filling the windshield wiper fluid.
If you read each of these separately, it is a complete sentence (i.e., Can you give me instructions for changing the oil in my car), so capitalization and periods are correct. Avoid using commas or semicolons and the word and in these lists.
If, however, you include this group of items together in a sentence, it is treated differently. For example: 

Can you give me instructions for (1) changing the oil in my car, (2) finding the proper air pressure for my car tires, and (3) filling the windshield wiper fluid.

No capitals, the use of commas, and the word and are all appropriate in this case.

When your list is more like a shopping list or an inventory or if the introductory sentence is complete, do not use commas or periods.

 My favorite electronic devices are:

    • iPhone
    • iPad
    • Laptop

The other issue I frequently see with these types of lists is parallel treatment. In my car example above, the words changing, finding, and filing are parallel. This is something to check when proofreading so that your list does NOT read:

Can you give me instructions for:

    • Changing the oil in my car.
    • The proper air pressure for my car tires.
    • Windshield wiper fluid filling.

While each of those list entries is correct by itself, they are not parallel. Lists are useful and probably necessary, as long as they are set up correctly.