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10 Writing Resources to Explore

10 Writing Resources to Explore

Are you hoping to go further with your writing this year?

Whether you want to launch your freelance writing career, write and publish a book, or start a successful blog, these ten resources could help.

I’ve split them into three different categories: learn, write and market.

If you’re fairly new to writing seriously, then you’ll probably want to dig into the “learn” options before you go too much further; if you’ve already written a book or if you’ve been freelancing for a while, you might want to skip straight to “market”.

Learn: E-books and Courses to Help You Become a Better Writer

#1: 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid, Maeve Maddox [ebook, free]

Maeve Maddox is a published fiction and non-fiction author with a PhD in Comparative Literature. Her ebook is a guide to common mistakes of spelling, usage, grammar and punctuation. It doesn’t just tell you what’s wrong and what’s right, in each case: it also explains why.

If you’d like help picking up errors that spellchecker can’t spot, or if English isn’t your native language, you’ll find this an invaluable guide.

#2: Daily Writing Tips’s Freelance Writing Course [online course, $97 currently $29]

This six-week course takes you step by step through what you need to know and do to become a freelance writer. It looks at how to be a productive writer, how to set up your website, how to write for the web, and much more.

The course also comes with some valuable bonus ebooks: a free copy of 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid, plus Basic English Grammar and Make Money Blogging.

Write: Tools to Help You Create and Edit Your Work

#3: ProWritingAid [basic version free; $50/year for premium]

ProWritingAid is an automatic editor for your writing. It analyses your text, pointing out errors in grammar and spelling, and flagging up potential stylistic issues that you might want to address.

You can also use ProWritingAid to view reports on your writing, looking at anything from your readability score to how often you use (or overuse!) particular words.

You can read our full review of ProWriting Aid (and see screenshots of it in action) here.

ProWritingAid is easy to get started with, and you can use the premium version in conjunction with Microsoft Word, Google Docs and Chrome. It’s quite a bit cheaper than the more popular Grammarly, too.

Note: If you use our discount code, DAILYTIPS1825, to purchase the premium version, you’ll get 25% off ProWritingAid and free entry to our Freelance Writing Course (just sign up and send us an email to info@dailywritingtips.com).

#4: Grammarly [basic version free; $109.59/year for premium]

Grammarly will spot spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes – but it will also flag up stylistic issues (like vague or wordy language). The free version is available as a Chrome plugin and as a download for MS Office, so you can use it online or offline.

Whether you’re a freelancer, a student, a novelist, or someone who writes a lot of important emails, Grammarly can be hugely helpful – it’s like having a virtual editor reading over your shoulder.

Like ProWritingAid, Grammarly doesn’t just make suggestions – it explains why you’ll probably want to change a particular word or phrase.

#5: Google Docs [free]

You might already have a preferred word processor, but if you don’t, Google Docs is an excellent choice. (It’s also useful for any sort of collaborative work, so even if you normally write in Word or Pages, you might want to get to grips with Google Docs too.)

You can use Google Docs through your browser, or through an app on your phone or tablet. You’ll need a (free) Google account. If you use Gmail, you already have one – or you may well have created one for other sites, like YouTube.

Market: Tools to Spread the Word About Your Writing

#6: Hostgator [from $6.95/month]

Whatever sort of writing you do, you’re almost certain to want a website. Unless you use a free platform (like Blogger or WordPress.com), you’ll need to pay for hosting – and most experts recommend doing so, because then you have full control over your website.

There are plenty of different webhosts out there, but the one we recommend the most is Hostgator – it’s where Daily Writing Tips itself has been hosted for the past ten years. It’s a huge, well-known webhost with great customer support and a money-back guarantee. You can also easily install WordPress on your site through Hostgator.

#7: WordPress [free]

WordPress lets you easily create webpages and blog posts. The WordPress software from WordPress.org is free to use on your website – and most large hosts, like Hostgator, have an easy installation process.

Alternatively, you can create a free account at WordPress.com, a blogging platform that will host your site for you – but this will limit your options more.

WordPress is used by 32% of websites, from tiny blogs to huge sites. It’s very flexible, with lots of plugins and themes (templates) that you can add to your site to make it look and function exactly how you want.

#8: MailChimp [free up to 1,000 subscribers]

Once you’ve got a website set up, you’ll want to create a mailing list so that visitors can sign up to hear from you. There are lots of different mailing list providers out there: MailChimp is a great one when you’re starting out, as it allows you to have up to 1,000 subscribers to your email list for free.

With MailChimp, you can create a sign-up form so people can join your list, and you can send out nicely formatted emails using the built-in templates.

#9: Leadpages [from $25/month]

While Leadpages is the priciest resource here, if you’re selling your writing online, you might well find it’s worth it. Leadpages is designed to create “landing pages” – professional sales pages for your products or services. You can also integrate it with other tools, like Facebook, Instagram, and MailChimp.

There’s a 14-day free trial, so if you’re not sure whether you’ll find Leadpages useful enough to warrant the price tag, you can try it out before you pay a penny.

#10: Canva [basic version free; $12.95/month for premium]

Canva is an online tool that lets you create anything graphical you can think of, from flyers to bookmarks to Facebook covers. Some authors even use it to create ebook covers. Canva is packed with different templates so you don’t have to start from scratch: you can choose something you like, then edit the text and tweak the design to suit you.

The free version may well be all you need, but if you want to upload your own fonts, set your own brand colours, and access more images, photos, and so on, you’ll need to upgrade to “Canva for Work” at $12.95/month – there’s a 30 day free trial of this available.

Having the right tools could make all the difference to your writing – whatever stage you’re at. Which of these will you try out this week?

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Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass Review: Non-Fiction Writing

Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass Review: Non-Fiction Writing

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Would you like to learn to write great non-fiction – perhaps long-form articles or even full-length books? Then Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass might be for you.

If you’ve read my previous MasterClass reviews about James Patterson’s class and Margaret Atwood’s class, you’ll already know how the MasterClass format works. If not, here’s a quick recap:

What’s MasterClass?

MasterClass is a large, growing brand with a website that offers classes from a lot of big names in the writing world – plus big names in all sorts of other areas. (As well as classes on writing by writers like James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, Macolm Gladwell, Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stein, there’s also a class on magic by Penn & Teller, a course on tennis by Serena Williams, and much more.) 

You can purchase individual courses for $90, if there’s a single course you want to take – but it’s definitely better value to buy an annual pass for $180, as this allows you to access as many courses as you want, for a year.

There’s a 30-day 100% money back guarantee, if you sign up for MasterClass and decide that it’s not for you. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass

In my previous MasterClass reviews, I’ve looked at a couple of famous fiction authors teaching classes on their craft.

This time, I wanted to turn to a different area of writing: non-fiction. My copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s first book The Tipping Point is dog-eared and creased along the spine, because I’ve read it so many times: Gladwell has a very engaging writing style and the ability to tell a great (and true) story.

I’d describe what Gladwell writes, and what he teaches in this class, as “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction”. It doesn’t just focus on the content (like some non-fiction, e.g. a “how to” article, would). 

Instead, the style and the way the story is told matters too, and there’s a deeper meaning there. As Gladwell states in the introduction to the course, “You read it because you’re in search of something powerful and fundamental about what it means to be a better person.”

Overview

Like all MasterClass courses, this was really well put together, with high-definition videos and crisply clear audio. The web interface is easy and intuitive to use, whether you want to watch all the lessons in sequence or jump between them. 

The lessons vary in length, with most coming in at around 10 – 15 minutes (the longest is a little over 20 minutes). Gladwell covers a range of topics, from big picture issues like “working as a writer” to more specific techniques like using humour, controlling information, and describing the (real-life) characters who make up your story.

One interesting aspect of this class was that there’s a “Class Project”, described in the introuctory’s lesson’s .pdf: you’re tasked with writing a 7,000 to 8,000 word nonfiction article. The process is broken up for you in the individual assignments for each lesson, but once you get to the point of editing your assignment (in lesson 20), there’s no further guidance. 

What’s Great About the Course 

The lessons are coherent and structured. At the start of the class, Gladwell lays out what he’s going to cover – and it’s clear that he has thought through what he’s going to say. This wasn’t always the impression I’ve had with other MasterClass class (see my James Patterson review for more on that), so it was great to see here.

Gladwell gives detailed, concrete advice. For instance, in lesson 4 on “Controlling Information”, Gladwell explains how to cultivate surprise, and walks through the process of him giving the reader a puzzle and encouraging them to consider what they think, because he knows that the reader is likely to guess wrong – and then they’ll be surprised (and encouraged to read on) once they get the actual answer. 

You can sign up for this MasterClass here.

All the lesson .pdfs have a summary of key points from the lesson, with “Learn More” suggestions plus a short “Assignment” that you’re encouraged to share in the “Hub” (MasterClass’s community section).

The advice on drafting and redrafting (which is the longest lesson) is great. Gladwell encourages writers to set realistic expectionts for how much they can write, and encourages them to draft during the researching and interviewing process. I might quibble with his insistence that “you can’t write a lot in a day” – I think some writers do write fast, and it depends on your topic and approach – but he offers a lot of great advice about just getting the first draft down then taking a break before revising it.

Gladwell’s clear enthusiasm for his topic, and his ability to relate it to areas like philosophy (e.g. in his conclusion about the “theory of other minds” made this a very engaging class to take. He has a sense of humour and a nice friendly style in front of the camera. 

What’s Not So Great About the Course

As with the other MasterClass courses, there are no transcripts – though you can watch the videos on any device, as there’s a mobile app. This can be frustrating if you’d like to be able to skim some lessons, or check back over material you’ve already covered. (Of course, you can go back and watch the videos again.)

There are mini-assignments that you’re encouraged to share in the Hub, but there’s no feedback from either Gladwell himself or even the MasterClass team. There’s a big course assignment – to write a 7,000 to 8,000 word article – but again, there’s no avenue for feedback on this.

If you’re looking for an interactive course where you get actual feedback on your work, this may disappoint you. Other students may reply to posts in the Hub, but this can be a bit hit and miss now the course has been around for over a year, and you might well end up posting your assignments without getting any response at all – which could be disappointing.

Should You Give MasterClass a Try?

If you want to write narrative or creative nonfiction, then Malcolm Gladwell’s class is a great one to take. It’s well-structured, it offers lots of great advice, and it’s engaging and fun to watch.

As with MasterClass’s other courses, I did feel that the $90 price tag is fairly high, though this class is longer than others: the 24 lessons, taken together, last around 4 hrs 50 minutes. 

If you want to take more than two classes within a year, the $180 All-Access Pass is definitely the best value: just make sure you set aside the time to get the most out of it.

You can sign up for this MasterClass here.

Also, there’s a 30 day money-back guarantee, so if you’re unsure, you could give MasterClass a try and then ask for a refund if it turns out it’s not a good fit for you.

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7 Best Grammar Checker Apps

7 Best Grammar Checker Apps

Grammar-apps

Do you struggle with spelling and grammar?

Even if you’re a native English speaker, there might well be grammatical rules that confuse you – and you may find that you spend a lot of time poring over your draft text, trying to figure out what needs to be edited.

This is where  grammar checker apps can really help. They go far beyond the simple spell checkers of the past: they’ll spot cases where you’ve used a real word but in the wrong context.

Many of the more advanced ones will point out instances where your style could be revised, too (such as where you’ve used a more complex word than you need to, or where you’ve included cliches in your writing).

There are so many grammar checker apps out there, though, you might be wondering which one to use. We’re going to run through seven of the best in a moment, but first, let’s look at why it’s important to test out grammar checkers before using them.

Testing the Grammar Checker Apps

A key consideration, when you’re choosing a grammar checker app, is whether or not it actually works! After all, you don’t want to use an app that ignores half your mistakes.

To help you compare each of the different apps, I tested the free versions using a standardised piece of error-ridden text:

Lastly I went to London. I visited the Tower of london and Buckingham Palace. I would of bought some soovenirs too, but I ran out of money.

The text should read as follows (I’ve indicated the corrections in bold):

Lastly, I went to London. I visited the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. I would have bought some souvenirs too, but I ran out of money.

As you can see, there are four mistakes in the original text:

  1. There should be a comma after the introductory phrase “Lastly”.
  2. “London” should be capitalised in the second sentence.
  3. “Would of” should be “would have” (or “would’ve”).
  4. “Soovenirs” should be spelt “souvenirs”.

How did the different grammar checker apps do? Let’s find out. Note that with most of these apps, you’ll need to create a (free) account in order to login and use them.

You might want to create your own piece of error-ridden sample text to use, too, so you can see whether the grammar checkers spot your mistakes.

#1: Google Docs

Google Docs is a free online word-processor provided by Google. You might well have used it to collaborate on documents with others, whether at work or school, as it’s an easy way to have one document that multiple people can comment on and edit.

Google Docs has a robust built-in spelling and grammar checker, highlighting spelling mistakes with a red wiggly underline and grammatical mistakes with a blue wiggly underline.

Test:

Google Docs correctly identified that “London” should have a capital in the second sentence and that “soovenirs” was misspelt. It didn’t flag up the incorrect phrase “would of”, however, despite this being a common grammatical mistake. It also didn’t suggest adding a comma after “lastly”.

Best for:

If you use Google Docs already, it’s certainly worth checking any words or phrases that it flags up as potentially wrong. It’s not a dedicated grammar checker app, though, so it won’t catch everything.

#2: Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is so ubiquitous that you’ve almost certainly used it at some point in your life. Although you might think of it as a piece of software installed on your computer (it ships pre-installed on Windows PCs), you can also use the free online version Office Online from Office.com.

Microsoft Word indicates grammatical errors using a double blue underline and spelling errors using a wiggly red underline. You can right-click to see potential corrections and (for grammar errors) a brief explanation.

Test:

I was impressed to see that the free version of Word online flagged up all four of the errors (and indicated the right  corrections). Interestingly, it counted the lack of capitalisation on “London” as a spelling error rather than a grammatical one.

Best for:

If you’re already using Word, you may find that the in-built spelling and grammar checkers are sufficient for you. It’s still well worth considering using one or more of the other apps as a back-up, though, especially if you’re working on a particularly important document (such as an essay or your resume).

#3: Grammarly

Grammarly is one of the best-known grammar checker apps, and you may well have seen ads for it. But does it deserve its great reputation?

While you’ll need to pay for the premium version of Grammarly if you want more advanced features (like the ability to detect the misuse of the passive voice), the free version offers an impressive range of features. You can try it out through the Grammarly website by simply copying and pasting your text, but for long-term use, you’ll probably want to install it as a Chrome plugin or Microsoft Office download.

Test:

Grammarly underlines all errors, whether of grammar or spelling, in red. As you can see, it spotted all four of the issues with my sample text. One great feature is that Grammarly provides a detailed explanation of errors, so you can learn where you’ve gone wrong.

For instance, if I click on the underlined “london”, I get a short explanation which I can expand to see further examples:

Best for:

Grammarly is a great option not only for checking your grammar and spelling thoroughly, but also for learning why something has been flagged as incorrect. It integrates with lots of other software (such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, Outlook, and more) so you can use it while composing emails and messages, as well as for checking documents.

#4: ProWritingAid

I reviewed the premium version of ProWritingAid in detail in this post (which also includes a discount code) … but how does the free version measure up? The good news is that it’s richly featured, with lots of reports that you can run, picking up on things like overused words, cliches, and much more.

You can also see how your work measures up to that of other people who’re using ProWritingAid, with statistics like “Your sentence variety was higher than 56% of ProWritingAid users”.

Test:

ProWritingAid picked up all four of the mistakes in my sample text, and provided brief explanations where appropriate (though it didn’t offer more detail for these, like Grammarly does):

Best for:

ProWritingAid offers a huge range of reports – these can help give a better sense of how your writing is working overall. (For instance, you might find that your average sentence length is too long.) It’s a great app for anyone who’s working on a long piece of writing, like a whole book, though you can certainly use it for shorter pieces too.

#5: Hemingway Editor

Hemingway Editor takes a quite different approach to grammar checker apps like Grammarly and ProWritingAid, as its emphasis is very much on writing style. It promotes a style that involves simple, straightforward sentences, avoiding the use of the passive voice and avoiding using too many adjectives.

This means that the Hemingway Editor might not spot all grammar errors, and it’s not a spellchecker, so it won’t necessarily spot any spelling mistakes – as you’ll see from the test.

Test:

The Hemingway Editor app didn’t pick up any of the errors in my sample text: it’s flagged up “Lastly” not because it needs a comma afterwards but because it’s an adverb.

The misspelling of “souvenirs” and the lack of capitalisation on “london” aren’t flagged up, as Hemingway Editor isn’t a spellchecker. The phrase “would of” isn’t corrected, either.

Best for:

If you want to write in a simple, clear style, Hemingway Editor should help. However, sometimes it flags up sentences that are perfectly readable (even if on the long side) and it also ignores some outright errors. It’s best used in conjunction with another grammar and spelling checker, though, as otherwise mistakes might slip through.

#6: After the Deadline

After the Deadline is a WordPress plugin (though you can also use an online version here) that checks blog posts for grammar and spelling mistakes. It’s a simple, pared back grammar checker – so if you find apps like Grammarly or ProWritingAid a bit overwhelming, it could be worth a try.

Like Hemingway Editor, you can also use it on the web completely free, without needing to supply your email address or create an account. This makes it a handy tool if you’re using a public computer (e.g. at your local library) and you don’t want to log into a bunch of different websites.

Test:

After the Deadline didn’t spot that “london” needed a capital, or that there should be a comma after “Lastly”. It did, however, pick up on the incorrect “would of” – unlike many other checkers. It also flagged the misspelling of “souvenirs”.

Best for:

After the Deadline is ideal for bloggers, as it’s compatible with WordPress and Windows Live Press. It’s also a great option if you run a social network using BuddyPress or a forum using bbPress. You can find the list of compatible software on their Download page. This includes Chrome and Firefox, so you can use After the Deadline even if you’re not a blogger!

#7: Ginger

You can try out Ginger online, but it’s really designed to be used with other software: it can be downloaded for Windows or iOS, and it can be used on mobile devices. As well as the grammar checker, it offers a “sentence rephraser” that gives you alternative ways to write your sentences, and a “personal trainer” that helps you learn to write English correctly by identifying the pattern of mistakes you’re making.

Ginger also offers some features that go well beyond many grammar checkers, such as the ability to have Ginger read your text to you, and a translation tool – though note that not all features are available the free level. There’s also a (free) Android keyboard that you can install on your phone: it’ll pop up as the keyboard whenever you’re typing anything, so you can instantly check your spelling and grammar.

Test:

When I tried out my sample text using Ginger’s online tool, it picked up three of the four mistakes (you can see the original text with the mistakes highlighted in red, and the corrected text with the corrections in place in blue). It didn’t catch “would of”, however.

Best for:

Ginger is a great option for Mac, iPhone, or Android users. It works with Apple’s Pages word-processor, and it can be used as a replacement keyboard on Android phones – allow you to check the grammar and spelling of everything you write.

You can try out the online tool without creating an account or logging in, too, so it’s an easy way to run a quick check on a few sentences.

 

No app can be a replacement for careful self-editing, or for hiring an actual editor to go through your work. Apps can provide a valuable back-up, though, and can help you get better at spotting your own mistakes.

So which grammar checker app should you use? Any of these could work well for you, and since all offer at least a free trial, it’s worth giving several of them a go to see what you prefer.

If you’re not sure where to begin, though, my favourites are Grammarly and ProWritingAid (reviewed in depth here) – Grammarly as a great all-round checker that offers in-depth explanations, and ProWritingAid for anyone working on a long text, due to the detailed reports it offers. Why not try out one of those this week?

Now that work is going remote/virtual, writing skills are more important than ever! Grab a premium subscription and receive our writing tips and exercises every day! Click here to start a 15-day free trial..


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Necromancy and Words for Divining the Future

Necromancy and Words for Divining the Future

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In times of uncertainty, people wish for some magical means of foretelling the future.

Considering that uncertainty is one of life’s certainties, it’s not surprising that human beings have come up with numerous ways to “look into the seeds of time/And say which grain will grow and which will not.”

The English vocabulary is rich in words that name different ways of divining the future. Most of them end with the suffix –mancy. The suffix derives from mantis (mάντης), a Greek noun for a prophet, diviner, or fortune-teller.

English compounds with –mancy include some that have been around since ancient Greek was still spoken. Others have been coined in later times, sometimes seriously, but sometimes tongue-in-cheek, like pedomancy (divination by reading the soles of the feet) as a proposed opposite for palm-reading.

Perhaps the most familiar of the divining terms is necromancy.

necromancy
In current usage, necromancy has a general sense of sorcery, witchcraft, or black magic, but its literal meaning is formed from the Greek word for a corpse, nekros.

A medieval spelling of the word as nigromancie resulted in a misconception that the word was related to Latin niger, “black.” For that reason, necromancy was often defined as the “black arts.” The spelling was “restored” to necromancy in the sixteenth century. Practitioners of the art believed that the dead knew where treasure was buried and attempted to summon ghosts to reveal the information. They also robbed graves for body parts to use in divining rituals.

Here are some—but by no means all— English words that name different types of divination.

astromancy
divination by the stars.
Astromancy is another word for astrology.

bibliomancy
foretelling the future by placing a finger on the page of a randomly opened book and finding meaning in the words so found.
Any book can be used (biblios=book), but the Bible is commonly used for the purpose.

cartomancy
divination with playing cards.
Playing cards are thought to have originated in China during the Tang dynasty (618—906 CE), whence they spread to Egypt and Europe. Decks with four suits existed in southern Europe in 1365. Tarot cards began as playing cards in the mid-fifteenth century. Later, in the eighteenth century, they became popular for divination and special decks were developed for the purpose.

chiromancy
divination by studying the lines in the hands.
Chiro is Greek for hand. Chiromancy is another word for palmistry.

hieromancy
divination from the observation of objects used in sacrifice or other religious rites.
Hiero– is from the Greek word for holy.

oneiromancy
divination by interpretation of dreams.
Oneiro– is from a Greek word for dream. I first encountered this word when I studied Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale about Chaunticleer and his dreams.

pyromancy
divination by fire or by signs derived from fire

ornithomancy
divination by observing the behavior of birds.
Ornitho is from a Greek word for bird. Augury is another term for reading meaning in the behavior of birds.

The ancient Romans were big on ornithomancy. My favorite story about the sacred chickens is the one about Publius Claudius who consulted them before an upcoming naval battle in the First Punic War. Before an important undertaking, the chickens would be released from their cage and offered food. If they gobbled it eagerly, the undertaking would be successful. The chickens Claudius consulted refused to eat, but he was determined to engage the Carthaginians. According to the story, he said, “If they’re not hungry, perhaps they’re thirsty,” and had them tossed overboard. That supposedly happened before the Battle of Drepana (249 BCE) in which Claudius was soundly trounced by the Carthaginian fleet.

rhabdomancy
divination by means of a rod or wand, specifically discovering ores, springs in the earth by means of a divining rod.
Rhabdo is from the Greek word for rod. The practice of rhabdomancy remains very much alive. People who use rods, usually made of copper, are called dowsers. What they do is also called witching. The American Society of Dowsers, founded 1961, has a web page and hundreds of members who presumably make a good living plying their craft.

scatomancy
divination or diagnosis by the examination of feces.
This word makes me think of King Pellinore in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. He spends his life pursuing the Questing Beast, following its fumets.

BONUS WORD
fumets: the excrement of a deer (or other animal hunted by human beings).

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Augur vs. Auger

Augur vs. Auger

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Although they sound the same and are often misspelled one for the other, the words augur and auger are not remotely related.

augur
In ancient Rome, the noun augur signified a religious official who interpreted the sounds and movements of birds to predict outcomes of matters of public concern. In time, the practice of augury also included the reading of other phenomena, such as the entrails of sacrificial animals, sun halos, eclipses, and earthquakes as omens.

The contemporary English use of augur is as a verb, meaning “to predict, prognosticate, or anticipate.” The word is seen frequently in headlines, used intransitively, followed by an adverb:

Polls augur well for House Democrats (Economist, 2018)
Detroit’s woes augur ill for US (BBC, 2007)
China’s Uighur abuse augurs poorly for the world (The Hill, 2019)
Data does not augur well for easing of lockdown (Manila Times, 2020)

Used transitively, augur introduces direct objects that may take the form of single nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses.

Turkey upheaval augurs challenges to West (Global Times, 2016)

High CRP augurs worse outcomes from palliative surgery for cancer. (Internal Medicine News, 2013)

The new discovery should provide insight into the elusive origins of the strange bright signals, and augurs a dawning era in which they will be found and studied by the thousands. (Scientific American, 2018)

This [changes resulting from authoritarianism] augurs that Turkey’s secularization is coming to an end. (Global Times, 2016)

Unidiomatic uses of augur include

• following the intransitive form with an adjective (“augurs bad”)
• coupling augur with for (“augurs for”)
• using it as a noun to mean prophesy or prediction rather than prophet. (“an augur of good things to come”)

Here are some examples of misuse:

And the normalization of our panic is having dire consequences and augurs for even worse. (William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn, Real Clear Politics, 2020)

Better: the normalization of our panic is having dire consequences and augurs even worse.

There are strong signs that what is true at Bell Labs augurs for the future of all corporate life, a tomorrow where the basic skills of emotional intelligence will be ever more important, in teamwork, in cooperation, in helping people learn together how to work more effectively. (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Random House, 2012)

Better: There are strong signs that what is true at Bell Labs augurs a tomorrow in which the basic skills of emotional intelligence will be ever more important for the future of all corporate life. . .

Finally, in the title of a blog post about sun halos—”Signs and augurs”—the word augurs is used as if it were a noun meaning “predictions.” When tempted to use augur as a synonym for prediction, a writer can choose instead from sign, prediction, prognosis, forecast, or prophecy. The noun augury signifies the art of divination from signs.

auger
This word for a tool for boring holes comes from an Old English compound that combined a word that gives us navel (nafu/nafa) and the OE word for spear (gar): nafogar.

The first element of the word referred to “The central part or block of a wheel, into which the end of the axle-tree is inserted, and from which the spokes radiate; a hub.” (OED)

The “hub spear” was a tool used to bore a hole through the hub of a wheel. OE nafogar evolved into Middle English nauger. Then, by way of a process known variously as misdivision, metanalysis, and rebracketing, the word nauger lost its initial n and became auger.

Literacy in the UK did not become widespread until the eighteenth century. In the Middle Ages, most people had to rely on their ears to determine the separation of spoken words. When a wheelwright said he needed “a nauger,” a listener might think what he wanted was “an auger.” In that way, ME nauger became ModE auger.( Other former N-words in English include adder, apron, and umpire.)

The principal error with auger is spelling it as augur, as in this textbook excerpt:

The hole itself can be made with a tool comprising augurs for soft and stiff clay, shells for stiff and hard clay, and sand-pumps for sandy strata. (Bridge Engineering, Tata McGraw-Hill Education, 2008)

NOTE to nuclear scientists
The attributive use of auger, as in “Auger effect,” derives from the name of French physicist P.V. Auger (1899-1993) and has nothing to do with either augur or [n]auger.

NOTE to non-nuclear scientists
Auger effect: the non-radiative transition of an atom from an excited electronic energy state to a lower state with the emission of an electron.‥ The electron ejected in the Auger effect is known as an Auger electron.

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3 More Cases of Confusion Between a Thing and Its Name

3 More Cases of Confusion Between a Thing and Its Name

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One fairly infrequent but prominent error in sentence composition is the careless confusion of a word or a phrase with the person, place, or thing that it represents, which usually occurs when the term is being defined or explained. The sentences below have this problem, or a related one, in common; discussion and a revision follow each example.

1. Police identified Jones as the main fence, a term for people who buy stolen items from street-level thieves and resell them.

Here, the criminal slang word fence is defined, but the main clause refers to the person so named, while the subordinate clause explicitly states that the term is just that, and not the particular person with the intermediary role in the sale of stolen items. For clarity, the definition should be distanced and distinguished from the reference, as here: “Police identified Jones as the main fence. (The term fence is slang for someone who buys stolen items from street-level thieves and resells them.)” (Note, too, the parenthesis of the definition and that someone replaces people for consistency of singular form with fence.)

Alternatively, a less intrusive solution is to employ a gloss, or a brief definition of a term linked by the conjunction or to a clause containing a term that may be unfamiliar: “Police identified Jones as the main fence, or buyer of stolen goods intended for resale.” (Note that the sentence preceding this revision itself includes a gloss.)

2. The taxonomy includes definitions for key terms such as “critical business services,” which are services that demonstrate a broader economic importance beyond a firm.

The term “critical business services” refers to the services defined, but the phrase itself does not constitute those services, so the use of a form of the verb “to be,” which indicates an equivalence, should not grammatically link the term and the definition. Replace are with a verb phrase that indicates that the term applies to, but does not directly represent, the services as defined: “The taxonomy includes definitions for key terms such as ‘critical business services,’ which refers to services that demonstrate a broader economic importance beyond a firm.”

3. The diagram below is a typical process that listed companies undergo to identify and define reporting disclosure to meet compliance requirements.

The diagram itself is not a typical process; it is, rather, a representation of such, and the wording should reflect this distinction: “The diagram below represents a typical process that listed companies undergo to identify and define reporting disclosure to meet compliance requirements.”

4. Like an Agatha Christie novel, there’s a mustache-twirling businessman, a spurned lover, and an unstable patient.

A related issue is when like is used to set up a comparison when the elements of something are erroneously being compared to something else rather than to the elements of that something else. Here, a true-life crime story involves a businessman, a lover, and a patient, each with traits that might define characters in a murder mystery written by Agatha Christie. However, the people involved in the crime are not being compared to a novel; they are being compared to characters in a novel, so the wording used to set up the comparison must be revised: “Suggestive of characters out of an Agatha Christie novel, a mustache-twirling businessman, a spurned lover, and an unstable patient populate this scandalous story.”

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Throughput, Exogenous, Titer, and Fomites

Throughput, Exogenous, Titer, and Fomites

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Media coverage of the coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19 has introduced numerous previously unfamiliar terms into daily usage. Four that have especially caught my attention are throughput, exogenous, titer, and fomites.

throughput
When I first heard this word being thrown about, I thought it must be recently invented political jargon, like walkback:

walkback: Verb. to retreat from or distance oneself from a previously stated opinion or position. First documented use, 2000.

In fact, throughput as a noun has been around since at least the nineteenth century. In current usage, it also functions as an adjective.

Like the more familiar input and output, the noun throughput has to do with production. It refers to the amount or number of units passing through a system. It could refer to the amount of oil going through a processing plant or the number of customers buying hot dogs at a food truck. Here are two examples of the use of throughput:

Patient turnover, or throughput, through nursing units can significantly impact the workloads of nurses.

Facilities considering the purchase of these instruments should base their decision on the available assays and the throughput capacity of the system.

exogenous
Literally, exogenous means “growing on the outside.” The opposite term is endogenous, “growing from the inside.”

An exogenous disease is one introduced into the body from outside. Food poisoning, for example, is an exogenous ailment, as is the common cold.

titer (Br. titre)
Asked if it was safe to touch packages received in the post during the coronavirus pandemic, immunologist Anthony Fauci used the word titer to describe the amount of virus that might be present on cardboard or other substances handled by an infected person. This is what he said:

For the most part, the titration of it and the titer of it on surfaces is probably measured in a couple of hours.

Titration is a chemical term to describe “the process of analysis by means of standard solutions.” Titer (Br. titre) is “the strength of a solution or the concentration of a substance in solution as determined by titration.”

Dr. Fauci concluded that, by the time an article went through the mail and arrived at its intended destination, any residue/titer on it would be undetectable or present in such a tiny concentration as to be negligible.

He did, however, go on to emphasize that other objects, such as doorknobs, could present a danger of transference and needed to be disinfected—which brings us to fomites.

fomites
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, fomites is the plural of fomes and fomite is “an incorrect back-formation from fomites.” According to Merriam-Webster, fomite is the only acceptable singular form. The only definition M-W gives for fomes is “a genus of bracket fungi.”

The OED offers a definition pertinent to the current discussion:

fomes: Noun. Any porous substance capable of absorbing and retaining contagious effluvia’ (Mayne).

In current usage, fomites are any substances—porous or otherwise—on which contagious titer may exist.

Fomites are everywhere! Here are a few:

bedding
cell phones
clothing
computers
credit cards
dishes
doorknobs
elevator buttons
eye glasses
jewelry
keys
light switches
purses
shopping carts
sink faucets
television remotes
vending machines
wallets

Not to worry though. As everyone knows by now, the best way to protect oneself from titer lurking on those omnipresent fomites is to wash one’s hands for twenty seconds with soapy water after exposure.

Just think! By improving the throughput of personal handwashing, people can reduce the spread of exogenous afflictions like the flu.

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10 Pairs of Words with Dissolving Distinctions

10 Pairs of Words with Dissolving Distinctions

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Erosion of distinctions between senses for words with similar or related meanings is a natural process, but careful writers resist becoming accessories to acceleration of that process. Here are ten word pairs that are used interchangeably, often at the expense of clarity.

1. Accurate/precise: Accuracy is the degree to which an estimated measurement or a predicted result matches the actual extent or outcome, or, in the context of aiming, how close a projectile or an effect (such as a laser beam) comes to an intended target. Precision is the degree of variation between or among two or more measurements. In competition in which relative skill is determined by having competitors hit a bull’s-eye target, a competitor may demonstrate precision (all attempts are in proximity to each other) but not accuracy (the attempts are far from the center of the target).

2. Allude/refer: The distinction between allusion and reference is one of degree of fidelity to the source. If one refers to a well-known saying, one says or writes, “The early bird catches the worm.” An allusion, however, is indirect; one might say or write, “I caught the worm this morning,” which, if one’s audience knows the saying, they will understand to mean that one was early.

3. Anxious/eager: One who is anxious about something is, according to the source of the adjective, experiencing anxiety, while one who is eager is excited, impatient, and/or interested. Many people use the words interchangeably to refer to a positive feeling, but careful writers will maintain the distinction.
4. Amount/number: Amount applies to uncountable nouns, such as in general reference to noise, while number pertains to a measurable quantity, such as how many decibels a sound registers. Another comparison is between a reference to an amount of money, such as a million dollars, which is a single “item,” as opposed to the count of the number of bills in a stack of currency.

5. Convince/persuade: To convince someone is to cause that person to accept a truth, while to persuade is to cause someone, through reasoning or argument, to do something. Thus, the distinction is between influencing thought and prompting action.

6. Ensure/insure: To ensure is to guarantee, while insure has a more specific sense of indemnity against loss, but the latter word is widely used in the sense expressed by the former word. (Assure, with the same root, means “convince or give confidence” and is also often employed as a lazy substitute for ensure.)

7. Fewer/less: As with amount and number, the distinction between fewer and less is one of countable and uncountable things, in that order. For example, one would write, “Fewer houses were built this year compared to last year,” but “Less housing is available his year compared to last year”; the first sentence refers to countable structures and the second one pertains to houses collectively.

8. Figuratively/literally: Figuratively pertains to hyperbolic or metaphorical references, while literally means “in an exact or strict sense,” but many people misuse the latter word as an intensifier when they intend to convey the sense of the former word, as in “My head literally exploded when she said that!” One who literally experienced such a phenomenon would no longer be alive to report it.

9. Libel/slander: Both libel and slander are, in legal usage, acts of defamation—communication of a falsehood that damages an entity’s reputation—but libel is written expression, while slander is an oral statement.

10. Poisonous/venomous: In literal usage, the distinction is one of delivery—poison produced by living things acts on an individual when one eats or touches it, and chemical poisons, though they may be administered by a person to another, do not themselves “choose” to poison the victim. By contrast, venom is injected into its victim by a bite or a sting from another animal, either in self-defense or in an attack on prey by a predator. Figuratively, poisonous describes a psychologically dysfunctional environment or person, while venomous applies only to an individual, often one who is malevolent or spiteful.

Two other word pairs that deserve distinction are if and whether and what and which: In the case of if and whether, if is employed when describing a condition, as in “I will take a river cruise on the Seine if I visit Paris,” and whether denotes a choice or a doubt, as in “I don’t know whether I will (or “will have time to”) take a river cruise on the Seine when I visit Paris.” In conversation and in informal writing, if is acceptable in the latter senses, but in formal writing, use whether. Likewise, which is a more specific usage that what when referring to particular selections: “I don’t know which outfits I’m going to pack” is preferable to “I don’t know what outfits I’m going to pack.”

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Identifying Clauses

Identifying Clauses

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A reader has asked for help in distinguishing noun, adjective, and adverb clauses.

First, what is a clause?

A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a finite verb. (A finite verb shows time such as present, past, or future.)

Clauses are of two main kinds: independent and dependent.

An independent clause (also called a main clause) can stand alone as a complete thought.

The boat is leaking.

Cats sleep most of the time.

Elizabeth I ruled England for nearly forty-five years.

We will plant a large garden this year.

A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) contains a subject and finite verb, but does not express a complete thought.

because the guard was sleeping

who lived in a shoe

what I believed at the time

Dependent clauses function as adverbs, adjectives, and nouns.

Adverb clauses
Like an adverb, an adverb clause can tell when, where, why, or how an action takes place.

The prisoner escaped because the guard was sleeping. (adverb clause, tells why the prisoner escaped)

He found the book where he had left it. (adverb clause, tells where he found the book)

Adjective clauses
Like an adjective, an adjective clause tells more about a noun. Adjective clauses are easy to identify because they follow the noun they qualify. They usually begin with who, whom, whose, that, or which.

The old woman who lived in a shoe had several children. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun woman)

Is that the face that launched a thousand ships? (adjective clause, tells more about the noun face)

There goes the dog whose owner never picks up after it. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun dog)

The man whom I met last night is joining us for breakfast. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun man.)

Adjective clauses may also begin with the conjunctions when, where, or why.

Note: Some folks cling to the superstition that “time when,” “place where,” and “reason why” are embarrassments to be avoided, but that’s another post. The constructions are perfectly acceptable English.

I visited the field where Magna Carta was signed. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun field)

I remember a time when real people answered the telephone. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun time)

He never disclosed the reasons why he resigned. (adjective clause, tells more about the noun reasons)

Noun clauses
Like a noun, a noun clause can function as the subject, object, or complement of a verb or as the object of a preposition.

Unlike adverb clauses and adjective clauses, a noun clause can be more difficult to identify because of the way it relates to the main/independent clause.

The other two kinds of clause are easy to see because they are external to the main clause and relate to a word in the main clause. The noun clause is an integral part of the main clause, functioning as subject, complement, or object.

Words that often introduce a noun clause are who, what, why, where, and when. Words that can also introduce a noun clause are which, that, whoever, whatever, wherever, and whenever.

The fact that several of these words can also be used to introduce adjective and adverb clauses adds to the difficulty of identifying a noun clause.

What I believed at the time proved false. (noun clause, subject of the verb proved)

Most people ignore whatever he says. (noun clause, object of the verb ignore)

Ignorance of the facts was why he kept changing his mind. (noun clause, complement of the verb was)

The office manager left a note on the refrigerator for whoever was stealing yogurt. (noun clause, object of the preposition for)

Note: The last example illustrates a construction that often trips up speakers who instinctively want to use the form whom after the preposition. When the object of the preposition is an entire clause, the choice must be who because the word is the subject of the verb in the clause.

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Words from Greek “Theos”

Words from Greek “Theos”

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Most people are acquainted with the word theology and its offshoots, theologian and theological. The words are formed from Greek theos (god) and logy (knowledge). Theology is the study of the nature of God and religious belief.

Here are some more theos words that may not be as familiar.

theocentric
theos + kentrikos (having a specific center): having God at the center.

For example, Christianity is theocentric because it focuses worship of a Creator God. Buddhism is not theocentric because it focuses on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who refuted the idea that the universe was created by a self-aware personal deity.

theocracy
theos + kratia (power, rule): a system of government ruled by priests in the name of God.

Theocracies are not as common now as in ancient times, but they’re still around.

theodicy
theos + dike (justice): the vindication of divine justice despite the existence of evil.

The word theodicy originated as the title of a work by Leibniz (1646-1716), Théodicée (1709).

The Google Ngram Viewer shows theodicy climbing steeply in use from the 1920s to the present. Modern thinkers wrestle with the question of why a good God would permit the evils that pervade the daily news. Theists (those who believe in the existence of God) look for theodicies to explain the existence of evil without denying the goodness of God.

Three common theodicies:
1. Human beings possess free will. Human misuse of free will produces evil.
2. Suffering builds character. What seems evil strengthens the soul and is therefore good.
3. God’s purposes are unknowable. What seems evil must have an unknown purpose that is in fact good.

theogony
theos + gonia (a begetting): a genealogy of the gods.

The word theogony began as the title of a poem composed about 700 BCE by the ancient poet Hesiod. The poem describes the origins of the Greek gods and the connections among them.

Now we can talk about the “theogonies” of different cultures, for example, the Hindu theogony, the Norse theogony, and so forth. There’s even a book with the title, The New Theogony: Mythology for the Real World.

theomachy
theos + makhia (fighting): a struggle against God, or a war among or against the gods.

theophagy
theos + phagein (to eat): the sacramental eating of a god, typically in the form of an animal, image, or other symbol as a part of a religious ritual and commonly for the purpose of communion with or the receiving of power from the god.

theophany
theo + phainein (bring to light, cause to appear, reveal): an appearance of God to a human being.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, an ancient festival at Delphi when the statues of Apollo and other gods were displayed to the public, was called the Theophaneia.

A theophany can be the appearance of a divinity as a person, as in Ovid’s story of Baucis and Philemon (the old couple visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as travelers) or of a miraculous manifestation of the divine, such as the burning bush in the Bible.

A related word is epiphany, epi (above) + phainein (reveal): a manifestation of a divine being, literally, a revelation from above.

In Christianity, the Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Magi, representatives of the Gentile world, recognize the divine incarnation.

Lower-case epiphany is a moment of sudden revelation or realization of an important truth.

The girl’s name Tiffany derives from an Old French word for “Epiphany”: Tiphanie. Girls born on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, were often christened Tiffany.

theosis
theosis (divinization): as a Christian term, theosis is the concept that worshippers can become participants in the life of God without sharing in God’s essence.

The Greek word apotheosis (apo, “change” + theos meant “changing into a god,” as when an emperor was deified after death. One of my favorite historical quotations is from the Emperor Vespasian who, as he felt death approaching, remarked, Vae, puto deus fio! “Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god!”

Theotokos theos + tokos (bringing forth, as in birth): Mother of God.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Theotokos is a title used for the Virgin Mary.

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