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Hyphens Guide: Functions and Examples

Hyphens Guide: Functions and Examples

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The functions the hyphen appear to be straightforward, but exceptions and inconsistencies abound. This post serves as a guide to the recommendations of The Chicago Manual of Style regarding hyphenation.

Hyphens are often introduced when new noun compounds are created, including in technological vocabulary, but such terms usually become closed compounds, though there are exceptions, such as mind-set and light-year. Other exceptions include constructions with certain first or second elements, such as in the case of self-respect and president-elect, and noun combinations such as city-state and writer-director.

Some terms that include letters linked to nouns retain hyphenation (A-list, T-bone, X-axis). Omission of a hyphen in email is trending, but similar terms such as e-commerce resist this evolution. Some prefixes take hyphens (anti-inflammatory, “non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” and nouns preceded by ex, such as ex-partner), though most prefixes do not require them. Hyphens also represent expression, in isolation, of a prefix or a word element (pre-, -er) when construction of a word using that prefix would otherwise not require a hyphen. Another use of hyphens is with words to be distinguished from nonhyphenated homographs (co-op, re-creation).

Other special cases for hyphenation with nouns include relationship terms preceded by great (great-grandmother) and in-law as well as combinations using in-law (sister-in-law), some compound nouns beginning with vice (vice-consul), constructions ending in odd (hundred-odd), and terms for compound nationalities where the first element is altered to end in o (Anglo-American), but not others that are no so altered (Italian American).

Hyphens link some double and even triple and quadruple surnames (“Lobelia Sackville-Baggins”), though not all double-, triple-, or quadruple-barreled surnames, as they are also called, are hyphenated (“Sacha Baron Cohen”). They also sometimes connect double first names, as in “Jean-Paul,” although this usage is rare in English names. Some company and product names use hyphens (Bristol-Meyers Squibb, EZ-Kleen).

Hyphens are employed in spelled-out numerical terms representing different place values (twenty-four), in fractions (as in one-third), and in number sequences, such as phone numbers and Social Security numbers, and number groupings, such as dates styled entirely in numerals.

One of the most common uses of hyphens is in words in phrasal adjectives preceding but not following a noun (“short-term investment,” “off-the-cuff remark”) and when combining similar-looking constructions that begin with comparative adverbs such as better, much, and well (“best-kept secret”).

Some style manuals (but not this site) recommend that phrasal adjectives be hyphenated regardless of their position, and a few such expressions (such as far-reaching) are always hyphenated regardless of position or style authority. Also, a letter space should never intervene when a hyphen connects two words or numbers, except when suspending the first use of a word common to two or more phrasal adjectives (“fifteen- and thirty-day increments”).

If a hyphenation links one word with an open compound, use an en dash rather than a comma to clarify that the symbol links the word to the entire compound, not just the element of the compound adjacent to the symbol: “pre–ice age migration,” “post–World War I recovery,” “mountain lodge–style ambience,” “Stephen Curry–level ball handling.” (The rule does not apply to abbreviations standing for open compounds, so use a hyphen, for example, in “US-Mexico border.”) If a compound is already hyphenated, use an additional hyphen to connect a word or prefix, as in “non-English-speaking actors” (extending from “English-speaking actors”).

When are hyphens used erroneously? When adverbs ending in -ly are mistakenly attached to the words that follow (as in “richly-detailed design”) and when adjectives are wrongly hyphenated to nouns (“near-term”). And although verb phrases are often hyphenated (test-drive), those words, as used in “I’m taking it for a test drive,” do not constitute a verb phrase.

When in doubt about whether to insert or omit a hyphen, consult a dictionary or a style manual, or check a publication’s or organization’s house style guide if you are writing for one.

Hyphens are also employed to break a word across two lines of type. Such breaks should occur between syllables, as demonstrated in a dictionary, but many publications choose to avoid this use of hyphens for aesthetic and practical reasons. If they are employed, it is recommended that type be adjusted so that no more than two end-of-line hyphens appear in a row and that they not be used at the end of the last line of a column or a page. (In addition, words that already include a hyphen should not be broken across two lines of type except at the existing hyphen.) Also, they are not advised for headlines and other large-type elements.

An issue related to hyphenation is capitalization of hyphenated terms in headlines and titles. Capitalize the following elements according to the recommendations of The Chicago Manual of Style:

• the first element
• subsequent elements except for articles; prepositions; coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, and or); and flat, sharp, and the like following letters denoting musical keys and chords
• the second element if it is a proper noun or proper adjective following a prefix or similar form that does not stand by itself as a word (Anti-, Pre-, and so on)
• the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number (Fifty-One, Twenty-Fifth, and so on) or hyphenated simple fraction (“Two-Thirds Vote”).

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Don’t Overload Your Readers With Your Message

Don’t Overload Your Readers With Your Message

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Great writing is not only enjoyable, it has something to say – there is greatness in the theme. It may not be primarily a moral or a lesson, but something about the story appeals deeply to the heart. I believe that your skill as a writer determines the weight of the message you can communicate. The more skilled you are in handling the basic elements of plot, character, setting, conflict, and point of view, the more ambitious your theme can be, and the deeper the message your reader can take away from it.

But as a writer, you may be starting from the other end. Maybe it’s the theme that motivated you to write in the first place. Maybe you have a message that you want to get across, and you’re more sure of it than you are of the plot, character, or setting. It’s a message that everyone needs to hear. Do you go ahead with it?

Some would say yes, “the message is always first.” That was the slogan of Ken Anderson Films, an evangelical movie company best known for its 1978 film Pilgrim’s Progress featuring Liam Neeson in his first starring role. Even as a college student, majoring in theater at the time, I thought something didn’t seem right about that slogan.

Your message cannot be first

Whether you make movies or write books, it’s not true that the message is always first. When you make a movie, first and foremost, it’s a movie. When you write a story, first and foremost, it’s a story. Your grand message will never get across if nobody can stand to read what you wrote. If it’s too long to finish, if the vocabulary is too complex for ordinary readers, then ordinary readers won’t read it. When you compromise your story, you compromise your message.

Authors may claim they’re standing up for truth, and that truth sometimes offends. First, they should make sure that what’s offensive is the truth and not their writing style. Ultimately, writers only keep the readers whom they don’t offend. As a writer, you are responsible for deciding how far to push your readers, deciding how much to say that they may not like. A disturbing theme sometimes makes a book more interesting. But no theme, no matter how great, can compensate for intolerable writing or make it tolerable.

Ken Anderson wasn’t the first communicator to believe “the message is always first.” Under a dictatorship, the dictator’s message is always first. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the approved artistic style in the Soviet Union was called “socialist realism,” and those who experimented with a different style could have their careers ruined. Any creative people who dealt with forbidden themes or subjects could find themselves in trouble with the police, not just with the critics. Socialist realism was supposed to depict the everyday life of the working people, to promote Soviet ideals. Except that Soviet officials saw morality as either black or white, while real people are complex – not all good, not all bad. In the end, socialist realism didn’t succeed in showing real people living Communist lives, because its characters were not real people.

Sometimes when a writer is willing to put his message ahead of good craftsmanship, he writes an allegory, in which each character represents a different character quality and each event teaches a lesson. Ironically, the most successful allegory in Western literature is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (the 1678 original, not Ken Anderson’s version). Bunyan was a preacher – he did have something he wanted to say – but his book has endured because his characters seem like real people with particular character qualities, rather than character qualities masquerading as real people.

Years ago, I thought of an illustration to describe the challenge that everybody faces, particularly a writer, who wants to communicate a message that’s important to them.

Loading up the truck and driving

Suppose you’re a military commander who wants to move something to another location. The problem: a ravine, a dry riverbed, between where you are and where you want the material to be. Before you can move your material, you need to prepare the way. How much work will that take? That depends on what you want to move. If you simply want to move an envelope, you can hand it to a messenger who puts the envelope in his pocket, hikes down to the bottom of the ravine and then hikes back up. But if you want to move a ton of armor, you need to spend more time, effort, and resources in preparation. You’ll probably need to build the bridge across the ravine. How strong a bridge? That depends on how heavy the load is. Once the bridge is built, the truck is loaded and it begins to drive across that bridge, you will find out if your bridge is strong enough.

Writers with important things to say, with a heavy load they want to put on the truck, will need to spend more time preparing the road for their readers. All too often, I’ve read books by idealistic writers who haven’t done the work needed to communicate their message. They try to drive their heavily loaded truck through the ravine before they build a bridge across it. “But everyone needs to hear this message!” they protest. Then they need to take the time to make sure everyone can hear it.

There’s no shame in loading up your truck with no more weight than your abilities as a writer can sustain. If your writing abilities are not yet what they will be, there is no shame in remembering that bridges break. Neil Gaiman had the idea for The Graveyard Book in 1985, but he felt he was “not yet a good enough writer.” As the years passed, he won Harvey Awards, Locus Awards, Eisner Awards, and Hugo Awards, but he still didn’t feel ready to write The Graveyard Book until 2004 (when he decided he might as well get on with it anyway).

As a writer, I’m learning not to overload my truck without considering whether the bridge I’m sending my readers over is strong enough to support such a weighty message. Otherwise my writing can end up like medieval religious art, beautiful perhaps, but literally without perspective.

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How to Write a Non-Fiction Book: 10 Crucial Steps

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book: 10 Crucial Steps

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Have you ever thought about writing a non-fiction book?

Maybe you’re worried that you need to be an “expert”, or you feel daunted by the idea of writing so many words. But you can’t quite let go of that dream of seeing your name on the cover of a finished book.

You might have lots of different reasons for contemplating a non-fiction book. Maybe:

  • You want the book itself to bring in money – a perfectly reasonable ambition!
  • You plan to use the book to give you greater credibility and authority in your field – making it easier for you to get paid speaking gigs, for instance.
  • You want the book to essentially be a marketing tool for your business – this might be a short free ebook that you give away on your site, or a fairly cheap mass-market book that introduces new readers to you.

Whatever your reasons for writing, this post will take you through what you need to do – step by step – to write your book.

Step #1: Figure Out How You’ll Publish Your Book

This might seem like an odd first step, but it’s really helpful to have in mind how you’re going to get your book out into the world, right from the start.

If you know you’re going to self-publish, for instance, you’ll have full control over the project (and full responsibility for every step). If you definitely want to seek a publisher, you’ll go about things a slightly different way – publishers of non-fiction typically want to see an outline and a sample chapter, not a finished manuscript, so they can have input into your project.

If you want to supply the finished book for free (probably as an incentive to get people to join your email list), then that will also inform your choices during the next few steps: you’ll probably want to write something quite short and simple.

Of course, it’s possible that you’ll end up changing your mind at some stage – but by having a goal in mind at the start, you make it far more likely that you’ll see your project through to completion.

Step #2:  Decide on Your Core Topic

You may already have a particular topic or idea in mind for your book: if not, now’s the time to jot down lots of possibilities so you can choose the one that appeals to you most. If you already have an online audience (perhaps on a blog or through a Facebook page or group), you might want to ask them to help you choose between your top two or three ideas.

Many books are published each year on well-worn topics, like “how to be organised” or “how to lose weight”. If you want to write about something that’s already been extensively covered, look for a new angle on it. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a completely new approach – it could mean, for instance, having an unusual structure to your book. For those looking to write a self-help book, for instance, Lisa Tener has three tips you can use to make sure your book will standout and sell.

It’s important to choose a topic that you genuinely want to write about. You’re probably going to be working on this book for months – so don’t pick something just for the sake of it, or because you think it’s going to be a lucrative area.

Step #3: Brainstorm Everything Related to That Topic

At this stage of the process, your aim is to get as many ideas down on paper as possible. It doesn’t matter if some of them aren’t very good, or if they don’t really fit – you can get rid of them later! Just concentrate on scribbling down everything that could go into your book.

If you find yourself struggling at this stage, take a look on Amazon at some similar books, and glance at their Tables of Contents. Do they have chapters on any areas that you should probably cover too? Is there anything that you feel is missing – that you could cover in your book? You might also want to look at magazines related to your topic, including the letters from readers: these can give you good clues about the concerns and interests of people who enjoy your topic area.

Don’t worry if some of your ideas are ones that you don’t know much about: that’s where research comes in! At this stage, you don’t want to dismiss anything as “too hard”, so keep it all on your list for now. If you later decide that something is a bit beyond the scope of your book, that’s fine.

Step #4: Write a Rough Outline for Your Book (with Chapter Titles)

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Now that you have lots of ideas down on paper, it’s time to turn them into a chapter by chapter outline. (You might well also be splitting your book into parts, if it covers quite a broad topic.) It normally makes sense to have the more basic chapters at the start of the book, then the more advanced ones later, if the reader is likely to read chapter-by-chapter rather than using the index to go straight to whichever part interests them most.

It’s a good idea to give each chapter a rough title at this stage – see this as a working title rather than something set in stone. You can always change it later. You might want to think about making your titles consistent (e.g. all roughly the same length, all starting with an “-ing” verb).

If you’ve come up with some ideas that don’t seem to fit easily, think about having an appendix to your book – if you’ve written a book that focuses on theory, for instance, an appendix might be a good place to give practical suggestions and tips.

Step #5: Develop Your Outline with Bullet Points for Each Chapter

While this isn’t the only way to write an outline, I think it’s probably the easiest! Once you have a list of chapter titles, go through and flesh out each chapter with a few bullet points indicating what you plan to cover within that chapter. You could think of each bullet point as a section of the chapter.

It’s up to you how much detail you go into – but in my experience, the more time you spend on this stage, the less time you’ll spend getting bogged down during the writing itself. If you flesh out each chapter in some detail, that’ll also help you spot potential sticking points (like chapters where you’ll need to do a lot of research, meaning you’ll want to get interview requests out well ahead of time).

If you’re planning to work with a publisher, they’ll almost certainly want to see a full chapter-by-chapter outline, with at least a brief overview of what you plan to include in each chapter. Different publishers want this done in different ways, so do take a look at their website for their submission guidelines. (If you don’t already have a specific publisher in mind, now’s the time to start listing possibilities. You might want to look at who’s published similar books in your area, or books on different topics that have a similar style or outlook to yours.)

Step #6: Come Up With the Structure for Your Chapters

Some authors of non-fiction have quite varied chapters – some short, some long, some heavily researched-focused, others more conversational … but usually, it’s a good idea to find a way to make your chapters reasonably consistent. That might mean starting each one with an “overview”, for instance, and ending it with some practical tips or further reading suggestions. You don’t necessarily have to write this in for every individual chapter in your plan: you might simply include a note about the structure at the start to help you stay on track.

If you’re working with a publisher, this may well be set for you, especially if you’re writing a book that forms part of a series. With my book Publishing E-Books For Dummies, for instance, my chapters needed to fit the “For Dummies” structure (with an “In This Chapter” list of bullet points at the start of each one, for instance, and “Remember” and “Warning” tips within the chapter text).

If you’re self publishing, or if your publisher is happy for you to structure the chapters however you want, you may want to think through the pros and cons of a few different structures. If you’re not sure how to come up with a structure, grab a few non-fiction books that you own, and look in detail at their chapters. Are there any patterns to the way the information is ordered?

Step #7: Write the First Draft of Your Book

This might sound like a huge step – and it is! But with your full outline already in place, you’re in a great position to power through the first draft: essentially, you’re just filling in the blanks in your outline.

There’s no “right” way to draft a non-fiction book, and different authors take different approaches. Some like to put the outline into a new document and gradually expand it, adding more and more material with each pass through. Others work from Page One to The End. Still others pick and choose which chapters to write, selecting easy ones for the weeks when they’re quite busy, and trickier ones for the weeks when they have more time.

However you decide to write your draft, give yourself a deadline. If you’re working with a publisher, you probably already have a deadline for the finished manuscript – but I’d strongly advise setting your own “internal” deadline, with plenty of buffer room in case things go wrong! If you’re going to be self-publishing your book, it’s still important to have a deadline – otherwise it’ll be all too tempting to put it aside whenever you’re “busy” (which could end up being most of the time).

Step #8: Take a Break … Then Begin the First Revision

Once you’ve finished your first draft, take at least a few days off: you don’t want to dive straight into edits without giving yourself a bit of breathing room. This space between drafting and editing is important – it gives you a chance to mentally recharge, and it helps you to come back to your book with fresh eyes.

If you can, print your manuscript (if you want, you could get it bound into a book by a print-on-demand company like Lulu – you can keep your book private so no-one else can buy it). Or if you prefer, transfer it onto your Kindle or tablet. That way, you can read it through in a similar way to how a reader would experience it.

As you read through, focus on the “big picture” of your book (though it’s also worth noting any typos you happen to spot). Think about things like whether you’re missing any key information, whether you need to re-order any of the chapters so the book flows more smoothly, and whether there are chapters that need to be cut out of the book or merged together.

Step #9: Edit Your Book, Line by Line

I always advise doing separating line editing from content editing (you might want to think of them as “nitpicky editing” and “big picture editing”). After all, there’s not much point carefully honing every sentence in Chapter 7 if you later decide that Chapter 7 doesn’t belong in your book at all!

Line editing means going through each chapter, line by line, and checking that everything reads smoothly. (If you’re working with a publisher, chances are that they’ll have an editor doing this – you’ll probably still want to do a quick line edit of your work before sending it to them, though.)

When you’re editing at this stage, look out for things like whether your tone and voice is consistent, whether there are any paragraphs that are too long / too short, whether you’ve been consistent in how you’ve used acronyms and capitalisation, whether you’ve phrased things in the best way, and so on.

Step #10: Fact-Check Your Manuscript

This is something your publisher will normally cover – but if you’re going it alone, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve double-checked every fact yourself. Depending on what you’re writing, these facts might be statistics, famous quotes (not infrequently misattributed, online), technical instructions, tourist information … almost anything.

You’ll probably want to use a printed version of your manuscript for this, so you can read through carefully and highlight anything that you need to check. Even “facts” that you’re sure you know are worth double-checking, just in case.

With non-fiction books that involve science, psychology or similar, you’ll be expected to cite your sources (probably through footnotes or endnotes) and you may well need to give a bibliography of works you consulted. Obviously, if you’re self-publishing, you make the rules – but keep in mind that readers may review your book negatively if the content is dubious in any way.

 

Hurrah! After probably months of working on your manuscript, you’re done. At this point, you’re probably waiting eagerly for the publication date (either one set by your publisher, or the one you’ve chosen for self-publishing it).

I wanted to finish with a few key tips that can apply at several different stages of the writing process – I hope these help you to stay on track as you complete your book.

Five Key Tips for Finishing Your Book

Tip #1: Commit to a Regular Writing Schedule

Chances are, you have a lot of commitments beyond writing your book – you probably don’t have hours of free time every week to work on it. This means you need to consciously make time: perhaps working your book first thing each morning (e.g. from 6am – 6.30am) or writing during your lunch break while you’re at your day job. Figure out a writing schedule that suits you (you don’t have to write daily), and stick to it as best as you can. Self-Publishing School has a great piece with more best practices for writing a book and keeping motivated.

Tip #2: Keep Your Target Reader in Mind

When you’re writing non-fiction, it can be tricky to know how to phrase things: do you sound too stuffy? Or are you being too light-hearted for your audience? It helps a lot to have a target reader in mind: the “average” reader for your book – e.g. a dieting book aimed at “a busy 50-something woman with grown-up kids” will probably be quite different in tone than one aimed at “a 20-something single man who feels dieting ‘isn’t for him’ but really wants to lose weight”. (You might even want to pick a real person you know, and imagine you’re emailing them as you write.)

Tip #3: Get Feedback from Your Existing Audience

Many non-fiction book authors start out with a blog – and this gives you a ready-made audience for constructive feedback! You might even want to ask if anyone would like to beta read all or some of the finished manuscript. (Beta readers provide feedback, usually for free, on draft material.) You can also test things out on your audience – through writing a blog post or even a tweet on a particular idea that you’re considering including in your book.

Tip #4: Track Your Progress with Your Book

When you’ve been writing for weeks and you still have months to go, it can be very tempting to give up on the whole idea of writing a book! But by tracking your progress as you go along, you’ll be able to see that you are getting closer to the finish line. Many authors like to write down their daily word count, perhaps aiming to beat a set target or even their running average. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to see how just 100 words here and 200 words there really do add up.

Tip #5: Be Willing to Pay for Help

If you plan to self-publish, you’ll almost certainly want to pay for some help along the way. (The exception here is if you plan to give away your book for free, which means readers won’t have such high expectations of production standards.) At the very least, I’d recommend paying for cover design; you’ll likely also want to pay for editing and/or proofreading. Even if you’re aiming for traditional publication, you might want to consider paying for help from a freelance editor, or from someone who can review your outline and draft chapter(s) before you submit them.

 

Writing a book is a big commitment of time and energy – but it could potentially be life-changing. Hopefully, with the steps above, you can see how getting from “idea” to “finished book” is manageable if you work step by step. Good luck!

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The 3 Types of Compounds

The 3 Types of Compounds

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This post discusses the three types of compounds in English: compound nouns, compound modifiers, and compound verbs.


Compound Nouns

Compound nouns come in three forms: closed, hyphenated, and open. They are formed by pairing multiple combinations of parts of speech, such as two nouns (workshop), a preposition and a noun (overlord), and a verb and an adverb (smackdown). Open compound nouns, which tend to be newer formations such as “life span” and “working class,” may consist of more than two words; these phrases are often adopted foreign terms such as “persona non grata” and “tour de force,” although phrases can also be compiled by combining two words into an open compound and then combining that set phrase with another, as when science and fiction team up and then unite with writer.

Hyphenation is usually a transitional phase between open and closed forms, but some words get stuck in this intermediary form; examples include by-product, light-year, life-form, and mind-set. Writers often style the these words as closed compounds, however, indicating that the closed forms may ultimately prevail. Hyphenated compound nouns that are likely to remain transitional include self-respect and well-being, although these, too, are sometimes erroneously treated as closed compounds.

Other hyphenated forms include compounds consisting of verbs connected to prepositions, resulting in nouns as go-between, follow-through, send-off, and start-up. (Startup is a common variation of the last word, mirroring words such as checkup and makeup, which until just a few decades ago were routinely written check-up and make-up, but start-up is still the favored form.) Hyphenated compounds, like open compounds, may consist of more than two words, as in the case of mise-en-scène and will-o’-the-wisp. Closed compounds include afterthought, caregiver, and lifetime. Forms of compound nouns are often arbitrary, and an element in common does not guarantee consistency, as shown in the examples “road trip” and roadblock.

Some compounds are formed from elements of words rather than full words, as in the case of the technological terms bit (from “binary digit”) and pixel (from “picture element”), which both pertain to units of data. Such words are sometimes formed in other languages from English vocabulary, as in the case of the Russian term kompromat (“compromising material”). However, common and proper nouns such as radar (formed from “radio detection and ranging”) and NASA (which stands for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration”) are considered acronyms, not compounds.

Compound Modifiers
Similarly, compound modifiers, which describe a noun (and are often, as on this site, referred to as phrasal adjectives), may be open, hyphenated, or closed. Several categories of open compounds, which remain open rather than hyphenated even when they preced the noun they modify, exist. They include permanent compounds such as “post office” (as in “post office box”), which are identified as such by meriting their own dictionary entry in noun form; proper names such as “New York” (as in “New York subway system”); foreign terms adopted into English such as “de facto”; unambiguous phrases such as “Monday morning” (as in “Monday morning quarterback”); and constructions with least, less, more, and most (as in “the least important factor”). (But little, much, seldom, and often are connected to verbs with a hyphen to form compound modifiers.)

A rule of thumb for compound modifiers is to hyphenate if called for before a noun but leave open after a noun (for example “a dark-haired woman,” but “a woman who is dark haired”), unless, as in the case of such words as life-size, quick-witted, and stand-alone, the compound modifier is listed in a dictionary with a hyphen.

A combination of an adjective and a noun is often converted into a closed compound adjective. For example, “long time” (“a lengthy period”) becomes longtime (“lasting for a lengthy period”), and “every day” (“all days under discussion”) becomes everyday (“ordinary”). A related usage error that is increasingly pervasive is the lack of a distinction between “every day” and everyday; one often sees retail signage reading something like “Storewide savings everyday!” although the writer means “every day.” (“Everyday savings storewide” is correct, however, because here the term is employed as an adjective.)

Prepositions and adverbs, appearing in an open phrase such as “over all” (as in “The fence had fallen over all her flowers”) combine to form adjectives (as in “It fit an overall pattern”) or adverbs (as in “Overall, he was disappointed”).

Compund Verbs
Compound verbs are those formed from a verb and another part of speech to create a new verb. The five types of compound verb, listed with examples, follow:

adverb-verb: undermine
adjective-verb: downgrade
adjective-noun: counterattack
noun-verb: sidestep
preposition-noun: offbeat

Not all compound verbs are closed. Open compound nouns are sometimes pressed into service as compound verbs, becoming hyphenated in the process. Thus, for example, “spot check” (“a quick or random inspection”) becomes spot-check (“undertake a quick or random inspection”).

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Inspiration for Writers: Hunt It Down!

Inspiration for Writers: Hunt It Down!

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Not many writers lounge in an ivy-covered tower pouring out inspired words – that’s unrealistic. Many successful writers still keep a day job, most out of necessity, some out of choice. How inspired would you feel if you sat in an ivy-covered tower all day? Seasoned writers say that, since few books make much money, the key to earning a living as a writer is to write a lot of books. Not to wait for inspiration.

A real-world example: professional songwriters don’t sit on a large rock with their lute or flute, watching the sheep and waiting for inspiration. Songwriting is a joy, true, but for them, it’s also a job. Every major music publisher pays a team of contracted staff writers. Particularly in Nashville, country songwriters get a monthly salary to come to the office every day (to a literal office) and write their quota of songs.

Legendary songwriter Carole King described that sort of life, which she experienced in New York’s ‘Brill Building’ in the 1960s:

“Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubbyhole composing a song exactly like yours.”

When inspiration flees

What if a staff songwriter doesn’t feel like writing? What if they feel like not writing? What do they do when circumstances conspire against inspiration?

That’s what happened to Albert Askew Beach (1924-1997). As I remember the story from Reader’s Digest Treasury of Beloved Songs, one night Mr. Beach was sitting at his piano trying to come up with new English lyrics for Charles Trenet’s song “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?” about the end of a love affair

Unfortunately, next door a love affair really was ending, judging from the noises coming from the neighboring apartment, as the soon-to-be-former couple angrily and loudly pronounced curses upon each other. In the 1950s, angry, loud love songs were not yet a thing and Beach wasn’t making much progress on his lyrics. (The angry neighbors probably didn’t much appreciate the romantic piano accompaniment either.)

Then Beach had an bright idea, out of necessity, his publisher’s quota, and his need for grocery money. What if he turned every curse he heard into a blessing? So when the neighbors shouted at each other, “Leave! I don’t care. I hope you freeze to death!” Beach wrote,

I wish you shelter from the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm

The resulting song, known as “I Wish You Love,” became a standard, a classic in its day.

Inspiration by twisting

If you need to turn an overworked idea into something fresh, like Albert Askew Beach, try twisting it and reversing it. For example, all romantic comedies have the same basic plot: ‘Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl.’ But what if the boy never manages to meet the girl? What if he tries to lose her but can’t? What if she is not a girl but a ghost? (“Your wife’s family lives in the old mansion on the hill? Why, that’s impossible. Nobody has lived there for a hundred years…”)

J.K. Rowling turned a twist into a hit. By the 1990s it was hard to imagine what could happen in a British boarding school that hadn’t already happened in the hundreds of novels set in one. Then she asked herself, “Okay, what if I set my novel in a British boarding school for wizards?” Try it: it might sell. (Spoiler: it did sell – 400 million copies including sequels – it was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but now that fresh idea has been taken so you need to come up with your own.)

Adding a twist lets you borrow inspiration without stealing it or plagiarizing. Neal Gaiman didn’t say, “Let’s pretend I’m Rudyard Kipling and rewrite The Jungle Book.” Instead, he wrote The Graveyard Book, adding a twist to the same 1894 premise (ghosts instead of animals), and won the Newbery Medal, the Carnegie Medal, the Hugo Award, and the Locus Award.

Inspiration through diversifying

James A. Michener became a successful novelist only later in life – he published his first book at age 40. He didn’t ascribe his success to any careful plan, but to a wide variety of seemingly random experiences, saying, “I have worked all my life, never very seriously and never with any long-term purpose.” While still in his teens, he hitchhiked and hopped freight trains from Canada almost to Florida (45 states), and eventually visited nearly every country in the world. (A change of scenery often brings inspiration, but no, you don’t need to visit every country in the world.) In his early life, Michener was a chestnut vendor, a private detective in an amusement park, a night watchman in a hotel, a graduate student in Scotland, a high school English teacher, a social studies editor, and a naval historian in the South Pacific. He won a Pulitzer Prize for writing South Pacific.

Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel, was first known as the creator of the line “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” then as the writer and illustrator of children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat. He was less known for the hundreds of hats he collected over 60 years, everything from an Italian colonel’s hat to a plastic Viking helmet. Whenever he needed a fresh perspective, he could put on a hat. The hat collection itself probably inspired his book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Even small changes can give you inspiration. You can find inspiration tools online that suggest and combine words in new ways, even offering first lines, writing prompts, and story starters.

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41 Words That Are Better Than Good

41 Words That Are Better Than Good

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The soul of writing is specificity, yet all too often, we lean on general-purpose words instead of choosing the most precise ones. Most of our daily communication probably depends on less than 1,000 words. Of course, that includes words such as you, I, is, are, of, and for, which are already the best words for the job. I admit that sometimes in conversation, I deliberately limit my vocabulary because I don’t want others to look at me quizzically: “Who does he think he is, anyway: one of the authors of a writing tips blog?” The result is vague, even boring, conversation, using words so general, they could fit almost everything in the world.

How was your trip? Fine.

How do you feel? Good.

Choosing other words is no improvement, if we always choose the same words. A world where everything is cool or awesome is not much more interesting than a world where everything is fine or good.

So let’s buck the trend. Here are 41 alternatives to good that can’t be used to describe everything in the world because they each have specific meanings, or at least, different connotations.

  1. breathtaking – amazing, surprising, astonishing, enough to make you gasp with pleasure, and almost enough to make you forget to breathe.
  2. choice – preferred, prized, specially selected. In New Zealand, the exclamation “Choice!” is used similarly to “Great!” in the United States.
  3. dazzling – amazing, splendid, brilliant, shining so bright that it’s hard to see it.
  4. delectable – highly delicious, usually describing food, from the Latin for “delight.”
  5. delightful – causing joy, delight or pleasure, producing positive emotion, with the same Latin root as “delectable.”
  6. deluxe – high quality, related to luxury, from the Latin for “excess.”
  7. enjoyable – pleasant, bringing pleasure and satisfaction – bringing joy.
  8. excellent – superior, best in its class, of the highest quality, making a person shout “Excelsior!”
  9. exceptional – uncommon, rare, and better for being so.
  10. exemplary – an example of high quality, a model for others.
  11. fine – delicate, exquisite, almost as good as it gets. Related to the French and Latin words for “finished” and “exact.” Overused until often it merely means “acceptable.”
  12. exquisite – exceptionally fine or rare, with the sense of extreme
  13. favorable – helpful, encouraging, positive, convenient, such as getting hoped-for results.
  14. first-rate – exceptionally good, in the highest class. Describing a British naval vessel with more than 100 guns.
  15. first-string – the starting players on a sports team; that is, the best of them. Many other expressions begin with the word first.
  16. five-star – from the hotel rating system in which a five-star hotel is among the world’s best.
  17. formidable – causing awe, respect, wonder or even fear, perhaps because it’s so large or strong.
  18. gilt-edged – high quality, from the practice of putting a thin layer of gold on the edges of a book.
  19. gratifying – pleasing, satisfying, making someone content.
  20. incredible – amazing, beyond belief, almost too good to be true.
  21. luxurious – fine or comfortable, such as an expensive hotel room. I use it to show gratitude for a gift that is too fancy for my tastes.
  22. magnificent – splendid, elegant, noble. From the Latin word for “great deeds.”
  23. opulent – showy, extravagant, magnificent, sumptuous – more than luxurious, with the sense of “more than you really need”
  24. pleasing – giving cheer, pleasure, or enjoyment – something that pleases you
  25. positive – certain, good, favorable. Currently used in expressions such as “positive energy” or “positive vibes.”
  26. precious – beloved, valuable, worthy, of high price. “Precious” writing is euphuistic: overly cute and takes itself too seriously.
  27. prime – first, as in first quality.
  28. rare – uncommon, scarce, and therefore valuable. The gravestone of an influential English playwright is inscribed with the (misspelled) tribute “O rare Ben Johnson”.
  29. satisfying – sufficient, pleasing, more than adequate.
  30. select – privileged, specially chosen, high-quality.
  31. shipshape – well-organized, fully prepared, meticulous, tidy. Before you embark on an ocean voyage, you want your ship to be in shape.
  32. sound – healthy, solid, secure, complete. If a floor is sound, you won’t fall through.
  33. sterling – of high, verifiable value, as in sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure silver. Originally referring to British coins, which had a star or a starling on them in the Middle Ages.
  34. striking – impressive, memorable, calling to mind the striking of a coin.
  35. sumptuous – costly, expensive, as in a meal with many courses of great variety. We’ve got a whole article about sumptuous.
  36. top-notch – belonging to the highest level, possibly from some 19th century game that used notches to keep score.
  37. subtle – clever and crafty, though that’s an older meaning. A subtle flavor is not overbearing, and the chef will be pleased if you tell him so.
  38. up to snuff – meeting the standard, adequate, sharp. Snuff is a more expensive powdered tobacco, which was sniffed by higher-class gentlemen as a stimulant in the 19th century.
  39. valuable – worthy of esteem, having high worth or value.
  40. welcome – anticipated, a pleasure to see, received with gladness, as in “welcome news.” From the Old English for “a wished-for guest.”
  41. well-made – built right, properly constructed, sound.

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20 Tips to Improve your Writing Productivity

20 Tips to Improve your Writing Productivity

Writing-productivity

So you’d like your latest writing project to get moving faster. Great writers have felt the same. Don’t worry, it’s fixable. When the words stop, writers have effective ways of getting them moving again.

  1. Plow new ground
    Write multiple drafts instead of obsessively editing the same one. You can tell the same story, but tell it over again. You will probably feel more encouraged. That part that you never knew how to fix? Maybe your new draft doesn’t have it anymore.
  2. Commit to a consistent schedule
    Write daily, not someday. Start today, not tomorrow. Find the best time for you. Resolve that 6:00 a.m or 9:00 p.m. will be your regular time for writing, and that’s it. If you don’t make time, you may not find time.
  3. Use the time you have.
    After all, you can’t use the time you don’t have. Though it’s definitely easier to write when you don’t constantly switch tasks, you can’t wait for large blocks of time to appear in your schedule. They may not. Instead, take advantage of the minutes between tasks, time that might have been misused. And when you can’t write, prepare to write.
  4. Set priorities
    I regret to inform you that you can’t do everything. You can’t spend three hours a day watching television, four hours playing video games, eight hours at work or school, eight hours sleeping, two hours eating, and one hour writing. That totals 26 hours a day. You’ll have to cut something from your schedule. Do you want to write or not?
  5. Count words, not minutes.
    You may feel lighter and freer if you know that you can get up from your chair and play golf as soon as you have written 1,000 words. You may write faster out of sheer anticipation.
  6. Count minutes, not words.
    On the other hand, sometimes the words get hard and so does your chair. If your mind is strained, tired or muddled, maybe you should limit your writing time. But find a goal you can stick to. I’m not giving you permission to give up easily.
  7. Don’t begin at the beginning
    The title and first lines are the hardest parts to write. They get easier after you’ve finished the rest, and having perfected them may not help you write the rest more efficiently. So don’t bother writing them first. You can change the title any time before the release – that’s one reason why movies have “working titles.”
  8. Start in the middle
    Actually, start writing the part that most inspires you, Start where you want to, where your creative urge is strongest. You can add introductions and conclusions later. Write your favorite part first.
  9. Choose an audience
    You can write most effectively when you know who you’re writing for, when you can picture them in your mind. Then you know more clearly what the purpose of your writing is.
  10. Change your audience
    If your writing gets stuck or even boring, try picturing a different reader. Maybe you weren’t picturing any particular reader at all. No wonder your writing sounded unfocused. Imagine you’re writing to your best friend, your best customer, your biggest fan, or to your grandmother. (Write regularly to your grandmother, if you have one.)
  11. Take very small steps
    If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of writing the whole piece, tell yourself to only write one sentence then make yourself stop. Science fiction writer Roger Zelazny used to advise authors to “write two sentences.”
  12. Never rewrite until you’re done writing.
    There is a time for writing and a time for editing, and most writers can’t do both at once. Editing as you write will slow down your writing, often to a standstill – it’s a major cause of writer’s block. Once you get started, ideas will come running fast enough that you won’t have time to refine them until after the stampede.
  13. When one project bogs down, switch to another.
    We were built for variety, and the specialization of the Industrial Age has lessened us. You weren’t meant to always do the same thing. Keep more than one project bubbling at once. When you (temporarily) lose interest in one book, you always have something else to work on.
  14. Please only yourself.
    You can pretend to be interested in a genre because it sells well, but you’re competing against other writers who aren’t pretending. Competition in the publishing world is tough enough. I’m not saying to ignore market forces – if you enjoy writing in two genres, it’s fine to pick the more popular one. But if you focus on what you know best, you can write faster and research less. And there’s less competition.
  15. Your teacher is not looking over your shoulder.
    Too often, school teaches children to write and teaches them to hate writing. Writing gives us a way to share ourselves, and we should love it. Grammar is not sharing; it’s only an aid to sharing. Style is worthless if it doesn’t help your reader. You have no obligation to sound like anyone but yourself.
  16. Keep a notebook
    When you have a fresh idea, write it down and store it up for the times when you don’t. Make notes of interesting expressions you’ve overheard, describe scenes you’d like to write about, record physical details.
  17. Don’t wait for inspiration.
    If your Creative Muse doesn’t flit into your room and shower inspiration upon you, go out into the hallway and take her by the hand. If you were in your chair writing at your scheduled time of 6:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m, she would have known where to find you. Look in your notebook – there should be some inspiration there.
  18. Say what you really mean
    If you get stuck or tangled in your writing, try this: pretend you’re talking to a child and say, “What I really mean is….” Then say what you really mean. My college speech teacher used a similar technique. When nervous students showed up to give their first speech, she told them, “You don’t have to give your speech, just tell us what you would have said.”
  19. Change your medium.
    If you can’t get your writing to move, try telling your story out loud. Leave yourself a voicemail. Send it as an email to someone. Send it as a text. Write it as a series of headlines. Write only the outline. Use a pencil. Use a crayon, as James Thurber did. As his eyesight diminished, he had to write one letter per page. And you think you have problems.
  20. Write any way you can.
    If you feel constricted as a writer and the words don’t come, work around your block. Don’t force yourself to stay on the main point. Tell your backstory, share your history, give the background, explain the alternatives. You’ll get back on track soon enough.

How many of these tips have you tried? What other tips have worked for you?

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Mentality and Mindfulness Meanings

Mentality and Mindfulness Meanings

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Mental and its lexical relations, all pertaining to workings of the mind, as well as mind and words and phrases derived from that word, are listed and defined in this post.

Mental
Mental is descended from the Latin noun mens, meaning “mind.” It means “pertaining to the mind,” though it also has a slang connotation of being irrationally agitated, as when somebody is said to be “going mental.” Demented, likewise, is used both technically, to mean “mentally impaired,” and informally, to describe someone who is mentally unstable to a dangerous extent; dementia refers to cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease as well as to insanity. (Demential is a rare adjectival form.)

Mentality means “intelligence,” though it more often refers subjectively to one’s way of thinking, as in the phrase “small-town mentality.” Mentation, meanwhile, is the process of thinking, and from this word science fiction author Frank Herbert derived Mentat, the name of a class of humans endowed with powerful cognitive abilities who take the place of computers in a future technophobic society.

Mentalist is a dated term for a mind reader, someone who claims to be able to detect the thoughts of others. The noun mention can refer to a formal acknowledgment of recognition (as in a special mention or an honorable mention) or can denote calling attention to something; it serves as a verb for both meanings as well. A mentor is a person who provides guidance and advice to a person seeking to develop knowledge and skills. The term mentee was superfluously coined to describe the latter person; protégé serves that purpose well enough.

To comment is to note or remark, or provide an explanation or illustration, or a critique or judgment; as a noun, the word refers to any such communication. (A commentary is a formal comment, usually expressed in speech or writing, though it may also refer metaphorically to a phenomenon that unintentionally speaks judgmentally to a state of affairs, as in “The unsightly litter is a sad commentary on the decline in the sense of personal responsibility.”) A memento is an object that prompts memories, such as a souvenir. (The Latin phrase “memento mori” means “reminder of mortality.”) A reminiscence is a recalled memory of an experience; to bring one to mind is to reminisce.

The Latin forebear is seen in the Latin phrase “mens rea,” meaning “guilty mind,” and “mens sana in corpore sano,” which translates to “a sound mind in a sound body.” “Compos mentis,” meanwhile, means “of sound mind”; “non compos mentis” is a legal and medical term denoting the absence of a capacity to understand a situation.

The ubiquitous suffix -ment, referring to a condition or state, an action or a location of an action, or an agent, means, or result of an action, is unrelated.

Mind
The word mind, from the Old English term gemynd, is cognate with mens as well as <a href=”http://”>monere, meaning “warning” (the source of monitor, admonish, and other words).

The noun mind is often considered synonymous with brain, referring in general to an organism’s mental activities and capabilities, but the latter term denotes the organ that controls body functions, prompts physical responses, and facilitates learning; the mind is more accurately described as the part of a person that thinks, reasons, decides, perceives, and feels.

Other senses include “memory” (as in “Keep that in mind”), “intention” (“Have you changed your mind?”), “opinion” (“She spoke her mind”), and “mood” (“I’m not in a good state of mind right now”). In addition, the word denotes a collective mental quality (as in “hive mind”) or a person of superior intelligence (“one of the great minds of our age”). Meanwhile, a minder is someone who attends to or oversees someone or something.

To mind is to attend to, notice, or pay attention, or to obey or follow instructions, or to be careful or concerned. A reminder is a note about something to remember or a memory aid; the verb form is remind.

The phrase “never mind” is employed to denote something less likely than something else (as in “I couldn’t even run a mile right now, never mind a marathon”) and is an idiom meaning “disregard what I said.” The use of Nevermind as the title of an album by the band Nirvana likely contributed to the frequent erroneous occurrence of the phrase as a closed compound, but any treatment of the term as one word other than in a colloquialism such as “It don’t make me no nevermind” (meaning “It doesn’t matter to me”) is an error.

To be aware or attuned is to be mindful; the quality is mindfulness. To be mindless is to act without thinking or using critical-thinking skills; mindlessly is the adverbial form.

Mind control is the practice of influencing someone’s beliefs, thoughts, and actions through hypnosis, propaganda, or other forms of persuasion or suggestion and, in fiction, manipulation of the person’s brain using some sort of technology. Meanwhile, a mind-set is a way of thinking. (Writers often treat this word as a closed compound, but dictionaries still favor the hyphenated form.)

A mastermind is someone responsible for plotting or strategizing a scheme or a plan; the word is often used in the context of illicit or otherwise undesirable activities, as in “criminal mastermind.” One of limited intelligence or judgment is feebleminded (in the first sense only) or simpleminded. One who is forgetful is absentminded. Adverbial forms of these words are produced by adding the suffix -ly.

Something that is astonishing, exciting, inspiring, puzzling, or otherwise stimulating or that has the potential to figuratively or literally alter one’s perception is referred to as mind-bending, mind-blowing, or mind-boggling. Such a phenomenon itself is called a mind-bender, mind-blower, or mind-boggler.

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30 Words Invented by Shakespeare

30 Words Invented by Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare (1564-1616), considered the greatest writer in the English language, used more than 24,000 words in his writings, more than any other author. Of those words, more than 1,700 were first used by him, as far we can tell. He may have made up many of them himself.

How can you possibly understand someone who keeps making up new words? Because Shakespeare made up his new words from old, familiar words: nouns into verbs, verbs into adverbs, adverbs into nouns. He added new prefixes and suffixes to existing words. For example, gloom was already a noun that meant ‘darkness’ and even a verb, but Shakespeare turned it into a adjective, as in ‘the ruthless, vast and gloomy woods’ in Titus Andronicus.

Renaissance writers, trying to express classical ideas for the first time in English, often borrowed words from the classical languages of Greek and Latin, and William Shakespeare was no exception. Also, in Shakespeare’s day, the rules of English grammar were not yet formalized, so he was freer to invent his own.

After more than 400 years of changes in the English language, Shakespeare is still beloved and still understood. Because of his knowledge of essential language, we still know what the Princess means in Loves Labours Lost when she says (archaically) “Prepare; I will away tonight,” even though she leaves out the verb “go.”

Here are 30 of the words invented by William Shakespeare, as compiled by my colleague Maeve in her article Shakespeare’s Vocabulary, each one demonstrated in a sentence from one of his plays:

  1. accommodation: adjustment, adaptation, compromise
    Thou art not noble; For all the accommodations that thou bear’st Are nursed by baseness. – Measure for Measure
  2. agile: able to move quickly or easily
    His agile arm beats down their fatal points. – Romeo and Juliet
  3. allurement: Attractiveness, appeal, enticement.
    That is an advertisement to a proper maid in Florence, one Diana, to take heed of the allurement of one Count Rousillon – All’s Well That Ends Well
  4. antipathy: dislike, hatred
    No contraries hold more antipathy Than I and such a knave. – King Lear
  5. catastrophe: disaster, the dramatic event that begins the resolution of the story
    And pat! he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy. – King Lear
  6. critical: inclined to criticize, extremely important
    O gentle lady, do not put me to’t; For I am nothing, if not critical. – Othello
  7. demonstrate: show, display, present
    And this may help to thicken other proofs That do demonstrate thinly. – Othello
  8. dexterously: skillfully, with precision.
    Dexterously, good madonna. – Twelfth Night
  9. dire: dreadful, dismal, portentous
    Hapless Aegeon, whom the fates have mark’d To bear the extremity of dire mishap! –
    Comedy of Errors
  10. dislocate: to put out of place
    They are apt enough to dislocate and tear Thy flesh and bones. – King Lear
  11. emphasis: Special weight, attention, forcefulness or prominence given to something
    Be choked with such another emphasis! Say, the brave Antony. – Antony and Cleopatra
  12. eyeballs: the eyes
    ‘Tis not your inky brows, your black silk hair, Your bugle eyeballs, nor your cheek of cream, – As You Like It
  13. emulate: imitate, copy
    I see how thine eye would emulate the diamond: – Merry Wives of Windsor
  14. exist: to be, to have reality
    By all the operation of the orbs From whom we do exist and cease to be; –
    King Lear
  15. extract: draw out, remove, withdraw,
    May it be possible, that foreign hire Could out of thee extract one spark of evil That might annoy my finger? – Henry V
  16. frugal: thrifty, cheap, economical
    I was then frugal of my mirth: Heaven forgive me! – Merry Wives of Windsor
  17. hereditary: inherited, passed on from parents
    Hereditary, rather than purchased; what he cannot change, than what he chooses. –
    Antony and Cleopatra
  18. horrid: terrible, horrible
    He would drown the stage with tears And cleave the general ear with horrid speech; – Hamlet
  19. impertinent: insolent, ill-mannered, irrelevant
    In very brief, the suit is impertinent to myself, – Tempest
  20. jovial: jolly, cheerful, merry
    Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night. – Macbeth
  21. meditate: think, contemplate, study
    I will meditate the while upon some horrid message for a challenge. – Twelfth Night
  22. modest: moderate, slight, humble,
    Do not cry havoc, where you should but hunt With modest warrant. Coriolanus
  23. mutiny: tumult, strife, rebellion against a legal authority, especially at sea
    Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up To such a sudden flood of mutiny. – Julius Caesar
  24. obscene: indecent, offensive, repulsive
    O, forfend it, God, That in a Christian climate souls refined Should show so heinous, black, obscene a deed! – Richard II
  25. pedant: a schoolmaster, someone who shows off his knowledge by using big words
    Most villanously; like a pedant that keeps a school i’ the church. – Twelfth Night
  26. pell-mell: hasty, uncontrolled, confused
    Advance your standards, and upon them, lords; Pell-mell, down with them! – Love’s Labour’s Lost
  27. premeditated: deliberate, planned in advance
    Some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; – Henry V
  28. reliance: trust, dependence
    And my reliances on his fracted dates Have smit my credit: – Timon of Athens
  29. submerged: underwater, below the surface, hidden
    So half my Egypt were submerged and made A cistern for scaled snakes! –
    Antony and Cleopatra
  30. vast: Very large or wide
    The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction Robs the vast sea: – Timon of Athens

Could we make up new words too, and still be understood? In imitation of Shakespeare, I tried making up a couple – do you understand me?

The anticlean toddler boy.

Though you lamb yourself after your violence, quoth Sherlock, yet before judge and jury I will unlamb you.

Shakespeare invented many words that might surprise you. In Shakespeare’s day, friend was already a noun, but Shakespeare turned it into a verb. Befriend is a more standard verb that expresses the same thing, but a newly-coined word has extra power and surprise – but unless you do it discreetly, you’ll sound like e e cummings or James Joyce. Shakespeare also used the word unfriended, centuries before Mark Zuckerberg. The word swagger, popular with rap musicians, was first used in Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though Shakespeare didn’t invent the word swag.

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Functions of the Apostrophe

Functions of the Apostrophe

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This post discusses the three primary functions of the apostrophe in the English language: the marking of the possessive case in nouns, the marking of the omission of one or more letters, and the marking of plurals of individual characters. (The obsolescence of apostrophes with abbreviations is also discussed.)

Marking Possessives
Apostrophes are employed in conjunction with the possessive s, as shown in the following examples:

    • singular common nouns: “the farmer’s daughter”
    • singular proper nouns that end in s: “Chris’ job” or “Chris’s job” (depending on which style one employs)
    • plural common nouns: “the farmers’ daughters”
    • plural common nouns that end in s: “the dogs’ bowls”
    • plural proper nouns ending in s: “the Thompsons’ party” (no s at the end of the name); “the Simmonses’ car” (s at the end of the name)
    • compound words: “mother-in-law’s tongue”
    • separate possession: “John’s and Jane’s houses”
    • joint possession: “John and Jane’s house”

Note, in the case of proper nouns ending in s, the distinction between the first example, which refers to a party hosted by the Thompsons, and the usage Thompson’s, which refers to something belonging to Thompson. Lack of attention to this distinction is the cause of frequent errors in signage, as when a sign referring to the inhabitants of a residence reads, “The Thompson’s.” This truncation of “the Thompson’s house” literally indicates that it is the house of the Thompson and therefore is incorrect; it should read, “The Thompsons’.”

Irregular plural nouns such as mice are treated according to the pertinent rule above, as in “The mice’s whiskers twitched with curiosity.” Also, nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning technically take an apostrophe with no s (“the scissors’ handle,” though “the handle of the scissors” is easier to read and say). This rule applies to similar proper nouns (“Highland Estates’ bylaws”). Another exception is in the phrase “for goodness’ sake.”

Attributive forms, as opposed to possessive forms, do not take an apostrophe (“veterans affairs”). The distinction is subtle, but test for the correct form by determining whether the phrase refers to an entity that exists for a given group (“veterans affairs”) or belongs to it or is organized by it (“farmers’ market”).

Names of holidays should be styled according to who or what they honor: “Mother’s Day” is treated as such, for example, because although the day is for all mothers, one traditionally honored only one’s own mother, while Presidents’ Day commemorates all presidents. (“Veterans Day” is an anomaly.) Insertion or omission of apostrophes is also inconsistent in proper names in general, especially in geographical locations (“Pikes Peak,” but “Martha’s Vineyard’) or names of entities such as companies and organizations (Barclays, but McDonald’s).

When an italicized term takes the possessive form, the apostrophe and the s are not italicized (as in “The Wizard of Oz’s enduring charm”).

Contraction
Apostrophes mark elision of one or more letters or numbers, as shown in the following examples:

    don’t (“do not”)
    o’clock (“of the clock”)
    c’mon (“come on”)
    let’s (“let us”)
    l’il (little)
    OK’d (in place of OKed)
    ’tis (“it is”)
    will-o’-the-wisp (will-of-the-wisp)
    • “rock ’n’ roll” (“rock and roll”)
    f’c’stle (forecastle)
    O’Hara (“of the Hara,” from Gaelic Eaghra)
    ’60s (1960s)

Many writers are confused about this function in some usage, erroneously apostrophizing possessive pronouns such as its (resulting in the erroneous it’s) and plural nouns such as apples (confusing them for possessive forms, as in a sign reading “Apple’s on sale”). Also, plural possessives pertaining to time frames are often mistakenly rendered as singular possessives (“two week’s notice”) or as plurals (“two weeks notice”); the proper form is “two weeks’ notice,” because the notice “belongs” to two weeks. (Note, however, the absence of an apostrophe in the phrase “two weeks late” because weeks is plural but not possessive.)

Another frequent error is confusion of use of the apostrophe as the first character in a term. When contracting a word by beginning with an apostrophe, as in ’tis and “rock ’n’ roll,” or when contracting a number representing a four-digit year to the last two digits, as in the last example in the list above, precede it with an apostrophe—not an open single quotation mark (‘)—but indicate a range of years with a plural s alone (1960s), not with an apostrophe and an s; reserve that form for possessives (“1960’s most significant event,” in which a year, not a decade, is under discussion).

Also, an apostrophe should follow a number, whether spelled out or in numeral form, only in a possessive sense or as a contraction, as in “The 4’s diagonal line is sometimes formed vertically” or “This hundred’s a counterfeit bill.”

Plurals of Individual Characters
An exception is made for using possessives to indicate plurals of lowercase letters, as in “Mind your p’s and q’s,” “Label the x’s and y’s,” and “There are two m’s in accommodate.”

Also, the first of these examples shows an additional exception, one to the style rule that letters are italicized when employed to refer to themselves, as in “Write an s in the square and an r in the rectangle.” (Normally, plurals of uppercase letters do not feature an apostrophe—and are not italicized—as in “the three Rs” and “I got three As, two Bs, and a C on my report card.”)

Apostrophes with Abbreviations
Apostrophes at one time were employed with a following s to indicate plurals of nouns styled as initials followed by periods, as in M.D.’s to indicate more than doctor or R.S.V.P.’s to refer to multiple responses to an invitation, because although those forms look awkward, M.D.s and R.S.V.P.s appear even more so. However, use of periods with initials is becoming obsolete, and an apostrophe in MDs and RSVPs is unnecessary. (Many newer coinages such as CDs and DVDs generally postdate widespread usage of periods in initialisms.)

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Original post: Functions of the Apostrophe

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