Blowing Smoke: Memories of 8 a.m. Russian Class

Since I couldn’t find a suitable photo of a cigarette-smoke ring on Google, here are some shots of a volcano puffing one out. Wow! Last November, in writing about the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, I recalled the birth of my interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. I wrote that when I began […]

PORE vs. POUR

A couple of weeks ago (July 3), Donald Trump – who claims to take pride in his ability to write – published a tweet that read, in part, “…the Fake News constantly likes to pour over my tweets looking for a mistake.” Far be it from me to dump on a guy who, even if […]

TOE the Line vs. TOW the Line

Toeing the line Here’s an amusing misuse of a common phrase – “toe the line.” Some writers mistakenly render it “tow the line.” The right way, using the word “toe,” creates the image of someone placing his or her foot exactly at the line – perhaps a starting line for a race or, more commonly, […]

Kisses and Buses: Do You Know the Difference?

Can you tell the difference between a kiss and a bus? What a crazy question! A kiss is a smooch and a bus is a coach, two entirely different things (that almost rhyme). Do you know any other words for kiss? Probably very few. Smooch is pretty good, and if you want to pile on […]

ADVOCATE vs. ADVOCATE FOR

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating equal rights for all. Hang on tight, everyone. Here’s another language rant. This one’s about a widespread example of English usage in need of improvement: writing advocate for instead of, simply, advocate, where advocate is a verb. I believe the confusion originates in this word’s ability to serve as […]

Which Is it? Visit or Visitation?

As the holidays approach, so do family gatherings. If the relatives are coming to town, the question arises: what should we call the occasion, a visit or a visitation? I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen the word visitation misused for visit. It reminds me of the times I’ve seen simplistic erroneously used for […]

‘Reference’ vs. ‘Refer’

George Orwell, author of 1984 and, among much else, an essay, “Politics and the English language,” which includes six rules of writing (see below) Here’s a use of a word I believe good writers should always avoid: reference when the simple verb refer is what’s really meant. Reference is a perfectly good noun: The professor […]

Consul – Council – Counsel: What’s the Difference?

Russian consulate in San Francisco The latest round of tit-for-tat “undiplomacy” between the U.S. and Russia was in the news this past week. The State Department ordered the closure of three Russian diplomatic offices, including the Russian consulate-general in San Francisco. This reminded me of the time, back in the 1970s, when I was serving […]

¡Welcome to Bolivia!

Andean “Andrews Sisters” About a month ago, I regaled readers with stories about a few of my travel adventures in India. Fast forward a few years and spin the globe halfway around its axis and you’re in the Andean highlands of Peru and Bolivia with me in 1975 – and another great travel adventure. With […]

Verbiage? No Way!

Verbiage is often pronounced – mispronounced – to nearly rhyme with garbage, something with which it has a bit in common. Hold onto your hats. Here comes another language-related rant. This one’s about the widespread misuse and mispronunciation of the word verbiage. I can’t tell you how many times, as a writer, I’ve been asked […]