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 […]

55 Years and Counting

That’s me – the kid with his hand on the pile of books – as a freshman at Asbury Park High School in 1958. Yesterday, I attended the 55th reunion of my Asbury Park (N.J.) High School class of 1962. It prompts me to write this week about my coolest extracurricular involvement there: with our […]

‘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 […]

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 […]

‘Educate’ vs. ‘Inform’

Education As regular readers of this blog are aware, every once in a while I take time away from retelling stories I find entertaining and go on a little language rant. As a writer and editor, I hope my friends will view this as coming inevitably with the territory. Today’s post – about the widespread […]

The Commencement Speech You’d Really Rather Hear

Graduation season is again upon us. The season for speechifying. As a professional speechwriter, I’d like to offer the following text for the featured speaker at whichever graduation you’ve been invited to attend: “Good morning, graduates, parents and guests. To provide some unexpected relief, I’ll be brief. I’ll simply answer a question many of you […]