Reading about writing

Every now and then, a student asks, “Do you know a good book on writing?” Writers love books about writing, and we all have shelves of them. Mine hold two dictionaries, two books on editing and one style guide; “The Oxford Book of Idioms” and “Word Histories and Mysteries”; Lynne Truss’s popular “Eats, Shoots ands Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach […]

An English teacher’s Christmas

Among the many fine gifts I received yesterday was a T-shirt bearing this message: It came a semester late, but it’s a perfect illustration of my answer to this question, posted May 10: “If I say, ‘Hello Diane,’ do I need a comma?” The answer was yes, and the T-shirt (given by a real-life grandma, who may […]

End-of-semester review

First, congratulations to all our new graduates, especially the international students! You’ve been very brave, coming to New York to do graduate work in a language that is not your own. You’re to be commended. That said, learning never ends — at least, it shouldn’t. To that end,  here’s a recap of some continuing problems […]

P.S.: Elegant variations revisited

I wish I’d waited a bit to write about elongated yellow fruit and fluffy white stuff. Since then, a few close calls have come my way. From a student’s story about a controversial Louis Vuitton display on Red Square: Half a year ago, the square hosted a Dior fashion show; the rent the apparel maker paid was […]

Elongated yellow fruit and fluffy white stuff

‘Tis the season — oops! Every year around this time, a memo circulates at The New York Times reminding the staff that seasonal cliches are not hallmarks of original writing. If memory serves, the memo also mentions something that’s expected to fall from the sky this week: fluffy white stuff. That’s an elegant variation for snow. […]

More danglers

At the end of spring semester — that is to say, before many of you arrived at CUNY —  a grab bag of a post on this blog included a section on danglers. As I explained then: “Dangle” means “to hang loosely,” according to In English, a dangling modifier — dangler for short — is […]

Tell it as it is

Caz was a mainstay of the culture copy desk at The New York Times. Though Caz (short for Don Caswell) had a heart of pure mush, he enjoyed playing the role of crusty old newspaper guy until the day he retired, less than a year before he died in 2005 of all those cigarettes newspaper […]

May or might?

           Starlight, star bright            First star I see tonight            I wish I may, I wish I might            Have the wish I wish tonight. American kids learn this nursery rhyme at an early age. But few think […]

More confusion

A few weeks ago, I posted Close but no cigar, on English words that are easily confused. Not long after, I was reading a generally fine biography of the Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse that was marred by a number of errors in facts and editing. One was a reference to Fosse’s vocal chords. The author […]