Words, like clothing, become castoffs when they don’t fit, when they’re worn, or when style changes shift. Outdated words in a conversation may soon be forgotten. Misused words in electronic formats and print copies haunt the writer like a closet full of misfits.
Under wraps indicates a secret project or one withheld from the public, but “undercover” means a secret investigation involving spies.
Lay low means to intentionally hide or stay out of sight. Laid low (past tense) indicates that a person was out of action from circumstances.
Off the radar, often used to identify lack of presence or communication or action, sounds like a missing person’s report. Off the grid indicates one who functions without input from others, but some conversationalists—and writers—use it to indicate standoffishness.
Long, long ago I puzzled over “tootle-do,” when visitors misused the British saying of “tootle-oo” for goodbye to other travelers. It was our home. We weren’t leaving. They were. I had no trouble distinguishing that saying from Toora-Loora-Looral, the Irish lullaby to sing a baby to sleep.
“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” has endured five centuries. A catchy phrase, but who would do that?
“To each his own,” some say, but the English translation of the Latin Suum cuique to imply personal preferences was aimed at the disparity of wealth vs. poverty. Hmm. Perhaps that is fitting because some writers use worn out, trite phrases for current publications when there is a wealth of new words waiting to hit the page.
Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn something new. All these are popular New Year’s resolutions according to Peter Economy on Inc. Statistics show that many abandon their goals the first week. Some manage 21 days. Even some of the hardy falter after 90 days. The stalwart hang on but few accomplish their goals.
I’ve been successful at keeping my New Year’s resolution for many years. My secret to success? Skip the resolutions. This year, a few celebrities have expressed that mindset.
Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year. Last year, her word was grace.
Oprah Winfrey reminds us to be careful what we chose. With a twist of humor, she advises not to ask for courage because you don’t know what you’ll have to go through to get it. She says she “lives in the moment.” Instead of making resolutions, she has written five things in a grateful journal each night since 1995.
I began my grateful journal with three things each night on New Year’s Day 2017. I made it through the next day. I skipped a week, then a month. The last entry on May 24, 2018, was a single line. “I am grateful for the stability of a cane.”
This year, after a thirty-month absence from my journal, I wrote my chiropractor’s name. Those treatments have made it possible for me to walk cane-free on most days and to sit at my computer for longer periods.
Perhaps I will end 2019 with gratitude that my novel has been published. Along the way, I will be grateful for my novel critique group who have helped me over the rough spots.
Brussels sprouts stumps me. Not what they are—I microwave the loose, fresh balls in a Pampered Chef steamer. A tip of the pan to drain the liquid through the perforated lid, a couple of grinds of Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns or sprinkles of dried Parmesan (don’t tell my cardiologist), and the sprouts go from microwave to the table in less than five minutes. The trouble came when the fresh, full stalks at Trader Joe’s beckoned me. I bought one without the slightest inkling of how to cook them in the natural state. At home, I left the stalk on the kitchen countertop and searched online for a recipe.
Most of the recipes capitalized the “B” in Brussels as though a proper noun like the city in Belgium where this vegetable was once said to originate. Microsoft Word spell check agreed with chefs—a red underline for any chef who dared spell the word with a lowercase “b.” I chose an easy oven recipe. While they cooked, I was plagued by the proper capitalization for the green knobs that dance in my head.
The green stalk waited while my inner editor led me to Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition. I hefted the 3-lb., 1144-page book to a comfortable reading level. A search of the 129-page index referenced Section 8.61. There it was—lowercased brussels sprouts. CMOS added a disclaimer,
Although some of the terms in this paragraph and the examples that follow are capitalized in Webster’s, Chicago prefers to lowercase them in their nonliteral use.
Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style duel over the use of capital B like Brussels, Belgium (literal), or lowercase “b” as in the vegetable (nonliteral). On my next grocery shopping trip, I skipped the sprouts and bought broccoli (lowercase “b”). It was great, ready in three minutes from the same Pampered Chef pan. And broccoli is packed with multiple vitamins that outduel the basic C and K in brussels sprouts.
P.S. Brussels sprouts, although a plural sound, takes a singular verb. That’s another editing puzzle.
Disclaimer: Neither Trader Joe’s nor Pampered Chef is aware of my blog unless an individual team member stumbles across it while searching for a recipe.
“Riders in the Sky” was written and recorded by Stan Jones accompanied by the Death Valley Rangers (Mercury 1949). Jones, the composer, drifted away, shrouded by ghostly cowboys floating into obscurity when Vaughn Monroe’s RCA recording became more popular.
Ghostwriters (GW) are another secret veiled by the clouds. Their roles vary. Sometimes a GW interviews a person about specific events and shapes them into a blob of words that eventually becomes an inspirational book. Sometimes the ghostwriter begins with another person’s notes or ideas and whittles them into a memoir or self-help book. Sometimes a ghostwriter cuts and clips a poorly written fiction manuscript and embellishes it until it gleams like a cowboy’s silver belt buckle. That—and payment—are his reward because the published book wears the name of the fictitious writer.
“But that’s cheating,” you say.
The ghostwriter says it’s payment for work similar to writing a technical report, or create advertising copy while freelancing or salaried by a company. I say it’s like picking cotton.
Property of Violet Carr Moore
My father approved of producing without bragging rights. We picked cotton for pennies per pound. Father carried the stuffed ten-foot canvas cotton sacks over his shoulder to the hanging scales. He penciled the weight in a notebook, deposited it back into the pocket of his work shirt, and hoisted the bag onto his shoulder again. He climbed a wooden ladder resting against a wire-sided trailer and emptied the sack onto puffy fiber from other laborers. The owner towed the overstuffed trailer to a gin where it was baled with cotton from other farmers. The gin sold the bales to a textile maker which produced bolts of fabric with their brand printed in the selvage (My father would have said selvedge, the British spelling, but he had no interest in sewing—that was woman’s work.) My mother bought yardage from the local Five and Dime and made my clothes. From the remnants, she pieced quilts. The cotton we picked in it’s refined stage clothed and warmed us.
Today, I salute Donald Bain (March 6, 1935 – October 26, 2017), the ghostwriter of the “Murder She Wrote” novels accredited to Jessica Fletcher, the Margaret Truman Capital Crime series, and many other ghostwritten books. In 2003, he published Lights Out with his name embellished above the title on the front cover. That brought Mr. Bain out of anonymity into the spotlight. Now he receives recognition as the original books are republished with his name on the covers, but there may be a few still clothed in secrecy, like the cotton my family picked that wore another name.
There much ado on Capitol Hill about the importance of spelling. It’s about time. Ask me. I’m a grammar cop with a badge to prove it.
I’m a writer—at least that’s how I use to identify myself before I realized that editing is my niche. I’m a member of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch also known as Tri-Valley Writers. I’ve been part of a novel group, one of the individualized critique groups that meet monthly. There I’m known as the grammarian—often editing English more than critiquing the story.
Grammar Police Award
Long before Trump was elected president, Lani Longshore, a multi-talented crafter, presented me with a Grammar Police shield embroidered on the right inside of a folding credential case. My editing card fits in a clear plastic slot on the left. I seldom have to flash it because most writers know I spout Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) rules as often as President Trump tweets.
If I had made this award public sooner, perhaps the U.S. Library of Congress would have consulted me (or at least the 16th Edition of CMOS) and been spared the embarrassment of a grammar error in President Trump’s inaugural poster.
Too late to correct the posters but production has been halted. If you bought a first run at $16.95, the odds are that someday it will be a collector’s item—not because of the grammar error but because of the wasted taxpayer dollars for a reprint that reads:
No dream 2 big, no challenge 2 great…
Well-known philosophers—mostly dead—push to the front, vying for mention in this last quote challenge.
“Either write things worthy reading, or do things worth the writing.”
I’m trying, Ben, but you forgot to publish the DIY how-to section.
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
Sorry, Ms. Christie, but California is in its fourth year of drought. Until El Niño arrives, I’m using paper plates. The trip out to the green waste receptacle is too short to do anything more than wonder if I’ve scheduled my next blog post.
“Don’t get it right – get it WRITTEN!”
Thanks, Lee. I probably know more about Jack Reacher than real-life people because you took your own advice and published twenty novels with him as the protagonist. Reacher even has short stories to keep me posted on his activities between hardcover books.
I’ve published a couple of nonfiction books and dozens of short stories, but my first mystery manuscript is old enough to go to kindergarten. Why haven’t I followed Lee Child’s advice and published it?
“I’d rather edit manuscripts written by others.”
―Violet Carr Moore
My fiction novel critique group is one of the best for reality checks. From how many seconds it takes for a body to fall from a San Francisco skyscraper roof to driving hours from Arizona to Texas, they question the reality. Things like a locked vehicle left in the parking lot, then idling at the curb in the next chapter cause eyebrows to raise during the discussion. As a group, they help individual writers avoid obvious mistakes that stop the reader.
Esther Crain, the author in this Yahoo Parenting publication, should have submitted her story about Prince George’s new hideaway to my critique group for a reality fact check.
“When Prince George needs a little alone time, he retreats to this recently refurbished thatched-roof treehouse, built for his dad, Prince William, in 1989, when he was a boy.”
Alone time for a two-year old?
“He’s always lived in grand style: first at Kensington Palace in London, and, more recently, to a magnificent estate in the English countryside, with his parents and new baby sister.
But now, 2-year-old Prince George has new digs where he can hide away by himself when royal life gets too stuffy. He’s got his very own treehouse, located in the garden grounds at his grandfather Prince Charles’s country estate, Highgrove.” (Prince George’s Treehouse in Yahoo Parenting )
New digs to escape royalty?
Cute if this were a twist on the fictional Hansel and Gretel story, but this is real life. Prince George is royalty.
Since Esther Crain didn’t consult my fact-checking critique group, Yahoo Parenting should have added a DON’T- TRY-THIS-AT-HOME warning for copycat parents not to leave their red-and-white-clad toddlers alone in a Highgrove look-alike backyard tree house.