It’s really not as dirty as it sounds

A plain gold ring on a wooden surface.
A plain gold ring on a wooden surface.
One ring to rule them all … but a whole lot of confusing ‘A’ words. (Photo by Watoker Derrick Okello on Unsplash)

Latin: You start studying it thinking you’re halfway home because you speak a Latin-descended language, full of cognates. Then you run into a welter of similar-looking words with different meanings. Like anus and annus and annular and annual and anile.

(To be clear, the first two words in that list are Latin; the last three are English derived from Latin).

For me, this whole mess started when I — still slogging my way through the ‘A’ section in my Great Cover-to-Cover Dictionary Read — ran across a fascinating word. It was anile. Here’s the World Book Dictionary definition:

anile (adj)…


Never mix up these two commonly confused words again

A cafe in Paris with a bright-red awning and exterior, seen from the street.
A cafe in Paris with a bright-red awning and exterior, seen from the street.
Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash

Recently, I read a pitch for a guided, small-group trip to Vietnam. (Like a lot of people, quarantine lit a fire under me about all the traveling I haven’t done). This trip had a specific focus: It was a culinary tour of Vietnam’s larger cities, designed for “the adventurous palette.”

At times like this, I wish Medium allowed sound effects. Cue the needle scratch across the vinyl record! Of course, the word the copywriter was reaching for was “palate.” Here’s the difference:

A palette is an artist’s tool, a handheld tray with concave receptacles built-in for small amounts of paint…


An argument against seeing language as the enemy

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A few years back, I read an entertaining blog post about a college writing course. The post’s author wrote dryly about the teaching assistant who graded her work, referring to him as “Mr. Could Cut,” because that was his favorite piece of advice, appearing frequently and tersely in the margins of students’ work: could cut. (At least he practiced what he preached).

Every writer has known not just one, but several teachers and editors in the vein of Mr. Could Cut. For my part, especially in the newspaper business, I’ve known editor after editor who evidently believed that Job One…


Or, does anyone really speak in parentheses?

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I’m a freelance editor of fiction. Sometimes, in a tongue-in-cheek way, I refer to myself as “a professional re-punctuator of novels.” Punctuation misuse is, by far, the biggest issue I see in the books I handle. Including the underuse of that essential workhorse, the comma.

In most cases, I immediately know how a sentence should be punctuated; the fix is easy. Occasionally, though, I have to stop and reflect on punctuation as a matter of stylistic choice.

Now we are ready to talk about punctuation marks within dialogue.

The word dialogue indicates fiction, and that’s what I’ll be talking about…


This popular idea is also a word in motion

Headlights and taillights on a freeway, blurred into curving lines by long-exposure photography.
Headlights and taillights on a freeway, blurred into curving lines by long-exposure photography.
Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash

Recently, I wrote about the rarely-used word anagoge. Since I had been unfamiliar with anagoge until running across it in the surprisingly fascinating A section of the dictionary, I had to do a little more research. Boy, did that open some doors.

Wikipedia’s short article on anagoge explained that it was part of Biblical interpretation in the Middle Ages. According to wikipedia, many medieval theologians used four methods of scriptural interpretation: literal/historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogic. At the time, I was pursuing the meaning of anagoge, but not so single-mindedly that I didn’t pause a moment to think, Tropological? …


A largely forgotten word about our desire to ascend

Photo by Matt Heaton on Unsplash

As ever, I’m considerably behind on my goal to read The World Book Dictionary, cover-to-cover, in about two years’ time (a pace of approximately 2.5 to 3 pages a day). In fact, I’m still in the A section. However, I can’t feel too bad about this, because I’ve reached the ana- words — and, as it turns out, they are fascinating … as evidenced by the fact that my most popular Medium story to date is this one.

I expect to linger in the ana- section of the dictionary, which is about three pages in length, for longer than the…


On the difference between random action and true insight

Tea cups, saucers and spoons all make great props for characters in conversation to move around unnecessarily.
Tea cups, saucers and spoons all make great props for characters in conversation to move around unnecessarily.
Teacups, coffee mugs and spoons are all favorite props for characters to move around while in conversation. (Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash)

Recently, I received a manuscript to edit from one of the small ebook publishers for whom I work. The managing editor had sent along a memo concerning the novel. It contained the following warning: “This author’s weakness is over-description, especially in how she moves characters within scenes.”

Those words immediately pinged for me. Not only have I seen this in a number of writers … I see it, unfortunately, in my own work. Random, aimless movements: He put his hand on the doorknob. She picked up her coffee cup, but did not drink. He tapped the steering wheel thoughtfully before…


Time out of mind can be a beautiful thing

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Let’s get this embarrassing disclosure out of the way: My introduction to the word anachronism came via Tiger Eyes, the 1981 novel by Judy Blume. Hey, don’t judge. In American suburbia in the 1980s, if you didn’t read Judy Blume, they revoked your birth certificate and forced your parents to have another child. Well, if you were a girl. I think boys had a different ritual: At age 12, they had to choose between Star Trek and Star Wars, and there was no going back, like choosing your faction in Divergent.

Where was I? Oh yes: In Tiger Eyes, the…


Why do six weeks give you so much perspective?

A traditional hourglass with sand spilling through, next to a book and a bouquet of magenta flowers.
A traditional hourglass with sand spilling through, next to a book and a bouquet of magenta flowers.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Before I explain the title of this piece, perhaps I should define ‘tincture’ — it’s been many decades since this word was in regular use in medicine. Though if you enjoy historical or fantasy novels, it might be familiar, as ‘potion’ and ‘decoction’ are. A ‘tincture’ is a solution of medicine in alcohol, or a medicine consisting chiefly of alcohol.

Short story short, a tincture is a type of medicine, so ‘tincture of time’ is easy enough to understand: It’s the curative effect of doing nothing and letting a symptom or problem resolve itself. …


“What do they know?” is an attitude that’ll hurt your ultimate success

An audience facing away from the viewer, seen in black-and-white.
An audience facing away from the viewer, seen in black-and-white.
Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

My side hustle is stand-up comedy. One of the first things I learned is that a good comedian gets to a venue early and walks the room, looking at the audience and trying to glean information about their demographics: Their age, how they dress, the number of wedding rings on fingers. You can glean a little bit from these details about what they might laugh at.

There’s only so much you can learn from this, though, so the second part of reading the room is trying to change course mid-set if what you’re doing isn’t working. Or not changing course…

Jodi Compton

Jodi Compton is the author of four crime novels. Learn more about her books at amazon.com/author/jodicompton.

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