The Naked Writer

Up With Which I Will Not Put

Winston Churchill, famous for the above phrase, probably didn’t write it to an editor correcting a sentence of Churchill’s ending with a preposition. After all, we would actually say, “I won’t put up with that”—ha ha—and wouldn’t have to twist the phrase around.

The point, though, is that many of us were brought up to avoid ending sentences with a preposition—and no one knew why. Just one of those rules. However, some say the rule came from Latin, not a language that we ourselves use. Or perhaps John Dryden invented the rule in 1672. (Why?)

Regardless, we’re wise to that, as we are these days to many misuses of both language and other human beings—and not to worry, currently we can end a sentence with a preposition. See my prior piece (scroll down) about relaxing the language. Probably we can even split infinitives—such as in “to boldly go.”

Something else I want to say about prepositions is that the word “like” is a preposition. I finally learned this a few years back, and discovered that ‘like’ doesn’t go in front of a clause.

“I felt like I’d run a million miles” would be “I felt as though I’d run a million miles.”

And even more tellingly: “I felt like I was on another planet” would be “I felt as if I were on another planet.” Using the “like” can hide the fact that we aren’t employing a subjunctive when we should. Oh, oh, I’ve opened a subjunctive can of worms.

But you’ll learn lots of other arcane and practical language things from my book The Naked Writer, just re-released by Curiosity Quills. Though if you’d rather learn about Navajo spirituality and the future downfall of the planet due to ecological disasters, read Question Woman & Howling Sky from Portals Publishing.

Oh, heck, just buy both.

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer



Okay! OK! ok! O.K.!

And I don’t mean Oklahoma.

When I don’t know the best use of a word or the best spelling, I take the most incredible step: I look it up. That must be an amazing thing to do because I notice most of my students make errors they could easily have corrected if they’d looked up the word—a novel idea, I guess.

So recently, I was editing a couple of different pieces of work for people, and the word ok loomed large on the page. My old Associated Press Stylebook gave me OK as the AP thumbs-up version. And the AP book told me not to use “okay.” OK, I hopped to.

Now, looking the word up again online, I see the Merriam-Webster dictionary folks really don’t mind if I say okay instead of OK. But that’s it. They draw the line at those two choices.

The Grammarist ( ) is willing to go out on a limb, citing The New York Times, and will allow us to use the O.K. version. Let me just say “fine.”

So I checked on the origins of the word to see if I could draw a bead on what the best spelling might actually be. Now the first use ever could be that it was a joking abbreviation for “all correct”; a Morse code abbreviation; a Greek abbreviation meaning “Olla Kalla” (everything is fine); or from the Choctaw language. That’s clear, right?

And consider this, too, the word is a verb. In that case, would “okay” work for you? You wouldn’t want to OK the invoice, would you? Or would you?

All this is to say, language is complicated. And as I beg many of my Writer’s Digest University students, look up “all right versus alright” if deciding which is proper nags at you.

To conclude somewhat, I select the most-used version of a word. In this case, I chose OK. Sometimes we have to employ our own good judgment and taste and commonsense—or, possibly, common sense.

But for some actual clarity, try The Naked Writer, out any day now in a second edition from Curiosity Quills. Or, never mind and read my novel Question Woman & Howling Sky, being released, also any day now, by Portals Publishing.

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

(Don’t) Relax (Too Much)

I told my friend about a grammatical glitch I found in Outside magazine:

A man came upon a dead bear cub and leaned over and touched it, but the bear had been electrocuted by a downed electrical wire, and the man, too, was zapped. (He lived but had terrible physical damage.) At any rate, the article said the bear had been laying on a live wire. Of course, obviously, the bear had been lying on the wire. (I tweeted the editor and was ignored—so much for the power of social media.)

My friend said, “The trend is to relax grammar so as not to be too stuffy.”

Okay, maybe so, but not, I hope, in a national magazine.

Yes, I relax language, sometimes using “who” instead of “whom,” when “whom” just sounds stuffy and formal—and, oh, maybe I commit one or two other such deceits. But I can’t advocate relaxing language to the extent of confusing two different verbs. Hmmm. I don’t think I’d call this a grammatical mistake—I’d call it language misuse. And I should have tweeted the copy editor.

Sure, in writing fiction sometimes we do represent the way a character speaks, but in doing so, we walk a pretty fine line. Because some relaxations can be taken as the author not knowing any better than the character might. And more often than not—and I’ve gone through literally thousands of pieces newbie writing—that’s the truth. The writer doesn’t know any better than the character.

In making that kind of choice, we should either be more obvious, or find a workaround. Why? Because the pages first go to the agent or an editor and that person is judging the level of writer sophistication.

In producing nonfiction material, do not relax. (Even though I know, and have experienced, that this copy editor will go through and introduce hideous errors I’ll have to correct in my galleys.)

So study up. You can start by reading The Naked Writer and continue by using the book as a reference. (The book’s Curiosity Quills’ release date is December 16th. Hooray.)

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The Naked Writer