Garblog's Pages

Friday, November 2, 2012

Don't forget your teethbrush | Mind your language Blog, The Guardian

At least once a week, my blog refers to items in my online editorial style manual about the preferred or correct use or spelling of specific words.

I offer that advice because many words in English (generally, homonyms) have the same spelling or pronunciation (or both) but have differing meanings. Other words (synonyms) have identical or similar meanings but are spelled differently. Among synonyms, some are simpler to use and understand because they're shorter, with fewer syllables, or have fewer other definitions. Or the meaning of one synonym is more precise than its synonyms or more common in particular professions, geographic locations, user groups ... and so on.

All those synonyms and homonyms can be confusing to people who don't use certain words frequently and to new or young learners--especially if they already speak another language that has fewer homonyms and synonyms. English--American English, especially--has become such a hybrid of words from many languages and even geographic variants of English! 

So, this article captured my interest because it provides a good example of the need for a handy style guide (especially) or dictionary. As its subhead says:
Arts minister, but art thieves. Drugs tsar, but drug dealers. When you put a noun in front of another noun, should it be singular or plural?
Sometimes we all need to just look something up, to find out what's recommended or correct! (My blog on Nov. 1 covered rules for using for using plurals.)

Even among the best of writers and editors, it's impossible to remember all the correct spellings and definitions of words and the rules for using them. A thesaurus can be useful, at least as a starting place. But if you're more interested in the precise meaning of a particular word, instead of the similarity between words, a reliable style guide or dictionary will be more useful.

If your dictionary lists two (or more) spellings for a word, use the first one unless my editorial style manual (or another style guide) lists a specific exception. If your dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries (gray and grey, for example) use the spelling followed by a full definition (gray). If a dictionary entry is listed as usually or often, use that entry.

If you live in the United States or are writing for publications mostly for U.S. audiences, you should use American word spellings instead of British spellings. 

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This article is featured today (Nov. 2) in my daily online newspaper, Garbl's Style  Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription. 

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