I Put a Spell on You

Welcome to a new week of Daily Writing Tips! Please read the indented paragraph below and identify one misspelled word. You will be able to leave a comment below only if you type (as it should be correctly spelled) the word that is spelled incorrectly. You can have as many tries as it takes and nobody will know, but if you’d like to come clean and share with us in your comment how many tries you needed, we all promise not to laugh!

The sexiest stairs in the world are those four steps that lead out of the swimming pool, he thought. From his vantage point at the poolside bar, he watched one lovely woman after another rise slowly out of the water, one step at a time, water running in thin sheets off their tanned bodies, slender fingers grasping the safety rail. Occasionally, the steps led one of the lovelies directly from the pool to the bar, when he would offer to lend her a clean towel (always declined) and to buy her a frozen daquiri (sometimes accepted). He realized it was perhaps not the most productive use of vacation time, but he rationalized his poolside socialization by reminding himself that public drunkenness was on its way to being the national collegiate leisure activity of choice, and he was never one to swim against a current.

Remember to type the word as it should have been spelled, not as it is spelled here.

[quiz Which word in this paragraph is misspelled? daiquiri]

Horsefeathers

Question. Which weighs more: one pound of feathers, or one pound of gold?

Answer. One pound of feathers weighs more, because gold is weighed in troy pounds. The one pound that is standard in the United States is only about 82% the weight of a troy pound.

Question. Which weighs more: one ounce of feathers, or one ounce of gold?

Answer: One ounce of gold weighs more, because a troy ounce weighs more than a standard ounce. A standard ounce weighs about 91% of a troy ounce. The reason for this disparity is that a troy pound is made up of twelve troy ounces, while a standard pound is made up of sixteen standard ounces.

You are wondering what this has to do with writing; I can hear you. The point I am hoping to make is that if you knew the answers to these questions, you owned two little pieces of knowledge of the world and the way it works. It doesn’t make sense to me, either, that precious metals are weighed differently from feathers, but they are, and knowing this affects in a small way the way one thinks about the world. Yes, it is a tiny, tiny bit of knowledge, but what is knowledge except the accumulation of many tiny bits of knowledge?

It is already generally accepted that good writing skills depend on good thinking skills. I would like to submit that good thinking skills are helped by a reasonable range of knowledge, and that the wider this range, the better the thinking, and consequently, the better the writing.

An oversimplified way of looking at this is to imagine you are giving someone directions to your house. If you know the names of the businesses and landmarks along the way, you can communicate better. Rather than, “Turn left at the pink building with the weird sign,” you can say, “There’s a pink building; it’s a fishing supply store. Turn left there.”

Now imagine what a difference increased knowledge has on helping you to think about much more complicated subjects, such as love, death, and what causes piss shiver.

It may never be of practical use for you to know that gold is weighed in troy ounces. Still, this little piece of knowlege might be combined in the future with some other tiny bit of knowledge, which I believe will make you a better thinker and therefore a better writer. Take an interest in widening your range of knowledge, whatever it might currently be. Watch Jeopardy! or read a Cecil Adams book. Ask someone to teach you something about his or her job. Read the chocolate FAQ or some other FAQ at faqs.org, and if you learn something good, pass it along, will you?

Usage Tuesday: I Could Care Less About My Family

When I first conceived of Usage Tuesday, the phrase I could care less was the first usage that jumped to mind, but I have avoided writing about it because I fear it’s too late for this one.

When we say we “could care less” about some triviality or irritation, as in I could care less about your pitiful little problems, we probably mean we don’t really care about the little problems. However, this is not what we are saying! If we COULD care less, it means we care MORE right now. “I could care less” means “I could care less than I care right now.” The phrase is properly worded, “I couldn’t care less.” This means that we care so little right now that caring less doesn’t seem possible.

I am afraid most people couldn’t care less about getting this right, though.

Mumbo-Jumbo Monday: Mumbo Jumbo Without Compare

It’s time for Mumbo-Jumbo Monday, when I take a moment to explain some of the grammatical mumbo-jumbo that I try very hard to avoid in most of my writing on DailyWritingTip.com. Let’s take a look at something that’s already very familiar to everyone with even the most basic grasp of the English language.

cool cooler coolest
old older oldest
good better best

This table shows three different forms of three common adjectives. The positive form of the adjectives is in the first column (cool, old, and good). The comparative form is shown in the second column. The superlative form is shown in the third column. Adverbs also come in comparative and superlative forms, as shown in this table.

quickly more quickly most quickly
reluctantly more reluctantly most reluctantly
happily more happily most happily

Obviously, it’s much more important to know how to use these forms (some words are tricky, especially for those learning English as a second language) than to know what to call the forms. However, knowing their names can make discussing them much easier. In the Friday Quiz on April 25, for example, I addressed the “different than” construction and said that different is not a comparative, and therefore doesn’t go with than. Also, if you need to ask someone for the superlative form of bad, at least now you know how to ask!