Tag Archives: Grammar

Word Worms (and those other things)


This word has been rattling around in my head all on its own for two days now. I can’t shake it. Worse than an ear worm (where that song you just heard has you humming the melody all day as you walk around at work) this word worm is taunting me. Taunting, I say! Those familiar with the word will notice just a wee bit of irony with the fact that I’ve been unable to escape it:


It’s as if my muse decided to implement guilt in the most creative way possible (as muses are wont to do):

“I couldn’t help but notice that you’re being a bit of a slacker. So, rather than bestowing great inspiration upon you I’m going to stick this one word in your head, and nothing else, until you get the damn point. Fifteen pieces of flair ain’t gonna cut it in this Chotchkie’s, pal! Now get writing.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg-6wbETtbo]

To which, on most days, I would tell my muse where to stick it much like Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space did to her boss a few scenes later. This week is different though. Off the heels of my controversial (at least in some circles) post on freedom of expression (not freedom from consequences) last week, it turns out I was in dire need of a post topic for this week. So here we are.

Not as frequently as the dreaded ear worm, but likely more frequently than non-writers, I find myself with one particular word bouncing from ear to ear literally begging me to use it properly (see what I did there?) Most of the time I can’t uncover an explanation for it, with perfunctory being the exception. It’s usually a random word that I have no recollection of hearing in conversation or reading in print. Eventually it finds a crack in my head (there are many) to slip out through and I’m left wondering what exactly it was and why I gave a damn about it for so long. I think I’m going to start keeping a list.

List of Andrew’s Word Worms:

  1. Perfunctory
Now that I’ve managed to use perfunctory more times on one page than I have in the entirety of my writing career it has transitioned from a word worm into something else. Have you ever typed a word so many times that it starts to look like you’ve spelled it incorrectly? That’s where I am now with perfunctory. Blogger isn’t giving me a squiggly red line underneath the word so I know I’m okay but it still does’t look quite right.

This happens with even the simplest of words too. I was writing a software “how to” document another lifetime ago and after every action I needed to instruct the user to use the mouse to click on “Exit”. After typing that word dozens and dozens of times my eyes started playing tricks on me. Every time I looked at it I was checking to make sure it was spelled correctly. Exit. Exit. Can I get the definition please? Can you use it in a sentence? Exit. E-X-I-T. Exit.


I tried Googling for the name of this and came up dry. We need a name for this. Any ideas?

Also, what are your favourite word worms? Let me know in the comments below, and for the record I’m looking for more than a perfunctory effort.

~ Andrew

Quiet Writer Drives Through

There are a few (thousand) things that drive me nuts and my top three are: made up words, spelling mistakes, and improper grammar. Several years ago a friend and co-worker pointed out to me that language is an evolving tool. Humans have been communicating orally and in writing for thousands of years and it’s only natural that the manner in which humans communicate evolves along with the people doing the communicating. He cited a very acceptable example of Old English and how many of the words, phrases, and rules have fallen out of favour and changed to become what people use today. When he made the argument I had very little to say in terms of a retort other than, “Well that doesn’t mean I have to like it!”.

It all started when I was out at Tim Horton’s getting a coffee and I noticed that their sign on the outside read “Drive Thru”. There was more than enough room for them to write “Drive Through” but instead they chose a shortened version of the word. In an effort to attract a younger demographic, maybe they thought it looked more current; maybe three fewer letters were significantly cheaper to print; maybe, the marketing geniuses that they are, they didn’t like the way “through” looked. I suspect we’ll never know. All I knew is that I didn’t like it and I needed someone to blame. Fortunately, on practically every street corner I saw this:

Their spelling sucks and their food will make you fat
This generated quite a bit of discussion in the office, and seeing as this was in the early days of Google some of us took to the Internet to seek out the origins of purposefully misspelled words; and wouldn’t you know it, one of the earliest offenders was none other than Remington, makers of among other things, typewriters. That’s right, a typewriter company went and named a model using a made up word: Quiet-Riter.
Shame on you, Remington. Shame on you!
As you can see, there is no shortage of real estate on the front of that typewriter, so why bother to bastardize the word “writer”? One can only hope this was a purposeful example of irony, but I suspect we’ll never know.
I can accept the fact that English is a complicated language. There are more exceptions than there are rules, and there are a crap-tonne of rules. It used to be that you couldn’t get out of grade school unless you knew all the rules and could show proper command of the language. Over the last few decades things seem to have shifted. With computers that will auto-correct your mistakes and provide you with properly formatted sentences, actually knowing the rules and how to implement them has become less important.
Unfortunately, what this doesn’t do is prevent people from screwing things up time and time again, and putting their glorious mistakes on the very Internet that would provide them with the required correction within seconds. It’s a sad state of affairs when we’d rather post grammatically deficient drivel than spend the eight seconds it takes to Google it and post something proper. Fortunately, there’s an army of people out there who are more than willing to correct everyone else’s mistakes: they are the Grammar Police (also less affectionately known as Grammar Nazis) and they are a growing faction of grammarians to which I someday hope to belong. They’re an easy bunch to spot, just look on Facebook for posts like these:
If you don’t know what an Oxford Comma is, Google it,
and for God’s sake USE IT!
We all know that some rules were made to be broken, and that sentiment is holds true for writing as well. As much as the Grammar Police, literary purists, and academics would like you to believe otherwise, sometimes you have to break a few rules to get the result you are looking for (see what I did there?). Here are eleven rules that are just asking to be broken:
Breaking rules is fun!
I completely understand that in writing this post I am opening myself up to criticism and ridicule from just about every angle. Those lax in their usage of proper spelling and grammar will thumb their noses at me, or possibly give me the finger; those with a stronger command of the rules will look down their noses at me, waggle their finger, and utter something condescending under their breath; and there will be a few who take this opportunity to correct every mistake they can find in an effort to feel superior and make me feel shame. Well, I can guarantee you I will feel no shame. I can assure you that there are no spelling mistakes or typos in this post.  The lack of red squiggly underlines and a solid proofread have taken care of that.
As for the punctuation and grammar, well, it’s entirely possible that I know exactly what I’m doing and I have just embedded various mistakes in an effort to be clever. It’s also possible that I’m a giant hypocrite with limited grasp on the rules who just likes to criticize others. I suspect you’ll never know.
~ Andrew