Clicker-training the cat

It’s been a long pandemic, and I know a lot of you have been trying to better yourselves, to find ways to lead fuller, more satisfying personal and professional lives. You’ve taken Excel classes, started novels, built a fly rod from scratch, learned woodworking or crochet. Good for you. Overachievers.

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I have a beef with the Denver Post

When you’re creative, it’s important to have someone in your life who can tell you that what you think is clever is actually just stupid. How do I know? Because I’ve been lucky enough to know a lot of very smart people who’ve been more than pleased to tell me

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The intellectual origin of dummy text

I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t know a lot of things. Today I discovered that Lorem Ipsum isn’t just fake Latin. It’s taken from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (on the ends of good and evil), from 45 BC. Guess I’m not sure why, but I can’t

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It’s a pity about this backpack’s name

I know. It’s supposed to sound like fuel. But that’s not what I see whenever I come across someone with one of these dumb backpacks. Instead, my brain reads it as fool. Then full. Only on the third mental correction does it land on the right way to say it.

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Don’t like singular they? Tell Mike Tyson.

   Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth. Obviously, this brilliant quote from Iron Mike works both literally and figuratively. But it’s a great and timely example of the value and utility of a singular they, which was just declared 2015’s Word of the Year by the

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Very curious.

There’s this regional bank in my, uh, region that uses the tagline: The curious bank. Every time I see it, though, I read curious as strange: The strange bank. I don’t want to bank at a strange bank. I want my bank to be super-normal. Boring, even. I don’t mind

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‘In Dog We Trust’ isn’t the real blasphemy here

Remember that time the Vatican misspelled Jesus on a commemorative coin? Solid comedy gold. Now some sheriff’s office in Florida misspelled God on its office rug. But you know what’s a bigger blasphemy than misspelling a deity on a rug? This lede on the AP story, that’s what. LARGO, Fla.

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Worst headline ever? I dunno, but it’s pretty awful.

First of all, let’s answer the most obvious question: Yes, I was at the gym. I go to the gym sometimes. You don’t get pythons like this by just sitting around eating Cap’n Crunch all day and reading financial copy. Also, there’s a sauna there. Anyway, I was in this

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Why outside? Why indeed.

Here’s something I saw the other day, and I stood there and looked at it for awhile trying to figure it out. I get that it’s a fitness club. What I don’t get is how to pronounce it. Could be Yootside, sort of like a fitness club for youths pronounced Joe

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Conundrum is dumb

Aw, man. Get this: I’m at work, and a writer used conundrum in a way that didn’t feel right, so I looked it up.  co·nun·drum: noun. 1. :  a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun. What?! You have got to be kidding me. Since when? So add this to

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AP’s latest revelation makes copy editors cry like little girls

Pretty disappointed today in my editing brethren after the Associated Press’ bombshell that it will no longer make the distinction between more than and over. If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, the AP ruined many lives yesterday and copy editors nationwide are in full revolt. The language world is

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Montreal sweaters get complicated

The Montreal Canadiens have started putting accent marks on the players’ jerseys. It never occurred to me that they weren’t there, but now that it’s been pointed out, I wonder why it’s taken so long. “I like to write things the right way,” said Pierre Gervais, the longtime equipment manager

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Toronto’s hockey team: Go, LEAVES!

Most sports fans have a favorite team and a backup. Sometimes the backup team’s from a favorite city. Or maybe if your favorite team is in the Eastern Conference, for example, you’ll have a backup in the Western Conference. For many years, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my backup hockey

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Dammit, Jagermeister!

Well, that was fast. Just the other day, I was singing the praises of the clever wordplay Jagermeister unleashed in its new ad campaign, and it was so inspiring that I decided to pay more attention to the good things in life and initiate a regular Words Used Well feature

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Words Used Well: Not everything is terrible

I don’t drink Jagermeister anymore, mostly because nothing good ever happened to me when I was drinking Jagermeister. And also because I’m not 20 years old. But I saw a great Jagermeister ad the other day on a taxi sign: A festive scene with the words For the we hours.

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Streisand Effect

Again with something I didn’t know. In fact, I’m starting to think that the list of things I don’t know is getting longer. Anyway, I’m reading about the NSA wanting to ban some parody T-shirt (and then a later story debunking the earlier story), and some Internet commenter says this

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Going forward, I see potential upside to synergies

But only if we can leverage our core competencies! It’s been a long time, everyone. Have you missed me? Of course you have. I’ve been away for the past few months getting used to my new day job at Morningstar, the financial people, not the sausage company. That’s right: High

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Posslecue is perfect

Add to the list of things I didn’t know: POSSLQ. What a great thing I learned today in the New York Times article about what to call those of us who choose to shack up instead of marrying. It is true that girlfriend sounds too junior high, and partner is

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Required reading for any language person

I’ve encountered my share of know-it-alls and fussbudgets in the editing (and writing) world, many of whom probably really believe they are doing God’s work and making the world a better place by pointing out every single misspelling, misplaced comma, or unconventional usage. I wrote about the topic earlier this

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I love random and unnecessary quotation “marks”

The sign on the breakroom bulletin board read: “FREE” To a good home. “GERBILS” This menaced me for a long time. “Gerbils”? Was that code for something I wasn’t familiar with? And “free”? Very suspicious. I am very glad that websites like this exist to showcase this kind of thing.

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The language of Abraham Lincoln

I got to see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” recently, and it was a dazzling film. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, was incredible, but he had a great script to work with. Screenwriter Tony Kushner really nailed it. Ben Zimmer at the Boston Globe writes about how Kushner pulled it off: One key

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I will never be able to spell “poinsettia”

I have taken (and given) many, many editing tests in my life, and one thing has become very clear to me: I will never be able to spell poinsettia. It looks wrong to me no matter how I spell it. First, it seems like it ought to have another T

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Apparently, I watch Jay Leno now

In the past week or so, I’ve watched two episodes of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” It makes me ashamed a little, but it’s not like I planned to watch it. OK, that’s not entirely true. The other night, someone I know happened to be on a segment of

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An exciting development in political punctuation!

In the waning days of this presidential election season, the two major campaigns are doing everything they can to squeeze out every last vote. It’s an exciting time in American politics. So exciting, in fact, that the Obama campaign decided it was time to add an exclamation point to its

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A heaping helping of alphabet soup

I had a boss once who hated acronyms and abbreviations so much that he even discouraged us from using FBI. “Alphabet soup,” he called it. I get it. It can get pretty jarring to the reader if copy is littered with long stretches of all-caps words. And also, unfamiliar acronyms

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The view from the other side of the AP story

At some point earlier this year, I buckled up the tool belt and went to work on this old house in Colorado to prepare it for selling. Not too long after we sold it, The Associated Press was asking its Twitter followers if anyone had any thoughts on housing and

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A proofreading font?

Distributed Proofreaders is a site to “help ease the conversion of public domain books into e-books” in the mission of “preserving the literary history of the world in a freely available form for everyone to use.” DP has adapted a font for proofreading that is supposed to be easier for

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Schadenfreude is the best word ever

I used to keep a sticky note at my desk called “Words I Hate.” These were words that I would run across in the course of my editing that I, well, hated. They were usually either awkward, clichéd, or bureaucratic. It was nothing personal. Some of the words, in isolation,

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Chicago poetry

It’s possible that I don’t like poetry because I can’t write poetry. Every time I’ve tried to write poetry, the result has been sad and terrible. It’s possible that it’s difficult for me to appreciate poetry because I’m just not sophisticated enough. Nevermind, though, because today I have discovered a

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Pubic err

The Red Lion Area School District in Pennsylvania has issued an apology for a typo on a recent sports banner. Best line: “We apologize for the error and the concerns that it has caused.” Also good: “Rest assured, the district is working to evaluate its process for creating and displaying

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Sometimes spelling is extra important

I’m usually not one to get too twisted up over language errors and typos and such. English is hard, and mistakes will happen. I might have even made some myself in the past, though I can’t remember when. At any rate, most of the time, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of

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Why does Obama hate English?

The president of the United States visited Reddit the other day and chatted up the Internets. Of course during the talk, there just had to be some doofuses chime in and correct Obama’s grammar. I know people are passionate about language. I’m passionate about language, too. But there’s something really

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Nothingburger. With cheese.

I keep coming across words I’ve never heard before. Have I been living in a cave? Seriously. Today’s great discovery is nothingburger. Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist probably best known for being married to the odd-looking Democratic strategist James Carville, said it during a show on CNN. I don’t know

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My word! Breathless despair over language change

I remember working on a copy desk once long ago and discussing with someone whether a word was actually a word. “It’s not in the dictionary,” she said. It’s true that the capital-D Dictionary offers a sort-of legitimacy to a language. If it’s in the dictionary, then of course it’s

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No one is immune from race codes

Add to the list of things I didn’t know: Monday can be a racial code white people use for black people. Interesting. So once I started looking around at other racial codes, I stumbled onto this one on the Very Smart Brothas site: 2520. Ever hear of someone called a 2520?

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Obama’s new slogan is just fine

So apparently there’s some concern about Obama’s new slogan: “Forward.” (Specifically, the period at the end there is vexing.) “Even for some in the president’s orbit, the added punctuation slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum,” the Wall Street Journal says. Well, the president hasn’t called yet

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An embarrassing discovery

I was shocked to discover recently that the word pub is short for public house. How did I not know this? I was watching the delightful “Downton Abbey” when Lord Grantham learns that his former valet (in the show, pronounced with a hard T — huh?) is working in a “public house.” Public

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