According to, the word “insure” typically means to warrant against loss. The word you want when saying you guarantee something is “ensure.” Apparently, “insure” took on its particular sense of “make safe against loss by payment of premiums” in 1635 when it replaced “assure” in that meaning. Makes you wonder who exactly sat down in a smoke-filled room behind closed doors and decided that this was how it was going to be.

So use “insure” when speaking of premium-based insurance. Use “ensure” when you guarantee. And use “assure” when you are placating someone insincerely.

I assure you that Company X wants to insure you against loss in the event that no one can ensure quality work.

Proofread your resume!

Dear Conan,

I have a job opening and I’m getting flooded with resumés. I am cringing when reading them. Apparently schools don’t teach English class anymore.

“Insure quality work”

Really? How much are the premiums?

“My objective is to procure a position with a company that I can contribute to, and learn from”

The rogue comma strikes again…

“One of my strongest skills would be great focus, determination, organization, and getting things done”

I thought it was just one…

I have more examples, but you get the idea.

RS Continue reading

Facts…or opinions?

"AAAAAAAGGGH!!! There's only one U in 'curiosity'!"

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiousity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

A teacher at a local elementary school writes inspirational quotes on a whiteboard outside her room. Cool, huh? Yeah, only did any of you catch the handwritingo? (Can’t say typo since it was not typed.)

Now, this sort of thing irritates old Conan like a Kenny G sax solo. When I see errors like this, I turn into Mr. Furious from Mystery Men — filled with impotent and useless rage. But then I have to remind myself that everyone, including Conan, makes mistakes. That being said, a very wise man once wrote that teachers, like it or not, are held to a higher standard than the rest of us schmos. Which means they need to check and double-check their facts and their spelling. (I rubbed out the “u” on the whiteboard, in case you were wondering.) Continue reading

Indefinite vs. definite articles for ESL students

Dear Conan,

If the plural of fungus is fungii, would the plural of dufus be dufii?

Also, I have a more serious question. Continue reading

Indexes or indices?

Dear Conan,

This line was in a story from AP:

Major stock indexes were almost a sideshow during the session, with the credit markets as the main event.

Shouldn’t that be stock indices?



Dear Rob,

I must say I am impressed that you, along with other faithful readers, have begun to scrutinize what you read. That means grammar is beginning to matter to you, and I weep with joy and relief.

In answer to your question, Rob, either is actually correct. I’m proud of you for even knowing the other plural form of index, especially since you went to Baylor. Bravo!

Your ally in correctness,


Story vs. style

This is your brain reading bad writing. Any questions?

Recently, a dear friend of mine told me I had to read this book she’d just finished. One caveat, she said, was that the writing was epically bad. Hall-of-shame bad. “You just need to look past the writing to the story and the message,” she said. Okay, said I, fair enough. Even Conan can shelve her prejudices regarding poor writing if the story’s good. Plus it’s a best-seller, and it was essentially self-published. I want to get behind small publishing, want to be an encourager of the independent spirit and self-starterism, so I agreed. Continue reading

Apostrophe abuse

The Johnson is...what?

Dear Conan,

I was just in another state which uses the apostrophe quite frequently for a surname on their name plates at the front door or mail boxes. For example: The Johnson’s. I know that there should not be an apostrophe before the s but after when they are referring to all of the family. I know that you have spoken about apostrophes/possession before but I can’t remember if you mentioned anything about the above usage. I suppose I will have to let go of the mistake because I was soooo outnumbered by my family in the discussion of which was right or wrong…




Dear Sheryl,

An apostrophe NEVER renders anything plural. When you write “The Johnson’s,” you are saying “The Johnson is” or “That belongs to the Johnson.” As you can see, neither makes any sense whatsoever.

When you use an apostrophe after the name, as in “The Johnsons’,” you are saying, “This belongs to the Johnsons,” which does make sense if it’s a nameplate on a door or mailbox. It is incorrect, however, if you say “The party is given by the Johnsons’.” What you’re saying is that the party is being given by something that belongs to the Johnsons. In other words, that apostrophe makes the name possessive. Dig?

But isn’t it interesting how people believe that determining grammar is a democratic process?

Your ally in correctness,