Bimonthly vs. semimonthly

Triskaidekaphobia

Dear Conan,

Does bimonthly mean twice in 1 month, or every other month?? And what is the other one called?

Carolyn

__________________________

Oh, Carolyn,

You’ve stumbled onto one of those prickly questions that has plagued mankind for centuries (actually, about a century and a half). Guess what? According to Merriam-Webster, it means either! How annoying is that? However, bimonthly has consistently been used in publishing (thus saith Oxford.com, and they’re, like, some of the dudes who invented English) to mean every two months. If it helps, semimonthly always means twice a month.

My advice? Stick to the concise, unambiguous terms “twice monthly” and “every other month.”

Your ally in correctness,

~Conan

Less vs. fewer

Hard to read, but it says "10 or fewer items"

The most famous example of the confusion between these two words is the ubiquitous “10 items or less” signs at your local Piggly Wiggly. It actually should be “10 items or fewer,” like the one to the left that was snapped at a grocery store in Ithaca, NY, home of Cornell University. You know, one of the seven Ivy League universities. See now why they’re so expensive? They know and teach the difference between less and fewer. Continue reading

Malapropisms

"Half the lies they tell about me aren't true." - Yogi Berra

Malapropisms. The word itself makes my heart sing…so symmetrical and full of whimsy. But the concept is deadly.

What is a malapropism? Well, it came from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals. This character routinely mistook one word for another, and the resulting language was pretty comical. When the average person uses a malapropism in speech or writing, the result is typically high hilarity and a severe dip in his/her “take me seriously” quotient. Usually, a malapropism is used because it sounds a lot like the correct word. Continue reading

Insure/ensure/assure

According to Dictionary.com, 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.

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?

Rob

__________________________

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,

~Conan

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