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

Too many editors spoil the manuscript

So you’ve finally finished your magnum opus, your great American novel, the book that is going to change English literature forever. And you want said manuscript to be the best that it can be before you send it off to be abused, laughed at and soundly rejected, so that you can eventually self-publish it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I once sent a query to an agent for my manuscript Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and got my form rejection letter 24 months later. So I understand not wanting to spend the rest of your life writing queries that are answered with Xeroxed “thanks but no thanks” letters.) Continue reading

Showing vs. telling

...is what I'll be on Tuesday nights after 5/10

In honor of the final few episodes of ABC’s Lost, we’re going to briefly revisit last season’s storyline for help in understanding an oft-discussed issue facing writers of all stripes: showing vs. telling. 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

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

What about semicolons?

Don't even think about it.

Okay, first off, I’m toying with the idea of just telling you to expunge this poseur punctuation mark like a common plantar wart. In my opinion, semicolons are the skin virus of writing. They’re not only archaic, but also pretentious. So if I were your editor, I would excise every single pompous little pause mark you threw in there. But I know you won’t let me do that. So I’m going to tell you exactly how to use them. Continue reading