Now Available-Writers' Tricks of the Trade (the book)

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Something I saw on the news yesterday was so appropriate to the "You Don't Say" presentation I will be making for Sisters in Crime Los Angeles on October 9 that I had to write this.

My presentation is all about navigating the English language--a language peppered with bloopers just waiting for you to commit them.

Even editors aren't exempt. You see using the wrong form of a word, if taken literally, totally changes the intent of the sentence or phrase and is a terrible booby trap.

What I saw yesterday was a commentary on the deplorable state of our economy. It was part of a feature I like to watch called The Rant. They always put the written comment up on the screen. This one spoke about a "waist of money."

My first thought was why didn't someone catch that, which was rapidly followed by a giggle because I pictured the implications of a waist of money. Things like "pulling in your belt" led to imagining all these politicians parading around the House and Senate with money belts cinching in their waists --- or would that be wastes?

You can really have some fun with the wrong form of the right word. Take for example using "slight of hand" instead of "sleight of hand."

"Do you need to master SLIGHT OF HAND to be a good magician?" Hmmm. Don’t know that the size of the magician’s hands has anything to do with it. Although, with bigger hands, he could probably hold more cards."

SLIGHT is an interesting word. As an adjective, it means having a slim or delicate build or structure; as a transitive verb it means to treat with disdain or indifference, and as a noun it generally would be a humiliating discourtesy.

Morgan St. James


  1. I absolutely loved this post! I've been ranting and raving for years about the all too common misuse of words - not that I've never been guilty of committing this crime. I still struggle with certain words like "cite" and "site." I'm not sure why but it reminds me of a friend of mine who has trouble saying the word "aluminum." I guess none of us is perfect.

    However, having written that, I don't have a lot of patience for people who use "to" instead of "too" and "there" in place of "their." The list goes on and on. I once worked with a woman who was in charge of sending correspondence to the local offices of our company and to corporate. She consistently wrote "do" when what she meant was "due." She wasn't the type of person who took constructive criticism well so, instead of telling her of her mistake, I replied to each of her emails, making sure that I used the word correctly, hoping it would get her attention. Sadly, it never did and, although I don't work for that company anymore, I'm certain that she's still sending out those emails, using the incorrect form of the word. Oh well, can't save the world!

  2. Wrong words are one of my pet peeves, too. With texting so popular, we see it more and more-- faux pas that would have made my elementary school teachers cringe.

    I actually co-wrote a column with Mike Dennis called You Don't Say when "On The Prowl" was in publication. It was so much fun, now that the first Writers' Tricks of the Trade book is out(Kindle and eBook) with the paperback due out by the end of the month, it's time to think about the next book in the series.

    It will either be "From Novice to Novelist...and the Bumps Along the Way" or "You Don't Say." Both are in the planning stages.

    Thanks so much for your comment and glad you enjoyed it.