Tag Archive - usage tips

What Are Those “Long Hyphens” All About?

I’d like to dash off a not-so-short post today on en dashes, since sorting out the family of dashes—hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes—can give writers a headache. Before I started studying to become a copyeditor, I had no idea there were things called en dashes. I just thought they were long hyphens and caused by the font I was looking at. Silly me.

I then discovered this odd little bit of punctuation, that, granted, pretty much every writer ignores. So why should you care? Don’t get me started on that. Writers should learn when to use each bit of punctuation—if only to spare their copyeditor time and effort (and to score some Brownie points!). Continue Reading…

Are You Literally Being Literal?

How many times have you heard people throw the word literally around? It’s one of those words that has become common to use, but few really think about what the word actually means. And probably quite a few don’t really care. But we writers should care about the literal meaning of the word literally, and try to understand the difference between literal and literally. We hear or read expressions like these:

  • “My eyes literally popped out of my head.”
  • “That was literally the worst party ever!”
  • “I literally had to use a knife to cut through that whipped cream.”

The word literally means “in a literal sense or manner.” Literal means “completely true and accurate” or “free from exaggeration.” At least, that’s one definition listed by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. But here’s another definition: “in effect; virtually.” And there’s a nice little note indicating that some people frequently criticize definition number two as a misuse of the word because it seems the opposite of sense number one—with good reason, I say, because it is.

Is something literal when it is perfectly accurate or when it’s only seemingly accurate? Is it actually or virtually true? Seems like it can’t be both. Which makes me think of how we might say something is way cool or totally hot—and don’t get me started on expressions like “drawing the blinds” or words like bimonthly (which can mean either twice a month or every two months . . .).

If you ask me, this is yet another word that has been so long misused in common practice that it’s become accepted, much like the now-accepted word ain’t instead of aren’t or  isn’t. It’s true that English is a constantly evolving language, but this word, in my opinion, is one that is literally better left alone.

Hopefully, You’ll Learn Something from This Post

Or, to be more correct, the title should read “I hope you will learn something from this post.”

Back in the 1600s, this word hopefully was first used in the English language to denote “something that is done in a hopeful manner.” As in: “She hopefully gazed out the tower window for her prince to come rescue her.”

About a hundred years later, someone decided it would be a good idea to use the word in a different way: “Hopefully, the war will be over soon.” The word hopefully, in this case, is little more than a substitute for “I hope.” Continue Reading…