Peeve of the Day

Listen up, people.

I keep reading bits of narrative lately where a character who’s walking around aimlessly or randomly is described as “milling about.”


Milling about is not something one person does, or even two people.  Milling about requires at least a small crowd.  The “mill” part of the verb comes from the idea that the random circular motion of such a crowd resembles the rotary action of a mill wheel.

One person alone might pace, or might wander about, but they aren’t going to be milling, even if they’re doing it with a friend.

Peeve of the Day

Listen up, people.

Flare is not the same as flair, so don’t use one when you mean the other.

A flare is a sudden burst of flame or light:

A solar flare will cause the aurora borealis to be visible (except for wherever I happen to be at the time, which will be clouded over.)

Or it’s something that starts out narrow and ends up wide:

The sleeve of the gown was a graceful flare, trimmed with gold embroidery at the open end.

A flair is a knack for doing something stylishly and/or particularly well:

Janet has a flair for mathematical puzzles.

Flair without the definite or indefinite article refers to a quality of stylishness, élan, and panache:

The final entry in the show was presented with even more flair than the ones that preceded it.

Highway flares, of course, are related to the first definition, since they spring into light with a sudden burst when struck.  (They also give us the technical term flare out – as in, the first EMT to respond to the accident flared out the scene, meaning that they lit flares and placed them on the roadway to warn drivers of the obstruction.  I love technical jargon and specialized lingo; they do fascinating things to the language.)

Peeve Plus

Today’s peeve, because I haven’t been peevish for a while:

Listen up, people.  The phrase you’re aiming for isn’t “make due.”  It’s “make do.”

I know that homonyms are tricky, and “do” and “due” are homonyms in some dialects of English.†  (My own native dialect isn’t one of them; the vowel sounds are different enough that I’m not likely to confuse the two.  On the other hand, if I don’t specify either a fountain pen or a safety pin, a listener with no context to help out won’t know which one I’m talking about.)

Still, that’s no excuse for not getting it right in your prose. It’s the sort of mistake that puts off discriminating readers, and you don’t want to do that.

And now the “plus” part of this post, or, I discover a tasty new thing to do with cabbage.

The thing is, I like cabbage.  I once – no lie – cut a class when I was an undergrad, purely because the college cafeteria that fed my dorm was going to be serving braised cabbage that day, and I wanted to get there when the dining hall opened so that I could have it fresh instead of after it had been sitting on a steam table for an hour and a half.  (The class was Eighteenth Century English Lit, and Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts – the work assigned for that session – simply couldn’t compete.  The eighteenth century was a great time for English prose, but for poetry, not so much, at least not until the Romantics came along.)

Anyhow, I like cabbage, but after steaming it, and braising it with kielbasa, and chopping it up and putting it into slaw, I thought I’d run out of ways to cook it.  Then I read online about roasted cabbage, and I said to myself, Self, you need to try this one.

It’s one of those dead simple recipes:  Take a head of cabbage, a cutting board, and a nice heavy knife.  Slice the cabbage longitudinally into one-inch thick slices – cabbage steaks, if you will – leaving in the core.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Then take a sheet pan and line it with tinfoil (another lovely word – tinfoil hasn’t been made of tin since the middle of the last century).  Spread a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of the pan.  Put the cabbage slices on the sheet pan in a single layer, and brush them with more olive oil.  Then sprinkle the slices with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

Put the sheet pan in the oven, and cook the cabbage for 40 minutes, turning them over carefully at the 20-minute mark.

Serve as a vegetable with grilled sausage or whatever pleases you.

†Everybody speaks a dialect of some sort.  It’s just that some dialects are more privileged than others, and get to be called “Standard.”

Peeve of a Summer’s Day

The air is thick with humidity and allergens, and I am peevish.

Listen to me, O People, when I say unto you, the phrase is not “mother load”, it is “mother lode.”

The term comes from mining, specifically gold and silver mining, where it refers to a principle vein or group of veins of ore.  The Mother Lode, in the United States, is an area of hard-rock gold deposits in California’s Sierra Nevada, running through a zone 120 miles long and in some places almost 4 miles wide.  (It was, unsurprisingly, discovered during the California Gold Rush.)

A mother lode of something, then, is an abundant source or principle supply of that thing.  The “mother” part comes from the use of “mother” to refer to a source or origin:  “Mother of pearl” refers to the substance known as nacre, with which a mollusk encases the bit of irritant which forms the center of a pearl; “mother of vinegar” is the naturally-occurring bacterial culture which, when added to wine or other substances, causes them to ferment into vinegar; and “mother” or “mother dough” is a term sometimes used in baking to refer to a naturally-cultivated yeast starter.

And the “lode” part?  That’s from the Old English lād, meaning “a way” or “a course” – usually a watercourse of some sort.  So a lode is a way or course that ore runs through, like water runs in a stream.

Why So Much Online Discourse Sucks: My Theory

It’s simply this: In order for local standards of civility (whether those be vanilla-custard bland or three-chili-pepper strong, it matters not) to be maintained, what’s required is vigorous, hands-on, and visible moderation. Simply providing users with a “flag this post if you find the content objectionable” button isn’t enough. All that does, so far as the user can see, is push the problem off onto a faceless, and possibly automated, minion someplace, for said minion to deal with, or not, according to whatever invisible algorithm may or may not be in place. This does nothing to chide the offending user, or provide immediate feedback to the offended user, or steer the discourse into a less offensive channel.

To do all that, you need a person — a name, a face (even if that face is a cartoon avatar), a consistent presence — to be on the spot and monitoring the venue for discourse that’s about to go toxic. A good moderator can defuse or shut down toxic discourse as needed; a great moderator can spot the warning signs far enough in advance to change the conversation before the toxicity gets a chance to arrive.

Done well — and it has to be done well, if it’s going to be done at all — this is a full time job, and not one to be undertaken by volunteers. If you want somebody to stare into the abyss 24/7 — or better yet, two somebodies, so that they can take enough time off to stay sane — you need to pay them for it.

And sooner than pay good moderators a regular wage, most commercial online fora will either close down comments altogether, or go to one of the now-standard automated systems that end up pleasing nobody.

Not because these sites are run for profit. But because they are run for profit by cheapskates.

Peeve(s) of the Day

Because this is a season for feeling peevish about so very many things.

Peeve #1:  The phrase is not “been through the ringer” – it’s “been (or put) through the wringer”, with a wWringer comes from the Old English wringan, meaning “to press, strain, wring, or twist”, and it refers to a now pretty much obsolete laundry appliance used to extract the water from clothes that have been washed.   (But if you really want one, Amazon will sell it to you.)

So looking like you’ve been “put through the wringer” means that you look like you’ve been pressed flat between the appliance’s upper and nether rollers and squeezed dry.

Which is how a lot of us feel these days – I can’t imagine why.

Peeve #2:  “Diffused” and “defused.”  Something is diffused when it is dispersed or spread out over a large area or in a large volume of something:

The smoke from the burning incense was diffused throughout the room.

Something is defused when it has had its fuse removed, often in order to prevent it from doing something undesirable, such as exploding.

The bomb tech defused the explosive device.

  Metaphorically speaking, something is defused when somebody does or says something to reduce the tension or head off unpleasantness:

The dinner-table conversation on Christmas Day was on the verge of turning into an argument, but Jane defused the situation by bringing out the plum pudding and setting it on fire.

Because there’s nothing like a little creative arson at the dinner table to redirect people’s attention.

Peeve of the Day

Because a peeve is like an itch that you just have to scratch….

Exactly like, in this case.

Itch, the noun, is a physical sensation:

Starched clothing against the skin can cause an annoying itch. 

Itch, the verb, is the act of feeling that sensation:

Joe’s skin itches where his starched collar rubs against his neck.

The verb for what the starched collar is doing against Joe’s skin, on the other hand, is scratch:

Joe’s starched collar scratches the skin of his neck.

Scratch is also the verb for what Joe does to relieve the annoyance:

Joe scratches the itch caused by the starched collar rubbing against his skin.

The starched collar, on the other hand, does not itch Joe’s skin.  It scratches it.  Which makes it itch.  Which makes Joe scratch it.

Get it?  Good.


Peeve of the Day

Maybe I’ve been reading too much paranormal fantasy lately, because you wouldn’t think this would be a thing I’d run into often enough to make me peevish.  Nevertheless, I do, and it does.

Listen to me, people.  Nephilim is not – I repeat, not – a singular noun.  It’s a plural noun (that –im bit is the marker), and the singular is naphil.

The same goes for seraphim and cherubim.  They’re plurals, too, and their singular forms are seraph and cherub, respectively.

If you’re going to mess around with Judaic and/or Christian esoterica, at least get the words right.  (Or as right as reasonably possible, anyhow, given that we’re talking about words that wouldn’t have been written in the Roman alphabet to start with.)

Listen to Me, People.

“As” is not a co-ordinating conjunction.

It does not join two independent clauses of equal weight.

It does not link actions that happen in sequence.

It is a subordinating conjunction, and it links a primary action to a secondary action that takes place at the same time as the primary action.

So for Pete’s sake, don’t commit sentences like this one:

“I think this is the main road,” said Joe, as he surveyed the landscape around them, as he stood next to Jane.

Break it down into its components:

  • Joe said, “I think this is the main road.”
  • Joe surveyed the landscape around them.
  • Joe stood next to Jane.

Then decide which parts are primary and which are secondary, and rewrite your paragraph accordingly:

Joe stood next to Jane and surveyed the landscape around them.  “I think this is the main road,” he said.

Or, if you decide that the fact he’s standing next to Jane is more important in the overall scheme of things than the fact that he’s looking around, you could write it this way:

Joe stood next to Jane as he surveyed the landscape around them.  “I think this is the main road,” he said.

Don’t just string your clauses together any which way.  Think about their relative weight and importance first.  This will make your sentences a lot less monotonous; as a side benefit, it will also make your writing clearer and more effective.

Peeve of the (New Year’s) Day

Regarding that common colloquial affirmative:

People, it’s spelled either “okay” or “OK.”  It is not spelled “ok” in  lower-case.  “O.K.” with periods in it is defensible, but only just.

My own preference, when I get a chance to enforce it, is for “okay.”  This is in part aesthetic, in that I just plain think it looks better than “OK”, and in part a reflection of my considered belief that the etymologies deriving the term either from the humorously-misspelled “Oll Korrect” or the tip-of-the-hat-to-Martin-Van-Buren “Old Kinderhook” are, to put it mildly, full of it.  I go with the theory that the origin of the term is in a borrowing from either Choctaw or one of the West African languages, or possibly from both.  (And I certainly would never put forward the conjecture that resistance to that etymology comes from an unwillingness on the part of some scholars, back in the day, to admit that American English might have borrowed such a useful word from anything other than a lily-white source.)

As for when writers of fiction should use “okay” and when they should avoid it (personal opinion alert here):  Writers of contemporary mainstream and literary fiction have free rein to do as they choose.  Ditto for contemporary mystery and romance.  It’s the writers of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy who have the tough decisions to make.

Historical fiction – still, of course, strictly in my opinion – should avoid “okay’’ except for eras when it was in use.  To do otherwise risks breaking the illusion being created for the reader by the introduction of a glaringly contemporary item into a careful arrangement of past details.  The same principle holds for created-world fantasy written in the high style, or created-world fantasy that strives for a non-modern sense of time and place.  Created-world fantasy written in a vernacular style, or urban fantasy, or fantasy set in the contemporary era or in some time and place closely resembling it, can use “okay” at will.  Science fiction is also an “okay”-okay zone.

Edge cases, as always, remain edgy.  Consult with your artistic conscience and use your best judgment and hope for good luck.

Because in the long run, it’s always the writer’s book, and you’re entitled to do whatever you think you can get away with.