Who is E? Why, it’s me—editor, Everywoman, eager writer who plucks the apple of syntax and savors it. I invite you to ask me anything about syntax, style, or the writing life. I’ll do my best to give you my unvarnished answer, or to find someone else who can.
Capturing the colloquial
A Sin & Syntax fan who is writing a memoir questions whether he should edit conversational letters to his son, lightly edited, for grammatical mistakes and informal diction.
In assessing the litter of "kinda" and "really," Ken Guidroz asks, “Just like you might make allowances for this practice in dialogue, would you do so in a letter?”
Is there a name for this kind of sentence?A colleague who teaches journalism writes to say that she’s seeing too many sentences like this:
- What I take from this interaction is that it’s important to be empathetic...
- What strikes me most about the reporting team’s process is...
“I'm having trouble explaining succinctly why this is bad writing,” she adds. “It's clearly unnecessary verbiage, but is there a name for this kind of sentence?"
How do we find the right voice in writing about ourselves?
I recently gave a public talk at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, on that perennially perplexing question: "How do writers find our voice?” There is a corollary question that interests me: "How do we write about ourselves without narcissism?"
Should we write what we know?
The New York Times Book Review once asked the writers Zoe Heller and Mohsin Hamid whether the maxim "Write what you know" is helpful advice or idle cliché. Don't we want to expand beyond our own narrow lives?
Whither Latin and Greek plurals?
“English grammar evolves with majestic disregard for the susceptibilities of classical scholars,” Philip Howard wrote in his 1978 book Weasel Words. So, apparently, do the rules for pluralizing words that have come to us from Latin and Greek. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage is in favor of memorandums as the plural of memorandum. Goodbye memoranda. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage calls the word data "a queer fish"—sometimes plural, sometimes singular. What is up with Latin and Greek plurals, and what's a conscientious writer to do?
“In” an island or “on” one?
A reader in Portland, Oregon, sent me a lovely email complimenting an article I wrote, which had just posted online. The headline made me gasp: "A Local Shares Things to Do in Oahu." It's true, I'm a local to O‘ahu (which I spell the Hawaiian way), and it's true that in the article I shared some of my favorite things to do there.
But "in" O‘ahu?
When is a “crystalline description” actually a cliché?
Every travel writer fantasizes about the beautifully written narrative that he or she will craft after a meaningful journey. I’m no exception. Endlessly fascinated by the landscapes, culture, and history of my native Hawai‘i, I have written many travel pieces about my home, as well as about other places—France and Fiji, Rome and Delhi, San Francisco and Carmel Valley. But it's hard to write a sparkling piece when editors ask you to cover a lot of ground in a cramped space. What is jettisoned first? Local characters and their distinctive way of talking. What goes next? Metaphors that take space to develop. How do we keep specificity and avoid cliché?