Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style Are Your Friends

If you subscribe to my newsletter, then you'll remember that last month I mentioned being mindful of different spellings of words depending on how they are being used. Yes, I'm talking about the same word being spelled differently if it's used as a noun, verb, adjective, etc. Crazy, right? That's the English language for you. ;)

Grammar geeks like me thrive on this stuff, but the typical writer does not. My suggestion is to make Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style your best friends. I always have a tab open to Merriam-Webster to make sure I'm using the proper spelling for words. I also refer to Chicago manual of Style's hyphenation table quite frequently. As an editor, I have to do this because I don't want errors in my clients' books. But all authors should do this. Here's an example of what I mean:

speed dial — This is the noun form. I hit four on my speed dial.
speed-dial — This is the verb form. I speed-dial Trish.

Spell check (Ugh, don't get me started on spell check!) won't catch these mistakes. (Spell check is stupid. It often suggests changes that are incorrect! Oops, there I go again.)

So, if you're unsure of a word—whether to hyphenate it, write it as one word, or write it as two—check Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style. (Seriously, bookmark both of those pages!) Your editor will love you for it. ;)

24 comments:

  1. I also find it useful to have the Chicago Manual of Style open, particularly when I'm editing. :-)

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    1. Yes! Editors notice it too. Mine tend to comment on how polished my manuscripts are when they hit their desks. I give Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style credit for that, because we all know how difficult it is to edit your own work.

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  2. My parents both immigrated from the Netherlands. My mother's family got English lessons here, and the instructor said that the English language, in terms of style and things like silent letters, could be insane at times.

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  3. So true! And congrats on becoming an editor. I have a middle grade novel I may tweak and send. :)

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    1. Great, Catherine. I look forward to reading it.

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  4. I usually Google things I'm not sure about, but that's inconsistent since it leads me to different pages (and different answers to my questions). It's a good idea to use the same ones.

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    1. These are the ones most publishers use, so they're great.

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  5. Usually there's a choice since hyphenated words are often on their way to single word status from common usage. Editors--bless them--have style sheets that tell me exactly what they expect.

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  6. Great advise, Kelly. Especially for those of us who hate and are terrible at English!

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    1. English is a crazy language. I do love it though. ;)

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  7. I usually go to Google when I'm not sure about spelling or hyphens. Thanks for the advice.

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  8. This^ is why you're the editor. We need YOU. :)

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  9. Great sites! I have to double check hyphenated words (and other words) all the time. :)

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    1. It's good to check them. It shows your editor you care.

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  10. Ooh, good tip! I didn't even know that these were available websites I could use. Thanks!

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  11. I have the Dictionary app on my phone and I'll bookmark Chicago Manual. I've heard editors mention the latter but didn't realize it's available online as well!

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    1. Yes, not all of it is available but there are plenty of resources that are free on the site.

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  12. Definitely bookmarking the hyphenation reference. I would say the one thing that comes up in copy-editing most often is: hyphenated vs. non-hyphenated and compound word vs two words.

    So far, the rule has been: Whichever one I choose, it's the wrong one.

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    1. lol Yeah, that hyphenation table is great. I use it all the time.

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