Sunday, July 15, 2007

Little Bits: Useful Tools and Toys

Many groups and all governments love to make their names into a short, easy-to-remember acronym. That's great, but if you want to write an article about them you'll need to spell it out at least once at the beginning. The acronym tool can help you figure out for what some of those meaningless jumbles of letters stand. The site states that there are 50,000 acronyms in their database.

In the category of pointless terminology, consider this page on the virgule from the Armchair Grammarian. I had to read it, as I didn't know what a virgule was. It turns out that it's a forward slash in particular usages. It also turns out that it's the subject of yet another obscure grammatical controversy.

While you're considering little-known terms in grammar, take a gander at Wordsmyth. You can look them up and get definitions and examples. You can also do a broad search for matches or find other ways (or the correct way) to spell a word. If you don't have a Thesaurus and a robust spell checking dictionary in your word processor, this can be invaluable. Sometimes finding the right word is a matter of just seeing it on the screen somewhere else.

If you've got a question about a specific word or use, you can't do much better than Paul Brians' list of common English errors. It's arranged alphabetically and there are literally hundreds of pages linked here. They range from distinguishing between cite, site, and sight to correcting the oft-misquoted “You can't have you cake and eat it too.” and the right way to pronounce Nevada.

His style is irreverent and slightly superior, which makes his explanations a lot of fun to read. I spent a fair amount of time clicking on some of these just to see what he had to say. It's not only a useful tool but good entertainment. I continue to be surprised at the misunderstandings and confusions that people have about the English language.

If you're interested in becoming a proofreader, or if you've had something proofread and you don't understand the results, check the page on proofreader and editor marks at Inkwell Editorial. Of course, now I have to find out what a hair space is.

My last fun tool for today is the Idiom Site. It gives you the proper word or phrase and explains the history or reasoning behind it. You may be familiar with most of these, but knowing where they came from can help you use them properly every time. Nothing makes you sound sillier than using an idiom incorrectly. I enjoyed reading the histories out of curiosity as much as for understanding how to use them. If you don't agree with the information, you can e-mail your reasons and they may get posted on the site. You can also submit an idiom to be researched.