Speaking of interesting word websites – here’s another!

Forvo is an audio pronunciation database which aims to have every word in every language (yes, even swear words and slang) pronounced by a native speaker.  It looks like it’s already most of the way there for the more widely spoken languages – at least any random thing I tried in English, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese was available.

The interface is presented in multiple languages, but any word in any language can be queried from any of them without needing to specify the language of origin.  Words not natively in Roman characters can be searched for either in the native script or their Romanized versions (e.g., 犬 or inu).

Common words also tend to have multiple pronunciations to listen to, phrases with the word, and translations to other languages as well.  If you’re a native speaker of a language whose word is not yet included, or is not pronounced to your satisfaction, you can help Forvo out by submitting your own words and pronunciations.

Give it a look (and listen) at – it’s pretty neat!


Bene scribete.


Word Crimes

As both a copyeditor and long-time Weird Al fan (I’ve seen him live three times – he puts on a fantastic show!), how could I not share his parody of “Blurred Lines”?  (>^-‘)>

If you missed it earlier this week, check it out in all its perfection below.



Bene scribete.

Marking Thoughts

Thought bubble


Last month, I detailed the conventions of setting off dialogue in narrative.  This week, I figured I would follow up with the same for characters’ thoughts.

Unlike the more clearly defined and fairly universally accepted considerations for tagging and punctuating speech, conventions on portraying thoughts are much looser and more open to stylistic preference.  As such, I’ll go over the more commonly implemented methods, and how I feel they are best handled.



The most basic and innocuous of options is simply to describe a character’s thoughts or feelings with the narrative.

The sign recommended not jumping off of the bridge.  Tomsfield thought this was a good idea.

With her parents out of town for a week, Jenna felt as free as waiting room coffee.

Dipton did not particularly want to ride the rollercoaster.

This is a straightforward, low-level use of language.  Without stating a literal verbalization of the thought, it does not require an understanding of or agreement on any technique specific to storytelling, and it is thus the most prominently utilized of any of these methods.


Perspective Statements

A more stylistic approach to conveying thoughts is to insert them into the narrative as direct, subjective statements belonging to the character holding the story’s point of view.  This works the most transparently in first person.

I picked up my report and stared dumbly at the ‘D’ scrawled in red within its upper margin.  This was ridiculous.  Mrs. Clemp had no idea what she was on about.

But it can also work in tightly-defined third person.

Berg leaned back in his chair, contemplating the rabbit.  It was kind of adorable.  How did it stay so white and fluffy?

In both cases, the latter two sentences, even though written without demarcation, are understood to be their respective POV-characters’ direct thoughts, rather than objective truths about the story being told.  This is easier to accept in the first example, as first-person accounts are naturally perspectivized as is.  It requires a subtle leap of understanding to pull off in third person, but it’s commonly done enough that it shouldn’t cause hang-ups with most readers.

However, as this is a technique of implicit attribution, avoid using it in parallel omniscient.  It makes for a sloppy and confused narrative voice, and its misuse is one of the primary reasons I would recommend against parallel omniscient altogether.

“I need some of that pizza,” Pencil whispered.  He hadn’t eaten all day, and it smelled amazing.  A rumble stirred the emptiness within his belly.  Wasting not another moment, he snatched up a tantalizingly cheesy slice and slid it down his gullet.  It was more delicious than it had any right to be.  Tina rolled her eyes.  Pencil was such a slob.

Gregolas chuckled, grabbing another piece for himself.  “Eat up – there’s a couple more pies on the counter.”  Takeout from Cheesy Palace was a surefire way to buy some of Pencil’s time, and he was hoping to get him to run some numbers tonight.  Olga scooted away from him, wrinkling her nose as the pizza’s cheap, nauseating odor burned her nostrils.  Why did Greg have to eat it so often?

Tuesday nights were always a blast, and this one was shaping up to be no different.

The narrative voice can’t act as a surrogate perspective for more than one character at a time, or it loses coherence.  If you must do parallel omniscient, remember that the ‘narrator’ has to be a detached entity to be able to focus on multiple characters simultaneously, and with that in mind, use only explicit attribution for thoughts, whether direct or indirect.

Finally, note that direct thoughts as perspective statements should retain the tense of the narrative.

The frog hopped up to the overturned garbage pail and saw a massive swarm of flies circling above it.  This is fantastic.



Direct thoughts, just like dialogue, can be explicitly attributed and set off with quotes.

“I am a rather large man,” Bendleman thought.

Clean and precise, but largely fallen out of style.  If you go this route, keep in mind that it cannot be used with implicit attribution, as it will be read as speech.

For a minute or two, Maria found herself staring at a big yellow duck on the edge of the lake.  It kept trying to swim into a massive rock poking out from the water’s surface.  “I wonder if he’s an idiot.”


Unmarked Direct

Some writers will attribute thoughts without any special punctuation.

I’m pretty tired, Lubrio realized.  He’d been up since 4:00 A.M.

I’ll come right out and say I’m not a fan of this method, and I recommend against using it.  Shifting tense and person without strong demarcation makes for a disjointed reading experience.  If you can’t be convinced otherwise, then at least, as with quotes, restrict it to explicit attribution.

Oreo found his dog lounging on the living room sofa, blanketed by the tattered remains of the new curtains.  He shook his head, but couldn’t suppress a rueful smile.  I love you, Broomstick, but you’re a damned jerk.  He took a seat by her head and farted loudly.



Anymore, the most common practice you’re likely to see for conveying direct thoughts, as it gives us the best of all worlds in terms of clarity and flexibility.  It’s strong demarcation that won’t be confused with speech, and it can be used tagged or untagged.

It’s a little too quiet in here, Joyster thought.  She began tapping her foot against the ground.

The bee buzzed up to the chef’s hat and slipped stealthily inside it.  He’s the one that stole my honey – I just know it!

Italics can be used similarly to perspective statements, but conversely to perspective statements, italics denote literal, verbalized thoughts and therefore should change tense and person (unless your narrative is already in first-person present).

Barley stumbled as a basketball slammed into his back.  Her turned in time to see Chuggs standing there with his stupid smirk.  Why was he so rude to him all the time?

Barley stumbled as a basketball slammed into his back.  Her turned in time to see Chuggs standing there with his stupid smirk.  Why is he so rude to me all the time?

Like perspective statements, however, italics should be restricted to one POV per scene or block, especially when used implicitly.


Not a comprehensive list, and again, the means of indicating characters’ thoughts are not so expressly prescribed as those for their speech, but this hopefully provides some guidelines for what conventions there are.  Whichever method works best with your style, aim for clarity, cohesiveness, and transparency, and give your readers a chance to slip neatly into your characters’ heads.  (>^-‘)>


Bene scribete.



I always love these sorts of hypercognates that have so specific a point of origin that they managed widespread propagation with negligible mutation centuries before the global communication boom.  Oh, English, you just had to break the mold, didn’t you?  (>^-‘)>

Although, to be fair, ‘ananas’ is also a perfectly valid English word for what we usually call the pineapple.

And Spanish speakers are more apt to call it a piña.

…and let’s not forget languages like Japanese that are perfectly happy to say パイナップル (PAINAPPURU!!!).


Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Zeugma


/ˈzugmə/  |  ZOOG-muh


Zeugma is a fun little device that occurs when a word is used in multiple contexts simultaneously – i.e., to mean two (or sometimes more) things at once as it applies separately to the other words in its purview.  Mostly used for humorous brevity, it naturally requires that the word have some homonymous or polysemic properties.



  • Billy ran from the slog and for mayor.
  • The minstrel plays the flute almost as well as he does the fool.
  • I punched the slog with fury, indignation, and my fist.
  • I like chips in my cookies, not my teeth.


Bene scribete.

Singular ‘They’

Lots of theys


“Did someone leave their wallet in here?”

It’s not unusual to hear this sort of sentence in English.  The sex of the subject (‘someone’) is unknown, so the speaker uses the pronoun ‘they’, even though the subject is not plural.  Now, as a copyeditor (and otherwise general linguistic snob), I may be expected to rail against such usage, but alas – I am, in fact, about to do just the opposite.

The problem with this sort of construction is that English, like many languages, doesn’t have explicit fourth person* syntax, so any way we cast it becomes a sort of workaround.  And, when it comes down to it, singular ‘they’ is simply the least ambiguous and awkward of a lot of bad options.

* (“What the #&@$ is fourth person!?” a non-super-language-nerd might ask.  Well, I’m glad you did: a fourth-person entity is one that is unknown, generic, or irrelevant.)

Let’s take a moment to consider the alternatives.

  • The formally prescribed solution is to randomly choose a gendered third-person pronoun: “Did someone leave his wallet in here?”  The issue with this option, aside from the awkwardness of randomly assuming a gender, is that it creates a particularly strong pronoun-antecedent disagreement, so the initial impression is that you are asking if an unknown someone left an identified other person’s wallet in here.
  • The construction “Did someone leave his or her wallet in here?” is also a preferred one, but it is needlessly cumbersome.
  • ‘One’ is the closest thing English has to a real fourth-person pronoun.  So you could ask, “Did someone leave one’s wallet in here?”  But that sounds terribly stilted.
  • Similarly, ‘someone’ itself is, in essence, a fourth-person pronoun as well, but “Did someone leave someone’s wallet in here?” recreates the pronoun-antecedent divorce that makes it sound like you could be talking about two different people.
  • You could subvert the need for the second pronoun altogether by using passive voice: “Was someone’s wallet left in here?”  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that phrasing, but it changes the focus of the inquiry to the presence of the wallet itself rather than the owner you’re trying to reunite it with.
  • You could try a number of other rewordings, but each would have a slightly different meaning than what you’re intending, and they would only be applicable to the specific sentence.

So we’re left with ‘they’.  It’s hardly ideal, but it’s cleaner than the other choices, and it’s used so often informally that it now sounds the most natural, and its meaning in context is immediately clear.  Reusing plural terms for certain singular cases is not without precedent (we have only to look at the subjunctive form of “to be”), and ‘they’ is frequently used in other fourth-person constructions, anyway (“You know what they say.”).

Thus, while I’m not about to encourage anyone to start using singular ‘they’ in formal writing, I would advocate for a grammatical shift in that direction, if for no other reason than to be relieved of the constant need to convolute phrasing that avoiding it entails.  (>^-‘)>


Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Antimeria


/,æntɨ’mɛriə/  |  AN-tih-MAIR-ee-uh


Antimeria is one of my favorite rhetoric devices.  It is the application of a word outside of its lexical category – e.g., using an adjective as a noun or a noun as a verb (in this case also autologically called ‘verbing’!).  Even with the words repurposed ad hoc, the missing semantics are filled in by context and their meaning is easily understood.

When particular uses become common enough, polysemes are born.



  • The slog is giving me a case of the sads.
  • I can’t computer very much with the slog gnawing at my brain.
  • Thanks to the slog, I feel like I’m stupiding all over the place.


Antimeria.  Use it.


Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Merism


/’mɛrɪzəm/  |  MAIR-iz-mm


Where a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym, a merism is a specific type of synecdoche in which a phrase refers to something by the name of a few of its components (usually two in contrast).  Like other metonyms, their usage most often comprises pre-established terms (such as saying “high and low” or “near and far” to mean “everywhere“), rather than existing in unique cases.


Other examples:

  • The slog can corrode you, mind and body.  [Referring to the ‘whole of a person’ to mean completely]
  • Don’t let the slog waste your blood, sweat, and tears.  [Referring to products of ‘bodily exertion’ to mean hard work]
  • Being the worst is the slog‘s bread and butter.  [Referring to ‘basic needs’ (by way of food) as a function of their acquisition to mean manner of supporting oneself]


Merism.  Use it.


Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Tautology


/tɔˈtɒlədʒi/  |  taw-TAW-luh-jee


Tautology is a multifaceted concept.  In most cases, it refers to something contextually uninformative.  This can be as simple as a redundant word or phrase (“He burnt his hand in hot fire.”, “Julie the bachelorette arrived last, without a husband.”), but in what I’d call its most interesting form, a tautology is an entire assertion that is rendered intrinsically meaningless strictly because it is inherently true.

With so many ways to convey information in language, there is just something I find almost artfully ridiculous in the construction of a syntactically and semantically sound statement which nevertheless effectively communicates nothing under any interpretation.



  • The stupid things that the slog does are all stupid.
  • The slog is precisely as terrible as it is.
  • Either I’ll defeat the slog, or I won’t.


Tautology.  (Don’t?) use it.


Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Synecdoche


/sɪˈnɛkdəki/  |  sih-NECK-duh-kee


Aside from being an uglier word to say than look at, a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym where something is referred to by either a component of itself or, conversely, a broader category to which it belongs.  When I call myself a writer, I’m naming one aspect of the process to say that I’m a storyteller.


Other examples:

  • I need to find a way to put the slog in irons.  [Referring to shackles by their material]
  • Seeking to escape the slog, we entreated the Church to grant us asylum.  [Referring to specific people by the organization they belong to, and that organization by the building it works in]


Synecdoche.  Use it.


Bene scribete.