Category Archives: Miscellaneous

bizarre and bazaar

These two words might sound similar when spoken, but they are spelled very differently (and, of course, they mean very different things).

A bazaar (noun) is a market where goods and services are bought and sold. The word derives from the Persian bāzār and can, in modern times, refer to a department store or a fair (“especially for charitable purposes”). It came into English in the sixteenth century from the Italian bazarra.

“I bought a beautiful rug at a bazaar in Afghanistan.”

Bizarre, an adjective meaning “fantastical, odd, grotesque,” came into English from the French bizarre in the seventeenth century. The French word had been borrowed from the Italian bizarro, which had come to mean “strange, weird.” (See

Bizarre markings were found on the animals, who all died of mysterious causes over the course of six months.

In conclusion:

“I found this bizarre hat at the church bazaar.”




Typos. They creep into our writing when we aren’t paying attention. Even reputable sites sometimes contain errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Granted, gobsmacked is not a word that is often used by Americans, but mistakes can occur both when you are in unfamiliar territory (you don’t know what you don’t know) and when you are in familiar territory (you assume that what you’ve always done/said/heard is correct).

Problems arise when we believe we know the answer and we are mistaken. We make assertions that are, well, incorrect. We don’t bother to consult a dictionary or trusted source, because we’re sure we are right. Then, our ignorance shows and our credibility suffers.

A quick search for “nitch” on Google would have shown the correct word (niche):

Wiktionary’s entry would also alert you to the “misspelling”:

If you are a piano player looking for gigs, you might not miss out on opportunities if you are a poor speller. If, however, you are an editor, publisher, ghost writer, attorney, accountant, or professional working in a field where accuracy and attention to detail are important, errors in your books, correspondence, and websites can create an unfavorable impression.

Even the most careful writers (and editors!) overlook errors from time to time, but when you are paying for expert advice, you don’t expect to find documents riddled with mistakes.

And if you do, you may be wise to take your business elsewhere.

homo and hetero

Have I got your attention?

No, this post is not about sexual preferences; it’s about the prefixes homo and hetero, which derive from the Greek homos (“one and the same”) and heteros (“other”). Thus, homogenize means to make uniform or “the same” throughout, whereas something that is heterogeneous consists of dissimilar elements or parts.

The prefix homo, used in words such as homoerotic and homophobia, differs from the Latin homo, which refers to a genus of primate mammals of the Hominidae family that includes modern humans (H. sapiens) and several extinct related species (such as H. erectus and H. habilis). (Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) (Homo legalis (or legalis homo) is a “lawful” person who has not been deprived of any rights.1)

Homophones are words that are pronounced alike but differ “in meaning or derivation or spelling,” such as rap and wrap.

Homonyms are spelled and pronounced the same but differ in meaning.

“Turn right at the next street.”
“You are right and I am wrong.”

“You lie!”
“Don’t just lie there!”

Heterographs are words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently; homographs are spelled the same but have different meanings. Thus, the words bare (adjective; a bare cupboard) and bear (verb; bear right at the fork in the road) are homophones and heterographs; bear (noun; a bear in the woods) and bear (verb; bear a burden) are homonyms, homographs, and homophones.

If you are unsure about the correct usage, spelling, or meaning of a word, take a moment to look it up before pressing the “send” or “publish” button!

1 – Legal definitions change over time, as laws change and rights (e.g., to own property, to serve on a jury) are recognized—or not—for different classifications (based on race, gender, age, etc.) of people. The age of majority, for example, can be different for different purposes (such as purchasing or publicly consuming alcoholic beverages, enlisting in the military, or voting) or in different jurisdictions. Rights can also be lost, as happens when someone is convicted of a felony.

Natives of U.S. States

What do you call a resident of the State of Michigan? Why, a Michiganian, of course!

The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual lists the proper designation for natives of the fifty states in the United States.

For six states, the suffix –er is attached to the state’s name:

  • Connecticuter
  • Mainer
  • Marylander
  • New Yorker
  • Rhode Islander
  • Vermonter

For three states, the designation ends in -ite:

  • New Hampshirite
  • Wisconsinite
  • Wyomingite

All others end in –n. Examples include:

  • Coloradan
  • Indianian
  • Louisianian
  • Massachusettsan
  • Ohioan
  • Utahn

Inhabitants of other places around the globe have some interesting names, among them:

Glasgow: Glaswegian

Liverpool: Liverpudlian in common parlance (but Liverpolitan may make a comeback) See:

Johannesburg: Johannesburgers

Residents of a town in Austria are Fuckingers, and I don’t even want to think about how to refer to the locals in Muckanaghederdauhaulia, Ireland! (I do, however, want to know what the good townspeople of Humpty Doo, Australia call themselves. (Humpty Doodles? Anyone?)


GPO Style Manual, 5.23.

If I were . . .


In my last post, I noted that song lyrics can stick in our heads and, thereby, teach us about language (or encourage bad habits). Fans of musical theater will know the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof (lyrics by Sheldon Harnick). Is the title grammatically correct, or should it be, instead, “If I Was a Rich Man”? Without getting too technical, let’s review the correct use of hypothetical (“if”) statements and the subjunctive mood.*

Verbs can be used to state a fact (the indicative mood), issue a command (the imperative mood), ask a question (interrogative mood), note a condition (conditional mood), or describe a wish, possibility, or hypothetical situation (subjunctive mood).

Use were (the subjunctive mood) when imagining what might happen:

If I were to propose marriage, what would your answer be? (I might propose, if I could be absolutely certain that you would say yes. Or, I might just want to know how you feel about me and what you think about the idea of marrying me, and I have no intention of proposing!)

Use was (the indicative mood) for statements of fact (what actually happened).

If she was unpopular, it was not because she was unlikable. She was, quite simply, an outsider. (She was not unlikable, but she was unpopular.)

The difference can be subtle, but using was instead of were could create confusion about whether something is factual or hypothetical.

If this was his last day on the job, Jack would have to speak his mind. (suggests Jack knows this is his last day, and he has something he plans to say)

If this were his last day on the job, Jack would have to speak his mind. (suggests Jack is thinking about what he would to if this were his last day, but uncertainty surrounds the question of whether it is, in fact, his last day)

hypothetical vs. conditional

Something is hypothetical if it exists in concept but not in reality. (A hypothesis is an explanation or premise that is proposed or assumed to be true but requires further investigation to be proved or disproved.) It may be purely conjectural, or it may be highly probable but not yet substantiated.

If water is found on Mars, evidence of bacteria and other life forms may be found there as well.

Something is conditional if its fulfillment requires the occurrence or existence of something else.

If you finish your homework, you may play with your friends.

In the event of snow, the game will be canceled.

If the condition is met, then something will happen (or will not happen: If you fix the problem now, then I will not report you.).

Note that the order of the sentence can be changed without changing the meaning:

You may play with your friends if you finish your homework.

Our friendship will end if you betray my confidence.

I won’t report you to the authorities if you can solve this problem.

Conditional statements express speculation about what could have happened, what might happen, or what we expect to happen (or hope will happen) if the conditions are met:

If I finish this blog post in time, then I can meet my friends for lunch.

If you submit your request by April 1, then you will be guaranteed a seat.

Often, then is implied but not stated:

If Joan wants to know what happened, (then) all she has to do is ask.

If she’d known that Saturday’s performance would be her last, Amanda would have planned an encore. (Amanda did not know that Saturday’s performance would be her last—but it was.)

If I had gone to the concert, I would have missed my flight. (I did not go to the concert, and I did not miss my flight.)

Hypothetical statements are conditional:

If I were you, I would hire an editor! (hypothetical—I am not you, and I will never be you.)

But not every conditional sentence is hypothetical:

If I offended you, I am sorry. (I was not aware that what I said was offensive at the time I said it. Thank you for telling me!)

Was or Were

As we’ve seen, an “if” sentence can be conditional but not hypothetical, so the choice of was or were is not determined simply by looking for an “If” statement.

Was is the appropriate choice when describing (or speculating about) something that has happened, whether in a fictional universe or reality as we know it:

If Stargazer was warned that the base would be attacked, he should have followed the proper procedures. (The base was attacked, and someone has suggested that Stargazer was given advance warning. Can he be trusted?)

If Terri was upset about the changes, she should have talked to me. (Changes were made, and I’ve just learned that Terri was upset about them. If she had talked to me, I might have been able to prevent her from quitting!)

If a situation has occurred more than once, a generalization can be made about what has routinely happened in a given circumstance.

If I was running late, Max would be there to help out.

Note that when can often be substituted for if in these kinds of sentences:

When I was running late, Max would be there to help out. (I was late more than once, and Max provided assistance. I miss him!)

Remember, too, that the choice of was or were depends upon whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural:

The calls were infrequent, so I didn’t mind.

If the caller was not in my list of contacts, I did not answer.

Jerry was ready to go.

Jerry and his friends were ready to go.

You were not willing to take a risk. I was.

If you’ve followed me this far, you should be able to determine whether was and were are used correctly in the following paragraph.

Dawn was always frantic whenever this happened, and she’d go through her list of contacts until she found someone to talk to. Donna was Dawn’s first choice, but If Donna wasn’t available, Dawn would call me. When the calls were infrequent, I didn’t mind. I don’t know who Dawn called when I was unavailable, but if I were her, I’d have called Cindy.

Returning to examples from song lyrics:

“If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady
Would you marry me anyway?”
(“If I Were a Carpenter,” lyrics by Tim Hardin. Recorded by numerous artists, including the songwriter.)

The singer is not suggesting that he is a carpenter (so the idea is hypothetical); he’s wondering how, well, conditional (or unconditional) his beloved’s affections are.

“If I Were a Boy” (written by BC Jean and Toby Gad) was popularized by Beyoncé—and I’m fairly certain she is not, in fact, a boy. (hypothetical)

Of course, we can also find examples of lyrics that use the indicative (was) instead of the subjunctive (were):

“If I was to say to you
Girl we couldn’t get much higher”
(“Light My Fire” by the Doors: Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek)

However, I’d recommend limiting the use of was to informal speech when speaking hypothetically.

Or, one could do as Alice Walker did for the title of a poem: include both!

“If I Was President (Were for those who prefer it)”

* Note that the subjunctive mood does not require the use of were; for example, the statement “The prosecutor recommended that the accused be sentenced to death” uses the subjunctive form, as does “The teacher insisted that her pupils speak English.” For this post, however, I am limiting my discussion to the matter of when to use was and when to use were.

Poetic License


I write song lyrics (and poems) now and then, so I understand the need to deviate from the rules of grammar sometimes in order to create an effect. I’m not bothered by phrasing such as “He don’t love you like I love you” (from “He Will Break Your Heart,” written by Jerry Butler, Calvin Carter, and Curtis Mayfield), “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” (Bill Withers) or “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” (Bobby Scott and Bob Russell). Languages accommodate formal and informal styles of communication, and few of us—myself included—use formalities when writing to friends or speaking to family members.

The arts reflect the various habits, customs, preferences, tastes, and peculiarities of different people, regions, subcultures, and generations. A novelist or screenwriter strives to create memorable characters. If characters all thought, spoke, and behaved alike, they would be hard to tell apart (and probably not very interesting). Slang and blended words (such as frenemy) have their place, but if the only examples of written correspondence you’ve ever seen are tweets and text messages, and you’ve spent your time watching television sitcoms and listening to popular music, your vocabulary is likely to be quite limited. You might not even know how to speak and write proper English. (If that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, so let’s not dwell on hypotheticals. I’ll have more to say about them in my next post!)

I’ll venture to speculate that most of my readers understand that “Baby I’m-a Want You” (written by David Gates of Bread) is not good grammar. In less obvious instances, however, the lyrics of hit songs can stick in our minds so well that we might start to question what the rules are.

You and I or You and Me?

Consider “Touch Me” by the Doors (written by Robby Krieger):

“I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.”

Would you ask a friend, “Would you do something for I?” I didn’t think so.

For is most commonly used as a preposition, so the objective case is needed:

“for you and me”

Let’s try another.

“You and I,” written by Frank J. Myers, was a hit for Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle in the 1980s.

“We’ll be all right, just you and I.”

Here, you and I explains who is meant by we, and we is the subject of the sentence (hence, subjective case.) We’ll be all right, yes we will.


“It’s just us now.” X

is incorrect (though, informally, most of us talk that way).

What about Chicago’s song from the 1970s, “Just You and Me,” written by James Pankow?

“Just you and me, simple and free.”

In other words: “It’s just you and me, hon”—which belongs in the “It’s just us” category.

It is I.
It’s me. X


“You and I know the truth.” (We know the truth.)
“Remember the time you and I went to the beach?” (Remember when we went to the beach?)
“I’ll get one for you and one for me.” (I’ll rent a couple of movies for us to watch tonight.)
“They brought a present for Keith and me.” (They gave us a wedding gift.)

Are we clear now?

“What on Earth!” (or should that be “What on earth!”?)

Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center

The first letter of a proper noun is normally capitalized (Susan, Denver, Honda), whereas common nouns are written in lowercase (woman, city, company). For a word such as earth, which can be used as a proper noun or as a common noun, your decision whether or not to capitalize the e will depend upon the way the word is being used.

In a list with other planets, Earth would be capitalized:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune

The Style Guide of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says the following about the names of astronomical bodies:

Capitalize the names of planets (e.g. “Earth,” “Mars,” “Jupiter”). Capitalize “Moon” when referring to Earth’s Moon, otherwise, lowercase “moon” (e.g. “The Moon orbits Earth,” “Jupiter’s moons”). Capitalize “Sun” when referring to our Sun but not to other suns. Do not capitalize “solar system” and “universe.” (1)

Style guides disagree, however; some will tell you not to capitalize sun and moon, for example.

You’re like the sun; you bring light into my life.”

“I’m over the moon; I couldn’t be happier!”

In our solar system, nine planets revolve around one sun.

Here are some general guidelines to follow if no particular style is specified.

Capitalize Earth when referring to the planet:

The mission to Mars was launched from Earth early this morning. (When used with the names of other planets, capitalize Earth as well.)

“Infinity to Earth,” said the commander of the space station Infinity.

“People who live on Earth are called Earthlings.”


“People who live in New York are called New Yorkers.”

“People who live on Mars are called Martians.”

Do not capitalize earth when referring to soil or land:

The earth felt solid beneath my feet after I emerged from the swimming pool. (Here, ground could substitute for earth.)

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful spots on earth.

Some people believe the earth’s resources can and should be exploited for profit.

Do not capitalize words containing earth that are used as adjectives and adverbs (earthy, down-to-earth, earthly) or the verb unearth.

Capitalize Earth when the planet is personified or deified:

Ancient peoples regarded the spirit of Earth as a living being. (Some people refer to Earth as Gaia, for example; as such, it would be capitalized in the same way the names of gods, such as Zeus, are capitalized.)

Stop polluting Mother Earth!

In honor of Earth Day, volunteers donated their time to cleanup efforts.

The cult of Sol, the Roman sun god, was popular in ancient times.

Do not capitalize heaven and earth (or adjectives like solar and lunar).

God created heaven and earth.

“She’s brought me a little bit of heaven right here on earth.”

(A title, of course, would follow normal rules of capitalization: On Earth and in Heaven: A Soul’s Journey. The first word of a sentence is always capitalized: Earth’s atmosphere is changing.)

Disagreement exists in the gray zones; use your judgment and be consistent.

Solar flares occurring on the sun can affect communication systems on earth. (If sun were capitalized, then earth would be also.)

Tides on Earth are influenced by the Moon’s gravitational pull.

Tides on earth are influenced by the moon’s gravitational pull.

Could go either way . . .

My recommendation: Unless the use you intend falls into a category that clearly requires capitalization, use lowercase.


(1) Style Guide for NASA History Authors and Editors, (accessed April 18, 2019)