Bloody Well Write

October 7, 2009

Telephone numbers

Jenny, I got your number.

Here’s how the AP Stylebook folks would like to see telephone numbers in print: 123-456-7890.

Ah, hyphens. Hey — at least they dropped the parentheses around the area code. Be happy.

Now, I know this doesn’t jibe with all the designers out there. And you know what? It doesn’t necessarily jibe with me, either. I’m a fan of dots (er, periods). I would rather see this: 123.456.7890.

So I guess what I’m promoting is this:

• If you or your company says that AP rules the proverbial roost and there should be absolutely no deviation, use the hyphens in your phone numbers. (And I’m so completely OK with that, as I do believe that AP has your back nearly every time, grammatically speaking.)

• If, on the other hand, you have a designer itching at the keypad to produce funky (or just non-hyphenated) art with numbers, use periods, stars, squares or whatever else floats that designer’s boat.

Just make it readable. After all, if you’re putting a phone number in print, you probably want people to be able to decipher that number and then call it, correct? Correct.

Happy trails!



September 22, 2009

Theatre vs. theater

Some people say that when it comes to spelling that which is theater — er, theatre — it all comes down to snobbery. Well, to that I say,” Poo-poo to you.”

Outside of the United States, especially in countries that had once been under British control, the word is typically spelled theatre. Those who fought to keep the British spelling didn’t want the proper language to become diluted by a bunch of insolent miscreants — bloody Americans. Stateside, however, theater won out as the predominant spelling. Back in the early 1800s, Noah Webster created “An American Dictionary of the English Language” to Americanize the language of the day, taking out as many British-isms as he could manage. One result: Theatre became theater.

It is prudent to maintain the spelling of any company or movie house or whatnot that happens to spell its name one way, even if you think it should be the other. Some examples:

Music Theatre of Wichita

AMC Theatres

Theatre Rhinoceros (but San Francisco Live Queer Theater)

The Theater section of The New York Times

•  “Paradise Theater” by Styx (but Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor, Wash.)

There is, however, another distinction between the two words that is gaining in popularity. Even though the AP Stylebook hasn’t come around to agreeing yet (but they will), I think that it makes simple sense and provides a reason to use one spelling instead of another, depending on context. And, of course, since the nature of the English language is one of constant transition, I’m all for promoting the separate — yet equal — definitions. (Go ahead, AP: Put up your dukes.)

Going to the theatre tonight — or maybe they ARE the theatre? (photo:

Going to the theatre tonight — or maybe they are the theatre (photo:

Theatre = anything related to a performance or study of an art form, which is not a structure (e.g., a degree, a company, a troupe).

Theater = a structure that houses a dramatic production (e.g., movie, play, musical, opera, ballet, dance).

So: If you are going to the theater (bricks and mortar) to work on scene construction or set up lights or mow the front lawn, cool. If you’re getting all dolled up for an evening at the theatre (very posh), have a mahhhvelous time, dahhhling.

Easy as “Waiting for Godot.”

Happy trails!


August 31, 2009

Gray vs. grey

What color is it?

Well, what are we talking about?

An elephant. An oyster. A moody sky. A town in Maine. A city in Georgia. A brewing company. “What’s-her-name’s Anatomy.” One of the lonelier colors in the big box with the cool sharpener.

That’s right — it’s gray. Or is it grey?

Gray can be gorgeous — no matter how you spell it.

Gray can be gorgeous — no matter how you spell it.

The answer depends on your location. If you’re stateside, the color is gray unless it is a person’s or company’s preferred spelling or if you’ve checked Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for first-mentioned spellings.

There are, as always, a few wild hairs:

• Greyhound (a dog, a cocktail)
• Earl Grey (a tea)
• Grey friar (a Franciscan friar)

If you’ve hopped the pond, however, the colour is grey. While you’re in UK English-speaking countries, feel free to use grey as often as you wish, as it is the preferred British spelling.

If you’re writing with the AP Stylebook in mind, however, it doesn’t matter where you are; gray is the way to go. And you know how I feel about the AP Stylebook, don’t you?

Happy trails!


August 25, 2009

-ward vs. -wards: toward or towards?

Here’s a dodgy problem.

Which one is correct: Toward or towards? Backward or backwards? Forward or forwards?

OK, so it’s not that dodgy. It’s pretty simple, really. Let’s focus on toward vs. towards and realize that the answer will be valid for all -ward words.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, as well as a host of other dictionaries and Web sites, both versions are technically correct. But one is — how shall I say it? — more technically correct than the other.

Toward, backward, forward, leftward and any other directionally influenced -ward words are used primarily in the United States. Words that add an “s” at the end are primarily British. One guy even did a Google test to see if this is true and found out that, lo and behold, it stands up to a Google search.

For me, the real test is looking it up in the AP Stylebook — the bible of journalists, ad agencies and many writers — and the answer is clear: Toward is the correct term and towards is unacceptable. End of story.

There you have it — unless you want to sound British for some bloody reason, you cheeky bugger.

Happy trails!


August 4, 2009

My 2 cents

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , ,

When it comes to money, everyone has an opinion about how to manage it. Let me just add one thought: Let’s leave the fate of dollars and cents — in the written form, anyway — to the folks at the AP Stylebook headquarters.

Feed the pig

Feed the pig

When you don’t have a ton (or even a pound) of cash and you are writing about this lack of funds, spell out the word cents and use numerals for any amount less than a dollar:

• What can I buy for 8 cents?
• He gave me 74 cents back in change.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to rub coins against paper money, use the dollar sign and decimals for any amount equal to or larger than a dollar:

• Bob owes me exactly $1.
• I owe Sue a penny more: $1.01.
• Sue bought me a slurpie that cost $2.35.

As much as I’d like to use that cute cent sign (¢), AP doesn’t approve, so I acquiesce.

Happy trails!


July 31, 2009

Barbecue vs. barbeque vs. BBQ

Filed under: AP Stylebook,spelling — bloodywellwrite @ 3:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

Ah, summer. Gotta love all the food that seems to go so well with summer’s rising temperatures. Take, for instance, BBQ.

Or is it barbeque? Or bar-b-que? Or barbecue?

It’s not quite as sticky a situation as it may first appear.

I just verified the answer in the trusty AP Stylebook, and it states, plain as a pulled-pork stain: barbecue.

Run, Wilbur, run

Run, Wilbur, run

No q, no abbreviation (although if you’ve already spent the money on the big neon sign — with the wrong spelling — and it’s been attracting patrons for years on end, then by all means, don’t worry about changing the sign).

Happy trails!


July 13, 2009

Academic degrees: Is there a doctor in the house?

Those fancy initials at the end of your doctor’s name make your doc seem more valid somehow, more intelligent, don’t they? They make you trust your physician more than if you were talking colon issues or dermatological concerns with, say, your best friend’s kid brother. Well, your doctor had to put forth a lot of effort to get those little tagalong letters at the end of his or her name (in most cases, anyway). Universities made a pretty penny off of those med students, and many a textbook had coffee stains on them while your physician was struggling to get through med school.

But wait. What about the Ph.D., M.A. and B.G.S. recipients who are not medical doctors? They, too, lost countless hours of sleep cramming for exams, just so they could add a couple of cool letters to their names. (OK, so that’s not the only reason they went to school, but you get the drift for this discussion.) Somehow, though, these folks often get mocked for trying to tag their academic degrees to their names in any public forum — which, in my opinion, is too bad. They worked just as hard for their degrees — no matter that it was in history or English or mathematics — so why shouldn’t they get the recognition, as well?

Regardless, the preferred way to mention someone’s credentials is not with abbreviations, but with a phrase, such as Dr. Sarah Sneed, a marine biologist or Dr. Evil, a mad scientist; the added language offers more description and less pomp. Sometimes, pomp is plenty good. And sometimes, pomp is just annoying. Use discretion.

One of my favorite "doctors"

One of my favorite "doctors"

The AP Stylebook recommends using abbreviations only when mentioning several people at the same time, making a phrase that describes each person’s credentials cumbersome. At that point, use the degree only at the end of the recipient’s full name on the first mention and drop it on subsequent mentions. Remember to set the degree off with commas:

• Marcus Welby, M.D.
• Bob Smith, Ph.D., presented his lecture. Dr. Smith received a round of applause.
• Dr. Sarah Sneed, a marine biologist, is a vegetarian.
• Oh, to write like the author Dr. Seuss — my writing, I fear, is much too loose.
• In attendance were Bill Black, Ph.D., Sherri White, M.A., Todd Green, D.D.S., and Erin Plum, M.D.

Note that when a title comes at the beginning of the person’s name, the degree does not follow. It’s Dr. Sarah Sneed, not Dr. Sarah Sneed, M.D.

I, by the way, am no doctor. I would’ve liked to have played one on TV, though.

Happy trails!


June 22, 2009

Oral, verbal or written?

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar,Uncategorized — bloodywellwrite @ 3:24 pm
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes it may feel like a crapshoot, trying to decide which word correctly describes what’s going on, linguistically. Isn’t that “verbal agreement” really verbal, because the dude told you that he would come by the house and buy your old, electricity-stealing freezer? Or is it oral? How about both verbal and oral? Is it a binding agreement? And in what kind of world does it matter if it’s verbal or oral or whatnot?

Ah. Now, don’t get blasé on me. This is a grammar blog, if you’ll remember, so yes, it is vastly important whether it’s verbal or oral (or written).

What’s the difference?

Oral = the spoken word
Written = the committed-to-paper word
Verbal = the having-anything-to-do-with-words word

In its innate sense, verbal means that something has to do with words, no matter if they are written, printed, spoken or thought. Although it has come to stand for the spoken word in loose terms, oral still trumps verbal as referring to anything spoken. The AP Stylebook suggests using verbal “to compare words with some other form of communication.” Some examples for clarity:

Oral — He gave an oral promise to stop by and take the freezer off her hands.
Written — She had a written agreement drawn up that stated the time and date that the man would come take the freezer off her hands.
Verbal — Once she realized that the man was not coming for her freezer — and that he had never signed her written agreement — she cried elephant tears that were more telling of her mind-set than any verbal sentiment she could have expressed.

Oh, the humanity.

Happy trails!


June 2, 2009

Ands and ampersands

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 3:29 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

As a writer who’s worked with designers throughout most of my career, I am used to having my work doctored up to look pretty, regardless of the proper way to write something. And you know what? I’m often fine with that; why shouldn’t my stuff be as sexy and good looking as the next writer’s stuff? After all, sexy stuff sells. Good-looking stuff sells. And I want my stuff to sell. Right?

Um — well, of course I want my writing to be so amazing that it gets my clients’ products or services to fly off the proverbial shelves. But linear logic doesn’t work so well in this scenario. Integrity calls my name and yanks at my heartstrings, imploring me to stay true to the red-covered AP Stylebook that is never far away from my computer. And who am I to argue with integrity?

So, to the point: The ampersand (&), that curly-cue symbol that the vast majority of designers deem sufficient to take and’s place is not (I repeat not) sufficient to take and’s place.

Pretzel ampersand, minus the warm cheese

Pretzel ampersand, minus the warm cheese

The AP Stylebook clearly states that the ampersand is not to be used as a substitute for the word and. Its only sanctioned use is when it is officially part of a company’s name or within a composition title:

• Tiffany & Co.
• Barnes & Noble
• House & Garden
• Road & Track
• Shakespeare & Company
• “April & Oliver”
• “Design & Composition Secrets of Professional Artists: 16 Successful Painters Show How They Create Prize-Winning Work”

So when it comes to trying to create a lovely image versus doing the right thing, I err on the side of — you guessed it — the right thing. I would, of course, make an exception if it were a heavily designed ad with only three or so words (one of them being and) in a 72-point font and if the designer swore up and down that the client insisted on an ampersand. But that’s it. If the worry is a space issue, kerning is always an option.

Easy schmeezy.

Happy trails!


May 13, 2009

Backyard shenanigans

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 9:16 pm
Tags: , , ,

I had no idea. That’s what I should call these random entries that don’t have much to them beyond proving how flipping much I have yet to learn. Anyhoo …

Back yard. Backyard. Which is it?

Well, the previous time I checked — which was apparently a very long time ago — it was back yard when it was a lone noun (I am going to start a garden in my back yard) and it was the single-word backyard when it was an adjective (The rabbits will no doubt be backyard hooligans when I get a garden started).

Rogue rabbit

Rogue rabbit

How wrong I have been.

Sometime in the past several years, the AP Stylebook folks have changed the rules on me. Now, it is backyard (one word). No matter what. Even though front yard is still two words. Grrr.

Live and learn. I follow AP for the vast majority of grammar issues, and this bad boy isn’t big and bad enough for me to call out the troops, so backyard it is.

Happy trails!


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