Saturday, September 29, 2007



by Joyce Gram, the ultimate editor for writers
(Reprinted with kind permission of the author)

A year ago, I threw out all my dictionaries—a rash act for an editor. I had just attended an editing course, where the instructor had impressed upon us that our most important—indeed indispensable—reference was an up-to-date, good quality dictionary. Mine were so old they lacked not only current word usage, but also any words to do with computers or the Internet.

I bought myself one of the best, the latest Canadian Oxford. And, because I work for writers planning to publish in the United States, I bought the latest Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus. My Webster still looks new, but in a year, my Canadian Oxford is looking decidedly used.

Why do I recommend all writers invest in a good dictionary? Because in it you will find a gold mine of information on meaning, usage, idioms, word choice, synonyms, grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, to say nothing of biographical, historical, geographical, and statistical tidbits of all kinds. I could read it for hours!

But, really now, there is no excuse not to own one—and use it. Nothing will kill your chances of publication faster than mistakes you could have corrected by quick reference to a good dictionary. I laughed the day I came across a Q & A on The Chicago Manual of Style Online entitled “You Could Look It Up.” Chicago posts a fresh Q & A every month, and they can’t help pulling out a few questions for special treatment, like this one:

“Q. Is it ‘cell phone’ or ‘cel phone’? I am working on a crash deadline, and would appreciate a quick response. Thank you so much!

A. Any writer who has deadlines should also have a dictionary. I always swear I’m not going to look up words for people, but it’s like being a mom and picking up socks—something just makes me do it. It’s ‘cell phone.’ Please buy a dictionary—and pick up your socks.”

'Nuf said.

(c) Joyce Gram 2007

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