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Bob Hartig
Writer and editor, jazz saxophonist, storm chaser, and lover of the Michigan outdoors.
Writer and editor, jazz saxophonist, storm chaser, and lover of the Michigan outdoors.

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A question for my fellow editors: Which book have you purchased or read within the last year that you have found the most helpful in developing your craft?

"Helpful" in this context has a broad application. The book could be technically informative, or helpful by way of example, or helpful by providing you with a great new reference tool, or simply inspiring for you as an editor.

What is one book on editing that you would say is a must-have? You know what I mean: not the Chicago Manual or a favorite thesaurus, but one that clicked on some important conceptual lights and has shaped the way you edit?

I'm baaaaaack ! It has been a while since I've piped up on this forum, but the other day I realized that I had a rant stirring in me and I thought I would share it. Here's the deal:

"Over" means the same thing as "more than."

So does "above."

Saying that a symphony ticket cost you more than $100, above $100, or over $100 are all equally acceptable ways of saying that you must really love Mozart.

“Uh, huh,” you say. “So what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is, not everyone knows this. It may be common sense, but it’s not common knowledge. One house style sheet I regularly consult stipulates that “over” should never be used instead of “more than.” But there’s nothing wrong with doing so. The usage is not incorrect; the style guide is.

I have an idea that I've just gotten myself in trouble with some of you editorial types. But before you leap all over me, make sure you check your Merriam-Webster's. Or just read the rest of my Fox's World post here: Then feel free to berate me, set me straight, add to what I've said, discuss the nuances of the different expressions, or maybe even just say, "Yeah, Bob, ummm . . . you know, I kinda already knew that."

I've been watching the trough that keeps promising to dig through the South mid-week. It hasn't looked very interesting so far, but now suddenly the GFS wants to pull up a crapload of moisture north as far as the Ohio valley on Thursday and overlay southerly surface flow with a good mid-level jet. Maybe that's just a fluke of today's 18Z run, but my interest in this thing has suddenly ramped up a couple of notches.

ADDENDUM: Just looked at model soundings. Ecchh. But no biggie--right now, I'm just curious to see how this system evolves.

I thought I would share another short piece that I wrote back in September, 2008. Like the one I posted a couple days ago about the colors of autumn, this one deals with nature--specifically, with one of my favorite wildflowers, the gentian. Rather than copying the whole piece, I'm only sharing the first couple of paragraphs because I really like how they feel, and in a way, the timing is once again appropriate.
As Wall Street quakes in the face of an economic crisis, the wetlands of Michigan are awash with the colors of early autumn. Beyond the frenetic energy and furrowed brows of Washington, past the eyes and interest of the anxious media, the marsh asters are the same striking purple as always, the unconcerned goldenrods dust the landscape with yellow, and the hazy blue September sky stretches, glowing, over the fens.

This is the time of year when the gentians reign. Their kingdom is a sunlit world filled with wildflowers, birdsong, katydids, and tranquility, and their royal garments are blue swatches of the heavens.

That's it. Maybe I should post the whole piece, but it was this first part that I just needed to get off my chest.

A Field Guide to "A" and "An"

When should you precede a word with "a," and when should you use "an"?

Using these two words* correctly is essential for a writer. It's also easy. I mean, really, really, super-duper EASY. If you've been misusing them, you can fix that in a heartbeat by following these short, simple rules.

When to Use "A":
* Use "a" in front of words that begin with a consonant.
     Examples: A cat. A duck. A platypus. A duck-billed platypus. A quiescent Quaker quivering in quicksand. A well-tempered clavier.

* Use "a" in front of any word that either starts with a "y" or else sounds like it starts with a "y."
     Examples: A yak. A yak in a kayak (a kayak without a yak is just a ka). A eukelele. A Utah resident. A euchre player. A usual usage.

When to Use "An":
* Use "an" in front of words that begin with a vowel or a silent "h."
     Examples: An apple. An elk. An honor. An hourglass. An extraordinarily elegant elephant. An elfin maiden in an unseemly quicksand quandary with Quakers.

* If a word begins with a "y" sound, do NOT use "an" even if the first letter is a vowel. (See second asterisk.)

Here are some examples of INCORRECT usages of "a" and "an":

Misuses of "a": A accident. A inkwell. A ugly duckling. A exciting event. A ordinary ordination. A evil genius. A alien with a unkind uncle. A awfully aching android.

Misuses of "an": An bison. An wild boar. An fantastic event. An useful eukele. An eukelele of any sort, whether useful or not. An yak, even if it's not in an kayak. An Yuletide tuna.

There. Now you know as much as I do about how to use "a" and "an" correctly. Those of you who hitherto have found the matter confusing, now you can use these two words correctly and confidently. Go forth boldly and sin no more.

*The precise term for them is "indefinite article," just in case you wanted to know (and even if you didn't).
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