28 May 2019

Things You Learn from Editing

As the old saying goes, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. (As a dog owner, I can attest that this is true!) The saying also applies to writers. No matter how much writing experience you have, you still can learn more.
I was reminded of this point recently, as I've been editing a lot of short stories for two upcoming anthologies, one coming out in December, and another coming out next spring. Some of the stories have been written by authors I consider to be short-story experts. Other stories have been written by authors who have had several stories published but who haven't broken out yet, and others still have been penned by authors who are just starting out. And I have learned something from all of them--sometimes simply from reading the stories (even the newest writer can come up with a twist or a turn of phrase that turns my head) and other times from editing them.

It's the editing finds that can lead to especially interesting conversations.

Did you know that SOB is in the dictionary? All caps. No periods. The acronym for son of a bitch is a word all its own, at least according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Even more surprising (to me at least), mansplain has made the dictionary too. I won't bother to tell you what that words means. I'm sure you know.

Turning to homophones, two-word terms often become single words when slang enters the picture. For instance, a woman might go to the drug store to buy a douche bag, but if her boyfriend is being a jerk, she'd call him a douchebag (one word, no space). And descriptions of animal excrement are usually spelled as two words: horse shit, bull shit, chicken shit. But when you mean "no way" or "a load of not-actual crap" you spell it horseshit and bullshit (again, one word, no space). And when you mean that someone is a coward, you call him a chickenshit--also one word. (Thanks to Michael Bracken for helping me see the horse shit/horseshit distinction recently.) It's interesting that horses, bulls, and chickens have had their excrement turned into slang words, yet dog shit is just that. Two words meaning excrement. As I told a friend, I might start saying "dogshit," when I want to say "no way!" just to see if it catches on.

Keeping with the one-word or two-words questions, do you go into a room or in to a room? This may be an obvious thing for you, but it's one of those little things I find myself double-checking over and over. Same for on to/onto, some time/sometime, and so many more. Each of these words has their proper place, so I like to make sure I use them properly.

Yep, that's a bear on a trampoline.
To answer these questions: you go into a room. Into is the correct word if you are showing motion. The onto/on to question also turns on whether you are showing movement. I jump onto the trampoline. I catch on to my boyfriend's lies. As to sometime or some time, this question turns on whether you are talking about a period of time (writing this blog is taking some time) or if you mean an indefinite date (I'll get back to you sometime next month). Thank goodness for Google, without which I would have to memorize these distinctions. Instead I just get to look them up again and again and again.

Well, I hate to cut this column short, but I'm short on time. (Ha ha!) (And that's two words for ha ha, per our friend Mr. Webster.)

Do you have any interesting word usage issues/spelling knowledge you'd like to share? Please do. I'm always eager to learn something new.


Oh, and before I go, two bits of BSP: My story "Bug App├ętit" has been nominated for the Anthony Award for best short story! This story was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and was a finalist earlier this year for the Agatha Award. I'm honored to be an Anthony finalist along with fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor as well as authors S.A. Cosby, Greg Herren, and Holly West. The winner will be voted on and announced at Bouchercon in November. In the meanwhile, you can read my story here, if you are interested.

And if you're anywhere near Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, June 8th, I hope you'll come to the launch party for Deadly Southern Charm. This anthology from the Central Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime includes my newest short story, "The Power Behind the Throne."

The launch party will run from 3 - 5 p.m. at the Libbie Mill - Henrico County Public Library, 2011 Libbie Lake E. St., Richmond, VA. In addition to the usual book launch activities such as book selling and book signing and snack eating, there will be a panel discussion about the pros and cons of writing different lengths of fiction. I'll be on the panel with fellow Deadly Southern Charm author Lynn Cahoon and anthology editor Mary Burton. We hope to see you there!


  1. The difference between "blond" and "blonde" is one that causes great confusion among writers and editors, and I'm not completely certain my understanding is one-hundred-percent accurate, but:

    "Blond" is a color. "Blond" can also refer to a man with blond hair. "Blonde" is a woman with blond hair.

    Thus, "The women with blonde hair approached" would be an error. "The blonde approached" or "The woman with blond hair approached" would both be correct.

    (This distinction is not universal across all my sources, though.)

    Of note: I have recently read that referring to a woman with blond hair as a "blonde," as in the above example "the blonde approached," is demeaning in that it diminishes the female character to little more than her hair color.

    The distinction between "brunet" and "brunette" is similar and, again, not all of my souces agree on the distinction.

  2. And I remember when people couldn't even use the word "crap" in public. Barely. Favorite Dorothy Parker story: someone introduced her to Norman Mailer, who'd just written "The Naked and the Dead", in which he used the word "fug" as an acronym for you know what. Dorothy said, "Oh, yes. You're the young man who doesn't know how to spell fuck."
    Wish I could be there for the launch.

  3. I agree on blonde/blond. Blond is used as an adjective for men and women. Blonde is used as a noun for a woman with blond hair. Blond is used as a noun for a man with blond hair.

    And thanks for the demeaning idea. I've never thought of it that way. I usually call women the blonde or the brunette, etc., if I don't know their names and am trying to point her out. "Which waitress is ours?" "The tall blonde."

  4. Oh, Eve, I adore that Dorothy Parker story. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. I’ve learned much from both my editors and while I’m editing my students. The past few years I’ve spent less time writing and more time editing for others while I was a caregiver for my mom. Since she passed, I haven’t done much writing of my own and editing for a new writer has helped me want to write again. Barb, a great article. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I’m going to print this and keep it in my desk. Great examples.

  7. My spellcheck gives me trouble when I want to say "some thing" ; it always wants to change it to "something". Apparently, the separate form is never used anymore; what say you,Editor?
    I also have trouble with autocorrect 'correcting' my any mores into a compound.
    Very good article, Barb, but I don;tthinkJingle wants his leavings used as an expletive!

  8. Good stuff.

    "When I was in college, there were certain words you could not say in front of a girl... Now you can say them, but you can't say 'girl.'" - Tom Lehrer

  9. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. I'm glad to hear you're getting motivated to write again, Deborah. And I'm sorry about your mom.

    Ruth, I'm so happy to be of help.

    Tonette, while I find spellcheck to often be wrong, in this case, I think you should rely on it. "Something" is pretty standard across the board. The only time I could think of saying "some thing" is if you wanted to emphasize either "some" or "thing." As to anymore versus any more, I hope this is helpful: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/anymore-vs-any-more/

    And Rob, ha!

  10. Congratulations on your Anthony nom Barb! Please do a “Things You Learn from Editing Part 2.” I learned a lot.

  11. Barb (and Michael), I'm so pleased we agree on blond/blonde. It runs me crazy when people write "She has blonde hair."

    I love columns like this, Barb. As Larry said, we can learn a lot from them.

  12. Thanks, Lawrence and John! And I'm glad to help. I'll look to do a follow-up column sometime soon.


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