Author: Samantha Enslen

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.


Today, we have a tidbit about the word that’s spelled A-S-K. You’ll usually hear this pronounced “ask”—but sometimes, you’ll hear it pronounced as “aks,” with the “s” and the “k” sounds transposed. Some people can get all agitated when they hear the “aks” pronunciation. They might be surprised to hear that although it isn’t considered standard English, the “aks” version actually has a long and storied history that extends back through nearly a thousand years of the English language. Here’s the scoop. The word “ask” comes from the Proto-Germanic word “aisk?an,” which evolved into the Old English word “ascian.” From…

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The first Wimbledon championships were held in 1877. They featured a field of 22 men, who were advised to bring their own racquets and to wear “shoes without heels.” The balls were hand-sewn, with a flannel casing. The racquets were made of wood and looked distinctly like snowshoes. The event was so successful that a women’s championship was added seven years later. First prize for the ladies was a silver flower basket, valued at 20 guineas. Fast forward about a hundred years. In 2018, the winner of the women’s tournament, Angelique Kerber, took home 2.25 million pounds (that’s about 2.8…

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May 5 is Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces in The Battle of Puebla in 1862. The battle was one event in a three-year war between France and Mexico. Although it culminated in France taking control of the country and installing a French emperor as ruler, that rule didn’t last long. After only three years, France withdrew from the country and ceded control back to Mexico. The Battle of Puebla didn’t end the war or win it, but it was a symbolic victory for Mexico. Four thousand poorly armed Mexican soldiers defeated…

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Two of our listeners wrote in recently to ask about a speech pattern they’d noticed: the habit of people dropping the T-sound in words like “Putin” or “mitten.” They wondered if this was a regional dialect, a generational one, or something else. Here’s what we discovered. The phenomenon itself is known as “T-glottalization.” It occurs when a speaker swallows the T sound in a word rather than speaking it aloud. We hear it when words like “kitten” and “water” are pronounced like “KIH-en” and “WAH-er.” Let’s talk about how this happens, and whether we should expect more of it. How…

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St. Patrick’s Day is coming up March 17. With that in mind, today we’re going to talk about three phrases you’re likely to hear on that holiday. Before we dive in, here’s a refresher on St. Patrick. His life was pretty eventful. He was born in Great Britain in the 5th century and then kidnapped as a child and enslaved by Irish raiders. He escaped back to his home country after six years. Later, as an adult, he dreamed that a group of Irishmen were calling him back to their land. Believing he’d received a message from God, he returned…

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Here’s a question for you: In what world do “baraag,” “toot,” “toerroe,” “baaa,” “paoh-paoh,” and “u-u-u” all mean the same thing? It’s in the wild world of animal sounds and how they’re expressed in different human languages. Those sounds I just made? They’re all words for the sound an elephant makes when it trumpets, expressed, respectively, in English, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. And this phenomenon—whereby an animal sound is expressed quite differently in different languages—isn’t limited to elephants. For example, in English, we think of a mouse going “squeak.” But in German, it goes “piep-piep.” And in…

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The Super Bowl is right around the corner. So with that in mind, today we’re going to talk about “punting.” ‘Punt’: To Give Up “Punting” first arose as a way to describe kicking a ball dropped from the hands before it hits the ground in rugby in the mid-1800s, and in football (and that’s American football), it means essentially the same thing: “to punt” means to kick the ball down the field. But as an idiom, “to punt” means to give up, to defer action, or to pass responsibility off to someone else. Nobody is really sure where the word…

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Recently, Grammar Girl listener Mark J. Yevchak‎ wrote in with an interesting question. He’d been watching the HBO miniseries “Generation Kill,” about the first days of the war in Iraq, and he noticed that one of the characters, Lt. Col. Stephen “Godfather” Ferrando, often uses his own name when speaking. Here are a few examples: “The general has asked this battalion to be America’s shock troops, and Godfather can’t tell the general we don’t do windows.” “Godfather doesn’t like being told what to do by the enemy.” “Godfather needs an airfield.” Mark wanted to know what it’s called when someone…

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OK, let’s admit it. None of us really likes to apologize when we’ve done something wrong. In fact, the ways we avoid apologies are so common they’ve been given names. There’s the “nopology,” the “unpology,” and the “fauxpology,” just for starters. And the hashtag #sorrynotsorry has trended for years. It’s used to indicate a sardonic lack of shame, as in: “Binge-watching instead of cleaning house #sorrynotsorry.” So how do you write a good apology and avoid one that rings false? Let’s start by talking about what NOT to do. Types of Non-Apologies The “If” Apology The Passive Voice Apology The…

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We recently got a question about commas from one of our listeners, Benjamin Wolfe. Benjamin asked this: “Have you done a post on when to include a comma before a quotation? The rules seem dicey.” Benjamin, we agree! This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a single answer. In fact, there are four, count ‘em, four different ways you can introduce a quotation. Each has its own punctuation rule. Let’s take a look. When to Use a Comma As a general rule, you should use a comma to introduce quoted material or dialogue. That’s because in most…

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