Grammar Quirks: How Grammar Brought Two Writers Together

Authors (and spouses) Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer talk about problems with colons, misused quotation marks, and how grammar brought them together.

Mignon Fogarty,
Mr. Nice Guy

Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?

Jennifer Miller & Jason Feifer: Jason’s favorite is "disintermediation." He’s a business journalist, and always had a hard time finding the right words for this particular concept. It’s like when we hired Handy to find us a house cleaner, but then we just hired the house cleaner and cut Handy out of it. Then, one day, an entrepreneur told him there’s a word for this: "Disintermediation." Perfect! This is the beauty of language—when a complex idea can so elegantly be folded into a single word, and we can all communicate better because of it.

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Jen’s favorite word is “gloaming” because it so aptly describes not just a specific, fleeting time of day—that brief blue-black period between dusk and night—but evokes the melancholic feeling of that moment.

GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?

JM&JF: Jen hates, hates, hates, hates the word "panties." It’s a word that could easily have appeared numerous times in "Mr. Nice Guy," considering all the sex the characters are having. "Panties" just sounds gross. But it also infantilizes women, especially considering how important and basic underwear is for hygiene, comfort, and cultural norms. Men get boxers (tough, strong) and briefs (professional, academic). Don’t women deserve the same? "Underwear" is acceptable, as is "undies."

This is the beauty of language—when a complex idea can so elegantly be folded into a single word, and we can all communicate better because of it.

Jason hates phrases more than individual words, and his absolutely least favorite is "found himself/herself," as in, "After college, he found himself with a job in advertising." Writers use this phrase all the time in drafts that Jason edits, and he always takes it out, and then explains to the writer that, unless the subject literally went unconscious and then woke up with a job in advertising, the person did not find himself with a job in advertising!

GG: What word will you always misspell?

JM&JF: Real talk from Jason: He’s the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, but he misspelled the word “entrepreneur” in his email signature and left it there for like five months. It’s a hard word! These days, he’s perfected that spelling but still always screws up “bureaucracy.” (Also, real talk: He had to use spell check right now to write that.)

Jen: I cannot manage to spell "maintenance," although, holy crap, I just did!

GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?

JM&JF: Out of curiosity, we just plugged the names of our four main characters into the dictionary and three of them came up as words (Carmen, Jay, and Nick—though that’s cheating a little, in that our character goes by Nicholas, which isn’t in the dictionary). But our title character, Lucas, the so-called Mr. Nice Guy, has no lower-case dictionary meaning. Poor Lucas! But also, that got us thinking about what percentage of proper first names are also words in the dictionary. Jason? Nope. Jennifer? Nope. Mignon? Yup. You win! (Oh, and our son’s name is Fenn, which is there too if you drop an "n"!)


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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