Gray vs. grey

Gray and grey are both correct spellings for that almost-black color, but choosing which to use depends on where you live.

If you are in the United States, gray is more common. If you are in another English-speaking country, grey is preferred.

You can remember this by noting the A and the E in the words:

In America, use grAy.
In England, use grEy.

(But, of course, don’t forget Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. They use grey too.)

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When to capitalize flag names

Capitalize official names and nicknames of flags.

Old Glory
Star-Spangled Banner
Union Jack
Maple Leaf

However, when referring generically to the American flag or the Canadian flag and the like, keep the F in flag lowercased because it’s not a proper noun (the actual name of the flag).

For a list of flag nicknames, click here.

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Library love

Today we have a guest post by Angela Palm, who has written a lovely book inspired by old library check-out cards. Enjoy!

Stories and poems have long shown readers tiny slices of the lives of others, of frozen moments in time, and of worlds-away places. I remember fondly the libraries that nurtured my love of books and that provided the backdrop for the untold fantastic travels of my mind. I remember the check-out cards tucked into the slim, manila envelopes that adhered to the inside covers. I remember standing at the check-out counter, scanning the list of names of people who had read a book before me. In some cases, I was the first to check out the book, the first to sign the card. Over a year ago, when I stumbled upon small bundles of these cards available for sale on Etsy on sites such as Erin Roof’s, those memories were unearthed. I ordered a set of ten, a set of five. Another set of ten. On and on until I’d filled a shoebox with old library check-out cards.

When the cards arrived in the mail, their three-dimensional appeal further incited my interest. They felt like that past; they looked like the past; they even smelled like the past. Some who’d sold the cards were curious about my purchase—what was I going to do with them? At the time, I didn’t know. I just wanted to collect them and keep remembering. I wanted to keep discovering new pathways to imagining the past through the cards. The more I looked at the signatures, the more I wondered about the people who’d borrowed books. I studied the handwriting on the cards—some were cursive curling strokes that spread the height of two lines, others were compact and block-lettered. I imagined the personalities that went along with these styles and stories began to populate my mind. I wrote some of those stories (here’s one!) and shared the exercise with other writers. I spent a year curated those poems, essays, and stories—all sprung from these beloved cards and found the perfect publisher for the collection. The book is now available for pre-order through Wind Ridge Books, a nonprofit book publisher that forms charitable partnerships with the organization of the author’s choosing. I chose the Vermont Library Association as my charitable partner for the book, Please Do Not Remove, in hopes that it would be a small way to help keep libraries alive, physically operating in their often historic buildings, so that they may inspire others in the same way that they have inspired me. Ten percent of the book’s net proceeds will be donated to the Vermont Library Association.

Are you a writer? Would you like to give this exercise a try? You can email me at to get a picture of one of the cards from my collection. I’ll be working on subsequent volumes of this anthology in other states in 2015. Let’s stay in touch and be inspired together.


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A villainous etymology

villain: a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things

I’ve been on a major Shakespeare kick lately. One thing I noticed in my devouring of his plays is how many times the bard used the word villain. I mean, it’s a lot. If you turned it into a drinking game, taking a sip every time he used it (which you shouldn’t do because that’s dangerous), you’d in a sad state by act II.

This got me thinking about the etymology of villain. By its spelling, I assumed it came from French (it does), but I didn’t expect it would have much of a story after that. I was wrong. The Online Etymology Dictionary gave me the details.

Villain comes from the Old French word vilain, which does not mean “a bad guy in a cape lurking in the shadows.” It originally meant, in the twelfth century, a “peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel.” In other words, a villain was just a regular guy who was unfamiliar with the trappings of high society.

Before Old French, villain had roots in the Medieval Latin villanus, meaning “farmhand.” Before that was the Latin villa, meaning “country house, farm.”

So, is it really so bad to be a villain? Shakespeare still thought so:

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 5



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Fairy tale vs. fairy-tale


fairy tale (noun): a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins)

fairy-tale (adjective): characteristic of or suitable to a fairy tale, marked by seemingly unreal beauty, perfection, luck, or happiness


It’s finally feeling like summer. The wind is carrying lovely, flowery scents (unless you live in a city—then it’s most likely pee smell). Either way, this is the season to daydream and think of fairy tales. Now let’s make sure you are using the term correctly.

When used as a noun, fairy tale is two words without a hyphen.

Example: Mom told me a fairy tale about a princess who turned into a fairy.

However, when it is used as an adjective to describe a noun, it has a hyphen and looks like this: fairy-tale.

Example: Her fairy-tale wedding must have cost a fortune.

(Here, fairy-tale describes the noun wedding.)

Check your understanding with this quiz. Fill in either fairy tale or fairy-tale in the blanks. The answers are below.

1) Every day as he sat in his cubicle, Ralph dreamed of a new life, a _______ life.

2) The _______ involved goblins and mean elves, so Susie thought it was scary.

3) Al had a new car, a new wife, a mansion, and a raise. Could this mean his _______ was coming true?

4. The cake had chocolate chips, frosting, strawberries, and fudge. It was basically a _______ dessert.



1) fairy-tale (adjective describing life); 2) fairy tale (noun); 3) fairy tale (noun); 4) fairy-tale (adjective describing dessert)


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