Death and Taxes


Today is tax day. And like many cash-strapped red, white, and blue-blooded ’Mericans, I filed for an extension. For a lot of us across the globe (exempting those rich @#$!s with offshore tax shelters), there’s much truth to the famous saying: Nothing is certain except death and taxes.

That phrase is most commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who wrote to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789: “Our new Constitution is now established. Everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” (Franklin wrote this in French, and English translations vary.)

However, Franklin wasn’t the first to bemoan this reality. In 1716, Christopher Bullock wrote in his play, Cobbler of Preston, “Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes!”

In 1724, playwright Edward Ward wrote in The Dancing Devils, “Death and taxes, they are certain.”

And, Daniel Defoe wrote in his 1726 book, The Political History of the Devil, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”

Well, maybe there is one more thing certain in life other than death and taxes: politicians taking credit for other people’s ideas.

Happy tax day everyone!





Posted in etymology, in the news | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Words and phrases Shakespeare invented

William Shakespeare wasn’t just one of the greatest and most influential playwrights in history, he was also a mega wordsmith. Some estimates say the bard coined 1,700 words, many of which we use daily—like eyeball. Seriously. Eyeball.

Here’s a sample of words Shakespeare invented:

  • addiction (Othello)
  • bedazzled (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • belongings (Measure for Measure)
  • bloodstained (Titus Andronicus)
  • cold-blooded (King John)
  • eventful (As You Like It)
  • eyeball (The Tempest)
  • fashionable (Troilus and Cressida)
  • jaded (King Henry VI)
  • laughable (The Merchant of Venice)
  • manager (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • mimic (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • moonbeam (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • new-fangled (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • obscene (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • puking (As You Like It)
  • scuffle (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • swagger (Henry V)
  • uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet)
  • zany (Love’s Labour’s Lost)

Shakespeare also coined many popular phrases. Here is a sample:

  • all’s well that ends well (All’s Well that Ends Well)
  • bated breath (The Merchant of Venice)
  • be all and the end all (Macbeth)
  • brave new world (The Tempest)
  • break the ice (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • fancy-free (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • flaming youth (Hamlet)
  • for goodness’ sake (Henry VIII)
  • foregone conclusion (Othello)
  • full circle (King Lear)
  • good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
  • jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
  • it was Greek to me (Julius Caesar)
  • heart of gold (Henry V)
  • in a pickle (The Tempest)
  • in my heart of hearts (Hamlet)
  • in my mind’s eye (Hamlet)
  • kill with kindness (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • neither a borrower nor a lender be (Hamlet)
  • neither rhyme nor reason (As You Like It)
  • parting is such sweet sorrow (Romeo and Juliet)
  • pomp and circumstance (Othello)
  • salad days (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • sea change (The Tempest)
  • something wicked this way comes (Macbeth)
  • to thine own self be true (Hamlet)
  • too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
  • wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)

Now goeth forward, dear readers, and speaketh awesome words. And if you can’t think of the right one, do like Shakespeare did and just make one up.



Posted in etymology | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Christmasy misspellings

It’s that time of year again. Red and green decorations line the streets and shop windows. Store clerks wrestle with the eternal question of whether to wish you “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” And here in Minnesota, it looks like a real-life snow globe.

Today I’m writing about some common Christmasy misspellings, so you can write your holiday cards and family newsletters with peace of mind (and peace on earth).

  • Christmastime is one word.
  • Ho! Ho! Ho! has exclamation points after each one.
  • Santa Claus has no E at the end.
  • Noël, the French word for Christmas, has an diaeresis over the E, if you want to be especially traditional. Though, “Noel” is also an accepted spelling.
  • Xmas does not have a hyphen after the X.

And if you want to add some international flair to your season’s greetings, here is how to say “Merry Christmas” in other languages:

  • Danish: Glædelig Jul
  • French: Joyeux Noël
  • German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
  • Italian: Buon Natale
  • Spanish: Feliz Navidad
  • Swedish: God Jul
Posted in copy editing, foreign language | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stigma and “disabled” words

Today we have a special guest blogger. Jothy Rosenberg is one of my favorite people on the planet. A few years ago, I edited his memoir, Who Says I Can’t, which is about his surviving and thriving after cancer caused his leg to be amputated. Jothy has since become a campaigner for people with disabilities and is now working on a documentary, called Who Says Roseann Can’t Run, which will show the journey of a woman, whose leg had to be amputated after the Boston bombing, as she learns to run again with her prosthetic leg.

Jothy has started a Kickstarter funding project for the film. Please consider supporting this film by donating here:

Take it away, Jothy.

I am guest posting here on Erin’s blog about grammar. Erin is about much more than grammar; grammar is just a hobby for her. She is all about telling a great story. That is why I keep wanting Erin to edit things I write. But she is right, grammar is a means to that end. In between grammar—the mechanical aspects of language and writing—and great storytelling is deeper, sometimes hidden, meaning in the words we use to tell a story.

I have been an amputee for forty years, and a lot has changed in how we express my “situation” in those many years. Back in the day, as they like to say now, here in this country, and unfortunately still today in many countries, having a difference about you physically or mentally meant being ostracized and shunned. Way, way back in early human civilization, this made some sense either because it meant you could not help the tribe obtain food and defend itself, or because it meant you had a genetic defect that should not be passed on to future generations. But we are supposed to be more evolved than either of these reasons now, so even forty years ago, it should have not been so difficult for a sixteen year old who’d lost his leg to get through a day of high school.

For many years, in spite of either being on crutches or walking on a pretty primitive prosthetic leg, I refused to get a handicapped car placard because I did not want to be associated with that word. I also would have nothing to do with “support groups” of others who had lost a limb because I did not want to be associated with “those people.” I wanted to be “normal.” Of course, that’s ludicrous. There is no normal and certainly not for someone who goes from having two legs to suddenly having one; a new normal slowly emerges that that person gets to—no, has to—shape.

I also had a lot of trouble with the word “disabled.” Think about that word. The prefix “dis-” means “not” or “negation” so “dis-abled” means “not abled.” That is pretty harsh. And if you knew me as the double-black-diamond skier, swimmer from Alcatraz, and century bike rider all with one leg and one lung, you would be hard-pressed to say I was “not abled.” I am not alone. Would you say Oscar Pistorius (murder allegations aside), who got admitted into the “able-bodied” Olympics, was not abled? We do know better now. And to strike back, in my view misguidedly, many who have a physical change to their bodies rebel vehemently against this word and instead make up new words like “differently-abled,” as if they are able to bend spoons like they are someone out of X-Men. I admit, it took me about twenty-five years to finally relax about all of this and stop caring about these semantics, so I understand those who are fresh and whose sensibilities are still quite raw do not want labels. But it’s important not to become like PETA either: no matter how great your cause, if you become too militant about anything, you alienate the rest of the world and lose the chance to further your cause.

I now have the pleasure of working with Roseann Sdoia, an amputee who became so when the second bomb at the Boston Marathon went off right next to her and so badly damaged her right leg that she had to have it amputated above the knee. She also got shrapnel damage to her left leg (which is still working okay) and both her eardrums were blown out. She was saved by a Boston fire fighter, who got her quickly into an ambulance and held her hand all the way to the hospital. It’s cool, and kind of cute, that they are now a very devoted couple. When someone recently called out when Roseann was going down the sidewalk, “Clear a path. A handicapped person is coming through,” her boyfriend, not even missing a beat, said, “She’s not handicapped, she’s hand-capable.” Because this is all very fresh with Roseann, and her self-esteem has taken as huge a beating as her body, this statement by her boyfriend was not just helpful, it was essential. She needs to hear that, and the rest of us need to be sensitive to her need to hear that. Perhaps in twenty-five years she, too, will relax about these semantics, but in the meantime, sensitivity should be something we can all learn in the words we use. After all, you two-leggers, we one-leggers just have to stick together.

If you would like to support a new documentary being filmed about Roseann’s journey from barely surviving last April’s horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon to running again, please consider supporting our Kickstarter campaign at:

Posted in semantics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are since and because interchangeable?

since: from a past time until now; after a time in the past; before the present time
because: for the reason that

Though in the definition listed above since appears to relate only to time, in reality, people use it the same as because to imply cause.

Notice the similarities in these two sentences:

Since he ate cookies, Charlie is a happy boy.
Because he ate cookies, Charlie is a happy boy.

In the sentences, both since and because are helping us show the cause of Charlie’s happiness: eating cookies.

However, using since and because interchangeably can cause problems when it is unclear whether since is referring to time or to cause.

Notice this sentence:

Since he slayed the dragon, Charlie got measles.

In this sentence, it is unclear whether Charlie got measles as a direct result of (caused by) killing the dragon or if he simply contracted measles in the period of time after killing the dragon (not caused by the killing).

If we used because in the sentence above, we would know the dragon slaying directly caused his measles. As it is written with since, the causation is unclear.

To avoid confusion, it is best to limit since to time elements and not use it interchangeably with because. Because is the best choice to indicate directly the reason something happened.

Posted in copy editing, grammar, semantics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments