The Saturday Writing Quote — Ayn Rand on confidence

“When you write, be as conceited as you can be — ‘conceit’ is not the right word, but I want to overstate the point. You must have total self-esteem. Leave your self-doubts behind when you sit down to write — and pick them up again, if you wish, during the process of editing. Sometimes your writing will give you reason to feel some self-doubt afterward . . . . But while you are writing, . . . [r]egard yourself as an absolute, sovereign consciousness. Forget that man is fallible and that you might make mistakes. That is true, but it is for the next day, when you edit.”

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction 59-60 (1969; Robert Mayhew ed., 2001) (quoted in the blog Garner’s Daily Usage, by Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage)

Garner on terminology

GarnerGarner’s Modern American Usage is a reference you should all have.

“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

judge; justice.

In American English, as a general rule, judges sitting on the highest appellate level of a jurisdiction are known as “justices.” Trial judges and appellate judges on intermediate levels are generally called “judges,” not “justices.”

New York and Texas depart from these rules of thumb. In New York, “justices” sit on the trial court of general jurisdiction (called the Supreme Court, oddly), whereas “judges” sit on the appellate courts. In Texas, “justices” sit on the courts of appeals (between the trial court and the Supreme Court — the latter being the highest civil court, which is also composed of “justices”); “judges” sit on trial courts and on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court.

H.W. Horwill wrote that “‘judge’ carries with it in America by no means such dignified associations as it possesses in Eng. It may mean [in American English] no more than a magistrate of a police court.” Modern American Usage 180 (2d ed. 1944). “Justice” may also denote, in American and British English alike, a low-ranking judge or inferior magistrate, as in the phrases “justice of the peace” and “police justice.””

Garner on Usage: judgment or judgement

This is so important that I’m sharing the entire post, from the estimable Bryan Garner.

“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day


Part A: Spelling. “Judgment” is the preferred form in American English and in British legal texts, even as far back as the 19th century. “Judgement” is prevalent in British nonlegal texts and was thought by H.W. Fowler to be the better form (Modern English Usage 1 at 310).

Part B: American and British Legal Senses. In American English, a “judgment” is the final decisive act of a court in defining the rights of the parties {the judgment constituted the final decree}. In British English, “judgment” is commonly used in the sense in which “judicial opinion” is used in American English.

Part C: “Court judgment.” This phrase is a redundancy, though an understandable one when the likely readers are nonlawyers. For example, the following book’s title might have misled general readers if the word “court” had been removed: Gini G. Scott et al., Collect Your Court Judgment (1991).”


GarnerFrom Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, one of my favorite devices:

Zeugma (1).

Today: Witty Uses.

This figure of speech, literally a “yoking together,” involves a word’s being a part of two constructions. Sometimes it results in a grammatical error, but sometimes it’s simply a felicitous way of phrasing an idea. For example, sometimes a verb or preposition is applied to two other words in different senses, often figuratively in one sense and literally in the other, as in “she took her oath and her seat.” Often, the phrasing is both purposeful and humorous — e.g.:

o “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Groucho Marx, as quoted in Jim Shea, “Groucho Speaks,” Hartford Courant, 18 Aug. 1997, at E1. (“Flies” is used in two senses; so is “like.”)

o “I just blew my nose, a fuse, and three circuit breakers.” (A character on “The Jim Henson Hour,” 16 July 1989.)

o “We would venture out into the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas, where we found king mackerel and serenity.” Cactus Pryor, “He Called Me Puddin’,” Tex. Monthly, Feb. 1992, at 101, 134.

o Notice the title: “Cruel Flood: It Tore at Graves, and at Hearts,” Isabel Wilkerson, N.Y. Times, 26 Aug. 1993, at A1.

o “You held your breath and the door for me.” Alanis Morissette, “Head over Feet” [song] (1995).

o “He turned my life and this old car around.” Sara Evans, “Three Chords and the Truth” [song] (1997).”

Subscribing to Garner’s Usage blog

GarnerI’ve quoted from Bryan Garner’s blog, Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, based on his Garner’s Modern American Usage, and readers have told me the entries are useful but they can’t find a way to subscribe. One way is through the publisher’s website. The email subscription option is midway down the page.

Try another route through this page on Garner’s website. The email subscription option is below Garner’s signature in the right-hand column.

And feel smarter already.

Garner’s Modern American Usage


Last week’s terminology tip quoted a daily email from Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3d Ed (Oxford University Press). A reader wrote that she could not see where on Garner’s site to subscribe to the daily emails, and darn it, I couldn’t find the link either. I finally remembered to check the daily email for subscriber options; turns out the emails are sent by the press, not Garner, so the link is on the press’s website, not his. I found it here.  (Or get there by finding Garner’s page on the Oxford University Press website; scroll down to Customer Services and click on “Join Our Email List.”)

The daily emails provide short excerpts from the book, with definitions and examples. Subscribing to the list is like reading the book, two or three column inches at a time. Painless, and enormously helpful. A great resource, eaten in small bites. Even if it’s on your shelf, the daily emails are a great service for writers and readers.

The Saturday Writing Quote: H.L. Mencken

“The art of writing, like the art of love, runs all the way from a kind of routine hard to distinguish from piling bricks to a kind of frenzy closely related to delirium tremens.”

H.L. Mencken, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks 18 (1956) (thanks to Bryan Garner’s daily blog on Modern American Usage)


The Saturday Writing Quote: SI Hayakawa

“The stronger verbal taboos have . . . a genuine social value. When we are extremely angry and we feel the need of expressing our anger in violence, uttering these forbidden words provides us with a relatively harmless verbal substitute for going berserk and smashing furniture; that is, the words act as a kind of safety valve in our moments of crisis.”

S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action 66 (4th ed. 1978) (quote from Bryan Garner’s daily post on Modern American Usage)


The Saturday Writing Quote — the importance of gestures

“To say, ‘Leave the room,’ is less expressive than to point to the door. Placing a finger on the lips is more forcible than whispering, ‘Do not speak.’ A beck of the hand is better than, ‘Come here.’ No phrase can convey the idea of surprise so vividly as opening the eyes and raising the eyebrows. A shrug of the shoulders would lose much by translation into words.”

—  Herbert Spencer, Philosophy of Style 17-18 ([1871]; repr. 1959). (Via Bryan Garner, Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day blog.)

A note on usage: “the suspect”

GarnerI’m a big fan of Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, as well as a respected teacher of legal writing. I subscribe to a daily email service from Oxford Univ Press, publisher of his usage guide, and couldn’t resist passing on today’s entry:

“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

suspect, n.

A “suspect” is someone suspected of committing a crime. The person who commits the crime is a criminal (or a robber, thief, murderer, or the like). But in police reports it is common for writers (and, more commonly, broadcast reporters) to describe how “the suspect” committed the crime. Not only is this often absurd (if there is no suspect at that time), it is also potentially false and libelous (if there is a suspect but the suspect is not guilty). Unfortunately, the slack usage seems to be an infection that some writers catch from hanging around police jargon too long — e.g.:

o “When confronted, the other man punched him in the eye. The suspect [read ‘assailant’] fled on foot, leaving the lawnmower.” Jeremy Jarrell, “Woman Reports She Saw Man,” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, W. Va.), 31 May 2002, at C3.

o “After being given an undisclosed amount of cash, the suspect [read ‘robber’] fled north on foot.” “For the Record,” Salt Lake Trib., 1 June 2002, at B2.”

(Looks like the Oxford email is an advance version of the entries on Garner’s blog, so you can subscribe via Oxford or read the blog, which has an RSS option but no email subscription.)