Soda, Pop, or Coke?

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about how we pronounce certain words can be a dead giveaway of where we’re from. If you’re from Massachusetts, you know that Worcester is pronounced “Wooster”, if you’re in Austin, Texas, you know Guadalupe St. is pronounced “Gwadda-loop”, and of course, if you don’t call it “Torr-ah-no”, then you ain’t from around here, are you?

Well shibboleths go beyond just pronunciation and include our words choices too. Depending on the region you’re from, you might greet a group of people with a hearty, “Hiya folks!”, or a more sedate “Hey guys.”

In 2003, a team at Harvard conducted an extensive study, calling households across the United States, asking what words they used to refer to certain things. Did they call a small store selling junk food, cigarettes, and maybe some produce a bodega, a variety store, or a corner store? Was there term for generic carbonated sugary beverages soda, pop, or coke?

The maps of their results illustrate the geographic boundaries of different American dialects, and if you’re from southern Ontario, you’ll probably find yourself matching up with the Minnesota, Michigan, New York area.

The Atlantic pulled the results together and made a fantastic video called “Soda, Pop, Coke”. Check it out here:

Editing a certain bombastic politician

200 words.

Over the seemingly infinite months that have been the lead-up to the American presidential election, we’ve been subjected to one absurd message after another from Donald Trump. Because he’s been in the news cycle so consistently, we’ve also been able to discern certain linguistic patterns that he has:

  • He’s turned the word “sad” into an insulting interjection
  • He’s an apparent master of answering a question with a response not even tangentially related to the initial query, and usually meanders into self-adulation.
  • He avoids debate by going straight to the ad hominem, and sometimes these stick as nicknames. E.g. ‘The failing New York Times, which nobody reads’, ‘Crooked Hilary and her phony money’

Well, another favourite man-child on Twitter, Guy in your MFA, has spent this morning picking apart Trump’s tweets, giving them a scathing edit.

Here are some choice examples:


He provides some higher-order editing here, encouraging our fledgling author to be more original, more distinct:


Sometimes though, an editor just needs to check the facts, and keep someone from embarrassing themselves. Where were you on Monday?!


Check out Guy in your MFA and its affiliated account, Dystopian YA Novel for some humorous, meta tips on how not to write.

Do yourself a favo(u)r and learn about spelling reform

240 words.

When Canadians have to write something by hand, we have to stop and think about how to spell. Living in the shadow of our big southern neighbors, we grow up learning two systems, and so most of us are perennially unsure of ourselves.

In school, they teach us rules about words like favour, centre, programme, and grey. But, when we read books, news, or pretty much anything made in the States, it’s favor, center, program, and gray. Because of the outsized cultural influence of the US, we’re often stuck learning one way, but overwhelmingly being exposed to another.

The reason for the difference is that the US has made a partial, but concerted effort at spelling reform. I recently learned about this subject thanks to my favourite podcast, Lexicon Valley.

Continue reading “Do yourself a favo(u)r and learn about spelling reform”

Having fun in Toronto, for cheap

121 words.

To return the favour of Catherine’s great interview, I interviewed her about her blog, TorontoFrugal.

Catherine started her blog a few months ago, hoping to inform people about all of the great activities and amenities that are available in Toronto. It’s TorontoFrugal, so you can be sure that any of these things are going to set you back a few bucks at most.

In this 5-minute interview, Catherine tells me about the first event she went to for the blog, Doors Open Toronto at the Don Jail.

Enjoy, and please leave a comment letting me know how ridiculous it was that I asked her if she visited 170 locations in one weekend.

Putting a voice to the words

77 words.

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by a friend and colleague named Catherine Jan, who you might know from her long-running blog, Catherine Translates or her newer blog Toronto Frugal. Catherine’s a thoughtful and insightful writer, and in our ~seven minute interview we talk about this blog, language evolution, and I call forward to that blog post I wrote about “they”.

A quick refresher on subject-verb agreement

245 words.

In the last little while, as I’ve been writing and editing, I’ve run into a similar problem a few times. By becoming aware of it, I had the uncanny experience of having it pop up everywhere, so I decided to write a short post clearing up the issue.

It’s technically an error of subject and verb agreement, but it’s a little more complicated because of the circumstances is shows up in.

Here are two examples:

“The university, with its professors, students, and staff members, are making an effort to choose active commuting this month.”

“The RCMP use a different Use of Force model.”

In both of these cases, we have two subjects that suggest a collective, a group of people, but are in fact singulars. They’re speaking of a monolithic corporate entity, one that treats itself as an individual body.

The first example is especially tricky because you have three plurals following the subject, so it’s easy to get confused and make this error.

By correctly identifying the subject, these sentences should read:

“The university, with its professors, students, and staff members, is making an effort to choose active commuting this month.”

– and-

“The RCMP uses a different Use of Force model.”

So, remember that verbs need to modify and act in accordance with their subjects. A difficult sentence construction can make the subject harder to see, but if you pause and ask “who or what is actually doing this thing?”, you should be able to figure it out.

Happy writing!

How we know when you ain’t from around here

565 words.

Even when everybody in a room is speaking standard English, there are subtle cues that let us know about who they are and where they’re from.

If you’re ever in the vicinity of Boston, Mass, people will be able to tell right away that you’re just visiting if you phonetically pronounce the city of Worcester. That’s because people round there call it “Wooster”.

Here in Toronto, it’s a good indication that someone’s a tourist if they pronounce the second “t” in the city’s name. People who grew up here or nearby pronounce it as “Torawno”, because that second t really makes the word drag. Continue reading “How we know when you ain’t from around here”

The anti-fascist surgeon who was way ahead of his time

If your memory of Canada’s Heritage Moments is a little fuzzy, you could probably use a little refresher on one of Canada’s medical legends. Continue reading “The anti-fascist surgeon who was way ahead of his time”

A game of Show and Tell

499 words.

There’s a truism in storytelling that you’re meant to show, not tell. It’s trotted out so often that it’s become clichéd, losing its meaning, despite being a basically sound piece of advice. I myself heard it about a dozen times before coming across an example that showed me exactly why it was important.

Continue reading “A game of Show and Tell”

The end of an era for the end-stop

706 words.

Over time, our language habits change and evolve. Just like some living creatures are proven to be more fit for their surroundings, so too do certain phrases and communication styles ascend while others fall away.

In recent years, there’s been an explosion in the use of mobile phones, and with those phones came texting. The effect that texting has had on our language is fascinating, because in place of the usual slow and gradual evolutionary process that language typically abides by, there’s been a rapid growth and adoption of a new linguistic style.

There has been a general acceptance of truncations and elisions, mixed with using numbers as syllabic stand-ins.
“When R U cmin out?”  “Luv u 2”  “Wut r we waiting 4?”

There has been a quick adoption of using punctuation to mimic facial expressions.
“That sounds great :)”   “Don’t mind if I do ;)” “We lost :(“
Which has itself been replaced by the variety and specificity of emoji in most texting apps.

One of the most interesting changes, grammar-wise, has been the new affective weight of punctuation. Continue reading “The end of an era for the end-stop”