When is a word not a word?

The question should be: Is there any validity to a claim that “a word isn’t a word?”

Alright, you’re asking yourself: What’s got his goat this time?

It’s not so dramatic as that! But, because I spend (waste?) some portion of my time sifting through the seemingly infinite pages of grammar and usage advice on the internet, I frequently encounter things that interest me. Or annoy me. Or make me laugh, or cry…or sigh in despair. Or some simultaneous combination of all of the above.

During this unending wandering, I recently came across a persnickety article that insisted that “impactful” is not a word. This sort of definitive declaration always gets my attention. I’m not (usually) someone who supports a position that involves absolutes, and that’s especially (but not universally) true when it comes to definitions.

Click for more impact!

Posted in Language, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microaggressions in Editing?

An interesting headline crossed my desk from a couple of different directions recently. Here’s the source story by Crystal Shelley over at ACES, if you’d like to give it a quick read before continuing (it’s short but it’s not necessary to read it to follow this post).

My initial reaction to the headline—before reading the story—was “really?” Feel free to attribute a healthy helping of sarcasm to how you read my comment.

But that reaction lasted only seconds. Because even without reading the story, I knew exactly what the author would be talking about, and I totally understood the point. More importantly, I agree with it.

Don’t execute a microaggression by closing the tab. Just click here.

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Revisiting Racism and Racialism

Every once in awhile something drops into the mailbag from out of the blue which leaves me scratching my head. It might be because I have no idea why I received it, or maybe it’s productive confusion over a reader who asks a question with great depth and nuance.

Or maybe, as last week, it’s befuddlement over the pure dripping ignorance (with a helping of hatefulness) expressed by the correspondent.

Here’s the text of that message in full. It’s unedited: the misspellings, idiosyncratic punctuation, borderline gibberish, and coded hate speech are unaltered.


joshua adams <adams85@mail.com>
Mon 1/25/2021 4:38 AM
To whom it may concern,, I came across an online article ‘you’ published describing the difference between ‘racist’ & ‘racialist’; as I began reading I was assuming it’d be an intelligent, incite on literal definition that would clarify confusion between 2 related topics but then I came to view a hodgepodge of malarkey….in otherwords the article is 1 of THE most bogus asinine synopses I’ve ever seen for public absorption. Do you realize someone might actually believe nonsense like that & then go on to relay more lies to the already indoctrinated youth of the current?? Very apparent to me that the author of this 💩 is most likely a leftist dolt who is another grain in the bale of Red hay that’s contributing to the ongoing decline.. I suppose you would regard the (j) a.d.l as a credited database of ‘hate’ as well?? The zog is far beyond being ignored in the 20th century…if you receive this email Please help me understand what you Really meant & that you didn’t purposely mean to correlate 2 completely different areas. Thanks.j


This references a post from 2016. It had been awhile since I’d looked at that one, so I went back to read it to see if I could understand what this guy was going on about. Might I have totally missed the mark—did I purely editorialize instead of providing useful information about the words’ definitions, their etymology, and their practical use? Stranger things have happened.

But…nope. Four and a half years on, that post holds up pretty well (better than some others!). It defines the words, provides some history on their (very modern) origins, and offers a fairly compact summary of why the words are both intertwined and dangerously hateful.

I considered (but only briefly) whether I should redact the name and email address of the above correspondent. I have not. My thinking on this is simple: if you choose to be an offensive racist and publicly share those thoughts, as this person has done, I will do nothing to shield your identity from public view. You, sir, are a hateful creep and I am not the least bit hesitant to note this. And what’s with the poop emoji—are you angling to develop your brand as “the approachable and lighthearted Nazi?” Good luck with that niche marketing.

I’m not sure what the scare quotes around ‘you’ are meant to indicate (“an online article ‘you’ published”): my real name is included at the bottom of every page on this site. I’m sorry that this wasn’t clear enough to you, but if I’ve learned one thing about racists it’s that reading comprehension isn’t a top priority.

Most likely, the identity “joshua adams” is fake, though. For what it’s worth, a very quick search revealed that this user has previously posted on a self-described neo-Nazi…excuse me: “alt-right”…music web site. Considering the numerous overt and coded racist and anti-Semitic references in his letter, that didn’t come as a shock. Another location he turned up at was a Russian YouTube clone, seeking a chemical treatment to lighten a tattoo. You can’t make this stuff up—and I’m glad I don’t have to because I might not do as good a job.

As to “Mr. Adams'” direct question:

Yes, I did indeed “purposely mean to correlate” the words racist and racialist. They are not two distinct ideas, as my earlier post explained: they are two sides of the same ignorant and hateful coin. Racialist is a White supremacist code word, one of those many dangerous little on-ramps into a dark world of hate. “Oh no,” says the would-be fascist. “We’re not racists: we’re only racialists who believe that racial differences are real/physiological/biological/god-created and need to be taken into account in how people are treated. That’s not racist, it’s scientific.” Please: give me and every other thinking human being a break from your racist garbage.

Don’t bother responding, either in comments or via email. This site has pretty good spam filters, so chances are very high that any additional garbage you send my way will be immediately sent—unread—into the digital woodchipper.

One of the beauties of being a privately operated site is that I have no obligation to give your hate speech a public forum. I’ve only posted this single time to highlight the ugly truth that people like you exist, but that most others don’t tolerate your ideas.

And, if it wasn’t already obvious, to make fun of you. But there will be no dialogue: you’re “one and done.”

Posted in Requested, Things you should know, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vocabulary for Difficult Times

2020 was a rough year. The first week of 2021 brought more unsettling news: near record daily (and record weekly average) COVID-19 cases; record COVID-19 deaths; record levels of self-serving behavior from Republican politicians; and what was generally reported as an insurrection or a coup attempt, in the form of a riot and mob assault on the US Capitol in Washington, DC, which left five dead and more than a dozen injured.

I suppose we can look on the bright side: we haven’t been hit by any natural disasters (yet).

Click for help labelling what we’re dealing with.

Posted in Language, Things you should know, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Word of the Year (WOTY): 2020 Edition! (Part 2 of 2)

It seems like an exercise in the trivial to post this after what’s been going on in this country over the past few days (which is, to be sure, an outcome built on what came before). But a “Part 1 of 2” needs a “Part 2 of 2” so here it is. A more timely and topical post is in a draft stage.


Click for the all the Part 2 that’s fit to print

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment