Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

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Welcome to Wordwatch 

This blog is for anyone out there who wants to learn more about grammar, spelling and punctuation but would rather saw off their own kneecap with a rusty bread knife than read a book on the subject.

And if you think good grammar and punctuation are optional extras, consider the following:

A woman without her man is nothing.

With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

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Written by Wordwatch

09/11/2009 at 1:04 pm

38 Responses

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  1. Hmmmm. I tried to post a comment but it’s not posting. What I tried to say is you have a great blog. I posted a link to it on my Facebook Group, “Petty Grammar Tyrants” (about folks who archly try to correct others’ grammar but fail or err when doing so–not you, of course!).

    Michael F.

    Michael Farrell

    07/01/2010 at 7:23 am

    • Hi, Michael — thanks so much for your kind words and for posting my link — I do appreciate it. Your ‘Petty Grammar Tyrants’ sounds intriguing and fun! Thanks again — hope you visit again soon.


      07/01/2010 at 8:26 am

  2. I desperately needed this blog. My grammar is horrible! THANK YOU!


    09/01/2010 at 5:20 am

    • Hi, Antonio — thanks for visiting and for taking the time to comment. Hope you do drop by and find things that might be of help. Nice to meet you.


      09/01/2010 at 9:05 am

  3. Hello! Found your blog in blogcatalog. I think it will be very useful for me as I am not native speaker. Thank you for running this blog.

    Nadezhda Konovalova

    10/01/2010 at 8:37 pm

    • Hello and welcome! I hope you do find it useful. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


      10/01/2010 at 8:41 pm

  4. I plan to share this site w. my college students; lord knows some of them need it!

    Maggie Manning

    11/01/2010 at 2:34 pm

    • Thanks, Maggie — I hope it is of help. I try to keep everything as clear as possible (I’m a great advocate of ‘plain language’). And, of course, I’m always open to suggestions for improvements/additions. I’m glad you found my blog; you are very welcome here!


      11/01/2010 at 2:46 pm

  5. Great blog, Deborah. When I started my blog http://thewritecorner.wordpress.com/ , I didn’t know there were others like it. Now I find quite a few and yours is one of the better ones.


    03/02/2010 at 2:51 pm

    • Hi — many thanks for your kind words. There’s a lot of good stuff on your blog; I was just reading the humorous quotes and the piece on procrastination. Thanks for commenting here.


      03/02/2010 at 2:57 pm

  6. Very interesting blog – it’s probably the one I SHOULD be writing as a trainer of journalists. But you have saved me the trouble, so now all I need do is point them at yours!
    You seem to be highlighting the very spelling and grammar confusions I come across in everyday life.
    Best wishes – I will keep looking…


    22/03/2010 at 7:59 am

    • Hi — you’re so welcome here. I’m really glad I found your blog too.


      22/03/2010 at 8:02 am

  7. Hi Deborah. I just came across your blog, and I would like to congratulate you on your idea and initiative. I am a freelance writer in Brazil (my home country), but since I work and live abroad, I decided to try different markets, and it’s a great challenge since I am not a native speaker, and your site will be extremely useful! Thanks a million and best wishes!

    Sani Hadek

    14/07/2010 at 10:11 am

    • Hello, Sani — welcome! Thanks very much for your kind words and for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you find the blog useful.


      14/07/2010 at 10:14 am

  8. Hi Deborah,

    What about this Jabber nonsense then? Makes blogs “almost like a chat room” according to the juvenile idiots at WP.

    Don’t know about you, but that’s very close to the top of my Never in a Million Years list!

    Seems to me what WP badly needs is people in admin with a few years under their belts – move us away from this torrent of kids stuff.


    25/08/2010 at 5:15 pm

    • Hi, Ron — I read the Jabber thing, but didn’t really get it. Which shows how down with the kids I am. Quite like the name, though. I looked it up and found it dates from the late 1400s, which surprised me. The meaning given is to ‘talk in a rapid, excited and often incomprehensible way’. Could be very apt!


      25/08/2010 at 6:54 pm

  9. Very happy to find this site. Timethief recommended it. I’ve taught all kinds of English: writing, business, remedial, and finally EFL. I can see that your presentation skills could be very helpful to me in designing materials for class.
    That is, if I can ever work again. Disabled and keeping as busy as possible online.
    I have a head injury, and the editor in my head seems to have taken an extended vacation. So, some of what I write I can see the problems with it.
    I’ve been looking for a site that can help with rules of citation. I found a fairly decent one at Purdue.
    I enjoy your site so much, I got your feed twice. Once for my homepage, one in my reader. And now, by email, so I think I have all the bases covered. Looking forward to following you!


    10/10/2010 at 11:15 pm

    • Hello, scribadiva — you’re very welcome here and many thanks for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate your kind words and I’m glad you enjoy the blog.

      For those interested in the topic — here’s the info on citations that you mention.

      Many thanks for sharing your find!


      11/10/2010 at 8:03 am

  10. Here’s some inspiration – “a time consumptive chore” (timethief).



    02/11/2010 at 7:51 pm

  11. Hi, Ron — that’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen such a construction very often, but, having checked it out, I think it should be used more: one meaning of ‘consumptive’ as explained in the ODE is ‘the using up of resources’ (not in a good way). The example it gives is: Tourism represents an insidious form of consumptive activity’. I’m about to make a list of time consumptive chores that I need to do today… (No. 1: Decide if ‘time consumptive’ should be hyphenated.) I’ll plump for yes, and wait for someone to tell me otherwise.


    03/11/2010 at 7:36 am

    • Really? That’ll teach me to look things up first!

      I generally associate consumptive with consumption (TB, not conspicuous), though I see that’s a secondary definition, and assumed it was reaching for “time-consuming”.

      Even now, that would have been my first choice (and I’m probably not alone), as I’ve never seen consumptive used in that context before.

      And as time-consuming is hyphenated, logic suggests time-consumptive is too.


      03/11/2010 at 9:08 am

      • Yes, I think I would always automatically write ‘time-consuming’. But, of course, that’s not necessarily negative, although leaning that way. The writer’s intention may have been ‘time-consuming’; perhaps the morph into ‘time-consumptive’ was serendipitous.


        03/11/2010 at 9:45 am

        • I wonder if that usage is common in Canada (tt is on Vancouver Island)?

          That noise in the background is all my taps running – there was a blip in the water supply, now we have mud! Well, just a bit brown now, it’s been running for half an hour – a huge amount of waste, and all metered!


          03/11/2010 at 9:51 am

  12. Hi Deborah,

    Here’s a word for you – clabber.

    I’ve just discovered that over in the US – so Michael might be able to cast some light on this – they have baking powder called, mystifyingly, “Clabber Girl”.

    Mystifying because “clabber” is the semi-solid gunk in sour milk. Or, as the ODE has it, rather more pedantically “milk that has naturally clotted on souring”.

    As to why, it should be applied to a “Girl” or a baking ingredient to which it’s irrelevant, I’m baffled.


    10/11/2010 at 10:20 am

  13. Oops – sorry, meant to post that in Ask. (It’s a trying day.)


    10/11/2010 at 10:21 am

    • Hi, Ron — that’s OK, doesn’t matter where you posted it! I’ve never heard of ‘clabber’ — I suppose it is somewhat suggestive of its meaning, but sounds more like a word you might use to say, for example, someone is ‘clabbering on’ or similar. Mysteriously, the derivation given in the ODE is ‘shortening of Sonny Clabber’ (from the 19th century). I’ll just leave that hanging in the air…


      10/11/2010 at 2:05 pm

      • That’s “Bonny Clabber” which, as far as I can tell from a rummage round Google, is something akin to cultured buttermilk but more gloopy, apparently.

        So, like sour milk but more so, hence the “Bonny”. I’m inclined to think that clabber existed before it became “bonny” – I can’t bring to mind another usage where that isn’t the case – bonny braes, Bonny Prince Charlie, bonny lass, etc.

        An adjective is generally attached to a pre-existing noun, rather than the other way round.


        10/11/2010 at 2:31 pm

        • You win this week’s star prize for spotting my deliberate mistake. Good job I didn’t google it; I wouldn’t have got very far. Thanks, Ron!


          10/11/2010 at 2:37 pm

          • Well, if it’s any consolation, you had me Googling it, before I went back to my dictionary.

            Do you think we can have a campaign to get the apostrophe replaced by the semi-colon? That way, I wouldn’t be continually hitting the wrong key!


            10/11/2010 at 2:51 pm

  14. I was saddened to see the phrase “saw off their own kneecap” in the second sentence of a blog about grammar.

    We all know such use is now commmon, and that it is accepted and considered correct by the ignorant, but it is certainly not grammatically correct.

    Herbert Fowler

    31/01/2011 at 5:48 am

    • Hi, Herbert! My aim is not to sadden. I’m not sure what you’re referring to? ‘Their own’ instead of just ‘their’? It’s not medically possibly to saw off your own kneecap? I don’t mind being told off, but it’s nice to know why.


      31/01/2011 at 7:34 am

      • And was the kneecap surgically removed, or just waved goodbye? These are things we should be told . . .


        31/01/2011 at 9:39 am

        • …and is patella best served with red or white wine?

          Wait, that would be paella — but here’s the interesting thing: both words come from the same Latin root meaning ‘shallow dish’.


          31/01/2011 at 10:00 am

  15. Hi Debora, Reading Timethiefs blogpost today made me think of you. She puts a link in her post all about how swear words are stored in the brain seperately from other normal words and… heres the part that made me think of you…Also bad grammer and speach that makes us bothered to hear it is also stored in the same place as swear words. So there is a scientific reason why we wince when we hear certain bad grammer. Anyway heres her post wherein is the link to the study. I hope you like. 🙂



    31/03/2011 at 7:58 am

    • Hi, there! Thanks so much for taking the time to share this and leaving the link — it’s not something I’ve heard about before. How interesting! Much appreciated.


      31/03/2011 at 8:09 am

  16. You love language and wordsmithing, despite the helpful nitpicking details! 🙂

    Do you have a blog post or two on overall trends on language use and style that you see often?


    21/12/2011 at 3:55 am

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