Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Double Negatives

Normally we don't want to use a double negative, meaning we don't want two words in a sentence that indicate that we don't want to do something. For example, "I don't want nothing at the store" reads much better as "I don't want anything at the store." But sometimes there are exceptions.

Often written dialogue sounds more realistic with double negatives, especially if you are quoting people who are deliberately misspeaking such as teenagers who know better but are trying to sound cool, or people who are accidentally misspeaking such as those with English as a second language.

The other time that I like double negatives for writers is for emphasis. I was listening to a song by Boyzone yesterday (yes, I know, a boy band, slightly higher on the totem pole than Backstreet Boys, whom I also like, for the record. So, shoot me.) and they sang the following line: "I'll never not need you." Those words kept going around and around in my head, not just because I'm a writer and an editor and double negatives pop out at me like a caterpillar crawling through a Caesar salad but also because of the impact the line made. Never not need you. It sounded so romantic, much more so than "I'll always need you."

So, double negatives aren't always taboo, but in general they are something we want to avoid. The trick about using them is to know the rule first – that they are not grammatically correct – and then feel free to break that rule if you have good reason.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Slang

Sometimes we're not sure how to spell slang words. Is it gonna and wanna, goo’ night, yer mother, and hook up? What about profanity? God damn right or goddamn right? Can you spell the word boys as boyz if you want to give it a hip-hop feel? Should we just guess and standardize our diction using a style sheet? Urban dictionary to the rescue!

There are a number of excellent slang dictionaries online that tell us the proper way to spell phat (no, I'm not talking about that feeling of despair when you stand on the scale), innit (British), and other words that may not appear in traditional dictionaries. And like Merriam-Webster,, or Collins Gage, these dictionaries are individualized for the US, Canada, and the UK.

Actually, it can be fun to just browse these dictionaries to find new words, but they're also very useful to have in our toolkit when we come up against slang or swear words that we know how to say but we're not completely sure how to spell.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon: and you can read more about her editing services at  

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