A Word, Please: 6 New Year's resolutions for word lovers

With the beginning of each new year, many people resolve to do something they didn't do the year before. Lose weight. Save money. Learn a foreign language. Land a leading role in a Broadway play.

By the end of the year, they're either rich, skinny, multilingual or famous — or they're not. Either way, it's probably time to try out some new resolutions.


Here are six language, writing and media-related resolutions to consider. They won't make you richer or skinnier or more famous. But they just might make you smarter.

I will read the front matter in a dictionary. The first few pages in most dictionaries say stuff like "How to Use This Dictionary." Assuming they mastered dictionary usage in the third grade, readers blow right past this. That's a mistake.


That front matter teaches you how to choose between "dreamed" and "dreamt," between "hanged" and "hung." It teaches you how to know whether an adjective such as "smart" or "intelligent" has a superlative form (smarter) or if it doesn't (intelligenter). It teaches you how to find the plural of "index." And more.

I will flip through a usage guide. What looks like a dictionary and alphabetizes like a dictionary and talks about words like a dictionary, but contains a whole bunch of information you won't find in the dictionary?

They're called usage guides and they're goldmines of information about just about any language issue you want to look up. Split infinitives. "Among" versus "between." Whether to use "an" before "historic." Whether you can start a sentence with "and." The two leading titles on the market are Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage and Garner's Modern American Usage.

I won't assume that "I" is better than "me" in compounds like "John and I." When people say "Thanks for meeting with John and I," they're usually trying to avoid making an error. And that's their error. "Me" is the object form. "I" is for subjects.


So, while you can get away with "Thanks for meeting with John and I" as an idiomatic usage, if you want to be as grammatically correct as possible, only use "me" in objects: Thanks for meeting with John and me. When in doubt, try it without John: Thanks for meeting with me.

I will give myself permission to never use a semicolon. Semicolons let you splice together things that probably shouldn't be spliced together. I call the result Frankensentences: oversized, clumsy abominations that would be more effective broken up into shorter messages.

True, sometimes this is impossible and semicolons are necessary to stitch all the parts together. But more often, eschewing semicolons will improve your writing.

I will dare to question a grammar prohibition I was taught. That beloved teacher who said you can't end a sentence with a preposition and that dear uncle who told you it's wrong to start a sentence with "and": Well-meaning as they may have been, they didn't have their facts straight. Question any "no, you can't" grammar assumption by checking it in a usage guide or dictionary.

I will reflect on the difference between news gatherers, correspondents and commentators. Reporters cover beats or bureaus. Year in, year out, they keep a finger on the pulse of a geographic spot such as Egypt or an institution such as City Hall. Even when you don't see their work, they're working, keeping tabs on the world for you.

Television correspondents, on the other hand, often wait until the other guys find some news and then they grab a cameraman and jump on a plane. Commentators talk about news that other people dig up. They all compete for the same advertising dollars, even though the agencies with teams of full-time watchdogs have much higher overhead.

The people who watch the world for us are at a financial disadvantage compared with the people who pick up the story only after the high-overhead work is done. Something to think about when you hear people talking about "the media" in 2017.



JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of "The Best Punctuation Book, Period." She can be reached at