Thursday, January 31, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 10)

Even more words I frequently see mangled:

Comprise(d) vs. compose(d) or consist(s) or contain(s)

Wrong: Water is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen.
Right: Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

I frequently read that A “is comprised of” X, Y, and Z. This is incorrect, and in fact exactly backwards. Parts comprise the whole. The whole consists of, or is composed of, or contains the parts. Therefore, X, Y, and Z comprise A, while A consists of X, Y, and Z. There’s a caveat to this, however: The “is comprised of” form has been misused for so long that many grammar experts are beginning to accept it. So there’s a good chance you can get away with using it. On the other hand, why not use it correctly and be guaranteed that an editor (or grammar teacher) will approve?

Peak vs. pique vs. peek

Wrong: You peaked my interest.
Right: You piqued my interest.

Peak, when used as a verb, means to reach the highest point of something. (“The Dow Jones peaked at 11,000 points.”) Pique, in this context, means to excite interest, or arouse an emotion. And, of course, peek means to glance quickly or furtively, or peep. You might peek at the mountain peak, which in turn piques your curiosity.

That's it for this exciting installment. There are plenty more to come. Apparently we've been very, very bad when it comes to mangling the English language....


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another great book review for The Mars Imperative

My first published novel, The Mars Imperative, continues to receive great reviews. Here's the latest, from Wenonah Lyon at Most of the review is a recap of the story. But here are the comments about the book itself:

The Mars Imperative, by Mark Terence Chapman, joins the long list of speculative fiction about our planetary neighbor, Mars. C.S.Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Kim Stanley Robinson and a dozen others have been fascinated by the Red Planet. Chapman, like Robinson, produces hard science fiction using the narrowest of definitions of SF. Nothing written conflicts with current scientific knowledge; any advanced technologies are theoretically possible.

If the attention to science is like Robinson, the society and characters are pure Heinlein: technology, character and true grit conquer all. James McKie is individualistic, well educated, clever, brave and unassuming. His initial work experience requires successfully confronting both sabotage and the harsh conditions of Mars and he does.

Unlike Heinlein, this is hard science fiction, with no McGuffins to take care of unpleasant science facts: no warp drives, worm holes, FTL, teleportation. It's good exciting stuff with likable characters and the continuing scientific and ecological realism are woven naturally into the action.

This is traditional science fiction, describing the future in terms that emphasize the possible. I enjoyed it. If you like Robinson, Heinlein and hard SF, you'll probably like The Mars Imperative.

The Mars Imperative is available from (trade paperback and Kindle ebook), (other ebook formats), and elsewhere.

The second book in the Imperative Chronicles series, The Tesserene Imperative, is now available from Other venues to follow. (I'm presently working on the third book in the series.)


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 9)

Here are some more words that I see misused far too often:

They vs. he or she

Wrong: I couldn’t tell who the thief was in the dark. They sped off in a hurry.
Right: I couldn’t tell who it was in the dark. The thief sped off in a hurry.

It can be awkward to say “he or she” when the gender of the person referenced is unknown, but it is never correct to refer to one person as they, however tempting. If you must say “he or she” several times in succession, look for other ways to write the sentences. Instead of: “He or she must be apprehended immediately!” try something like: “The (culprit/killer/kidnapper/suspect) must be apprehended immediately!” (In dialog, of course, the speaker can be allowed grammatical indiscretions; but you should be more precise in narrative.)

Fewer vs. less

Wrong: There are less than five hours left until the deadline.
Right: There are fewer than five hours left until the deadline.

Use fewer anytime you can count items. (“This jug contains five fewer gallons of water than that one.”) Use less whenever you can’t count items. (“There is less water in the Atlantic Ocean than in the Pacific.”)

Stay tuned for further developments....


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Mars Imperative is a bestseller

According to, the Kindle (ebook reader) edition of The Mars Imperative is currently ranked #40 on its list of Bestselling Science Fiction Series. It's in good company, surrounded by books from Kevin J. Anderson, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, Vonda McIntyre, and Lois McMaster Bujold, among others.

Of course, "bestseller" is a relative term. I have no idea how many copies of any of those books are selling yet. (Just how many Kindles exist today?) Still, it's gratifying to see that people are buying my book in that format. (And the reader ratings are still at 4+-out-of-5 stars.)

Click here to go to The Mars Imperative Kindle Edition page directly.


Just wondering....

I was thinking the other day about how many quirks the English language has. It's such a melting pot, incorporating Greek and Latin roots, foreign words adopted into English (and sometimes modified), and even acronyms and abbreviations used as words (scuba and snafu, for example). So I guess it's inevitable that oddities would creep into the language. For example:

Why is it a good thing to patronize a business (“Thank you for your patronage!”) but a bad thing to patronize a person (“Don’t patronize me!”)?

Why is a citation both a good thing and a bad thing (citation for bravery/citation for speeding)?

Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?

Why are olives with the pits removed called “pitted” olives, rather than “depitted” olives? (What are olives with the pits still inside called, then?)

Just some random musings on my part. Until next time, I remain your devoted host.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 8)

Here are some more words I see misused all the time:

Among vs. between

Wrong: The spoils were divided between Three-fingered Pete, Matt, and Lefty.
Right: The spoils were divided among Three-fingered Pete, Matt, and Lefty.

If you’re referring to two people or places use between (as in “It came down to a choice between John and Mary.”). If more than two, use among. (“The revenues have to be shared among the Chicago, London, and Paris branches.”)

Your vs. you’re

Wrong: Your crazy!
Right: You’re crazy!

This one is so simple I’m amazed at how often I see them confused. You’re is short for “you are.” That’s the only time you should use it. Your means “belonging to you.” Perhaps the confusion is more a matter of typing so fast the writer doesn’t notice the mistake, but it still should be caught in editing.

More next time!


Friday, January 18, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 7)

Here are some more words I see misused frequently:

Amongst vs. among, whilst vs. while, and amidst vs. amid vs. midst

These are easy. If you write in British English, use the versions that end in st. If American English, drop the st. (On the other hand, as an alternative to amid, “in the midst of” is acceptable American English.)

Burned vs. burnt, dreamed vs. dreamt, spilled vs. spilt

This may sound like the same scenario as the previous one—one set of words being British English and the other being American English—but that’s not quite true. According to my American dictionaries, burned and burnt are synonymous, as are dreamed and dreamt. So, feel free to use whichever sounds better to you in context. (Dreamt might sound more lyrical in a poem, for example.) On the other hand, burned and burnt can be used as both a verb (“I burned the toast.”) and an adjective (“The toast is burnt.”) I prefer to use burned for the verb and reserve burnt for the adjective, but that’s personal choice. As for spilled vs. spilt, again my dictionaries call them synonyms. In practice, however, I find that Yanks generally use spilled and Brits use spilt.

Until next time.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Per Contra

I'm pleased to report that Tesserene Dreams is listed at Per Contra as a recommended blog. For those unfamiliar with the website, they bill themselves as "The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas". Check them out.

BTW, they're currently accepting submissions for the Second Annual Per Contra Prize ($1,000 and publication in their journal). Per the site, "The winner will appear in Per Contra Spring 2008, also featuring the work of Daniel Hoffman, new and unpublished work by John Updike, Maxine Kumin, William Jay Smith, Rhina P. Espaillat and Stephen Dixon. Coming March 1st." The deadline for entry is January 31, 2008. Entry details can be found here.


Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 6)

Continuing the series, here are some more words and phrases that I frequently see misused or misspelled:

Advice vs. advise

Wrong: I need some advise.
Right: I need some advice.

These are opposite sides of the same coin. If someone asks you for help, they’re looking for advice (a noun). If you give them what they’re looking for, you advise them (a verb). A spell-checker won’t catch this for you, because both words are spelled correctly.

Infer vs. imply

Wrong: He inferred that you need to lose weight.
Right: He implied that you need to lose weight.

Speaking of two sides of the same coin…. When I speak, I might imply something, but when you listen, you infer something from what you heard.

Loose vs. lose

Wrong: I hate to loose.
Right: I hate to lose.

A nut comes loose from a bolt, but if it falls off you can easily lose or misplace it. This is another one a spell-checker can’t catch for you. You’ll have to be on the watch for it yourself.

More next time.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 5)

Continuing the series, here's the next installment:

Complement(ary) vs. compliment(ary)

Wrong: That color compliments your blouse.
Right: That color complements your blouse.

Complimentary can mean something nice said about someone, or something that’s free (such as a complimentary breakfast with your hotel room). Complementary refers to something that goes with something else, such as complementary colors, or two things that serve complementary purposes—one thing complements another. (A good wine complements a meal, for example.) Complement can also refer to the full amount of something, such as a ship’s complement (officers and crew).


Wrong: I use a numonic to help me remember my locker combination.
Right: I use a mnemonic to help me remember my locker combination.

As far as I know, there’s no such word as numonic. But I hear people say it all the time when they mean mnemonic (neh-MON-ik), which is a memory trick used to help remember things. (As an example of a mnemonic, “Roy G. Biv” represents all the colors of the rainbow, in order.)

That's it for now. Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure in grammar, spelling, and punctuation....


The Tesserene Imperative available on

I've really been remiss in posting this. My novel, The Tesserene Imperative, second book in The Imperative Chronicles, has actually been available on since late October or early November 2007. But somehow I kept forgetting to mention that fact here. So, take this blog as your official notice. And just in case you've forgotten what the book's about (not that that could possibly happen...) here's the jacket blurb again:

It was supposed to be a routine prospecting mission, but something went wrong.

With 43 billion souls crammed together on Mother Earth and using up natural resources at an unsustainable rate, the essential minerals that support human civilization are in desperately low supply. Tesserene, the mineral that makes starflight travel possible, is especially critical. Without it, humans are effectively imprisoned on their home world.

When prospecting ship Shamu is almost destroyed in a distant asteroid belt, Swede Johansen and rest of the crew of five is left with three days of air, little water, a smashed starflight drive, and no hope of rescue. It will take every ounce of ingenuity and stubborn pigheadedness they possess to find a way to survive.

Assuming they do find a solution, the ultimate jackpot awaits them in the shadows of a distant moon—if the galaxy doesn't kill them first.

For more information about me or The Tesserene Imperative, please visit my website.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 4)

Here's a couple of commonly misused abbreviations:

i.e. vs e.g.

Wrong: I like lots of bands (i.e., The Beatles and The Clash).
Right: I like lots of bands (e.g., The Beatles and The Clash).

Many people use these abbreviations as if they’re synonymous, but they’re not. Without delving into the Latin words from which the abbreviations are derived, it’s easy to keep them straight:

· e.g. means “for example.” Use it when you’re going to list items. Think of it as “eg-zample”, and you’ll always know when to use it.
i.e. means “in other words.” Use it when you’re going to rephrase something. Simply tell yourself that the “i” in i.e. stands for “in.” If you can remember “egzample” and “in other words” you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping them straight.

Also, be sure to always follow either of these abbreviations with a comma. For example:

· “We need dairy products (e.g., milk, eggs, and cheese).”
“This is the time for action; i.e., we have to make our move now.”

Perhaps the best approach in most cases is simply to say “for example” or “in other words.” Then you won’t have to worry about the abbreviations at all.

More next time.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 3)

Continuing the series, here are another couple of words/phrases that are commonly misused or misspelled:


This is a simple misspelling. The latin phrase is et cetera, and it is abbreviated as etc. (It's pronounced like it looks: "ET cetera," not "EK cetera.") Always include the period at the end of the abbreviation and a comma before it. Here are some examples of etc. in use:

· We have to buy milk, eggs, cheese, etc.
We have to buy milk, eggs, cheese, etc., and then make an omelet for breakfast.
We have to buy some dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.).

In the first example, the period at the end of the sentence serves two purposes, both to end the abbreviation and to end the sentence. In the second example, the period at the end of the abbreviation is followed by a comma. And in the third, there is a sentence-ending period following the closing parenthesis. Both are necessary.

Alternatives you can use include and so on, and so forth, as well as and the like.


Wrong: You were kind to me, moreso than that jerk ever was.
Right: You were kind to me, more so than that jerk ever was.

This is a simple spelling error. More so is two words.

Hang onto these lessons and you'll know the correct usages of these words/phrases in the future. More next time....


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Who is a "Yankee"?

The term Yankee is used a lot, but there isn't much agreement on what it means.

Ask most people in other countries and they'll tell you a Yankee is someone from America.

Ask someone born in the southern U.S. and they'll tell you a Yankee is someone from north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Ask someone from most of the rest of the country, and they'll say a Yankee is someone from the northeastern part of the U.S.

Ask someone from that part of the country, and they'll likely tell you it's someone from the New England states.

Ask a New Englander, and most likely they'll say it's someone from Maine.

Go to Maine, and they'll tell you it's someone from Down East Maine.

Go to the Down East coastal area and I don't know what they'll say--perhaps that true Yankees come from some small village on the coast. Go there, and I suspect they'll tell you a Yankee is Old Joe down on Fremont Street....

So now you know....


Friday, January 4, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 2)

Continuing the series, here are two more for the discerning writer:

Visa versa

Wrong: Either we’ll stop him or visa versa.
Right: Either we’ll stop him or vice versa.

Simply put, it’s vice (rhymes with dice) versa, not “vice-a” versa—always; no exceptions.

Lay vs. lie

Wrong: I'm going to lay down for a nap.
Right: I'm going to lie down for a nap.

This one is extremely common, and caused by the fact that the past-tense of lie is lay. So here’s the breakdown:

· Today, you lie down for a nap. (You don’t lay down.)
Yesterday, you lay down for a nap. (Here’s where that confusion came about.)
Today, you lay (place) a coat on the bed, or you might lay down your life for another.
Yesterday, you laid (placed) the coat on the bed.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have your characters incorrectly use lay instead of lie, simply because many people talk that way. However, in third-person/omniscient narrative, you should use the word correctly. (In first-person narrative, because your narrator/protagonist is speaking to the reader in his/her own “voice,” you can probably get away with misusing lay.)

There are many more of these words and phrases to come, so stay tuned.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 1)

I’ve heard an alarming number of aspiring writers express the sentiment that they feel they don’t need to worry about spelling, grammar, and punctuation in their manuscripts because “that’s the editor’s job.” Likewise, if they misuse a word here and there, it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong attitude. Editors are of the opinion that submitting the cleanest possible manuscript is the writer’s job. And since editors get to decide which stories to print, their opinion prevails. That’s life; adapt or perish.

Why make such a big deal about such trivial-sounding stuff? Simple. Editors tend to be overworked and underpaid. When given the choice between accepting a well-written story that’s full of errors and one that’s relatively clean, they’ll choose the clean one every time because it means less work for them. To put it another way, a story will never be accepted purely because the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect (the story has to be good, too); but stories are rejected all the time because of frequent errors in those areas. This isn’t laziness, but efficiency.

As a writer, I try to make sure I always use words and phrases properly, and I ensure they’re always spelled correctly. I’m constantly amazed at how often I see misspellings and incorrect word usage in other writings. (A good editor should catch them, but an overworked editor might miss some, and what about a blog or newsletter that doesn’t have an editor?)

Working on the assumptions that 1) most people are unaware they’re misspelling or misusing certain words, phrases, abbreviations, and punctuation, and 2) that a conscientious writer would want to know when they’re misusing them, the following are ones I see misused frequently.

Gauntlet vs. gantlet

Wrong: He had to run the gauntlet.
Right: He had to run the gantlet.

This confusion undoubtedly occurred way back when because of the similarity in pronunciation (not to mention the lack of standardization in spelling centuries ago). A gauntlet is a protective glove worn with a suit of armor. It could be made of leather, chain mail, or steel plate. To “throw down the gauntlet” is to challenge someone (akin, in a later era, to slapping someone in the face with a glove). Conversely, to “pick up the gauntlet” is to accept the challenge.

“Running the gantlet” refers to a poor unfortunate who is forced to run through a narrow space lined with people sporting sticks or clubs who beat the victim as he passes. If you really want your heroes to suffer, have them run a gantlet, not a gauntlet.

Wreck vs. wreak

Wrong: If we don’t stop him, he’ll wreck havoc in the village.
Right: If we don’t stop him, he’ll wreak havoc in the village.

This is a simple confusion in pronunciation and spelling. The correct phrase is to “wreak” (meaning inflict) havoc. It rhymes with reek. Godzilla may wreck a town, or wreak havoc there, but not both.

More commonly misused/misspelled words next time.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

On meeting space aliens

I can't believe my last blog was back in October. Wow. I can only attribute that to a combination of overwork and laziness. But, to start off the new year, I have plans to really step up the pace, beginning with my views on whether meeting real, live, aliens face-to-face would be a good idea or a bad one.

Then I'll proceed to post bits and pieces of a multi-part article I'm writing for Mike's Writing Newsletter (the first two parts were published in the October and December 2007 issues), on commonly misused and misspelled words and phrases. These are things I run into all too frequently, even in published/edited works. Some may be simple typos, but most are clearly due to misunderstanding. So, for all you writers out there (even those who write only emails and other "casual" forms of writing), it's back to school for vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation lessons. But don't worry, there won't be a quiz at the end.... 8^}

On Meeting Aliens

On his 90th birthday, Arthur C. Clarke talked about meeting aliens. He remarked that humans are waiting until extraterrestrial beings “call us or give us a sign." “We have no way of guessing when this might happen. I hope sooner rather than later.”

I used to agree with this sentiment. Now I kind of hope later rather than sooner. Why? I don't think we're ready. Religious zealots would freak. (If aliens weren't created in God's image, then they must be godless, right? And thus soulless. Maybe the work of the Devil. Etc.) Plenty of other people would freak out as well. Some would be terrified. The stock markets might crash. There would be rioting in the streets in some places.

Odds are any aliens we hear from will be thousands, if not millions, of years ahead of us. (What are the odds that we'd be at roughly the same level of development?) If so, making face-to-face contact with them might be the worst possible thing for us.

If they're aggressive, we don't stand a chance. (Picture modern humans with tanks and H-bombs against cavemen with clubs.) Even if they're friendly, there's the issue of culture shock. Would we really keep striving to push the frontiers of science and technology if we could buy an inexpensive alien device that's a thousand times better than anything we have today? It would be so easy to just sit back and accept their bounty.

Many human scientists might study the advanced alien science and work up from there; but I suspect that for most of us the knowledge that we're thousands of years behind the aliens would have a crushing effect on our collective psyche. If we start thinking of ourselves as inferior in any way, we're done for as a vibrant species.

On the other hand, as arrogant as we are at the top of the Earthly food chain ("How quaint. Here's how we do things on Earth."), if we take that attitude out onto the galactic stage, we're likely to piss off someone who can slap us back into the Stone Age.

There are all sorts of negative scenarios that are possible and likely and don't bode well for humans. There are positive ones as well (Utopia on Earth and peace throughout the galaxy, for example), but I suspect we aren't ready for them and will screw up through ignorance, pride, aggressiveness, or any of the other less desirable human traits.

As cool as I think it would be to finally meet real-life aliens, I don't think we're ready for them. (And vice versa.) Give us another century to mature and maybe, just maybe we will be. (If we don't kill ourselves first....)