Robert L. Cohen, Editor Words "You are one of those experts who make others look better than they really are." (CLIENT TESTIMONIAL)
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Editor Extraordinaire
 
Over 25 years’ experience editing scholarly, trade (general-interest), & reference books — from fine-tuning to rewriting

Plus: speech & contract writinglexicographywriting teaching
 
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  for think tanks & non-profit org’s:  working papers /
reports / newsletters / books
     
  for individual writers:
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“[Sandy Koufax's] delivery was the kinetic equivalent of E. B. White's 'clear, crystal stream' of the English language: honed, pared down, essential. . . . He knew exactly what was extraneous and what was needed.”

Jane Leavy, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy
   [herself and Dr. Marilyn Pink, Biomechanics Consultant (last sentence)]


Language Matters

Oft-Confused Words

For those who want to be more exact and precise in their writing (and editing):

continual / continuous: "continual" means over and over again, as per Theodore Bernstein in his superb The Careful Writer ā€” repeatedly. "continuous" means uninterrupted, like a straight line (in time or motion) ā€” whereas you might, say, be continually interrupted. Bernstein offers this very helpful mnemonic: "Continuous" ends in oā€“uā€“s, which stands for "one uninterrupted sequence."

precipitate/precipitous: Maybe even trickier, and honored more in the breach, I'm afraid. "precipitate" properly refers to actions taken abruptly, sometimes with the connotation of rashly or impulsively; "precipitous" is properly applied to physical entities, as in a precipitous descent down a hill. Mnemonic, again courtesy of the estimable Mr. Bernstein: "precipitous" ends in "s", as in "steep".

More to come: Watch this spot!

“If you write anything, read it through a second time, for no one can avoid errors. Let no urgent matter prevent you from pausing to revise even a short epistle [or, he surely would have written today, e-mail?].”

Judah ben Saul ibn Tibbon, 12th-century Spanish physician and translator

Quote Unquote

Armchair Reading

Sarah Bakewell
How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne

Sarah Bakewell's writing in this thoroughly pleasurable book is as graceful, elegant, and balanced as that of the renowned essayist she so successfully elucidates and interprets. Blackwell takes her title as a question to which Montaigne proposed varying answers, which constitute the titles of her twenty chapters: "Question everything"; "Do something no one has done before"; "Philosophize only by accident"; and — for me the most important (that may differ for every reader) — "Pay attention." "Montaigne presents himself," writes Bakewell, "as someone who jotted down whatever was going through his head when he picked up his pen. . . . He wanted to know how to live a good life — a correct [and] honorable life, but also a fully human, satisfying one. This drove him both to write and to read."

One purchaser of the book, she recounts, describes it as "not so much a book as a companion for life." And it is a more engaging companion because, as Blackwell notes, Montaigne "was delighted to see his work come out unpredictably"; "he never worries if he has said one thing on one page and the opposite even in the next sentence." He usually responded to questions, she notes, with further questions; he appended "though I don't know" to many of his observations. "Writing," says Bakewell, "taught Montaigne to look at the world more closely"; reading Montaigne, and this book, can perhaps help one live — and certainly think, and reflect — more thoughtfully, and with more grace.


ROBERT L. COHEN: WORDS & MUSIC

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