Posted by: episystechpubs | October 21, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Sins and Sinisterity

One of you wonderful people introduced Donna and me to a daily email called “A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg.” One of the recent words, sinisterity, made me very curious because of my Catholic upbringing and my left-handed brother. I don’t know if the church still teaches that left-handedness and the left side are evil, but the definition of sinisterity led me down that rabbit hole I often end up in.

To prevent the rest of you from getting too dirty, I created this table. Information from the emails and my favorite etymology site: Online Etymology Dictionary.

Word Definition Etymology
sinisterity 1. Left-handedness.
2. Skillfulness in the use of the left hand.
3. Awkwardness or clumsiness.
4. Evilness, unluckiness, etc.
From Latin sinister (left, left hand, unlucky). Earliest documented use: 1623. Some related words are ambisinistrous/ambisinister (clumsy with both hands) and dexterous.
dexterity skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands. 1520s, "manual skill, skill in using the hands; physical adroitness in general," from French dexterité (16c.), from Latin dexteritatem (nominative dexteritas) "readiness, skillfulness, prosperity," from dexter "skillful," also "right (hand),"
dexterous 1. Skillful or adroit, mentally or bodily.

2. Right-handed.

From Latin dexter (right-hand, skillful).
ambidextrous 1.Able to use both hands equally.
2. Unusually skillful

3. characterized by duplicity; double-dealing

Medieval Latin ambidexter, literally "right-handed on both sides," from ambi- "both, on both sides" (see ambi-) + dexter "right-handed" (from PIE root *deks- "right; south"). An earlier English use of ambidexter (adj.) meant "double-dealer, one who takes both sides in a conflict" (late 14c.).
ambisinistrous, ambisinister, ambilevous Clumsy with both hands. Modeled after ambidextrous (able to use both hands with equal ease), from Latin ambi– (both) + sinister (left). Earliest documented use: 1863.

Ambilevous: from Latin laevus (left). A similar expression is “to have two left feet” (to be clumsy, especially while dancing).

And back to Catholicism for a minute. From the 1920s all the way through the 1970s, Catholic schools still taught that “left” was evil. My grandfather and brother were both forced to write with their right hands, even though they were already identified as “lefties.” The result for both? Ambidexterity. Grandpa could even write at the same time with both hands.

Kara Church

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As neighborhood Halloween decorations go up, I’ve been wondering what kind of tricks and treats to provide you this year. One of our coworkers, Alan, was kind enough to send this article, Why We Knock on Wood, and the Origins of 7 Other SuperstitionsHere are two of my favorites, but the others are available online. Thank you, Alan!

Spilling Salt

Salt is essential to human life and was once an extremely valuable commodity, so much so that the word “salary” derives from it. The crystalline mineral was used in ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman sacrifices, and it was the primary means of preserving food before refrigeration came along. Over the years, salt became associated with purity, incorruptibility, and sanctity—good for both staving off rot and evil spirits. It stood to reason, then, that spilling salt was bad for both the budget and soul.

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci strengthened the association between spilled salt and misfortune by depicting Judas with a saltcellar knocked over next to him in his painting “The Last Supper.” [KC – See Judas below, spilled salt next to him; red square mine, not Leonardo’s.]

At some point, a belief arose that taking a pinch of salt with the right hand and throwing it over the left shoulder would counteract any bad luck caused by spilling the stuff. The idea comes from an imagined link between the left side and the devil—as well as the idea that Satan just can’t stand salt. [KC – Who knew?]

Friday the 13th

This superstition marries ideas about both Friday and the number 13 to create what is supposedly the unluckiest day of the calendar. The aura of doom around the number 13 may go back to early civilizations who based their numerical systems on the number 12. (That’s how we got 12-month calendars and days divided into 12-hour segments, for one thing.) Because it came right after 12, 13 was seen as a problematic or strange leftover.

Odd as it may seem, the association is reinforced by two stories of ancient dinner parties. In Norse mythology, evil was introduced into the world when the trickster god Loki showed up as the 13th guest at a dinner in Valhalla. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was also the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper. That led to a belief, starting around the 17th century, that it was unlucky to have 13 guests at a table. Incidentally (or not), it was also imagined that witches’ covens usually numbered 13.

Friday, meanwhile, was the day Jesus was crucified. By tradition, it was also thought to be the day Eve gave Adam the apple and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. In Britain, Friday was also Hangman’s Day, when those condemned to die met their fate. Somehow, over the centuries, these ideas combined to give Friday a bad rep…

Yet it was only the Victorians who combined the ideas around Friday and the number 13 to create the idea of Friday the 13th as being uniquely unlucky. Of course, these days the American horror film franchise may have reinforced the idea.

Knock on wood, I wish the best of luck to you on Halloween!

Kara Church

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Posted by: episystechpubs | October 14, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Let’s Call It a Driving License

Not long ago, in an article I wrote about apostrophes and possessive words, I discussed “driver license” vs. “driver’s license.” I said then that the correct term is “driver’s license.” Quite a few of you checked your licenses and promptly let me know that “Driver License” is written, as clear as day, right at the top of your license.

Here’s the not so funny part—my California license is called a “Driver License.” How did I never notice that? (It could be because the photo is so bad, that I don’t notice anything else.) You won’t be surprised to know that the states are not consistent about what they call this license.

I did some more digging to find out why some states don’t use the possessive term, “driver’s license,” and here’s what I found, according to Wikipedia:

  • A “driver’s license” is a license that belongs to a driver.
  • A “driver license” is a license to drive.

So, I can show you my personal driver’s license (it is mine; it belongs to me), but the DMV issueds me a driver license (a license to drive). No wonder people are confused!

My manager, Ben, put it this way: he said that states that call it a driver license “…might want to emphasize that the license doesn’t belong to a driver (since no one has an innate right to drive). Rather, the license turns a nondriver into a driver.” OK. That makes sense, but it doesn’t explain why some states call it a driver’s license, some call it a driver license, and some call it an operator license. Oh, the inconsistency!

In the UK, it is called a “driving license.” That solves the problem. I’m going with that.

Oh, and I also have one of these:

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

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Posted by: episystechpubs | October 12, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Time

As writers and editors, we tend to spell things out a little more than most. We explain what acronyms stand for the first time we use them; we avoid “info” and write information, we spell out documents instead of writing “docs”; and we avoid abbreviations.

Sometimes, however, we make exceptions, but we still like being consistent with those exceptions. This brings me to the topic of today: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Imagine if you will, a document that mentions this full coverage ten different times. What a mouthful and an eyeful! Read that often enough and you could be asleep very quickly. At some point, all of these amounts of time were whittled down to the numbers 24/7 or 24/7/365. Hip hip hooray!

Here is where the editors come in. Remember we are one company, and we want to represent time consistently. Here are a few reminders for you.


24/7 or 24/7/365


24 x 7 x 365


24 / 7 / 365


The slashes are the only correct symbol to use between the numbers, and you do not need spaces before or after the slashes.

The time of day is a little more flexible. We prefer hours and minutes, with a.m. and p.m. in lowercase and with periods. Time zones should be written in capital letters and without representing Daylight or Standard time. Here are some examples.


7:30 a.m.

7 a.m.–3 p.m.

5:15 p.m. ET


5:15 PST (do not mention Standard time)

6 A.M. (do not use capital letters with periods)

7:30 AM – 9:30 PM (do not use capital letters without periods; do not use spaces on either side of the en dash)

In case you forget the different zones, here you go:

Eastern Time: ET

Central Time: CT

Mountain Time: MT

Pacific Time: PT

Wherever you are and whatever time it is, I hope you have a lovely day!

Kara Church

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Posted by: episystechpubs | October 7, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Amongst, Amidst, and Whilst

Dear Editrix,

Are there ever any good reasons to use words like “whilst” or “amongst?” I consider such words archaic and would avoid their use, but I see them in current writings by educated people.

Dearest Reader,

My response to you was going to be, “Yes, I agree. They sound a bit old and stuffy for today.” But then I decided I didn’t really know much about these words, so I thought I should look a little deeper into these three pairs:

  • Among/amongst
  • Amid/amidst
  • While/whilst

Writer and teacher Brian Wasko begins his article about these couplets with the question: Which do you prefer? The following are selected tidbits from his answer that might help you decide if you want to avoid them or start sprinkling your speech with them.

Let’s be clear: this is a matter of preference, not correctness. Amongst is a legitimate and commonly used alternative to among. And the same goes for amidst and whilst.

These -st forms come across as old-fashioned to many—mostly American—ears. They have a King James/Shakespearean ring to them. But according to the OED blog, among and while are older than amongst and whilst, which were formed during the Middle Ages….You may consider them outdated, but it’s not legitimate to dismiss amongst, amidst, and whilst as archaic, both because among, amid, and while are actually older forms, and because all three are still in common popular use….

In terms of dictionary definition, there is no difference between among and amongst, amid and amidst, or while and whilst. They are interchangeable. On both sides of the Atlantic, the truncated versions are more common, but you are much more likely to hear amongst, amidst, and whilst in the United Kingdom than in the States….

This doesn’t stop people from feeling strongly one way or the other, of course. Some insist that the -st versions are outmoded, pointless, and/or pretentious and should always be replaced by their shorter contemporary forms. Others argue that amongst, amidst, and whilst are more elegant, trip easier off the tongue, or are subtly distinct in meaning and should be preserved.

Amidst the noise and flying fur, I will sit amongst my dogs whilst you consider which you prefer.

Kara Church

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Posted by: episystechpubs | October 5, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Calque

Recently I sent out a couple of idiomatic phrases to you and briefly explained why they are sometimes difficult to understand. For example, when someone says it’s “raining cats and dogs” that means it is raining really hard; it has nothing to do with dogs and cats falling from the air. Today I’d like to talk about something different. Today’s words and phrases are called calques. A calque is a word or phrase from another language that is translated word-for-word in English. Calque is the French word for a copy of something. The word calquer means “to trace” in French.

An article from Daily Writing Tips gives us several examples. Here are two that I liked:

Another calque for writers comes from Czech psát do šupliku, “write for the drawer.” This is an expression that developed along with the Russian word samizdat, which refers to the practice of underground publishing of state-proscribed materials, often by hand, and passed around from reader to reader. In English, writing for the drawer can refer to any writing not intended for immediate publication.

Crab mentality is a calque from Tagalog isip talangka. It derives from the behavior of crabs in a pot. As one tries to escape over the side, it’s pulled down by the others in the pot. Applied to people, it refers to the unfortunate tendency of group members to resent or obstruct the progress of a colleague seen to be rising above the performance of the others.

Wikipedia provides calque examples from several languages. Here are some of the German ones they list. You should be able to see the relationship between the original German word and its translation to English.

· Beer garden calques Biergarten

· Concertmaster and concertmeister calque Konzertmeister

· Earworm calques Ohrwurm

· Flamethrower calques Flammenwerfer

· Intelligence quotient calques Intelligenzquotient

· Loanword calques Lehnwort

· Nostalgia calque Heimweh "home sore"

· Overman and superman (i.e., self-transcending human) calque Übermensch

· Rainforest calques Regenwald

· Stormtroopers calques Sturmtruppen

· Watershed calques Wasserscheide

This is one of the pictures I found when searching for a funny calque meme. I have no idea what the connection is, but a hot dog sounds delicious right now. (Okay, I’m fasting. Anything sounds good right now!)

Kara Church

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Posted by: episystechpubs | September 30, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Lollapalooza

A couple of months ago, my mom asked me what the definition and history of the word lollapalooza was. My response was, “You mean the music festival, like Coachella?” She laughed and said, “There’s a music festival called Lollapalooza? No, I mean the word. We used it when I was a kid in Pennsylvania.”

Well, it’s taken me a while (okay, I forgot to put it on my list) but here’s what I found. First, from Merriam-Webster:


or less commonly lalapalooza or lollapaloosa or lallapalooza

: something extraordinarily impressive: an outstanding example

And then from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

lollapalooza (n.)

"remarkable or wonderful person or thing," 1901, American English, fanciful formation. The annual North American alternative pop music concert of the same name dates from 1991. [KC – A different resource said it was first used in 1896.]

And yet another definition from

an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance.

Here are some examples:

  • Rocco is a real lollapalooza of a dancer—he does everything from the Argentine Tango in the ballroom, to breakdancing on cardboard in the street.
  • The engagement ring that Troy gave to Alex was a titanium and diamond lollapalooza; it was more expensive than their thirty-day European honeymoon.
  • Antoni Gaudi rarely designed anything that wasn’t a lollapalooza of a building.

As far as the music festival, there is a history of it on Wikipedia, but here is a condensed version:

Lollapalooza is an annual four-day music festival held in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois. It started as a touring event in 1991. Music genres include but are not limited to alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock, hip hop, and electronic music. Lollapalooza has also featured visual arts, nonprofit organizations, and political organizations. The festival in Chicago’s Grant Park hosts an estimated 400,000 people each July and sells out annually. Lollapalooza is considered one of the largest and most iconic music festivals in the world and one of the longest running in the United States.

Sounds like a lollapalooza of a time! Sign me up for a couple of days, a riverboat ride, and some deep-dish pizza!

Antoni Gaudi’s Lollapalooza: Casa Batllo in Barcelona

Kara Church

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Posted by: episystechpubs | September 28, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Apostrophe Reboot

My friend Samuel D. and I were discussing apostrophe usage recently. Sam is seeing more and more people using the term “driver license” rather than the correct term “driver’s license.” The latter is considered correct because of the apostrophe rule about possessive nouns: the license belongs to the driver, so an apostrophe is necessary to show possession. It is a driver’s license.

We’ve covered apostrophe usage a few times, but I still get a lot of questions, so I think it’s time for a refresher.

The rules about apostrophes are easier than you might think. There are only two uses: to form contractions and to form possessions. Let’s look at each.

Apostrophes with Conractions

Contractions are used to shortened words or groups of words. You simply use the apostrophe in place of missing letters:

  • Cannot becomes can’t
  • She would becomes she’d
  • They are becomes they’re
  • Let us becomes let’s
  • You all becomes y’all

It works the same for numbers:

  • The 1990s becomes the ‘90s

Apostrophes with Possessives

I think this is where most people get confused because there is some variation. Here are the rules:

  • For most singular nouns, add the apostrophe and an s:
    • That is my brother’s bike. [dbb – I’m talking about one brother and his bike.]
  • For most plural nouns, add only an apostrophe:
    • Those are my brothers’ bikes. [dbb – I’m talking about two or more brothers and their bikes.]
  • For plural nouns that do not end in s (irregular plural nouns) add the apostrophe and an s:
    • Pick up the children’s toys.
  • For singular nouns that end in s, the rule varies depending on what style guide you follow. We follow the Chicago Manual of Style, which says to add the apostrophe and an s:
    • Kansas’s claim to fame is its sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.
    • Chris’s jacket is plaid.

That’s the crux of it, folks. There is just one more thing you need to remember—you do not need an apostrophe for plural nouns that are not possive:

  • The Burchers are in.
  • Her dogs have a lot of toys.
  • Some editors are introverts.

And now for a cartoon and some apostrophe fails:

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | September 23, 2021

Editor’s Corner: A Lick and a Promise

Idioms are such tricky phrases when you are learning a new language, and in English, we have many idioms. An idiom is a phrase that means something completely different from what the individual words might indicate. For example, instead of saying “Building my new bookshelf was easy,” I could say, “Building my new bookshelf was a piece of cake.” The idiom “piece of cake” means “easy,” but none of those four words (a piece of cake) have anything to do with being simple or easy. That is the difficulty of deciphering idioms—the words in the idioms don’t really help you translate the meaning. Here are two that I like and their explanations. Both are from The Grammarist. Enjoy!

Dyed in the wool

When wool is dyed before being spun into thread (as opposed to after it is spun or woven into fabric), the color is profound and likely to last a very long time. From this we can infer the metaphorical meaning of the idiom dyed in the wool, which means profoundly, deeply ingrained, or to an extreme degree. It’s usually used in describing a person’s political, cultural, or religious beliefs or to emphasize their commitment to something.

The phrase is usually hyphenated, especially when it comes before what it modifies (e.g., he is a dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fanatic), but it can go unhyphenated when it comes after what it modifies (e.g., as a Yankees fanatic, he is dyed in the wool).

Example: I’ll be among those dyed-in-the-wool Royal enthusiasts waving my flag in front of Her Majesty herself outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. [Manchester
Evening News

A lick and a promise

A lick and a promise is an idiom that has been around at least since the middle of the 1800s. We will examine the definition of the phrase a lick and a promise, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A lick and a promise means to do something with a minimum amount of effort, to do something quickly and haphazardly. The term a lick and a promise plays on a secondary meaning of the word lick popular several hundred years ago, meaning to clean something quickly. The promise portion of this idiom most probably refers to a promise one makes to oneself to do a more thorough job when more time is available. Interestingly, the idiom a lick and a promise is most probably derived from an older idiom, a lick and a prayer, which means a quick, haphazard cleaning. Today, a lick and a promise may refer to any situation where something is done quickly and not very well. When used as an adjective before a noun, the term is hyphenated as in a lick-and-a-promise.

Example: Gainey’s brisk adaptation gives the first two parts of Shakespeare’s trilogy a lick and a promise before devoting most of the evening to the abundant armed conflicts in Part Three. (The Independent Weekly)

My brother’s goats, Lewis (on table) and Clark (politely on the ground), are happy to give you a lick, but they certainly never make promises.

Kara Church

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When I go up to the Pacific Northwest, I love seeing all of the place names change from Spanish (in California) to the indigenous names I grew up with, such as Tlingit, Tukwila, Muckleshoot, and Klickitat. I know I’ve covered different words we have adopted into English from indigenous languages, but this article I found goes deeper than just a list of words. The article, from Mental Floss, provides some etymologies, history, a little myth-busting, and some very interesting information. (KC – I cut the list short, but the link above will take you to all 11.)

11 Common English Words from Native American Languages

You’re probably well aware that tepee, totem, and toboggan are all Native American names for familiar objects, but what about hickory, jerky, and tobacco? Native American languages gave us scores of words for things we frequently use—not to mention the many states, rivers, and towns that evolved from Native American names. Here are 11 words commonly used in English that were coined by Indigenous groups across the Americas.


The Native American name of North America’s resident marsupial comes from the Virginia Algonquian word opassum (alternately spelled aposoum), which means “white dog” or “white beast” in the Powhatan language. Skunk, coyote, raccoon, moose, woodchuck, and caribou are a few of the other animals that owe their names to Native American tribes.


When English settlers first arrived in North America, they used squash as a verb (meaning to crush something) and, more arcanely, to refer to an unripe pea pod. However, they were unfamiliar with the fruit we now know as squash, according to Merriam-Webster. The Narragansett tribe from present-day New England called it askútasquash, which was eventually shortened to squash in English.


This delicious treat comes to us from nature, but we can thank Indigenous Mesoamericans for this Native American name. The word chocolate comes from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs (many Indigenous people in Mexico speak dialects of Nahuatl today). The Aztecs would make a drink from ground cacao seeds called chikolatl.


Sorry, avocado trivia lovers, but the story that this word originally meant testicle isn’t quite right. According to Nahuatl scholar Magnus Pharao Hansen, the Nahuatl name for the fruit, ahuacatl, was also slang for testicle, but only ever slang. The word ahuacatl chiefly described the fruit. It entered Spanish in the late 1600s as aguacate, and was eventually Anglicized as avocado.


In a similar vein, guacamole stems from two Nahuatl words: ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce). Mix them together and they make ahuacamolli. Molli, as fans of chicken mole enchiladas will know, was later spelled mole in Mexican Spanish. Tomato (tomatl), chili (chilli), and chipotle (chilli + poctli, meaning something smoked) are a few other food words that come to us from Nahuatl.


Indigenous peoples in central Chile who speak Araucanian languages dubbed their shawl-like “woolen fabric” a pontho. They were often worn by huasos, or cowboys, who lived in central and southern Chile. Nowadays, ponchos are commonplace throughout Latin America.


The Maya believed in a “god of the storm,” and they called it Hunraken. This same word was picked up throughout Central America and the Caribbean to refer to an evil deity. Spanish explorers in the Caribbean changed the spelling to huracán and used it to describe the weather phenomenon, and it was finally introduced into English by the 16th century.

Mt. St. Helens behind the clouds.

Castilleja (The orange flowers above, commonly known as scarlet paintbrush or prairie-fire; not sure about the purple flowers.)

Kara Church

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