The Adventures of Pinocchio * Word Tripper

Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. Pinocchio was a wooden puppet who wanted to become a real boy. Despite the efforts of his trusty conscience, The Talking Cricket, he kept lying and wasn’t conscious of his actions.

Much like The Talking Cricket, let this week’s Word Tripper be your guide to the difference between conscious and conscience.


Image Sources: &

Conscience, conscious – “Conscience,” a noun, is part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions being morally right or wrong. “Conscious,” an adjective, describes being awake and able to understand what’s happening around you (a fact or feeling).

“I was highly conscious of my inability to pocket the wad of twenty-dollar bills I’d found. I knew my conscience wouldn’t allow me to keep this money.” – Bobbie Bookhout

Breaking Down * Word Tripper

Things break down. Muscles atrophy from lack of use, cars won’t start from lack of maintenance, and houses get messy due to lack of cleaning. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you plan and the entropy of everyday living can take its toll on a person’s body and mind.

Here’s help in making sure your lexicon doesn’t break down. This week’s Word Tripper highlights the differences between atrophy and entropy.

atrophy-entropy2Image Sources: &

Atrophy, entropy – “Atrophy,” a noun and a verb, refers to a gradual loss or wasting away physically or psychologically. It can also refer to poor development. “Entropy,” a noun, is the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. In a technical sense, it’s the gradual breakdown of energy and matter. In casual usage, entropy refers to the disintegration or disorganization of any situation.

“The teenager’s muscles started to atrophy from lying in bed too long. His room, scattered with clothes, shoes, and books, showed a degree of entropy from being neglected.”

Tricks of the Trade * Word Tripper

Every practice has its tricks of the trade. In this week’s Word Tripper, the trick to knowing the difference between the homonym “breach” and “breech” is this: ”Breach,” meaning to open by force or break an agreement, is spelled with an “ea” like the word “break” itself.

If writing is part of your trade, use this trick to differentiate between these two words both in meaning and spelling. Happy Word Tripping!


Image Source:

Breach, breech – As a noun, “breach” is a failure to do what’s required or promised; a break in friendly relations between people or groups; a hole or opening in something created by force. As a verb, it means to fail to do what’s required or promised; to force an opening or break an agreement. “Breech,” a noun, refers to the hind end of something. For example, a breech birth occurs when an infant’s bottom comes out first during delivery. “Breech” is also the part of a firearm (e.g., a rifle or cannon) found at the rear end of its barrel.

“It’s clearly a breech birth when the doctor sees the newborn’s bottom breach the birth canal.” – Dr. Ron Minson

Envelope vs. Envelop – Word Tripper

by Barbara McNichol

The U.S. Postal Service processes 6,050 mail pieces every second, employs more than 8 million people, and is part of a $1.3 trillion mailing industry that envelops most of the known world.

This WT pair, envelop and envelope, differ by just one letter but are different parts of speech and have distinct meanings.


Overloaded mail truck used by a mail contract carrier in Cody, Wyoming
Image Source:

Envelop, envelope – “Envelop,” a transitive verb, means to completely cover, enclose, or surround someone or something. “Envelope,” a noun, is a flat container that covers a letter or other object, often for mailing or delivery. It also refers to a set of performance or conventionally accepted limits.

“Let me envelop you in the warm, fuzzy envelope of my love.” – Gary Michael

“She pushed the envelope of her endurance by running an extra mile.”

Enveloped by the stacks of papers he had to grade, he felt overwhelmed.”

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What Writing Blunders Have Cost You – Big Time?

by Barbara McNichol

Writing Blunders

Writing Blunders

It only takes a moment to make a blunder in writing that sets in  motion near-disastrous results. Sure, writing “best retards” instead of “best regards” can be embarrassing but some writing blunders can truly hurt.

What catastrophic examples can you cite about communications gone awry? What consequences followed?

Please share your stories here. The person who submits the Biggest Blunder example earns a printed copy of my Word Trippers book. See



Random Acts of Kindness – Word Tripper

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a non-profit organization that inspires a culture of kindness in schools, homes, and communities. It encourages acts of kindness by providing resources to people who are both benevolent and beneficent.

This week’s Word Tripper clarifies the difference between these similar words.

beneficient-benevolentImage Source: &


Best of Word Trippers 2014

by Barbara McNichol

If you don’t subscribe to my ezine Word Tripper of the Week, you’re missing out on a regular opportunity to sharpen your word use skills. You’ll find easy explanations of confusng word pairings such as “accept vs. except” and “affect vs. effect.”

Last year’s Word Trippers ezine included the pairs that follow, but that’s only a start! For the complete “Best of 2014” List, email me at and I’ll send you the full PDF list of 25 pesky pairings featured in 2014.

Abstruse, obtuse – “Abstruse” means hard to understand, complex, or highly abstract. It stems from a Latin word meaning concealed or hidden and typically describes texts or arguments. “Obtuse” describes someone who is (or seems to be, based on behavior) not sharp in thinking, perception, or feeling; it can also refer to a remark, argument, or object that is dull or blunt.

“The teacher lost his students’ attention while describing abstruse philosophical topics to his class. He was too obtuse to notice their lack of participation.”


Afflict, inflict – Both words mean to cause pain, suffering, distress, or discomfort. “Afflict” with the preposition “with” usually describes an illness or condition. “Inflict” with the preposition “on” concentrates on the force with which the pain, suffering, distress, or discomfort is administered.

“He did not intend to inflict shame on his friend with his calloused remark. It would later afflict him with a deep sense of remorse.”


Anticipate, predict – “Anticipate” means to think of something that could happen in the future; to expect or look ahead to something with pleasure. “Predict” means to declare or indicate in advance; to foretell based on observation, experience, or scientific reason.

“It’s easy to predict the youngsters will have a tough time sleeping as they anticipate their trip to Disneyland.”


Archetype, prototype – Derived from the Latin term “typus” meaning image, the nouns “archetype” and “prototype” both relate to an original pattern or model. Each prefix establishes the distinction. “Arch” refers to the most accomplished or high ranking of something; “proto” primarily refers to a standard configuration, or an initial model or version of something. Thus, “archetype” has come to mean an ideal example while “prototype” is an unrefined version of something that’s expected to evolve.

“With her perfect GPA, inspiring extracurricular activity, and impressive athletic accomplishments, she’s the archetype of a great student and possibly a prototype for a successful entrepreneur.”


Request the whole list with Best of Word Trippers in subject line. When you do, I’ll automatically subscribe you to the bimonthly ezine so you won’t miss out in the future. Enjoy!

Then tell me which ones were most helpful or most surprising to you. Comment here.

P.S.You can order the print version of Word Trippers 2nd edition by clicking on this link.

7 Writing Mistakes Editors are Constantly Fixing

By Barbara McNichol

What can editors tell writers about improving their writing before they even begin the editing process? I shared my ideas and examples on a recent teleclass hosted by Janice Campbell of NAIWE.

You can listen to the full hour of “fixes” I presented by dialing dial 1-218-844-3182 and enter Recording ID: 90075555

In the meantime, here’s a summary:

Mistake #1.      Being so self-absorbed as a writer that you’re unaware of the reader’s experience. The fix? Know your core message and write to that message, leaving out the experience of writing.

Mistake #2.      Addressing readers as readers rather than a single key person whose interest you want to capture with your message. The fix? Keep a single interested person in your target audience top of mind as you write.

Mistake #3.      Skimming the surface, not going deep enough. The fix? When describing an experience, explain what you felt, what the other person felt as best you can, and what exact words were spoken. Go deeper with the details.

Mistake #4.      Having no rhyme or reason to the order of the paragraphs. The fix? Make a conscious decision about the order based on logic and facilitating your readers’ comprehension.

Mistake #5.      Overusing weak verbs and throwing in extraneous phrases and wobbly words. The fix? Rewrite using active verbs; question use of every adjective and adverb; throw out wobbly words: really, very, much, some that.  “I Really Think That We Should Not Use Some Words Very Much.”

Mistake #6.      Using multiword noun phrases when one active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work.”

Mistake #7.      Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit sentences to 15-21 words max but vary sentence length.

Bonus mistake: Mixing metaphors and flat-out choosing the wrong word. The fix? Use a word choice guide like Word Trippers to help you select the perfect word when it really matters.

About Barbara McNichol

Authors and experts depend on Barbara for her expert editing of nonfiction books, articles, and marketing materials. On her website, she proudly lists close to 200 books she’s edited. Her mission is to teach writers techniques that will improve their writing—and make the final editing process go smoother and faster. As part of this mission, Barbara sends out a monthly ezine called Add Power to Your Pen. When you sign up for it, you’ll receive “10 Top Techniques for Improving Your Writing.” She’s also written Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Using the Perfect Word When It Really Matters, available at as a Kindle and a print book.

Grammar Glitches You Can’t Ignore

By Barbara McNichol

My attention was recently drawn to an article in Ragan Report (great resource for communicators) that puts the “Top 25 Grammar and Language Mistakes” in your face. Some, in fact, are Word Trippers that I include in my ebook.

This handful of grammar glitches stood out for me. I’m eager to point them out because they’re extremely important to good writing. I encourage you to take them to heart.

  • Using “could of,” “would of,” “should of.” These are all 100 percent wrong, born of our sloppy speaking styles—could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. What you want to write is could have, would have, should have. We all coulda, woulda, shoulda become better at grammar.
  • Using “me and somebody.” I tell my children that it’s common courtesy to put the other person first. Thus you should always say, “Fred and I went to the gym together,” or “Suzie and I saw that movie.”
  • Using “that” instead of “who” (and vice versa). If you’re writing about people, always use who. If a company president says, “employees that are affected by layoffs will be greatly missed,” no one is likely to believe him because he’s treating them as objects by using the word that.
  • Using “they” when referring to a business. “Starbucks said they would give everyone a free latte today.” Although this might sound right, the correct sentence is: “Starbucks said it would give everyone a free latte today.” And if that grates on your ears, then rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem: “Starbucks is offering everyone a free latte today.”

Want to peruse the whole article so you can learn from all 25 mistakes? Here’s the link.

Please share other grammar glitches that might trip you in the comments section below.

Whack Wordiness: Teleclass Handout

By Barbara McNichol for Words Matter Week, NAIWE, March 3, 2010 

As you revise, proofread, and finalize what you’ve written, whack all the extra words you can to sharpen your message in compelling ways.

Watch for the following opportunities to take away the bumps so your writing moves forward smoothly like a car accelerating on a on freeway.

 Aim to eliminate extraneous phrases such as:

  • “there is” and “there will be”

e.g., There will be many candidates who are already planning to move. Better: Many candidates may be already planning to move.

  • “It is all about”; “the fact of the matter is”; “the fact that”

e.g., The fact of the matter is that it’s unwise to go out carousing. Better: It’s unwise to go out carousing.

  • “in regards to”

e.g., There may be additional sites you should seek out in regards to your industry. Better:  Seek additional sites related to your industry.

  • “is going to”

e.g., He is going to be a key asset. Better: He will be a key asset.

  • “in order to”

e.g., Add key words in order to describe the new position. Better: Add key words to describe the new position.

  • is intended to, meant to, designed to”

e.g., Prescreening is intended to focus on key aspects of the position. Better: Prescreening focuses on key aspects of the position.

  •  “the reason why is that  . . .” (a simple “because” will suffice)

 Strunk and White, in their classic guide The Elements of Style, call such clutter “the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”

 Take out these wobbly words whenever you can:

  • some  “We rely on some long-standing methods.”much “Jobs posted on the internet reach a much larger audience.”very  “Get ready to do a very good job.”quite a few “It’s been quite a few days since we spoke.” Be specific; use a number.

that  “Find information that you can apply easily.”

 Note: The word that doesn’t substitute for who when referring to a human being. E.g., “. . .  a person that plays the piano” should be “a person who plays the piano.”

 Knock out redundancies such as:

    • end result
    • add more
    • tally up
    • future plan
    • absolute guarantee
    • actual experience
    • adhesive tape
    • alongside of
    • ask yourself
    • at the present time
    • spell out in detail
    • sum total
    • sworn affidavit
    • unexpected surprise
    • visible to the eye

Think of these extra words as layers of onion skin before you get to the usable part. Peel them from your writing. – Diana Booher, Booher’s Rules of Business Grammar

 Replace phrases with single words where appropriate:

    • “a great number of” with “many”
    • “ahead of schedule” with “early”
    • “during the time that” with “while”
    • “give consideration to” with “consider”
    • “in spite of the fact that” with “although” 
  • Change nouns to verbs:
    • “the examination of” becomes “examine”
    • “reach a decision” becomes “decide”
    • “the transformation of” becomes “transform”
    • “the reorganization of” becomes “reorganize” 
  • Revise long-winded sentences:
    • Chop a long sentence into two – and make sure they both sound correct!
    • Combine thoughts and ideas when you can.
    • Question every single word – especially every adverb and adjective.
    • Take out the ones that don’t add to the meaning.  
  • Route out words that are inadvertently used twice:
    • “Following a process for hiring, we followed his techniques.”            Better:  “Following a process for hiring, we adopted his techniques.”
    • “Hoping for warm weather, we hoped to book our vacation in the south.” Better: “Hoping for warm weather, we booked our vacation in the south.” 
  • Let absolutes be absolute:         

e.g., Ever heard someone say “his bucket is emptier (or more empty) than mine”? How can something be emptier than empty? The same holds true for all absolute words. Drop the “less” or “more” in front of these: 

    • perfect
    • unique
    • equal
    • final
    • first
    • last
  • Get rid of tag-ons to verbs: 
    • continue on
    • refer back to
    • grouped together
    • gathered together
    • open up
    • cancel out
    • first began
    • add together
    • link together

Stop Your Writing from Idling in Neutral

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

 Avoid Writing a Run-On Sentence

What is it? A sentence that contains too many subjects and predicates . . . like running two independent clauses together without the benefit of a comma, a conjunction, or another type of “glue” such as a punctuation mark or connecting word.

E.g., “We received the package yesterday it arrived in the mail.”

E.g., “Now Hiring New Chicken Livers” (actually seen on a billboard!)

E.g., (You’ll find sentences that go on and on all around you.)

When is it time to start a new sentence so you don’t have a run-on collision?

Here’s a suggestion: Use your breath. Yes, that’s right. Allow one inhalation and one exhalation for sentence as you read it, either aloud or silently. If you run out of breath before the end, consider this sentence too long!

Shorten Lengthy Sentences

Does wordiness imply writing only short sentences? No. The length of your sentence depends on what you want to say, and naturally some ideas take more words to express than others.

Still, head in the direction of “concise” rather than “verbose.” Just like you don’t want to spend much time with people who are verbose—they talk on and on and on—your readers don’t want to hang out with verbosity in your writing. 

Why? Too-long sentences tend to drag readers into complacency. They also demand a good memory. Readers have to hold onto the concept in the first part of the sentence. Then they have to wade through all the fluff to finally reach the connecting point at the end of the sentence. 

Rule of Thumb: No sentence should be longer 21 words and shorter if possible. It’s just difficult to keep track of the sentence’s core idea if it’s longer than that. Note: the longest sentence in the paragraph above is 21 words. Whew! 

Whack Wordiness Example: Editing this 44-word sentence (#1) brought it down to 21 words (#2) – that’s 50 percent! 

#1 – The subsequent chapters then will focus in great detail on each of the steps to make sure you know how to accomplish each step before proceeding to the next step and how to measure whether or not you are ready to move to the next step. (46 words) 

#2 – The subsequent chapters detail all 13 steps and show how to accomplish each one while measuring whether you are ready to move on. (23 words)


Dig out a page or two of your own writing and pick the longest paragraph. Count the number of words in that paragraph and rewrite it completely. As you do, look for ways to:

  • Eliminate extraneous phrases
  • Take out wobbly words
  • Knock out redundancies
  • Replace phrases with single words
  • Change nouns to verbs
  • Revise long-winded sentences
  • Route out repeated words
  • Let absolutes be absolute
  • Get rid of tag-ons to verbs 

You want your writing to move forward in drive, not idle in neutral, meander off course, or ramble. So don’t stop until you’ve ruthlessly reduced the number of words in your sentence. Aim for paring it down by 33 percent or more. Be succinct!   

How to Stop Rambling

“Make every word work like a galley slave.” – William Zinsser

 Rambling often stems from muddy thinking—that is, not having a clear idea of what you want to say. When analyzing a piece of your writing that rambles on, ask, “Exactly what was I trying to say?” 

Challenge yourself to state its purpose in one simple sentence. Then once you have your intended point in mind, ask:

  • Did I put in unnecessary facts on the road to making my point?
  • Did I add any phrases that were irrelevant to this point?
  • Did I keep in mind what readers might be asking as I make my point?
  • Do my sentences seem to jar like riding on a bumpy road?
  • Did I take a straight line to make my point or did I take unnecessary detours?  

Consider using this formula* to help keep your writing concise. Use no more than:

  • 5 paragraphs per page
  • 10 sentences per paragraph
  • 15 words per sentence
  • 3 syllables per word  

*Recommended in Don’t Let Your Participles Dangle in Public!


Step 1: Take one page of your writing, 300-400 words, and count the number of paragraphs. Fewer than 5?

 Step 2: In an average paragraph, count the number of sentences you have.

Fewer than 10?

 Step 3: Choose one paragraph and count the number of words in each sentence. What’s the average? Fewer than 15?

 Step 4: Now circle all the words on the page that have 4 syllables or more.

 Following these four steps, you now have lots of clues where to smooth out the potholes on the road.

Keep Your Writing Motor Running

“Writings are useless unless they are read, and they cannot be read unless they are readable.” – Theodore Roosevelt

One Thought, One Sentence

Unless you’re a novelist like William Faulkner, it’s best to express one thought in one sentence and end it. Spend another sentence on the next thought, and so on to keep your prose moving forward. 

When a sentence has too many ideas and runs on too long, it is called a run-on sentence. Actually, a run-on sentence really has TWO sentences (or thoughts) that have been INCORRECTLY combined into one. You can combine two sentences into one, but you must follow some rules to do it correctly. 

e.g., Mary loved traveling in Norway she thought it was cold. 

To correct this, use a punctuation mark, a bridge word, or separate the two thoughts completely.      

Mary loved traveling in Norway; she thought it was cold.

Mary loved traveling in Norway, but she thought it was cold.

Mary loved traveling in Norway. She thought it was cold.

Steer on the Sunny Side

It’s hard for readers to track what’s being written when it’s stated in a negative way. And most of the time, negative statements require a lot more words to make a point. Avoid using “no” and “not” except when you strongly want to emphasize or contrast something. 

Example #1

Negative: The answer doesn’t lie in not having enough people to do the job.

Better: The answer lies in hiring enough people to do the job.

 Example #2

Negative: We can’t incorporate all the design features we want without increasing the unit size.

Better: To provide all the design features we want, we increase the unit size.

 Build Bridges to Guide Your Reader

Since your goal is to whack wordiness, you may consider bridge words and phrases extraneous. Yet, the transitions from one sentence to another do keep your motor running and should be kept in high gear. Why? They create logical links that smooth the road like a well-maintained highway. 

Examples of bridge words that . . . 

  • connect two ideas of the same kind:   and, plus, as well as 
  • add another thought:    besides, also, then, again, secondly, etc. 
  • compare or contrast ideas:   but, still, however, yet, nevertheless,  
  • reinforce an idea:  indeed, in fact, of course, by all means    
  • show results:   as a result, consequently, thus, hence

Place Strongest Words at End

Whenever possible, place your most prominent words at the end of your sentence. Doing so provides emphasis and helps advance your writing from one new idea to the next.


Which ending phrase is more targeted and memorable? (The clue is in the italics.)

Statement #1

You’ll drive smoothly toward your destination of delivering a compelling message with your new ability to whack wordiness.

 Statement #2

With your new ability to whack wordiness, you’ll drive smoothly toward your destination of delivering a compelling message.

 Check out the Resources that follow.


 Booher, Dianna. Booher’s Rules of Business Grammar: 101 Fast and Easy Ways to Correct the Most Common Errors. McGraw Hill. 2009. 

DuPont, M. Kay. Don’t Let Your Participles Dangle in Public! Jedco Press. 3rd Edition. 2006. 

Fryxell, David A. Structure & Flow. Writer’s Digest Books. 1996. 

O’Connor, Patricia T. Woe Is I. Riverhead Books, 1996. 

Reddick, Karen L. Grammar Done Right! Hub House Publishing, 2009. 

Strunk, William Jr. and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 3rd Edition. McMillan Publishing 1979. 

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 Word Choice Guide

Want a word choice guide that makes your writing easier? You can access 350+ pairs of confusing words (e.g., further vs. farther, advice vs. advise) in Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Perfect Word When it Really Matters. Available as an ebook at for only $16.95.