Blog: Word-wise

Setting the record straight

As a glance at the dates on my posts would suggest, I don’t seem to be able to spare much time for blogging. But every once in a while, something happens that suddenly moves “Blog about it!” to the top of my priority list.

One of those things has happened.

Last week, I got a Google Alert on my name. This happens pretty frequently since I write a regular column for my local newspaper, and those articles are often posted online by the paper a few days after the print version is delivered on doorsteps. But last week’s alert was different.

It wasn’t an article I wrote but a reference to me that had triggered the alert. When I followed the link back, I found myself on a website that sells essays, term papers, and other writing assignments to students.

There aren’t many things that instantly spike my blood pressure, but academic integrity (rather, lack of it) is one of them. I searched the site for contact information and sent this email message:

Good morning,

I just got a Google Alert (below) on my name which led back to the [company name redacted] site ([domain redacted].com). While I don’t see myself listed anywhere here on this actual page, I am very bothered to find that I have been affiliated in any way with this website. There must be some kind of listing on some internal page that includes me, and I DO NOT want to be on that listing.
Please remove my name, my website links, and any reference to my writing/editing business completely from this site.
As a former teacher, seeing that someone has advertised me as a student essay writing service makes my skin crawl. I absolutely do not offer student essay writing. I do ghostwriting work for business professionals, but I NEVER ghostwrite student assignments. I make that quite clear upfront on my site. My student writing assistance packages require that the student actually complete his or her own essay first. Then, I work with that student through several rounds of critique and editing–similar to what a person would get from an instructor in a college writing center, just delivered virtually, via email or telephone rather than in person.
In short, what [company name] sells is a product–complete essays. What I sell to students is a SERVICE–the guidance and expertise to make their own writing better. We have nothing in common.
Again, please remove any mention of me and my business from this and any affiliated sites.
Thank you,
AnnaLisa Michalski

I would not have expected to get any personal response to the message; in the past, my requests for de-listing from any site have usually netted a boilerplate “Your request has been received” kind of reply. In this case, I didn’t even get that much. Two days later, that all-too-familiar MAILER DAEMON notice landed in my inbox.

My conclusion: People that sell an unethical product cannot be counted upon to have working email systems, maintain up-to-date contact information online, or really perform any task that isn’t directly connected to making a buck–both morality and the most basic of public relations be damned.

Buyer, beware.

(And, at the risk of stating what should be obvious, students: A grade is intended to reflect mastery of coursework. If you purchase that grade rather than work for it yourself, your academic record becomes at best questionable in accuracy and at worst a baldfaced lie. Ask for guidance, put in more time, enlist a study partner, get a tutor, or hire a writing coach if you need it, but for pity’s sake, make the effort. Do you own work!)

Keeping the “free” in “freelance”

Readers: I just discovered that I had inadvertently saved rather than published this post, which I wrote late last fall. Other than that, every word of it remains accurate now that I’m hitting the “publish” button for real.  – AM

I’m free. I’m freelance.

…and please don’t think I mean working for no pay. That’s not freelance; that’s pro bono. (Don’t think I’m about to deliver a tirade against pro bono work here, either. Pro bono can be an honorable, reasonable, and mutually-beneficial option. It’s just not the subject today.)

“Freelancer” is much like “contractor,” a professional who is hired on a per-job basis, or with a specific project or duration in mind, rather than as a full-time employee. While there’s a lot to be said for the stability, reputation, and salary and benefits that often come with a regular full-time job, the beauty of freelance work–the whole reason I went solo ten years ago–is flexibility. For me, scheduling has long been a primary concern.

It’s no secret that though I clock a lot of work hours, I only do this wordsmithing stuff part-time. My biggest job for at least a few more years is my family, keeping three elementary-aged kids fed, clean, clothed, and where they need to be, when; making sure the refrigerator is full and laundry hampers empty; and keeping the house in functional and respectable order.

If our home were a nonprofit entity, you might call my role “project manager” to my husband’s “chief fundraiser.”

With that in mind, the paid work that I do is like a second job to me. While my clients get my full attention during our projects, the time I have in which to get those projects done is limited. And lately, I’ve felt like no matter how well I plan or how efficiently I work, there just isn’t enough of that time to go around.

I think I’m probably not alone among freelancers (or moms) when I say that sometimes, something has to give. A little more than a month ago that that “something” was one of my recurring writing assignments for a local news publication.

As word has gotten around that I’d given it up, the most frequent question I’ve gotten has been a sort of stunned, sharp “Why?”

I’d been reliable.

I’d enjoyed the work.

I’d met interesting people and filled the column with an eclectic array of their stories, and those stories generally got good response.

All true, but I had good reasons. Taken together, they mostly boiled down to It doesn’t fit.

This particular assignment required that I file a short article relevant to a particular geographic territory, two of every three weeks. On the face of it, that sounds undemanding. A 400-word article is pretty darned short, after all, and not even weekly? Why, that leaves plenty of wiggle room for planning and legwork in between.


In practice, not really.

I found the calendar to be a challenge from the get-go. While my other regular projects followed a straightforward schedule–one is always the last week of the month, and the other is weekly–this assignment’s two-of-three rotation proved to be somewhat less of a no-brainer. I was referring to notes constantly to keep my deadlines straight. In any given month, deadlines could land on the last, first, or middle weeks–and then they’d be entirely different the following month. That’s just the nature of a 2/3 rotation.

I’ve always operated best using a traditional paper planner that showed all my family, personal, and work appointments and deadlines at a single glance. But after two months with the two-weeks-of-three assignment–and still not having caught the rhythm–I found I needed to keep a separate calendar of only work deadlines and working headlines, nothing else. And it needed to kept on a computer document, not handwritten, as it changed so frequently that a paper record became completely illegible.

The separate digital file neatened my long-term planning, sort of, but it turned out the assignment didn’t fit my work calendar in other ways, too. The accounting for this publication was slightly different than the others–running on a “by submission date” month rather than a “by publication date” month. It’s a small difference that matters a lot when you work accounting tasks, as I do, in a batching-type system. (Aside: Are you one of those people that has practiced “batching” forever and only learned there was a name for it recently? Yep, my hand’s in the air….)

Finally, I really prefer to do my work-work during normal school and office hours so that I don’t cheat the time I should be using to check kids’ homework, attend church-family events, or shop for groceries. Back when I first started freelancing, I made it a hard and fast rule that weekends were off limits to work-work. Period.

But for this assignment, that was not an option. My sources for so many of the articles were themselves people with multiple obligations. The only way to conduct interviews, attend events, or drive somewhere to get pictures was to commit to working well later than 6pm, or on Saturdays and Sundays–the times my sources did their most interesting, newsworthy work.

And at times I had to “drag along” the kids for these appointments because my husband, too, works irregular days.

There were smaller reasons to reconsider this assignment, too, but those fit issues were huge. Deal-breakers, in fact. I managed to stick it out for a full year–long enough, in my mind, to merit an entry on my long-term résumé. And then I gave my notice.

Dropping a regular assignment was not a decision I made lightly, but I have not regretted it in the weeks since. A calendar that’s slightly less harried is a breath of fresh air. A relief. It feels like freedom.

Or, maybe I should say it feels like freelancing: the ability to choose what work I do, and what work to pass up because it doesn’t fit.

Readers, does this sound familiar? Whether you work freelance or are a full-time employee, whether your work is paid or strictly voluntary, what’s been your experience with “it doesn’t fit”? Perhaps we can learn from each others’ perspectives on making the calendar work in our favor–share your solutions and ideas below!

Adrenalin vs. adrenaline: Either way, it’s a stressful word.

In the course of doing a client project, I picked up a new-to-me usage pair that somehow–though I work with the topic of “stress” quite frequently for this long-time client–I’d never run across before.

Client’s original document contained the word adrenalin. I added an e at the end almost without thinking about it, then realized that MSWord had not actually flagged the e-less version of the word first. Yet, curiously, it also didn’t flag my new version.

A little poking around online revealed these are actually two different words though they might be considered twins of the fraternal variety:

adrenaline: (common noun) also known as epinephrine, a stimulating hormone that is released during fight-or-flight moments

Adrenalin: (proper noun, trademarked) a brand of synthetically produced epinephrine

Outside of these words’ spelling, capitalization, and usage differences, some authorities list a complicating factor: Epinephrine is a term that’s commonly used in the United States, while British doctors (and many others worldwide who communicate in British English) are more likely to say adrenaline.

We learn something every day, don’t we–even, apparently, during moments of high tension and anxiety!

Readers, has a fine shade of difference between two words or phrases surprised you lately–or continued to startle you years after you learned their difference? Share your discoveries in the Comments section.

A confounding–and compelling–headline

I write a farming/local growing column for a weekly insert in my hometown newspaper, so I’m on a lot of media email lists. I get press releases announcing all manner of grower education events, invasive insect alerts, weather advisories, market news for various crops, etc.

I laughed out loud at the subject line of an announcement that landed in my inbox early this morning:

Survey Shows Tobacco as the Leading Organic Product in Virginia

Certainly this is a niche market I don’t understand, I thought: Consumers who are concerned enough about health to choose organic, yet also choose to smoke/chew a product with negative health implications? Naturally, I clicked the message to read the full announcement. (You can read it in its entirety here.)

Boom–it hooked me. And that’s exactly what a headline is supposed to do, compell a person to continue reading.

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a rotten headline writer. I’ve gotten a little better with these years of practice, but still, putting just the right headline/title/subject line/page header on a piece of otherwise well-conceived text is a task that continues to challenge me.

I find myself often thinking of the advice a longtime client passed along from her marketing coach: Sell the sizzle, not the steak. It’s a great rule of thumb where sales writing is concerned, but the concept can apply to other titles and headlines as well. In many cases, it’s that attraction to the sizzle–the emotional response a title creates–that truly makes a person read on. In the organic tobacco headline example, the feeling that spurred me to click was a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

Please chip in, readers. What are your favorite examples of compelling headlines, current or past? Do you have a technique or tip for maximizing the impact of your titles? The comments section is open!

Persuasive for the wrong reasons

Anyone with an email address or a website would probably attest that spam is a constant irritation. Heck, the term “spam” is used to describe unwanted phone calls these days, too, so it’s possible that pretty much anyone in the civilized world might say the same: Spam is annoying and sometimes even time-consuming.

But every so often, I find something truly amusing trapped in my spam filters. Here is the unsolicited message that made me chuckle this morning:


I am a freelance writer, link builder and SEO expert.  I have a great flair for writing and can provide original and plagiarism proof articles on any topic.  The content will be thoroughly researched to ensure accurate information.

I can write unique articles or SEO content for your websites / products / blogs at $10 per 500 words. The topics can range from politics, fashion, technology, health, business, sports or any of your choice.

All articles are informative, copy scape proof, original and most importantly in simple English which is the core requirement as 90% readers prefer simple reading.  Should you want to see some of my writing samples, please feel free to ask for them.

In addition I also do logo/graphic designing, website building, and SEO as well.

Looking forward to hearing from you and working for you.  I assure you of quality work and confidentiality of information.

[name redacted]

Now that’s some “thorough research,” isn’t it–sending a blind sales pitch for freelance writing to none other than a freelance writer! It strikes me as hilarious.

And can we talk about proofreading? Unless you’re talking single sentences in complete isolation, there’s really no such thing as perfect proofreading. With that said, I would hope that someone who sells himself as a wordsmith would take care to iron out the fine details before sending a sales message.

This writer can’t seem to decide where he lands in the Oxford comma debate: While many writers (including me) will go one way or the other depending on the preferences of the client, it’s not a good idea to use both approaches in a single finished piece. That just looks indecisive.

A few other oddities in this message: The trademarked and thus untouchable “Copyscape” is both uncapitalized and split into two words, there’s a word missing from what should be the phrase “90% of readers,” and, as long as I’m splitting hairs, “plagiarism proof” probably ought to be hyphenated.

Yep, this rare talent has provided convincing evidence of the “accuracy” he would provide me were I to hire him. A persuasive piece of marketing, this…I’m fully swayed not to buy.

Readers, let’s have some fun with spam today. We’ve all gotten purported political exposés, pitches for cheap prescription drugs, promises of free cruises, secrets that will allow us to “NEVER pay for YOU NAME IT again!”…but have you ever gotten an unsolicited message that was so absurd it made you laugh aloud? Tell about your most giggle-worthy spam in the comments section.

Reader resolutions

One of my book club friends shared with me this set of reader resolutions a friend had passed along to her around New Years.

Read this year:
A book published this year
A book you can fnish in a day
A book you’ve been meaning to read
A book recommended by a librarian or book seller
A book you should have read in school
A book chosen by a child, spouse, BFF
A book published before you were born
A book banned at some point
A book you previously abandoned
A book you own but have never read
A book that intimidates you
A book you’ve already read at least once

I didn’t go out of my way to assemble a reading list based on these details at the time, but now that it’s July and the year is more than half over, I thought it would be interesting to look at the past few months to see how my reading may have lined up (or not) so far. An asterisk indicates a title that’s on my to-read list but not yet accomplished.

A book published this year

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis. It has proven repeatedly to be uproariously funny, then suddenly dark and disturbing. It’s a truly odd collection of stories (not a contiguous novel) that entertain while, if you think about them afterward, they also make thoughtful points.

A book you can finish in a day

Unless the Berenstain Bears or Sweet Pickles or Dr. Seuss or Julia Donaldson qualify, this is a category I will never, ever meet. Despite the reams of practice I get, if you were to compare my reading speed to that of other voracious readers, I’d probably fall somewhat to the slow side of center. Oh well.

A book you’ve been meaning to read

Chimera by Mira Grant. It’s the third of a trilogy I had begun eating up over the winter, and it took me ages to finally get my hands on the final installment. (Aside: This is the frustration–and also the beauty–of the public library reserve system. I might be frothing to read something, and then my excitement slowly fades with the wait. But what a great surprise when my turn suddenly comes up!)

Now, if you’ve ever heard of Mira Grant, you may know her as a zombie thriller writer. However, this series that I read–Parasitology–is NOT of that genre. There is indeed horrifying stuff going on, but it’s not screaming and gore that makes it so scary. It’s that Grant has put in just enough plausible science and carefully considered fact that the terror is absolutely believable.

In fact, what sets off the catastrophe at the premise of the series is that, in the near future, a clever pharmaceutical company offers humanity miracle solutions to every medical problem from severe epilepsy to common allergies using one technique, but customized to each patient. There’s a boatload of clever and very effective marketing to go with it. (Sound familiar?) And never mind the fact that–cue ominous music–ignoring ethics, caution, and known biological truths is what made it all possible.

I’d put this series in the same category as a Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, or Tess Gerritsen medical thriller.If you like any of them, I’d definitely recommend looking up Mira Grant.

*The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This has been on my to-read list for what seems like forever and has finally advanced to within sight.

A book recommended by a librarian or book seller

*Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This is my club’s August book pick. I’m told it’s a World War II-era survivor story. More on that–and the wonderful depth and breadth of the modern “young adult” book classification–later, too.

A book you should have read in school/A book published before you were born

*The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Obviously it’s a play, not a book, but it otherwise fits both of these categories. My 12th grade class was the only one in the school that read King Lear instead. I guess a couple of decades isn’t too late to mend a hole in my education?

A book chosen by a child, spouse, BFF

Daily…see “a book you can read in a day” above!

A book banned at some point/A book you previously abandoned

*Beloved by Toni Morrison. If the critical reviews are any indication, I’ll certainly have something to write once I finish this one, despite my previous starts and stops.

A book you own but have never read

*A Marble Woman by Louisa May Alcott. The subtitle is “the unknown thrillers of,” so I’m not sure what’s taking me so long to open this one. The idea of the same person who wrote Little Women turning out “thrillers” is bizarrely fascinating.

A book that intimidates you

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Maybe “intimidates” isn’t quite the right word here. I read it because I felt I had to as it was a book club selection. But I really dragged my heels getting it done. I’ve read Anne Tyler in the past, and her work just isn’t my cup of tea. I finished it anyway, and again I was mildly disappointed. But others in my group enjoyed it immensely, and we had a really good discussion about character development. My hesitation is a matter of style preference, not, apparently, quality of her writing.

A book you’ve already read at least once

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. I would read ANY Kingsolver book over again. She writes the kind of entertaining and thoughtful stuff that is relevant in different ways each time you read.

Also, I reread novels from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series regularly. I do pick up the newer series installments written by other authors now and then, but so far, I think there’s no substitute for the real Parker. (I wrote about Robert B. Parker in detail in 2010 if you’re interested.)

Your turn, Readers! Did you make any reading resolutions for 2016? What books or genres have you gone out of your way to read so far this year? And, if you’ve also read any of the titles listed above recently, what were your impressions of those particular books? Please share your ideas in the comments.

What’s new around here: viewing and “reading”

P1070081I’ve finally done it.

It’s been more than a year since “Mobilegeddon” swept the World Wide Web. I have to admit, it bothered me that a feature that, as a primarily desktop-oriented user, I didn’t find especially valuable myself could be used against me in the eyes of the world’s most prevalent search engine.

But. I can’t feel okay with risking the loss of Google’s blessing. So I’ve finally found the initiative to convert this site to a mobile-responsive theme. Go ahead and have a look around!

So, with a newer, search engine-approved layout in place, what better time to make some additional changes I’ve been considering for almost as long–namely, the content of this blog.

Writing and editing are what I do. That’s why I’ve concentrated Word-wise on the “writing” part of the communication model. The various components of that one mode–writing process, vocabulary, spelling, phrasing, syntax, stylebooks and standards, diction, broad vs. fine editing, etc.–are interesting and ever-changing and fun to explore.

I have no real ambitions about regularly getting the “speaking” and “listening” modes into the mix, but I have and will always enjoy lot of reading. I read the daily local newspaper. I keep up with several dozen professional, hobby, and family blogs. And most of all, I love books. I’m a regular patron of the public library and swap paperbacks with book club and church friends as well as fellow anonymous Little Free Library readers.

If you’re reading a blog called “Word-wise,” I bet a lot of that is true for you, too. And so, I’ve added a new “reading” category to this blog. I’m not going to commit to any definite schedule but will post when I can about this or that book, article, genre, or any topic related to reading.

I have a reading post in the works for later this week, but for today, I just wanted to blow the dust off Word-wise and oil the doorknobs for its readers. I hope the additional topics will be as fun for you as they will for me. I also hope that the new layout makes it easier for you to navigate, read, and comment using any device you like. As I said, I am most likely to use a desktop, so I won’t necessarily be aware of glitches that show up when this site is viewed on a smaller screen. Please do let me know if you see something that needs attention. You can send a message through the post comment form below, or if you prefer email, use the site contact form.


“Handle it once,” part II: Working with words

photo courtesy of JessicaGale

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how the “handle it once” rule has applied (so far!) in my home-based business situation.

A quick recap: “Handle it once” means finishing a little task as soon as it surfaces, whenever possible. It’s not putting a minor thing aside until later but getting it off the plate, and off the mental radar, immediately.

What I’ve come to realize lately, though, is that “handle it once” isn’t limited to that flurry of Post-it reminders competing for space in the planner and around the edges of the computer monitor. For me, it can also apply to writing.

In my teaching days, my district’s curriculum encouraged the idea that writing is a 5-step process:

  1. prewrite/plan,
  2. draft,
  3. edit,
  4. proof, and
  5. publish/clean copy.

This model taught that while the “edit” step might need to be repeated multiple times before it could be considered complete, the other four steps were, in comparison, simpler and shorter.

The point was to emphasize to students that just because you don’t get it right on the first try does not, absolutely DOES NOT, mean you “can’t write.” It just means you’re not quite done yet.

Effective writing generally isn’t dashed off instantly. That’s okay. That’s normal! In fact, MOST writers don’t come up with masterpieces instantly. It isn’t an innate talent, but a practiced skill.

Both as a teacher and as a writer, I always thought this was a sensible way to approach writing–as a complex process, not a one-shot, win or lose deal. But it’s only recently that I’ve seen how inefficient my own application of that process has been.

Remember how “edit” is the most intense step? It’s dawned on me lately that, while I love and enjoy editing more than any other part of the process, I’m much too eager to begin it.

I do way too much mixing of drafting and editing, and that’s inefficient.

Think about it: If I write a paragraph, then edit it fully, then write another paragraph, and edit it fully, then realize there isn’t a smooth transition between the two and edit that first paragraph again–right there, in only two paragraphs, I’ve increased the time I spend editing by 50%. Multiply that across an entire 600-word article (about average length of my weekly agriculture column), and that’s a heck of a lot of inefficiency.

So. My new resolve: Handle drafting once, completely, before editing.

I have to confess, it’s a difficult change. I’ve been combining my draft and my first edit for so long, it’s an ingrained habit. (Case in point: Those two sentences just now? Without even thinking about it, I rewrote them both twice before moving on to this sentence. Argh!)

But I am determined to do this. I have far more regular work now than I used to, and it’s imperative to my deadlines–not to mention my sanity–to figure out where I’m losing my most scarce resource, time, and how best recapture it.

For me, the solution may be that simple: Draft completely without editing along the way. Handle that step once, only once. Don’t drag it out unnecessarily.

How about you, readers? Looking at your own writing process, do you see some gaps or inefficiencies? What about in your other, more general work processes? How else might “handle it once” apply to a professional? All comments on the subject are welcome!

“Handle it once,” part I: Around the office

Happy (still, sort of) new year!

If you’re like me, you’ve grown weary of what sometimes seems like an endless stream of year-end reviews and new year resolution pieces, in newspapers, on TV, and–perhaps most of all–online.

I’m not generally one to jump when a bandwagon passes by, but here’s yet another post about goals. I promise to keep it sane, though. No over-the-top declarations or impossible standards, and no unfair thrashings over past shortcomings.

A few years ago, I read someone, somewhere mention her philosophy for keeping her home office neat. She said that she put an end to all those little jottings and Post-Its and scraps that can quickly add up to a big headache and a lot of disorganization with one rule: Handle it once.

Any paper than crossed her desk, she said, she made it her business to finish off immediately whenever possible. If that meant returning a phone call, filing a record, looking up a missing fact, updating contact information–regardless, anything that she could dispense with in five minutes or less, she did, and thought of it no more.

You can see how useful this practice is. It takes a big bite out of petty procrastination, general messiness, and that nagging feeling of never being done.

Since reading that discussion (I’m sorry I don’t remember where I read it, other than it was in an online forum), “handle it once” has stuck in my head. I started applying the rule around my own desk, and it helped immensely. I have a hard time keeping focused when my environment looks chaotic, so not having all those stray bits of “to-do” around made a big difference in my productivity.

I next applied it to my email inboxes and saw the same results: more accomplished in less time with less background stress.

I even found that “handle it once” had a place in my writing and editing processes. I’ll discuss those writing-specific discoveries in my next post.

In the past few months, it’s dawned on me that I can carry “handle it once” into my personal life, too. Suddenly, the avalanche of mail, flyers, notes for committee projects, church bulletins, school notices, handyman quotes, shopping lists, and various other what-have-you that is perpetually drawn to the horizontal surfaces of any lived-in home is…not an avalanche anymore. There’s still stuff on surfaces (because not all members of the household interpret “handle it once” and its twin brother, “put it away,” in exactly the same manner), but there’s a whole lot less of it than before. It’s manageable, and it’s no longer a constant sign of things yet left to do.

That home life application may seem irrelevant to a post on a writing/business blog, but as a freelancer who works primarily from home, I’ve found it’s pretty darned important.

Try as I might, I can’t entirely separate my personal life from my professional one. They share space and, sometimes, time. At those points where the two worlds cross over and become indistinct, things go well only when the pickiest details stay in their own corners. That way, I can keep my whole head in whichever world it belongs at a given moment.

What was all that talk about new year’s goals at the beginning of this post, then? “Handle it once” proved its worth to me in 2015. I’m looking for more ways to follow the rule in 2016. Perhaps I can apply it to some part of my accounting, background research, or computer maintenance processes–all things that I’m pretty sure I don’t complete in as time- or mental energy-efficient a manner as I could.

I’m on the lookout!

Where have you put “handle it once” in place in your routines? What other simple, common-sense rules add up to much more when you follow them as a matter of habit? And finally, what are the business goals you’re aiming for this week, month, or year?

A quick and hilarious lesson in punctuation

I hope the time will come when I can post here semi-regularly again, but for today, I’m more than content to sit back and let cartoonist Mike Peters take over.

Click over to today’s Mother Goose and Grimm. You’ll see what I mean.

Of course it’s only meant to be a good belly laugh–and it is! and of course Peters is most likely not saying anything at all in particular about the importance of a comma. But you have to admit, if that tiny mark were there where it belonged, there would be no joke at all.

Readers, if you have a favorite cartoon that–inadvertently or not–demonstrates a writing or language principle, please do share a link to it or a description in comments.