Loaded Language: When Words Become Weapons

_superhero_portraits__wonderwoman_by_artisticasad69-d79irccThe last few months have been busy. I went on holiday, became the Managing Editor of a Canadian medical journal, spoke at an editing conference, landed a bunch of new clients, and brought home an Alaskan Malamute puppy. Busy might just be an understatement.

*dusts page, removes cobwebs from corners*  Continue reading


Plain Language Practice. With Zombies!

Zombie Cat by Nero-NeroI’ve been reading through some plain language resources over the last couple of days, which has inspired me to create a few before and after examples just for you. Before I get to the examples, a reminder that the goal of plain language is to make communication clear and accessible. For a full review of how plain language accomplishes that, you can read my post from last year, Getting to the Heart of Plain Language — or visit Plain Language Association International. Continue reading

A Compliment that Complements

Dead_people_eat_brains_by_rebel_penguinHello, dear readers! It’s been quite a while, I know. Between work, family, turning 40, more work, pets, alien encounters, and more work, life has been a touch busier than normal, making it quite a challenge to get a coherent blog post written. But I’m here now to talk to you about something that came up in conversation sometime last week. Continue reading

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Spot the Difference

Got Zombie? by April McGuire
Before you say anything, yes, I know. I’ve been a bad blogger. It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. But I have a really good excuse. In addition to being swamped with editing work, I was also putting together the first issue of The Ghouls’ Review for my other, other job over at Grammar Ghoul Press. If you have some time, you should check out the magazine. There are some really awesome writers featured in the issue. Continue reading

X is for…


Warm greetings, my dear readers, from an unseasonably chilly Ottawa. Today, I’d like to present the next instalment in my Vocabulary Series, the lovely letter X. There aren’t a lot of words that begin with this letter, but there are certainly some interesting ones. So let’s have a look.

All three of the words I’ve chosen are adjectives, probably because they are the most fun. This first word will make you sound very fancy, especially if you use it the next time you’re at an art gallery.

Xanthic (adjective)

Etymology:   First documented in English in 1817. Comes from the French xanthique, which in turn comes from the Greek xanthos, meaning yellow.

Definition:    Yellowish.

Example:   After catching a glimpse of the zombie horde, Xander looked a little xanthic.


My second word choice is one I’d never heard before. Not only is its meaning pretty neat, but it’s also a lot of fun to say!

Xerophilous (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1860s, meaning drought-loving. Comes from combining the Greek words xero-, meaning dry or withered, and philous, meaning loving.

Definition:   Adapted to a very dry climate or habitat, or to conditions where moisture is scarce (used for both plants and animals).

Example:   Desert zombies are xerophilous, while swamp zombies prefer a much moister habitat.


And my final word choice is another fun word to say out loud. Plus it has a cool connection to the human body.

Xiphoid (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1740s. Comes from combining the Greek word xiphos, meaning sword, and the Latin suffix –oid, meaning like or like that. The suffix –oid comes from the Greek suffix –oeides, which comes from the word eidos, meaning form.

I chose this word because the xiphoid process is one of my favourite anatomical terms. It’s a piece of cartilage at the bottom of your sternum that plays the important role of anchoring a bunch of muscles, including your abdominal diaphragm, which is kind of important in helping you breathe. And, unsurprisingly, your xiphoid process is shaped like the tip of a sword.

Definition:   Sword-shaped.

Example:   Frantically, Xander searched the abandoned house for something sharp and xiphoid.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Image credit:  byPiPa @ deviantART

A Prolonged Breath

Abandoned sofa on a vacant lot

A Prolonged Breath

He taught me how to read people’s eyes. And he taught me how to shoot a gun. Two crucial skills in this fucked-up world we now inhabit.

When the infection first showed up, it was nothing like the movies would have you believe. It didn’t spread like wildfire. It didn’t wipe out technology or turn us into savages. It was like any other outbreak. There was news coverage of the places that were hit, panels of media pundits debating CDC specialists about how the infection would spread, immunologists discussing the possibility of a cure, and footage of various fringe groups declaring that the end was nigh.

We watched it spread on the television and on our computers and smartphones. We were so cocky back then. All of us. We thought we could beat it, or that it would somehow respect international borders and remain in faraway places, where we sent monthly donations to alleviate our guilt.

Late one night, as we watched footage of the infected, he nudged me and pointed at the screen. “You can see it in their eyes.”

He was right.

The movies were also wrong about how the infection worked. You couldn’t tell if someone was infected right after they were bitten. The parasite had to make its way into your bloodstream and then across the blood-brain barrier, where it burrowed into your prefrontal cortex and got to work. You would only know four to eight hours later if someone was infected, and even then, the parasite was very good at manipulating its host. Infected people didn’t walk slowly. They didn’t foam at the mouth. They weren’t undead and they didn’t stink of decay. But they did want to tear you apart and consume your flesh. And the parasite at the helm did everything it could to get its host close enough to do just that.

Infected people didn’t talk. That was one way to identify them. But we tend to make excuses when it comes to the people we care about. You might let a silent person get too close. And then it’s too late.

But if you look in their eyes.

“There’s no person in those eyes,” he said. He’d printed a dozen images from the Internet, laid them side-by-side. Infected next to non-infected. “Do you see how vacant their eyes are? See how dilated their pupils are?”

I must have studied those pictures a hundred times before the infection crossed the water. When it finally reached our town, we were ready.

We stayed alive, joining forces with our neighbors and other survivors. We moved when we had to and holed up whenever we could. Over time, our numbers grew smaller and smaller, until it was just us again. Sitting side by side on someone else’s couch, a thousand miles from home, and so many more from the life we used to know.

He begins to stir, dragging my attention back to the present. I watch him awaken, stretching his feet like he always does. My breath catches in my throat and I wait. He sits up and turns to look at me. But he’s not there.

Before the tears can blur my vision, I steady my gun and shoot my brother in the head.


This is my response to this week’s speakeasy,
over at yeah write, where we had to make some
reference to M. C. Escher’s lithograph, Waterfall,
and use the sentence “He taught me how to read
people’s eyes
.” as the first line in our piece.

Click the badge to read the other submissions or to learn more about
the speakeasy creative writing challenge.


Image credit: srok09 @ deviantART