Whether or Whether or Not?

As an editor, one of my duties is to tighten someone’s writing, to get rid of extraneous fluff that adds nothing more than word count.

Though I could make an extensive list…I’ll confine myself to just this one pet peeve: Whether or not.

Do you really need the or not after whether? In most instances, no. The or not is just fluff begging to be edited out.

Take a look at this:

I didn’t know whether or not you would come home tonight.

What am I really concerned about here? Whether you would come home at all is what I’m concerned about, so the or not is extraneous. So, the correct form would be:

I didn’t know whether you would come home tonight.

In the next example, whether you come home or whether you don’t come home is equally important. You have a task to complete either way.

Text me whether or not you are going to come home tonight.

Had I said: Text me whether you are coming home tonight, I would only expect a text if you were coming home, not if you weren’t.

Do you see the difference?



Double “Is”

I had an interesting debate with my better half the other day. He seems to think that a double “is” is correct when used with phrases such as, “The reason is is…” or “The problem is is…”  or “The question is is…“.

Is that what you think, too?

Well, hate to be the one to break it to you, but the rarified time a double “is” is correct is when you’re using it like I just did or when the second “is” starts a question.

Let me give you some examples. (Read these aloud to yourself.)

The point is is I would like you to stop using a double is. — Incorrect.

The point is I would like you to stop using a double is. — Correct.

The question is, is a double is correct in this sentence? — Correct. (And, yes, it’s correct.)

There’s an easy way to get yourself to stop using a double is. It’s really about what word you’re emphasizing in the sentence.

In the first example, if you had read it aloud, you would have found that you emphasized the first “is” and then said the second “is” almost like an echo. There was almost a hesitation to make the point of the sentence.

In the second example, the emphasis was on “point.” There was no hesitation about making the point of the sentence.

In the third example, the heaviest emphasis was on “question,” and then you breezed through to make the point of the sentence.

Does that help?



Yea, Yay, and Yeah

Have you ever noticed people saying “yea” when they mean “yeah”? Me, neither. When people speak, they generally use the correct words to express themselves. When people write, however, something breaks down in the brains of some people.

I swear that happens.

I know this, because I’ve even seen close relatives of mine, who I know are well educated, write “yea” (pronounced yay) when they mean “yeah” (pronounced ya-uh). It’s really irritating.

While “yea” and “yeah” are both forms of saying “yes,” the former is used almost always in relation to voting. “Yea” for yes; “nay” for no. It’s kind of formal, when you think about it, especially when you consider this is also another way to say “indeed.”

“Yeah” is decidedly not formal. It’s an informal way of saying “yes,” and if you’re American, you tend to almost always say “yeah,” even in formal occasions. Also irritating.

“Yay,” on the other hand, doesn’t mean “yes” in any way, shape, or form, unless you’re in the habit of exclaiming “Yes!” when something great happens. “Yay” actually exclaims excitement, happiness, or joy. Think of it as a shortened form of “hooray,” and you’ll always get this one correct.

So, how would these look?

Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. (I couldn’t resist. Sorry.)

Ten yeasthree nays. The yeas have it. The motion is passed.

Yay! The Spartans take the Wolverines in football. (Yes, I am a Spartan.)

Yeah, I sure would like another Diet Vanilla Coke. Thanks.


Blonde vs. Blond

How exactly do you spell “blond”? Is it “blond” or “blonde”? It’s not unusual to see it spelled either way and sometimes even spelled both ways in the same article. Were editors taking a break when those particular pieces crossed their desks?

The quick answer is no.

The reason readers sometimes see both spellings in the same article is because the word actually has a feminine and masculine form. The word came to English from the French language, which has feminine and masculine forms. When it came into English usage as a noun, it kept those forms. When the word is used as an adjective, however, “blond” is correct form.

How would that look?

My hair is fair, so I, being female, am considered a blonde.

My brother, whose fair hair has darkened over the years, is considered a dishwater blond.

Anyone can have blond hair if they have a good hairdresser, but please, don’t just bleach it yourself.


How High is a Year? What the descriptive and prescriptive dictionaries say.

Really, now, how high must you jump to clear a year? Every time I hear that commercial with Alex Trebek talking about how he’s represented some insurance company for “over” ten years, I want to scream. “Over” ten years, Alex? “Over?” How much taller did you have to make your ladder each year to keep your role as spokesperson?


Now, I know that there are dictionaries out there that will say it’s fine to write or say “over” x-amount of years, but those are descriptive dictionaries. You know, those free ones you can use by just entering a word in your search engine. The cheaper ones in the bookstore. Those dictionaries not called New Oxford American Dictionary, the ones all editors use to correct everyone.

Descriptive dictionaries, which can be written by anyone, by the way and can even be called “Webster,” because the name isn’t copyrighted, list terms, their typical spellings and the current lexicon’s vernacular. They describe how words are used, but not necessarily how they are supposed to be used. In those dictionaries, you’ll see regimen and regime both meaning “a strict routine,” when nothing could be farther from the truth.

A prescriptive dictionary, like New Oxford American Dictionary, lists words, their etymologies (how they came to be), as well as their definitions and how they are supposed to be used. In there, you”ll see that a year is a construct that can be experienced, lived through, chopped up into fragments. We can’t do something over a year, but we can do something throughout a year, during a year, and even have done something a year ago.

Just not over or under. Only more or less. Why? Because of that fragmentation I alluded to earlier. Fragments can be counted, and when we count, we use terms like more or less, not over or under, because the latter two refer to height.