In a recent client edit I stumbled over the word “reknown” and realized that I needed to look up the correct spelling. I was sympathetic with the author’s mishap, as I have made the same mistake myself; the lure of adding “re” to “known,” a word the silence of whose “k” we have had drilled into us since first grade, is very strong. However, the correct spelling is “renown,” most often seen in such a sentence as “Stephen Hawking is a scientist and author of great renown.” The word carries a connotation of honor along with notoriety, fame with class. While looking for the word in the Webster’s New World Dictionary, I discovered the basis for a helpful way to remember the correct spelling of “renown”: There is no word in the English language (at least not in this particular dictionary) which begins with “rek – .” The words beginning with “re” go straight from “rej – ” to “rel – .” Onward on our own path to renown! … or not.
I was once asked by a client whether a comma following quoted material should go outside the quotation marks. Doesn’t it make sense, for example, to put the comma outside when one is listing items: My favorite Green Day songs are “Holiday”, Jesus of Suburbia”, and “St. Jimmy”? I found myself mulling the question, but then looked in both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Gregg Reference Manual and found the same rule stated very succinctly in both: “Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark. This is the preferred American style.” [CMS, 247] Confusion is understandable, however, as the British rule is to place the comma outside the quoted material, on the grounds that (as in the example above), it is punctuating the whole sentence and not the quoted material.
It never ceases to amaze me that, while my brain has no difficulty coming up with the spelling of “hors d’oeuvre”, I have to look up the word “broccoli” on a regular basis to remind myself that it has two c’s and only one “L” and not the other way around. Have you noticed any words that give you such pause?
I decided to capitalize the “L” in the above sentence in order to make it crystal clear that the letter is an “L” and not a one or an “I”, and also to set it off in quotation marks to help the brain read it as intended. I think that “L” is the only letter in the Arabic alphabet likely to be confused with another symbol when typed.
As for the “c”, I believe that although in general it is not correct to use an apostrophe to signify the plural as opposed to the possessive, when one is speaking of multiples of a single letter, the use of an apostrophe is really the best choice to get the concept across, and as the plural state of the letter is then apparent, the quotation marks are no longer needed.
An apostrophe is particularly appropriate if the letter to be multiplied is “a”, since it is of itself a standalone word, to which adding an “s” without an apostrophe creates another word, “as”. As in many cases, context is also a factor to readability.
I am pleased that my daughter gets a lot of A’s on her report card.
My tip: If you are editing or proofreading a written work with the word “January” in it and the subject is not Elvis Presley (whose birthday is January 8, 1935), check to make sure that the numerical year has been augmented, if it should be. Chances are that the author forgot to add 1 to the figure.
Pay particular attention to copyright notices, schedules and calendars.