Rogue Words from A to Z: Zeroing In on Zombies

A to Z Letter ZThis is the final post in this month’s Rogue Words series. I’ve had a lot of fun doing these, and I’m sorry to see them go. In fact, I’m thinking about making them a regular feature of my blog. If you have an opinion on whether you’d like me to round up more rogue words in the future, please feel free to leave a comment!

And now, on to today’s word…the deceptively simple-looking zero.

Zero can be used as an adjective, a verb, or a noun.

Zero As an Adjective

When zero is used as an adjective (which is rare), the noun it describes must be plural (or be a non-countable noun, like awareness).

Zachary charged through the door of Professor Z’s office, dragging a girl with him. “Something’s really wrong with Zoe, Professor! I had zero ideas about what to do, so I brought her to you. Can you help?”

Zoe stood where Zachary had left her, in front of Professor Z’s desk. Her hair was scraggly and her face had a grey tinge. She stared at the Professor blankly. It was clear that she had zero awareness of what was going on.

Zero As a Verb

When zero is used as a verb, you sometimes (but not always) need to add an e. Forms of the verb zero include zero, zeroes, zeroed, and zeroing.

“Hmmm,” said Professor Z in her reassuring way. She walked around Zoe, studying her from all angles. Zoe didn’t react at all, even when the Professor poked her in the arm.

“I said to myself, Professor Z is someone who always zeroes in on the problem,” said Zachary. He bounced from foot to foot. “I’ve been thinking…do you think Zoe’s turning into a zombie? That would be so zany, but I’m not sure what else to think!”

“Do you see this?” the Professor asked Zachary. She pointed at Zoe’s watch. Zachary bent to look.

Zero As a Noun

When zero is used a third-person verb, you write it as zeroes. But when zero is used as a plural noun, you don’t use an e: it’s spelled zeros.

The watch was set on a timer, and it was counting down to zero. Only five seconds to go…

“Oh no! In five…no, four seconds, she’s going to turn into a zombie! I knew it!”

“I don’t think so,” said Professor Z.

The time counted down until there were only zeros: 00:00:00. The watch started beeping.

 Zoe stirred and blinked. “It’s done? I’m all finished?”

“Yes, dear,” said the Professor gently. You can go to bed now.” Zoe shuffled out of the room.

Zachary stared after her. “What was that about?”

“Just as I suspected,” said the Professor. “It’s now May first. The A to Z Blogging Challenge is over, and Zoe can finally get some sleep.”


Congratulations to everyone who made it through the A to Z Challenge! Thanks so much for reading, liking, and commenting on my posts. 🙂

For those who are new to my blog, I hope you will continue to visit after A to Z. I will be posting my A to Z Reflections post next Monday, and then will go back to my usual weekly posting schedule. I post a mix of creative writing and grammar tips, interviews with others about communication (Conversation Corner), and in-depth reviews of writing resources (DBW Reviews).

See you on the other side! Off now to get some sleep…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: You’re Not a Yutz

A to Z Letter YDo you feel like a yutz when you have to decide between using your or you’re?

You’re not alone.

There’s a good reason why we struggle with when to use you’re. This word violates all our expectations.

Normally an apostrophe is used to show that someone possesses something, as in “Sue’s yo-yo.”

But if you want to write “your yo-yo,” you need to use the word your without an apostrophe.

You’re with an apostrophe is only used when “you are” is being contracted into one word.

The same rule applies to their / they’re and its / it’s. If you’d like more on these words, you may want to check out my grammar story Night of the Apostrophe Ninja.

To demonstrate this apostrophe rule, here’s a very short story.

Your vs. You’re – Who Will Win the Lady’s Heart?

In days of yore, two knights stood before the Queen, yammering about their quest to slay the yellow yeti.

Your Majesty,” said the older knight, “I regret to report that we were unable to fulfill your desire. The beast is still alive.”

“What beast?” asked the Queen, bewildered.

We?” protested the younger knight. “You’re the one who decided it was a good idea to wake the yeti up by challenging it, instead of sneaking up and chopping off its head.”

The Queen flinched. Then her cheeks blossomed in anger. “How dare you-”

“Look how you have offended Her Majesty by your violation of the Knight’s Code of Conduct!” remonstrated the older knight. “You have constantly demonstrated your ignorance of our traditions.” He turned to the Queen, who was clearly in a rage. “Your Majesty, I protest. Your young ‘champion’ is hotheaded and will not listen to reason.”

“Listen to reason? You’re the one who never listens! You’re too busy living in the past, and now we’re stuck with that yeti.”

You’re the ones who are not listening,” yelled the Queen. “How dare you interrupt me!”

The two knights were immediately silent.

“We gave no command to attack the yellow yeti. Clearly you have been blinded by your pride. We hereby strip you of your titles until you’re willing to act like the knights you should be.”

The former knights slunk away, shamefaced.

After they had left the chamber, the Queen’s form shimmered, and in her place was a yellow yeti.

“Well, that was close,” said the yeti. “Good thing my knights are a bunch of incompetent yahoos, or I would never have heard the end of it from my sisters.”


I can’t believe I’m coming up to the last A to Z post! Stay tuned for the final episode tomorrow, where I will zap the zombified letter Z…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words From A to Z: X-Ray Vision Won’t Help You Now

A to Z Letter XX-ray is an exasperating word because there is a lot of disagreement over how to spell it. Should it have a hyphen? Should the X be capitalized? Is it X-ray, x-ray, X ray, or x ray? All of these variations have been used.

Some people will tell you that X-ray should be hyphenated when it’s used as an adjective (as in X-ray vision or x-ray vision) and not hyphenated when it’s a noun (as in getting an X ray or an x ray). Sounds complicated. No wonder people are confused!

My advice to you is to follow the generally accepted style rule for words that have a letter as a prefix: Capitalize the letter and hyphenate the word (X-ray). You can’t go wrong with this, because it’s consistent with other words in this category (T-shirt). It’s also described as the most common style in Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Crookes X-ray tube

And now…as I’m sure you have come to expect, I have written you a story to help illustrate this rule. And since we’ve been talking about X-ray vision…

Extra-Special Man was doing his usual flyby over the city when his extra-sensitive hearing caught the sound of maniacal laughter somewhere behind him.

That sounds like someone who is about to execute an evil plan, he thought, and did a U-turn in the air. As he neared the extra-large building that was the source of the sound, he used his X-ray vision to examine the top floor.

He spotted a large shape that was radiating the energy of an A-bomb. Alarmed, he crashed through the nearest window, only to be blinded by the sight of a man with an electric blue mustache wearing a neon pink-and-yellow striped suit and a lime green top hat.

“I should have known it was you, Fashion Nightmare,” said Extra-Special Man. “What exasperating action are you up to this time?”

“Ah, Extra-Special Man! I am happy that an A-list superhero has come to witness my exciting triumph. I have finally completed my V-gun, and it is time to unleash it on this city.”

“A V-gun?” asked Extra-Special Man. “What does it do, exactly?”

“I’m glad you asked. After I press this extra-small button, the entire city will be wearing one of these!” He brandished a scratchy woolen V-neck sweater with a garish picture of a purple moose on it. “It’s my own exclusive design,” he said proudly.

“You can’t force the people of this city to wear that ugly sweater. That would be un-American.”

“This coming from someone who wears tights? And why do you care?” asked Fashion Nightmare. “After all, you’re an alien from Xenon.”

“Well, that was rather xenophobic of you,” said Extra-Special Man, miffed.

“Besides, you’re too late,” said Fashion Nightmare, and pressed the extra-small button.

The V-gun sputtered and exploded, enveloping Fashion Nightmare in a haze of yellow light. When it cleared, Fashion Nightmare’s clothing looked somewhat different.

“A white T-shirt and blue jeans!” he exclaimed in horror. “How exceedingly banal! I can’t possibly wear this!” He tried to rip the shirt off, but it wouldn’t budge. “Someone get this off of me!” He started whimpering.

“Well, I hope you learned your lesson,” said Extra-Special Man. “Exulting in the extreme exercising of evil deeds only leads to execrable results.” He paused. “And there’s nothing wrong with my tights!”


Image of the Crookes X-ray tube from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to my copy editing instructor, who taught me how to deal with the complexities of hyphens.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will yell about the yellow-bellied letter Y…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: If Wishes Were Wanting…

A to Z Letter WOne of my readers suggested that I write about when to use were with a singular subject (heard in the classic song from Fiddler on the Roof: “If I were a rich man…”). Why don’t we sing, “If I was a rich man?”

The short answer: “If I were a rich man” is written in the subjunctive verb mood. What on earth is that? I wrote the long answer to that question many moons ago, when I first started blogging. Hardly any of my readers have seen that post, since it’s back from the times when my readers were mostly crickets.

So I figured it was time to bring this out again and answer my reader’s question. I hope you enjoy it!

If Wishes Had Genies…

Verbs have moods, just like genies do. And we all know you need to pay attention to someone’s mood if you want to get your wish. (“Can I have a cookie, Mom? Pleeease?” Oh, no, it’s not working! Time for the cute face. “I love you.”)

Disney’s Aladdin shows us all about moods and how we can stay on the good side of verbs. The film’s characters use the three verb moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. Let’s see how each mood can affect your chances of getting your wish.

Indicative Mood

We use the indicative mood most of the time. This verb mood is good for stating facts, making requests, or asking questions. Aladdin uses this mood when he says, “Genie, I wish for you to make me a prince.” The verb in this sentence is wish. This is a simple request, and Genie is happy to lend a hand:

Disney's Aladdin and Genie shaking hands

You’ve got a deal!

Imperative Mood

We use the imperative mood for commands. Our story’s villain, Jafar, is fond of using the imperative mood. After he steals the lamp, he commands: “Genie, grant me my first wish.” Here, the verb is grant. Jafar could have said, “I would like you to grant me my first wish,” which would have been more polite (and indicative). But no. And guess what happens when you use the imperative mood on a genie?

Genie cheering for Jafar in Aladdin

Can you tell I’m motivated?

Subjunctive Mood

This final verb mood is the trickiest. We use the subjunctive mood for unlikely possibilities, things that are not true, and (you guessed it) wishes. You often find the subjunctive mood hanging around with the word if. Aladdin uses the subjunctive when he protects children from being whipped by a rude prince. He says, “Hey, if I were as rich as you, I could afford some manners!”

We can tell this is the subjunctive mood because Aladdin says I were. This can sound strange to our ears, because normally people say I was. With the subjunctive, however, the verb form were is always used (if I were, if you were, if he were, if she were…).

So why is this verb mood important? It tells us that Aladdin thinks he will never be rich. After all, he doesn’t have a genie to help him with that…yet.

Disney's Aladdin on manners of the rich

If only I had a genie…

Once Aladdin finds Genie, he never uses the subjunctive mood again. Why? Because he knows that his wishes will come true. They are no longer unlikely to happen. So, unlike the rest of us, he doesn’t need to think about when to use the subjunctive mood.

After talking about this, now I really want a genie. I’m sure it would improve my mood. Imagine the possibilities…


Images from Disney’s Aladdin

This post is dedicated to my loyal readers from the beginning blog times who are still with me. I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s (new) post, where I will eXamine the xenophobic letter X…

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Vicious Viscous Villain

A to Z Letter VToday’s rogue words story will vanquish two very villainous words: vilify and vicious.


The word vilify is derived from the word vile. It means to talk about something in “an abusively disparaging manner.” It’s often misspelled as villify, because it reminds people of the word villain.

Ancient olive treeVanessa was venturing through a vast forest when she encountered the vinetree.

She approached it cautiously, holding her sword out in front of her. She had heard her elders vilifying vinetrees, but when she studied it, she wasn’t sure why. The knot of twisted vines gleamed in the sunlight. It spiraled up in an intricate pattern, bursting out at the top and cascading towards the grass. Silver berries hung from all the vines, creating a jeweled canopy.

How could a tree this beautiful be a villain?


The word vicious (meaning malevolent, savage, or fierce) is sometimes confused with viscous, which describes a sticky liquid that does not flow freely.

Suddenly one of the vines came whipping towards her, wrapping snugly around her waist. Another vine darted down and snagged her by the shoulder. Her sword arm was still free, so she hacked viciously at the vines as she backed away.

Other vines viciously flung silver berries at her face. She could smell the sweet scent of the berries as they burst open on her cheeks.

More vines wrapped around her, but some of them were weakening from her blows. As she sliced through the vines, their viscous sap seeped out and splattered on her. She could feel herself getting stickier and stickier. Some of the sap landed in her mouth. It tasted exactly like maple syrup.

“Vanessa!” shouted a voice. It was her mother.

The fight was becoming desperate. Would she be victorious?

“Vanessa!” came her mother’s voice again. “Stop playing with that spatula, it’s time for dinner.”

Vanessa dropped her sword arm and ran back down the hall towards the kitchen. Blueberry pancakes were her favourite, and she didn’t want them to get cold.


Image of ancient olive tree by Dennis Koutou from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to my son, who has been invaluable in helping me come up with story ideas. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for Monday’s post, where I will whisk away the wishy-washy letter W…

Rogue Words from A to Z: Uncompromising Usage of U

A to Z Letter UToday, we will witness the epic battle between those who use u in their words and those who don’t.

One of my readers asked whether to use -o or -ou in color / colour. Both of these options are correct. American spelling favors the use of -o, while British spelling favours -ou. As a Canadian, I follow British spelling in my personal writing. But I’m used to seeing American spelling in books (even in some of my grade school spelling textbooks, which caused no end of grief for my teachers). If I were writing something strictly for an American audience, I would use -o.

One of my resource books, Editing Canadian English, has a handy list of all the words that have this -o / -ou difference. This book also points out how the u in -ou is dropped when suffixes like -ize and -ous are added to the end of a word. So we can argue about the spelling of vapor vs. vapour, but vaporize is always spelled without the u. It’s the same thing with humor vs. humour and humorous.

While looking into this question, I found a fascinating article about the origin of -o in American spelling. It seems we can blame Noah Webster of Webster’s Dictionary fame for deliberately introducing this spelling difference as a political statement. It boggles the mind that without the actions of this one man, we might all be spelling these words with -ou today.

And now for the fun part: Today’s story challenge, where I will attempt to use all of these contested words in — what else? — a story of knightly combat.

Sir A and Sir B may have been neighbors, but their demeanor as they faced each other on the tournament grounds was anything but favorable.

Sir A insisted that the harbor was part of his territory. Through the rigor of his labors, he had discovered that Sir B’s claim to this vital port was nothing but vapor.

Sir B complained with fervour that Sir A should not generate false rumours of ownership. He said that if Sir A had endeavoured to be honourable, Sir B would not have been forced to don his armour and prove his claim against Sir A on the battlefield.

As they started to fight, the clamor of the crowd rose, adding to the noise of the colorful pennants that fluttered and snapped in the wind. Many in the audience savored the odor of the meat pies that were being sold with vigor by the bakers to succor them. But they were even more hungry for blood.

Bavarian tournament engravingSir A and Sir B fought with valour. Their behaviour was knightly; they laboured to avoid the parlour tricks used by amateurs. As the fight continued, they grew to admire the splendour of each other’s combat techniques. Their ardour to confront each other waned. They realized that they were a perfect match for each other, and that there would be no winner in this fight.

Eventually Sir A called for a halt. “I cannot defeat you,” he said to Sir B with admirable candor.

“And it seems I cannot defeat you,” said Sir B with humour.

“Shall we conclude, then, that there is no glamor in this fight, and we should both withdraw?” asked Sir A.

“Gladly,” said Sir B.

The crowd booed and swelled down from the stands like a tumor, clearly meaning violence. Luckily the Queen was the saviour for the knights that day, and declared that honour was satisfied.

Sir A and Sir B decided to settle their remaining differences among the arbour, over a grand picnic lunch purchased at a discount from the disgruntled bakers.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Nimmi. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will vivisect the villainous letter V…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: There’s a Whole Lot of Blogging Going On…

A to Z Letter TAnyone else feeling a bit overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of writing twenty-six posts for A to Z?

Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s too many things on my plate.

I mention this to the Spirit of Blogging Present, who laughs at all my comedic posts, even when I feel they are trite.

“I think you mean there are too many things on your plate,” he points out, a little too jovially for my taste.

“You know what I mean. Isn’t there something you can do to help me out here?”

Plate of cookies“Well, you could say ‘There’re too many things on my plate,’ if that’s any better for you.” He eyes the self-pity cookies on my desk. The Spirit of Blogging Present is always hungry.

“You know there’re‘s a ridiculous-looking word! And I didn’t mean helping me out with my grammar.”

“Why not? I’m just as qualified to help with grammar as you are. And I notice you make this mistake all the time. I figured you were doing it on purpose to entertain me. Didn’t you notice me laughing every time it happened?” he asked innocently.


“Yes, of course that was my master plan,” I say. “I make mistakes too, you know. It’s not surprising when you think about it. Writing a blog is a lot like having a conversation, and when people speak they say there’s all the time, even when the subject is plural, because they don’t know where the sentence will be going. And I usually don’t know where my posts are going, either.”

“True, but you’re supposed to be some kind of grammar expert. Not to mention an editor. Shouldn’t you be paying more attention?” He smiles apologetically.

“Hey, I try, but I don’t always catch that one. It’s my personal grammar nemesis. Even Shakespeare didn’t catch it. So there. Besides, haven’t you noticed the times I’ve tightened up the sentence and gotten rid of there’s altogether, like saying ‘I have too many things on my plate’? I thought you liked my posts!”

“Of course I do,” said the Spirit of Blogging Present, radiating good cheer.

“Then can you please help me with all the things on my plate before I get too overwhelmed?”

“Sure!” He scoops up the plate of cookies on my desk and shoves all of them in his mouth. Except one.

“Now there’s only one thing on your plate. Have fun with the blogging challenge!” He disappears.

Just see if I ask him for help again.


Yummy image of chocolate chip cookies by Sarah Fleming from Wikmedia Commons, CC-BY-2.0

This post is dedicated to all of you A to Z bloggers and readers. Thanks for keeping me motivated to write!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will uncover the uncanny letter U…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015