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

Rogue Words From A to Z: Separating Siblings With Apostrophe S

A to Z Letter SOne of my readers has asked me how to successfully sort out plurals and possessives for words ending with the letter s. Stupendous idea! Let’s see if we can solve through storytelling all the different situations where s can cross us.

Once upon a time in another star system, there lived two clone siblings named Silas and Simon Sassafras.

Pluralizing Family Names

Neighbours had no idea what to do with “those Sassafrases” because they couldn’t tell the two of them apart.

When you are referring to more than one family member with a last name that ends in s, you add -es.

Showing Possession for a Singular Word

Silas’s smile was exactly the same as Simon’s.

Simon’s laugh was exactly the same as Silas’s.

If a word is singular, you add apostrophe s to the end of the word to indicate possession, even when the word ends with an s (Silas’s smile, Silas’s laugh).

Note: In the past, exceptions have been made for names that were considered special (like Jesus). In these rare cases, the apostrophe was used without an s (Jesus’). However, today’s trend (which is simple) is to always use apostrophe s for singular words.

Showing Possession for a Plural Word

The clone siblings’ eerie sameness was getting on everyone’s nerves. (Even if they were both very friendly.)

If a word is plural and ends in s, you add an apostrophe at the end without an s (siblings’).

Showing Possession For a Pair of People

Silas and Simon’s stubborn tendency to stump their neighbours would soon be over.

When you are referring to something that belongs to both people in a pair (tendency), you add an apostrophe s at the end of the second name.

In desperation, the community forced Silas and Simon to go to a barber shop and get different haircuts.

Silas’s hair was now short.

Simon’s hair was now not so short.

Silas’s and Simon’s hairstyles were so different that they could be seen as completely separate beings. The neighbours sighed in satisfaction as Silas and Simon sobbed.

When both people in a pair own different kinds of the same thing (like different hairstyles), then you need to put an apostrophe s at the end of both names.

The next morning, everyone in the neighbourhood woke up to find a clone sleeping next to them. Mass panic ensued. When they tried to get haircuts, their hair grew back. When they put on different clothes, the clothes instantly changed to become the same. They all ran to the Sassafrases’ house, but no one was home.

They later found out that Silas and Simon had left on a spaceship to become famous intergalactic movie stars who paid off all their new neighbours’ mortgages.

Bonus Word: Separate

Separate (like definitely) is one of those super tricky words to spell. Here’s a quick tip to help you remember that separate has a “par” in the middle (instead of a “per“): When you separate things, they are now apart.


This post is dedicated to Ameena and Nicole Roder. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will taunt the troublesome letter T…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Riddle of the Resuscitated Reputation

A to Z Letter RMany difficult English words have a Latin origin, such as words that have the letter combination sc. Sc is pronounced s, and is found in words like science or discipline or susceptible. One of the worst spelling offenders in this group is the word resuscitate.

Resuscitate comes from the Latin resuscitatus, from the verb resuscitare (to reawaken), from re- + suscitare (to rouse). It means to revive from apparent death.

My way of remembering how to spell this persistently annoying word is to break it down into parts: re + sus + cit + ate.

To help you remember this tip and sustain your strength of will in the face of this exciting word (and avoid becoming irate), I have written a very short story.

The Riddle of the Re+sus+cit+ated Reputation

Akko citadelShe ventured in to the citadel at the heart of the city to examine the supposedly dead criminal, who had been cited for various offenses.

As she examined the suspect, she could see that it had sustained some damage, but not enough to kill it. She had a suspicion that it could be rejuvenated, restored, or even revivified.

But did she want it to be?

Her heart palpitated as she pulled out her sharpened wooden weapon and prepared to penetrate the hated offender’s heart.

She scratched out the horrifyingly bad passage in her manuscript with her pencil.

After all, she had her author’s reputation to resuscitate, and this inane drivel wasn’t going to get her there.



Image of Akko Citadel from Ian and Wendy Sewell

This post is dedicated to norwegiantransplant. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will snare the sneaky letter S…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: Quest for the Quintessential Quaff

A to Z Letter QTrue story: Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine wrote a short fantasy story as an assignment for her creative writing class. One day she comes up to me in the hall, the very picture of outrage, and stabs her just-marked story with her index finger. “Look at this!” she says. Next to the word quaff, the teacher had written an X with the note, “Not a real word.”


Those of us who have read fantasy stories or acted out roleplaying games with tavern drinking scenes (who, me?) may have encountered the word quaff. To quaff means to drink deeply. Or to drink in long drafts. Or to drink “copiously and repeatedly.” My dictionary tells me this word has been around since the sixteenth century. So yes, I’m fairly certain it is a real word.

When I think of quaff, I picture Thor enjoying his mead in Valhalla by draining it to the bottom and then thumping his tankard on the table.

Or maybe movie Thor enjoying his first taste of coffee when he is banished to Earth.

Quaff, to me, is a word reserved for fabulously tasty drinks that must be inhaled. Only quintessential drinks should be quaffed.


What exactly does quintessential mean? Even authorities can’t agree. Merriam Webster defines it as “constituting, serving as, or worthy of being a pattern to be imitated.” Oxford tells us it is “representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class.” How can the same word mean both “worthy of imitation” and “typical”?

I believe the key meaning lies in the noun quintessence. In ancient philosophy, quintessence was a fifth element (beyond the four elements) that formed the celestial bodies and permeated all things.

To be quintessential, then, is no small thing. I think the mead of the gods in Valhalla is a good example.

But if you don’t like mead, you can always go for another quintessential drink, the famous Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Just be careful! Otherwise you might have to cut your quest short before you even leave the tavern. 🙂

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Mango juiceWhat quintessential drink do you like to quaff? I am partial to a glass of fresh mango juice (credit).

Unless otherwise noted, definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

This post is dedicated to Jaso and Shelley Sackier. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will righteously rumble with the renegade letter R…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: The Past Is So Passé

A to Z Letter PSometimes I find the old stories are the best ones. Take Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, for example. We can take so many good lessons away from it. The most important lesson: Don’t fall asleep on the job. But we can also use this story to understand the difference between passed and past.


Passed is the past participle form of the verb pass. When I look up the verb pass in my dictionary, it gives me twenty-one distinct meanings for it. Yikes! Luckily we can ignore all that. Here’s the important thing to remember: Passed is always a verb.

At the start of the historic race, the hare immediately passed the tortoise and bounded away down the lane. He was going to win without a contest, but he ran as fast as he could anyway, because he was a showoff.

After an hour had passed, he started getting hungry from all that sprinting. He decided that he had time to pull over and stop for a snack.

In both of these sentences, passed is acting as a verb. In the first sentence, the verb is acting on an object (to pass the tortoise). In the second sentence, there is no object. But passed is still being used as a verb that describes the action of time passing.

The moral so far: Passed is always a verb.


So what about the word past? Past can function as many different things — adjective, noun, preposition, and likely the kitchen sink, too — but it’s never a verb.

After gorging on berries, the hare felt sleepy and decided to take a nap. As he snored away, the tortoise slowly moved past him and trundled towards the finish line.

At first glance, it might look like past is acting as a verb here. But it’s not. In this case, past is a preposition connecting the verb moved to the pronoun him. It helps tell us where the tortoise is moving to in relation to the hare.

(Prepositions are often used to describe spatial relationships between things. Other examples of prepositions are over, around, and through.)

The tortoise couldn’t believe his luck. In past years, he had always failed to win the race. But this time he was going to get to the finish line first.

This time past is an adjective, describing the noun years. These are not future years; they are past years.

And finally, we have past as a noun.

The Tortoise and the HareThe hare finally woke up, realizing by the position of the sun that he had slept for a long time. He scrambled up and ran as fast as he could towards the finish line. But the tortoise was already there, being patted on the shell by all the other animals.

In a poor attempt to recover his dignity, the hare said casually to the tortoise, “Sure, you won this time because I took it easy on you. But that’s in the past now. Next time I won’t be so generous.”

Unfortunately the referee overheard him and suspended him permanently from racing for his unsportsmanlike behaviour.

The moral of the story: Passed is always a verb. Past is anything but a verb. And don’t be a sore loser. It’s passé.


What’s your favourite fable?

Image of Tortoise and the Hare from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Shelley Sackier. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for Monday’s post, where I will question the quarrelsome letter Q…


© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015