About Aden Nichols

I am the Digital Warrior-Poet: Editor, writer, digital humanist. My mantra: There is nothing so powerful as an epic idea, clearly expressed.

You Can’t Please Everyone

In my inaugural post, I highlighted 10 Great Grammar Blogs. One of my favorites from that list, DailyWritingTips, recently posted a list of its own entitled, “50 Tips on How to Write Good,” by Mark Nichol (no relation that I’m aware of). Yes, this initially gave me goose bumps, but being familiar with the lighthearted approach that frequently characterizes DWT pieces, I dove right in.

Sure enough, the list was presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It evoked memories of my dad’s wit and impatience with pedantry, and it made me laugh out loud. Thanks, Mark!

I suspect that DWT’s devotees are largely well-educated, well-read—dare I say it? Erudite—folks. Apparently a few of these bright lights lived up to the grammarian’s stereotypical tight lip, furrowed brow, and absence of a sense of humor by launching a barrage of critical nasty-grams at Mark (uttered, no doubt, in a Gallic accent: “I fart in your general direction!”).

In a follow-up post this morning, Nichol offered humbly, “The lesson for me is to write what comes naturally—but to realize that, although I have a role in, and some responsibility for, how my writing is received, it is ultimately the individual reader who determines the success or failure of that writing.” There is fundamental truth in this assertion, but I would add that the overarching lesson of this episode is (to paraphrase Lydgate, Lincoln, et al): You can’t please all of your readers all of the time.

The most important decision you will make before putting pen to paper (or cursor to screen) is who is my audience, who am I writing this for? The resulting profile will dictate your word choice, tone, and level of complexity; it will color every word you write, so it had better be good. You should routinely test your prose against this vignette. If you strive to reach every potential reader, you’ll ultimately succeed in connecting with few or none.

While working as an editor for a major specialist periodical, I was frequently set upon by disgruntled freelance writers who complained vehemently, attempting to justify why a given phrase or passage I had deleted “had to be in there.” My response was, “And were you going to personally visit each and every reader to make your case?” Your prose must speak for itself.

As writers and editors, we labor in the service of the reader. How can we accomplish that mission if we can’t clearly articulate who the reader is? There will always be several categories of reader types for any given story, and they will always have something in common; that is, each group can be visualized as the concentric rings of a target (or the overlapping spheres of a Venn diagram). Aim for the bull’s-eye.

If you have accurately identified your target and employed every ounce of authorial skill you can muster to hit it dead center, you’ve done your part.

In this case, Nichol airily posited that he might have prevented the misunderstanding by titling his piece, “50 Funny, Fallacious Tips on How to Write Good (You Know I Meant ‘Well’).” He was just a-joshin’. In reality, he was on firm footing in assuming his core readership would get the joke. Sadly, the humor was lost on a few readers.

Rather than employing a more explicit title, perhaps he should have concluded the list by citing the inimitable Foghorn Leghorn: “That’s a joke, son—I say, a joke!!!

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.

Wikipedia & the Democratization of Knowledge

When Timothy Messer-Kruse, a labor historian, found a factual glitch in a Wikipedia article on the Haymarket riot, he dutifully posted a correction—backed up by substantial primary evidence to support his case. His correction was quickly rescinded. Since his data were the result of a decade of scholarly research he tried again, convinced he could “win simply through sheer tenacity.” And again, his scholarship was rejected, accompanied by a stern warning from the Wikipedia gatekeepers.

So what gives? How can one ever expect to correct an error in a Wikipedia entry, if the veracity of the article is predicated on the “majority” view as represented by accepted secondary sources (Wikipedia’s stated policy)? On first blush, this sounds like a Catch 22 enigma enforced by the heavy-handed intervention of an undereducated, overzealous—and anonymous—volunteer Wikipedia editor. One wields great power when shielded by the anonymity of the internet.

But that blade cuts both ways. In the Wild Wild West that is the World Wide Web, it is difficult to ascertain a poster’s bona fides; in the virtual world, perverted middle-aged men pose as nasty little girls and pencil-necked geeks become uber-warriors. Perhaps the gatekeeper in question didn’t know who Timothy Messer-Kruse was—an esteemed academician. Or someone in cyberspace posing as that person.

Messer-Kruse complained about the situation in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, noting that the Wikipedia folks advised him that he was welcome to pursue his discourse on the “talk” page associated with the article—that’s what it’s provided for. But that didn’t mollify the professor, and after he had published his own book on the subject two years later, he tried again—and again was rebuffed. This time, the “Wiki-cop” (his term) responded, “I hope you will familiarize yourself with some of Wikipedia’s policies, such as verifiability and undue weight. If all historians save one say that the sky was green in 1888, our policies require that we write ‘Most historians write that the sky was green, but one says the sky was blue.’ … As individual editors, we’re not in the business of weighing claims, just reporting what reliable sources write.”

Actually, that sounds perfectly reasonable to me. There can be no doubt that specious history should be challenged, but that conversation should result in an open discourse that yields fresh interpretations. Citing primary documentation is not the end-all; over the course of four decades of studying Civil War history, I have seen many examples of such primary citations being taken out of context by highly-regarded academic historians to bolster their pet thesis. And historians are not without bias. Indeed, a female labor historian on my thesis committee took me to task for not including any references to female saddlers in pre-industrial America. I’ll grant you, that’s an area of research that has been sorely neglected. It had no legitimate place in my thesis, but it had everything to do with her personal bias, and she was a tenured professor whom I had to satisfy to secure my degree. If any of you are old enough to remember Elliott Gould in the 1970 film, Getting Straight, you’ll know what I mean…

Since the promo blurb on the dust jacket of Messer-Kruse’s The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age calls the work “controversial” and suggests that the author “rewrites the history” of the Haymarket affair, it seems only reasonable that his interpretations should withstand some critical assessment before being taken at face value. You can’t have it both ways, professor. The dust-up managed to land Messer-Kruse a spot on National Public Radio today—that ought to sell some books.

If Messer-Kruse feels that Wikipedia’s policies and methodology are flawed, he is free not to consult that source. His tantrum only serves to illuminate his inability to adapt to the changes we are all faced with. Wikipedia isn’t infallible; it is by definition a work in progress—an ongoing conversation rather than a proclamation. The “wiki” movement is an amazing example of the democratization of knowledge, and that can only be a good thing.

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.

Digital Humanities. Literally.

dig-i-tal. adj. 1: of, relating to, or resembling, a digit, esp. a finger <digital dexterity>; 2. performed with the fingers; 3. of or relating to a device that can read, write, or store information that is represented in numerical form (i.e. a computer).

Want to be more creative with your digital projects? Try engaging your head, heart, and hands.

That’s what a recent article on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog recommends. The piece highlights the need for aspiring knowledge workers (aka “college students”) to roll up their sleeves and get some dirt under their fingernails. Author Scott Carlson opines, “… maybe it’s time that instruction—at least at some colleges—included more hands-on, traditional skills.”

He has a point. Once upon a time, we were a nation of inveterate tinkerers; it was the magical synthesis of creativity and manual know-how that yielded that uniquely American character trait known as “Yankee ingenuity.” But for the past several decades, our educational system has been progressively tacking away from teaching manual skills that buttress intellectual achievements. We are now a nation of specialists, a trend that has only been exacerbated by our growing dependence on computers and other digital devices. We are rapidly becoming a culture that is incapable of and unwilling to sew on a button, drive a nail, change an oil filter.

The growing chasm between manual laborers and knowledge workers has produced unexpected consequences. An over-reliance on “book larnin’” has served up a generation (or two) of designers and engineers who have no idea how their products are actually manufactured or how they function in the Real World. I’ll bet you’ve experienced this for yourself: You’re trying to use some device or other, and it just doesn’t perform as it should; you utter a few expletives and wonder aloud, “Didn’t the engineer who designed this thing ever actually use it?” According to Carlson, liberal arts students, too, are experiencing this disconnect.

The irony is that the generation who suffered through the Depression and World War II—an amazingly self-reliant and resilient lot—did everything in their power to build a future in which their children and their children’s children would never have to earn a living by the sweat of their brow. Our prosperity was their legacy.

And in an equally ironic twist, it turns out that working with your hands actually enhances your intellectual capabilities. Neuroscientists report that such creative tactile occupation triggers activity in areas of the brain quite apart from the hyper-rational left-brain sectors, generating new neural networks. “Information,” pronounced Albert Einstein, “is not knowledge.”

I was lucky. I grew up in the post-war decades, when virtually everyone’s dad had a well-appointed shop in the garage and spent lots of time in his “man cave.” I learned how to use (and care for) all of my pop’s tools, both manual and power. He encouraged me to tackle a variety of projects, inculcating me with a respect for good tools and the confidence that I could design and build things on my own. He paid incredible attention to detail and quality—a fetish I am glad to have acquired. Naturally, I was expected to go to college, but the time spent at the workbench contributed materially to my “interdisciplinary education.”

Years later, as a material culture historian, I learned to observe and analyze artifacts and place them in their appropriate social context. But I could never resist the urge to figure out how they were made; the tools, materials, processes, and techniques involved—the artisanal mindset. Without any nineteenth-century master saddlers around to teach me the intricacies (“mysteries”) of their craft, I did the only thing I could—I taught myself. I compiled reams of notes drawn from hands-on surveys of thousands of artifacts, and over a period of years (my “apprenticeship”) painstakingly acquired the requisite manual skills to produce museum-quality replica saddles and tack.

I devoted over two decades to my alter ego of pre-industrial artisan. During that time, I learned a great deal more than simply how to build a saddle by hand; I indulged my unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It was not enough to be able to simply identify the esoteric physical attributes and nuances of these objects—I wanted to know how and why things worked. I developed an eye for detail and the patience to stick with a problem until I had solved it. It was a practical course in critical thinking.

In using my own products on a daily basis, I also learned the strengths and weaknesses of the originals. I had many “Eureka!” moments, when my intuitive approach to a knotty problem proved to mirror the same path taken by the saddlers with whom I shared such a deep kinship. In those synergistic flashes of comprehension, I felt like I was channeling my artisanal forebears.

The take-away lesson here is that every saddle I produced made me a better digital humanist.

I heartily endorse the idea of tempering one’s liberal arts education with a healthy dose of hands-on subjects—what nineteenth-century Americans termed the “useful arts”—but sadly, the teaching of such practical courses largely remains the purview of community colleges and trade/tech schools. You shouldn’t let that prevent you from jumping in on your own; self-reliance is, after all, the point of the exercise.

Take a more holistic approach to your own personal development. Use all the tools at your disposal—you have to engage your mind, body and spirit to create real art. Adopt a hobby or extracurricular activity that suits your personal proclivities and you’ll soon discover how working with your hands improves the work you do with your mind. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “digital humanities.”

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.


Just saw this on the Technology Rocks. Seriously blog and felt compelled to share:

Before you speak or press ‘send,’ THINK:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.

Seth Godin is wrong; punctuation matters.

In a recent pithy blog post—Assorted tips, hope they help—Seth Godin offered a random smattering of suggestions sure to increase your productivity and improve your life. They run the gamut from “Placebos are underrated by almost everyone” (#4) to “Taking your dog for a walk is usually better than whatever alternative use of your time you were considering” (#12).
I couldn’t agree more.

Now I love Seth like a brother, and I thoroughly enjoy his posts; indeed, I often find myself nodding vigorously in agreement with his trenchant tidbits. But as a bona fide word nerd, I take umbrage at number 5: “It’s almost never necessary to use a semicolon.”

On its face, it sounds like Seth is suggesting that your writing will improve exponentially if you simply banish the semicolon from your textual toolbox, an artifact from another age that’s outlived its usefulness. A more generous, expansive reading might lead you to believe he’s intimating that we just use too darned much punctuation in general—simplify!

Now, I won’t argue that some of the finest penmen in history have been overly enamored of the semicolon (have a gander at my post on Moby-Dick), but yo, I disagree with the current movement to truncate the English language to a series of abbreviated words, phrases and sentences à la twitter (think: Dick and Jane). Sparse prose is a wonderful tool when properly used. But just as the indiscriminate application of the semicolon does not render one’s prose erudite, the elimination of all punctuation coupled with the introduction of terse sentence structure does not necessarily yield a “Hemingway moment.”

Rather than simply excising the semicolon from your writing, why not learn to use it correctly? A semicolon is used to separate independent clauses; it can be employed as a “strong comma” or a “weak period” (see The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn). Punctuation is merely a tool—you wouldn’t grab a maul when the job calls for a pair of needle-nose pliers, would you? So don’t throw your tools out; learn to wield them with grace and ease instead.

“It’s almost never necessary to use a semicolon”—except when it is.

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is a freelance editor and writer. He is available for print & digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. You can contact him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.

Why Read Moby-Dick? Indeed.

London’s Crystal Palace: A whale of an exhibition.


Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is a penetrating profile of an obsessive-compulsive visionary (or flaming asshole, if you had the ill fortune to suffer his storied wrath and frequent temper tantrums). Reading about Jobs’ larger-than-life persona stirred long-dormant images of Captain Ahab and his equally obsessed creator, Herman Melville. But obsession is where the similarity ends: Where Jobs was committed to stripping his creations down to their very essence (“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”), Melville shares more in common with Bill Gates and Microsoft, determined to encumber a bloated product/manuscript with every bell and whistle possible.

Coincidentally, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the humanities of late. I was bemused by Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish (which, I confess, looked like a portfolio of absent-minded doodles on scratch paper to my plebian eye) and entertained by Nathaniel Philbrick’s passionate defense of Melville’s epic teasingly titled Why Read Moby-Dick?

Why indeed. Philbrick anoints Moby-Dick as “the greatest American novel ever written” and rhapsodizes over the “magisterial power” of Melville’s prose. Beyond the actual plot, he claims the tale offers a trenchant allegory of mid-nineteenth century America. According to Philbrick, Moby-Dick is a cultural icon that is “as close to our American bible as we have.” I guess he likes it.

At the risk of blaspheming American literary scripture, I offer the following counterpoint to Philbrick’s gushing exegesis.

“A strange sort of a book”

After cranking out several banal sea yarns in the narrative genre which he himself termed “romance of adventure,” Melville made a critical error in judgment by deciding it was time to produce his literary legacy, his masterpiece. He also needed to pay the rent.

His neighbor and confidant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, saw a diamond in the rough in Melville and was shocked to discover that he had never read Shakespeare (or most other literary masterworks). Hawthorne plied his colleague/protégé with the great books of English literature. Melville gratefully absorbed them and (consciously or otherwise) incorporated a variety of literary styles in his magnum opus. Hawthorne believed his friend was gifted but green; writing in 1850, he noted that Melville’s novel, Mardi (which immediately preceded Moby-Dick), was “so good that one scarcely pardons the writer for not having brooded long over it, so as to make it a great deal better.” Melville “brooded long” over Moby-Dick, but in the end, the sprawling epic could have been “a great deal better” had a good editor intervened.

As the head of the household, Herman Melville was torn between attempting to churn out a bestseller and crafting a literary masterpiece—he desperately desired to accomplish both, but didn’t know how to go about it. Midway through the process he shared his frustration with his revered mentor: “What I feel most moved to write, that is banned, —it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot.” As the manuscript took shape, he forewarned Richard Henry Dana, “It will be a strange sort of a book, … I fear.”

When it finally appeared, the work confounded the critics. Evert Duyckinck, a close friend of the author and leading light of the New York literary publishing scene, labeled Moby-Dick “an intellectual chowder,” and Joseph Conrad later called it “a rather strained rhapsody with whaling for a subject and not a single sincere line in the three vols of it.” A generation hence, Bernard DeVoto extrapolated, “Moby-Dick has, as fiction, no structure whatever. Its lines of force mercilessly intercept one another. Its improvisations are commoner and falser than those in Huck Finn. It does not suffer from burlesque (exuberant humor had no place in Melville’s nature) but its verbal humor is sometimes more vicariously humiliating than such passages as Huck’s discussion of kings … . And, though Melville could write great prose, his book frequently escapes into a passionately swooning rhetoric that is unconscious burlesque. He was no surer than Mark, he was in fact less sure, of the true object of his book, and much less sure of the technical instruments necessary to achieve it.”

“Wantonly eccentric”

The book’s schizophrenic cosmic dance is a disjointed romp through a litany of diverse voices: from romantic narrative to moralistic parable; from Elizabethan soliloquy to Calvinist sermon; from a satire on legal discourse to a parody of naturalist erudition—there’s even a deranged comic opera sequence worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan–Tom Waits collaboration. Melville’s ponderous prose is rendered more obtuse by his peripatetic linguistic gymnastics that wander aimlessly through the rolling seascape of the novel. Witness: “That certain sultanism of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained unmanifested; through those forms that sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship.” Say wha?

Many early reviewers shared their disdain of Melville’s discordant attempt at mastering the novel form, complaining that “all the regular rules of narrative or story are spurned and set at defiance.” Still others were shocked by his abuse of style; one literary scribe noted how Ahab “raves by the hour in a lingo borrowed from Rabelais, Carlyle, Emerson, newspapers transcendental and transatlantic, and the magnificent proems of our Christmas pantomimes.” The London Literary Gazette called Melville’s prose “wantonly eccentric” and “outrageously bombastic,” while another (more discreet) British critic pronounced, “Mr. Melville is endowed with a fatal facility for the writing of rhapsodies.”

In all fairness, at this point in his career, Herman Melville was a young man and a relatively immature author. He was just beginning to plumb the depths of his soul for the meaning of life—in short, he was dazed and confused. “And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray,” reveals Ishmael/Melville. “And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.”

Hawthorne kenned Melville’s metaphysical struggle, noting that his friend could “neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief.”

“A final hash”

The protracted section dealing with the nature of the whale and the whaling industry (known in scholarly circles as the “cetological center”) could certainly stand on its own as a worthy contribution to the corpus of natural history (not surprising, coming from an author for whom “a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard”), but it also effectively fractures the narrative arc. This perplexing stylistic dichotomy results in Moby-Dick being a book-within-a-book; indeed, Duyckinck felt that there might even be “three books in Moby Dick rolled into one,” and he enumerated them: a transcendental, soul-searching romance (with a healthy dose of Faustian melodrama thrown in for good measure); “a thorough exhaustive account … of the great Sperm Whale”; and a “moralizing, half essay, half rhapsody, in which much refinement and subtlety, and no little poetical feeling, are mingled with quaint conceit and extravagant daring speculation.” And as a rousing sea-faring adventure saga, Moby-Dick puts Captain Horatio Hornblower in the shade.

Considering its stubborn refusal to be classified, perhaps we shouldn’t label Moby-Dick a novel at all. Addressing this theory, one modern scholar offered, “Moby-Dick both in its quest plot and in its plot of cetological inquiry manages to refine the basic interests of an adventure narrative into what can only be called an epistemological suspense.” Melville’s masterpiece would very likely be the lone entry in this new literary genre. The author was painfully aware of his story’s multiple personality disorder; he declared resignedly to Hawthorne, “the product is a final hash.”

In addition to being a befuddling admixture of literary styles, the text is simply too long. An early British reviewer suggested that the book “might very conceivably have been comprised in half of these interminable volumes.” Duyckinck, too, weighed in on the subject: “The intense Captain Ahab is too long drawn out … . If we had as much of Hamlet or Macbeth as Mr. Melville gives us of Ahab, we should be tired even of their sublime company.”

Melville’s obsessive proclivities are well documented and according to one biographer, his correspondence during the critical period in which he expanded and largely rewrote the manuscript is peppered with the mantra, “I can’t stop yet.” A reviewer echoed this declaration: “… once embarked on a flourishing topic he knows not when or how to stop.” More characteristic of his weakness for declamatory rhetoric, Melville (in the persona of his alter ego Ishmael) feverishly spouts, “Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms!” One wag of a critic lamented, “Oh that his friends had obeyed that summons!”

That he was capable of producing remarkable prose is not in question. Consider this passage from the chapter entitled, “The Symphony”:

Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.

Yet Melville also had an unsettling penchant for the overuse and misuse of punctuation—particularly the semicolon, of which he was inordinately fond. Couple this quirk with the truly abominable prose he was occasionally capable of spewing, and you are presented with something like this:

Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe; in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon the Niger’s unknown source; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith; but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads some other way.

Does a novel have to fit a rigid, predetermined structure to be great (or even good)? Should we conclude that a painting can only rise to the level of great art if the artist renders a balanced composition with controlled brush strokes and slavishly adheres to the tenets of an established school? Picasso certainly didn’t think so (and neither do I).

To use a more modern literary analogy, I must admit that while I was initially put off by J.P. Donleavy’s execrable English, I found that as I became drawn into the zany realm of post-World War II bohemian Dublin, I began to feel that the author’s linguistic indiscretions mirrored his characters’ wild behavior. The author’s quirky prose perfectly complements the social milieu he was sketching. But in Donleavy’s case, this literary device was employed quite intentionally and adds a certain piquant veracity to his work. Not so, Melville and his whale story. One must know the rules before breaking them.

Moby-Dick as Allegory

Melville’s masterpiece was composed at the apogee of the Industrial Revolution. It was an epoch of social upheaval and change, a period in which artisans were being methodically and inexorably supplanted by machines in the name of progress. Given this profound sea change, Moby-Dick is to mid-nineteenth century American literature what London’s Crystal Palace exhibition is to the Machine Age—a harbinger of things to come.

The Crystal Palace (which opened its doors in 1851, the same year as the publication of Moby-Dick) was a hulking monolith whose færy-castle aspect held the promise of unimagined wonders within. Its glass skin allowed shafts of filtered light to penetrate the depths of its cavernous interior where seemingly endless “pavilions,” each with its own distinct personality, invited exploration.

Prince Albert grandiosely viewed this inaugural “world’s fair” as an opportunity to promote international peace and goodwill (ahem, and commercial intercourse), but the public wasn’t so philosophical about it. To the typical attendee, the scale of the structure itself was imposing and not a little intimidating, and once inside, there was a mind-boggling array of widgets and gizmos to fill one with awe—a day at the Crystal Palace was likely to wear one to a frazzle.

Yet despite the fact that this massive commingling of fine art and the “useful arts” was assembled under one roof, purportedly with a noble common theme, one would be hard-pressed to find the thread of continuity between the Koh-i-nor diamond and Colt’s revolving pistols. To the working-class folk who attended in droves, it was a palace of the possible, a testament to the cultural and industrial superiority of the British Empire. The Crystal Palace was many things to many people, but at its core it was a celebration of “industry” in the full Victorian sense of the term.

Moby-Dick, too, is many things to many people—both literal and allegorical. But when you strip away the layers of meaning applied after the fact by generations of literature professors, “the greatest American novel ever written” is ultimately little more than a reflection of the angst of a tormented soul attempting to deal with the ephemeral aspects of his spiritual and aesthetic growth while being buffeted about by the pitch and yaw of the artist trying to survive in a crass, unforgiving commercial world. “I am so pulled hither and thither by circumstances,” Melville confided to Hawthorne in a blue funk. “The calm, the coolness, the silent grass-growing mood in which a man ought always to compose, —that, I fear, can seldom be mine. Dollars damn me; and the malicious Devil is forever grinning in upon me, holding the door ajar.”

Herman Melville produced better prose when he wasn’t trying so hard.

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.

10 Great Grammar Blogs

Yes, I am a writer-editor, and no, my blog will not comprise pedantic posts about grammar and usage. But for those of you who are hankerin’ for some down ’n dirty linguistic and neologistic slicin’ ’n dicin’, I offer the following short list of 10 of my favorite word nerd sites. What are your faves? Please share!

Chicago Style Q&A

Carol Fisher Saller, a senior editor at University of Chicago Press, has deftly managed this feisty Q&A since its launch in 1997. One reviewer called her commentary “exquisitely snarky”—I couldn’t have said it better. If you enjoy her pithy delivery, you should also add her diminutive tome, The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice From Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) to your library and peruse her contributions to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, Lingua Franca.

Daily Writing Tips

Compiled by a group of truly devoted grammarians, this site is a treasure trove of good advice for writers and editors—and anyone interested in expressing themselves clearly and correctly.

Talk Wordy to Me

Very arcane discussions hosted by Brian White, an editor at The Boston Globe. Worth a visit.

Guide to Grammar and Writing

Sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, this whimsical website is fun as well as informative. Don’t miss the Q&A formatted “Ask Grammar” section—very useful.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips

Mignon (like the steak–from the French for “cute” or “dainty”) Fogarty has parlayed her geekiness into a very profitable venture. Grammar Girl ™ is an object lesson in how to monetize a blog. Fogarty’s managed to parlay her success into a growing stable of “Quick and Dirty Tips” websites, podcasts and books on everything from nutrition to investing. Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again was a Washington Post bestseller and she’s even been on Oprah. Bright girl, that Mignon…


OK, not really a grammar blog, but interesting wordplay, nonetheless. Nancy Friedman (a self-described “recovering journalist”—I can relate) runs a business-naming service, and this blog is all about “Names, brands, writing, and the quirks of the English language” (so says Nancy). It’s all about how words and images conspire to create a brand. Very high concept. Check it out and discover what “fritinancy” actually means.

Motivated Grammar

With a tagline like, “Prescriptivism must die!” you can bet this blog won’t be dull. Gabe Doyle, a fourth-year graduate student in Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, hosts this lively site. This dude is definitely toiling away at the confluence of technology and culture: “I’m a computational psycholinguist, which means that I use computers to model how people think about language. I work primarily on the issue of how people choose how to express the ideas they want to express.” Irreverent and fun.

Sentence first

“An Irishman’s blog about the English language.” The title is taken from a line spoken by the Queen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” If an Irishman can’t wax grandiloquent about the English language, who can?

The Word Detective

Online version of a print (gasp!) column penned by Evan Morris. Good for a larf.

The Grammophobia Blog

The authors (Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman) have published five books about the English language; they both have extensive backgrounds in journalism, and (OMG) they’re married—can you imagine? Not a very attractive design IMHO (they’re word nerds, not web designers, after all), but quality content, I can assure you.

I know I said 10 Great Grammar Blogs, but everyone loves a freebie, so here ya go:

Language Corner

This is Merrill Perlman’s delightful blog that’s nested within the Columbia Journalism Review website. Ms. Perlman is a veteran of 25 years as an editor at the New York Times and now serves as an independent consultant (fancy name for “freelancer”) and adjunct professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. ’Nuff said.

Aden Nichols is a freelance editor and writer. He is available for print & digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. You can contact him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.