The Compulsive Copyeditor

April 26, 2012

The Subtle Shadings of Spellings and Synonyms

To those of us who are almost synesthetic about words, two different words with one dictionary meaning (denotation), or one word with two different spellings, become completely different animals.  If denotation is a word’s DNA, then connotation, the waft of resonances and associations around it, is its epigenetics.  Two such words are like identical twins who have grown into very different individuals.

Two examples I’ve recently come in contact with:

1. grey vs. gray. The only difference is that the first is the British and the second the American spelling.  But how different their tone colors are.  Grey is grim, yellow, and sallow. It speaks of London industrial grime and gaslight, maybe even gaol (there’s a hollow spelling for you!) and gallows. Gray is blue-gray—softer, more open (the vowel isn’t pinched), less hopeless, a color you might feel drawn to touch, like some clouds or feathers. (Interestingly, neither spelling, to me, seems right for gray hair, which is more metallic—steely, pewtery, silvery, until it goes snowy.)

2. persistent versus persevering. Do these words mean exactly the same thing you?  To me, “persistent” has a more active and interpersonal connotation than “persevering.” “Persistent” could be a kid pestering its parent for an ice cream cone (the alliteration between “persistent” and “pestering” is probably one of the keys to my reaction), or Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out the Watchtower, or Martin Luther nailing the theses to the cathedral door—sort of repeated attempts to get the world’s attention. “Persevering” means not quitting, just keeping on going. One is head up, one head down; one insistent (another sound clue), one stoical. A dog jumping over and over at a closed door versus a tortoise plodding doggedly (!) along.

Is it just me?



  1. It’s not just you!

    “Persevering” has a very intransitive verb sense. You don’t persevere something–it doesn’t take a direct object. I’d like to see a compiled list of intransitive verbs somewhere–surely the list can’t be too long and must be shorter than a list of transitive ones. Intransitive verbs are like vectors in mathematics–they have direction and magnitude–but are like grammatical arrows rather than tethered action.

    “Persistent” has an annoying nuance to it. I don’t like it all.

    Comment by chickelit — May 30, 2012 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  2. Intransitive verbs are like vectors in mathematics–they have direction and magnitude–but are like grammatical arrows rather than tethered action. Cool. I’m grateful to that spammer for getting a rise out of you!

    Comment by amba12 — May 30, 2012 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Those tweets have been up for days…I’m surprised nobody else noticed and told you. I follow so few people that I see avatars of infrequent posters stand out. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if it had been Sissy. But how does somebody hack into one’s Twitter account and post spam? I don’t get it. It’s beyond my pay grade.

      Comment by chickelit — May 30, 2012 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

      • I have the impression, from Twitter’s self-defense advice, that they can get to you when you allow some other app access to your account. Actually, a bunch of apps that I never heard of and would never have signed up for had access to my account, so presumably it was already compromised in that some of those share confidential information among themselves. I particularly don’t trust Facebook.

        Comment by amba12 — May 30, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  3. Oh OK. The app access thing. I’m pretty wary of those. I don’t even like Google knowing my Twitter info.

    Comment by chickelit — May 30, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  4. 1. grey vs. gray.

    That whole “50 Shades of Grey” thing came and went since I’ve been back here.

    What’s up?

    Comment by chickelit — August 8, 2012 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

    • Where you been??

      The 50 Shades thing hasn’t gone — it’s still very much here. I just ignore it because I am apparently a weirdo outlier in that I have never been turned on by dominance/submission.

      Comment by amba12 — August 8, 2012 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

      • Where you been??

        Places I shouldn’t be, watching people tear each other apart.

        Comment by chickelit — August 8, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

  5. Do know how and where to add an avatar in WordPress? I want become my blue ripple avatar but I’m too stupid to figure this out. It’s not as easy as in blooger.

    Comment by chickelit — August 10, 2012 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

    • Go to your WP Profile, scroll down the page, and you’ll see the heading Photos. You can upload an avatar there (at least that’s how I got my photo into my profile).

      Comment by Lenore Collins — August 16, 2012 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  6. Hey CompulsiveCopyEditor, I just found your blog. OMG, there are two of us! (I proofread/copyedit as Compulsive Editor — my very incomplete website is I also have a WP blog as CompulsiveEditor, but I’ve never posted anything on it.) Now that i’v found you, I’m going to have to read all your posts — I keep finding myself in them!
    Carry on, Compulsive Copy Editor!

    Comment by Lenore Collins — August 16, 2012 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

    • A kindred spirit! A veritable Doppelgänger! This is so cool.

      Comment by amba12 — August 17, 2012 @ 12:03 am | Reply

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