Language as a Precision Instrument

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* AI Blockers
* Try And vs. Try To
* The Writing
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“Reason is God’s crowning gift to man[kind].” Sophocles

AI Blockers

Sigh. Whatever.

“Researchers release free app that protects artists’ work from being scraped by AI training models; program adds nearly imperceptible changes to images that go unnoticed by current AI image generators” (

It was inevitable, I suppose. It’s what humans do. One human creates Something New, which in every case may be used for good or for evil. Then another human creates Something Else that thwarts the first thing, not only in evil instances but in all instances just in case they might be evil.

This goes back and forth for a decade or two, and then one day pretty much everyone accepts the original Something New in all its forms, even the most terrifyingly evil, which of course becomes accepted as part of tne new norm.

But don’t believe me. If you have a few decades ahead of you, sit back and watch. Or, if you have several decades behind you, think back to how things once were compared to how they are now (I’m not talking faulty gilt memories here, but actual facts).

Me? I just ignore all the nonsense and let others battle it out.

Try And vs. Try To

Language is a precision tool, but like any precision tool its precision use requires training and practice.

That said, if a person on the street in a casual conversation screws up the use of the language, who cares. But when a writer—a person who makes all or part of his or her living (or not) regularly putting words together to convey something to other people—screws it up, that annoys me. Why?

Because that person is pretending to be a professional. S/he might even believe s/he is a skilled, proficient professional, but s/he isn’t. If you don’t want to take the time to 1) study the nuances of the language and 2) continually hone your craft, you shouldn’t pretend to be a writer.

It isn’t like there’s any shame in not being a writer. Millions of people around the world aren’t things: they aren’t mechanics or lawyers or cops or carpenters. They aren’t plumbers or heavy-equipment operators or pilots. Or any number of other professions.

But one thing is certain. If they ARE any of those things, they have more than likely familiarized themselves with the requirements and tools of the profession and at least tried to remain current with new trends and concepts.

But those who call themselves “professional” writers or even just writers? Not so much.

I personally read, study, and practice in pretty much every waking moment. Many of you do too, and maybe some of you don’t. One of those who doesn’t wrote an article for thrillist (e-magazine) on planets that will be visible in the night sky in late March.

As part of the article, she wrote, “[U]se a pair of strong binoculars to try and see it.”

This is one of those inane uses that makes zero sense yet has entered the common vernacular. You can’t both “try” to see something and “see” it. Truly, there is no “try.” You either do or you do not. It isn’t “try and,” it’s “try to.”

Does it matter? Of course, but only as a matter of professional pride. So it’s all up to the writer, many of whom will fall back on, “Ah, the reader will know what I mean.”

While we’re on the topic, who else here cringes when you read or hear “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”?

Um, actually, yes, I can have my cake and eat it too. I have done so many times. First you have your cake (or whatever, it works with other foods too) and then you eat it. Step 1, step 2. In fact, that’s is most often the sequence of events. First you have it, then you eat it.

However, as with the “try and” crowd, again people wander about grinning like they know something you don’t know and saying, “Hey, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Groan. I want to say, “For goodness’ sake, crack a book. Or even just back up and think your way through what you just allowed to spill out of your mouth. It’s only 9 words delivered in 9 syllables. It won’t take long. Just ask yourself, can you really not have your cake and eat it too? Really?”

Of course, the saw isn’t meant to be literal. It’s a way of saying you can’t have the good without also experiencing the “bad.” You can’t have a rainbow without rain, for example (which actually you can).

Or that if you grab a handful of roses by the stems, chances are you’ll experience a thorn or two. Or if you rush down to the beach to witness that tsunami first hand, you might experience a little moisture. I get that.

But the original saying was still “You can’t eat your cake and have it too,” which still alludes to the broader meaning AND actually makes sense. Or according to Ben Zimmer in the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 18, 2011),

“The version of the proverb with ‘eat your cake’ followed by ‘having it’ does make more sense to many people, and that is in fact how it was first formulated in English [emphasis mine]. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs quotes a 1546 compendium by John Heywood, ‘Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?’ In his Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro supplies a more typical phrasing from John Davies in 1611: ‘A man cannot eat his cake and haue it stil.’”

Of course, I don’t doubt for a moment the very next morning after Davies wrote or said that, someone, possibly even someone from his own household, was merrily skipping into town singing, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

And they let it go.

And here we are.

The Writing

During the past couple of months of downtime I got into a bad habit of playing silly games as I waited to be needed for one thing or another. When that need slacked off to almost nothing, I continued to engage in silly games. (That’s why they call it a habit. Duh.)

But yesterday I started again working my way through the novel. Very soon I will reach that place where I can begin putting new words on the page again. You’ll see the numbers below. All of which has me amazed, once again, that anyone can take longer that a month or so to write a novel. I don’t like not-writing even when not-writing is necessary so I can tend to more important aspects of life.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “More On Dean Challenges” at

See “How To Read Body Language” at

See “Copyright: The ‘Protect the Creative Economy Coalition’” at See PG’s take.

See “How to Write for the Web: All Writers Need to be Web Content Providers Now” at I didn’t read this. I’m just a storyteller.

See “GrammarlyGO” at The day you start using this, stop calling yourself a writer.

See “Have Your Cake and Eat It Too” at

See “You’ll Be Able to See 5 Planets in the Night Sky All at Once This Month” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1240 words

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051
Day 5…… 1451 words. Total words to date…… 11502

Total fiction words for March……… 1451
Total fiction words for 2023………… 54275
Total nonfiction words for March… 11890
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 53220
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 107495

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. See My Best Advice for Fiction Writers at

5 thoughts on “Language as a Precision Instrument”

  1. The cake case remains me example from another language.
    It’s said that phrase like “Live of and catching freshwater fish” is wrong because fish is active for live and passive for catching. But this phrase was used as title of classical book by L. Sabaneev (1895).

    • Thanks, Rikki. I think the translation is wrong. I looked it up and found two different translations: “Living and catching freshwater fish” (see and “Life and catch of freshwater fish” (see Most other places translated it “Life and catching freshwater fish.” Either “life” or “living” and catching freshwater fish seems probably correct to me because it makes the most sense.

      • Yep, both translations are accurate (I have been writing my comment deep in night and didn’t check English version). The original title has Plural Genitive case for “freshwater fish” and plurality doesn’t mean much, it can be preseted in English using Saxon genitive form: “Freshwater fish’s life and catching”.
        Some linguists say it’s wrong because it’s two different grammar forms and it’s just accidence that both need Genitive case: “Freshwater fish’s life” is Genitivus possesivus and “Freshwater fish’s catching” is Genitivus objectivus.

        More exact English example would be “The Life and Hunting of the Snark”. I guess, for most of native speakers it sounds natural.

  2. In regards to finishing a novel in a month, it does make me grin when people call those writers who produce a novel a year prolific.
    I’m not knocking those writers, one of my favorites works at that pace and I devour his books, but it is amusing how ingrained the myth of ‘writing slow’ is and if you (gasp) can produce content monthly or bimonthly as the case may be, you’re obviously not writing quality work.

    There was a post on reddit recently (I know….its a bad habit I indulge in once and awhile) where a writer was so amazed their friend could write so much in one month and the most amazing part? It WAS GOOD they said. Forgive me for not remembering the exact numbers, but they produced a book a month I believe and their friend was just taken aback because usually, they said, its not possible to write anything that fast and have it be any good.
    Needless to say I got a good chuckle from that. The myths die hard (or, as it seems, will cling to life no matter how many of us throw them off).

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