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That turn of phrase is quite common in England - particularly in the north, I believe. (Don't think I've ever heard an American use it, but then, I don't know many Americans.)

Paul Schofield

I don't think it's quite the same effect, although maybe similar. It's probably closer to the reason people simply can't spellcheck their own work very well on an immediate second reading; they know what to expect and see that as much as what is actually there.

I'm fairly familiar with several of my writing tics, but it always seems to take three passes to change them. The first lets me see them, but I rarely think they need changing till a second look. At which point I usually get stuck on how I could possibly improve them. A third try normally changes that.

At least as far as I can tell...


The "Have you not?" turn of phrase is British in origin but I have heard a number of Americans use it. So many figures of speech come from our familial influences...

Maybe we could call those third and fourth re-reads "tic baths?"

Jude Johnson
Gecko Gals Ink -
Five Sassy Authors Who Blog


I used to edit for a magazine where one writer/editor had the most annoying--and pervasive--tic I've come across. She would construct sentence after sentence (paragraph after paragraph!) in the form "There are A, with B..." instead of using an active verb form, for example, "A and B [do something]." After fixing it more times than I can count and not seeing a change, I pointed it out directly. She either couldn't or wouldn't see the problem. It killed me to have my name as "copyeditor/proofread" in the masthead with all those awful sentences abounding throughout each issue.

Barrett Shipp

Just finished "The Battle of Waterloo" by Jeremy Black-- but I a few pages in I noticed a distracting tic of his. Every two or three pages, he wrote, "not the least of which..." to emphasize a point!


Most of my authors (who are really subject experts more than professional authors) have some such tic. My current author uses "for instance" more in one chapter than I've ever seen in a whole book (instead of more varied and subtle wordings: "for example", "such as", "like"). There's almost always something.

John McIntyre

In his otherwise admirable books on John Adams and other Founders, Joseph Ellis writes repeatedly that their ideas "congealed," from which I cringe, visualizing a grease-laden colloid on a plate.


Sam Harris: "And yet."


Speaking of series without parallel syntax, here's a gem from Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): "Please keep seats adjacent to the train doors accessible to seniors, people with disabilities, pregnancies, and others who may need special access to the train doors." I hear this announcement at least twice a day on my commute, and it never fails to set my teeth on edge.


Thank God I'm NOT alone in this!!! I've spent 32 years working with or for writers like yours!


In New Zealand, the answer to "aren't you putting onions in that?" is "yes, no, I am". The answer to "haven't you seen this movie before?" is "yeah, nah I haven't".

Americans tend to follow this sort of conversation with a bemused expression...


Part of the problem of responding to a question like “Are you not putting onions in that”? or “Have you not seen this movie before?” is the imprecision of the English language. A simple yes or no do not suffice in that situation. In French, for example, one can use "si" to respond affirmatively to a negative question - for example, "Si, I'm putting onions in that," or "Si, I've seen this movie." Much more useful!

On the other hand, I do have a problem responding to French speakers when they say "pas mal" (in English, "not bad"). In English, we usually say "no" when agreeing with somebody who suggests that something is not bad - as in "no, that's not bad." In French, the same sentiment would be reflected in an affirmative response. Funny!

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