Gray or Grey: Which is Correct?

How to spell gray vs. grey

What do Lego pieces have to do with spelling? Not much, unless your son is doing a school presentation. Child number four had to teach his classmates “How to Build a Lego Bug”, complete with visual aids.  He looked up the proper names for Lego pieces and found things like “2×2 slide plate” and “2×4 brick”. The real dilemma came when he had to write down the color of said plates and bricks.

“Mom, is it g-r-e-y or g-r-a-y?”

Good question son, and one that’s bothered me before, as I have seen both spellings in different places. The Word Nerd did some research.

Lego bug
The Lego Bug

According to, gray and grey are adjectives that describe a neutral color between white and black. They can also mean gloomy or dull. Both words come from the Old English graeg, however, the gray spelling is used most often in America and the grey spelling is used more in England. If you need help remembering, think about a for America and e for England.

The EL James novel Fifty Shades of Grey may add to the confusion.  Also, comments on the site suggest that some people prefer one spelling over the other when it’s used for a name. There doesn’t seem to be a style guide for this, just personal preference.

By the way, son and I weren’t the only ones confused. A piece reports that, according to Google data trends, “grey” was a frequently Googled term (for spell checking) in twelve states, including Virginia (my home state), California, Florida, and Illinois.

How do you spell gray, and what is the reason for your spelling?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

Do Small Things With Great Love

Do small things with great love

It’s February, and a post about love seems timely, except this isn’t about Valentines or kisses.

Last December, to calm holiday nerves, I assured Word Nerd readers that there was no such thing as a perfect Christmas. Little did I know my words would be prophetic; my holiday was far from perfect.

My aunt, my mother’s oldest and last living sister, died early Christmas morning. The news hit me hard, not just because Christmas is supposed to be happy, but because my mother died when I was 25, and every death I’ve experienced since then reopens the hurt of losing her, especially this one, since it was her sister.

My aunt, uncle, and mom, 1945

I have many fond memories of my aunt. As a child, I spent weeks during the summer at her house in New Jersey, going to swim lessons with my cousins because my mom was confined to a wheelchair and had no way of getting me to lessons at home. For a few glorious days, I knew what it was like to have siblings and a mom who could drive us to the mall or McDonald’s. I’ll never forget my aunt racing up a hill to the lap pool, holding nose plugs high, delivering them to me just before my final swimming test. (I was just eight, and I needed those plugs. I do fine without them now.)

At my wedding, my aunt took care of my mom so my dad could participate in wedding festivities, like walking me down the aisle. While Mom waited for us to finish taking photos after the ceremony, my aunt stayed by her side, keeping her calm in the July heat.

My mom died before I became a mother, but my aunt attended the baptisms of my children and sent them presents at Christmas. She remembered me on my birthday with beautiful cards and loved to see pictures of my kids as they grew. We didn’t speak often, but I knew she cared and wanted to hold the threads of our family together.

Five years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer and began a series of rigorous treatments with awful side effects. It became my turn to send cards and encouraging words. Again, we didn’t talk often, but I hope she knew I loved her and prayed for her.

So, of course, when she died, I traveled to New Jersey for the funeral. I wanted to be there for her three daughters who are now part of my special club of loved ones who no longer have mothers to guide them in this world. I held it together pretty well until I arrived at the funeral home and saw the pictures my uncle had gathered to commemorate my aunt’s life. There were group shots of my mom, who died in 1995, her younger sister, who died in 1994, her mother, who died in 1999, and of course, my aunt. Seeing their smiles, so long gone, broke me, and it took a long time to pull together again.

My mom, top right, and her two sisters, 1959

My youngest cousin had the difficult job of reading the eulogy. As she recounted her mother’s life, I learned things, like my aunt loved to write but had sacrificed a career in journalism to follow her husband and raise her family. Her pastor spoke of her works of service in her community and her key role in growing her church in its early years. Friends recalled her kindness and willingness to help, and her daughters expressed thanks for her many acts of love. As I listened to this celebration of a life characterized by charity, I felt like my aunt was giving me one last gift, a precious piece of wisdom.

I, too, gave up my career to focus on my family, and I have often struggled with feeling worthless, without professional title or income. But at the funeral, I realized, with a peace and certainty I’ve never had before, that a quiet life, lived in service to strangers and loved ones, is one well lived. All of us, whatever our calling or vocation, are never too big or too small to bring light and kindness into this world.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa.

In this season of political change and international instability, we need people like my aunt, to steady and assure us with small acts of love.  And all the work can’t be done by other people. I must act as an instrument of kindness every day, no matter my title or income or emotional state.

Will you join me? The world needs us.

Thank you to Amy Makechnie for inspiring this post. Visit her blog  for ideas of small things you can do for others.

Who has been an example of kindness in your life?  How do you do small things with great love?

Why You Should Read A Man Called Ove

Connections to other people are what make life wonderful, but they are also what make it hard. The novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman explores the complicated relationships between people and the importance of looking beyond first impressions to understand the layers incorporated in each of us.


Set in modern day Sweden, A Man Called Ove (pronounced “oo-va”) introduces us to Ove, a cranky older man who slams doors, checks locks, and performs a daily inspection of the trash room. As the narrator puts it, “Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.” He’s also the kind of man who “just thinks that right is right. Is that such an unreasonable attitude to life?”

But as the opening chapters unfold, we realize that Ove is more than just cranky, he’s tired of life, and he’s ready to take steps to end his weariness. But his carefully laid out plans are continually disrupted by his neighbors, a parade of unique and quirky characters who slowly learn that there is more to Ove than a swift kick and an abrupt retort.

What I like about Ove

A Man Called Ove is an excellent example of character development. Backman presents his protagonist with a vivid blend of dialogue and action. The tone of the writing is choppy and spare, perfectly matching Ove’s disposition and tendency toward reticence.

There’s a lot of miscommunication between characters, which is often comical, and a great counterbalance to the darker themes of the novel. Another example of balance is the outgoing personality of Ove’s wife Sonja, who bears her husband’s stubbornness and rigid ways with loving acceptance. As Ove thinks back on his years with Sonja, the narrator says, “People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” Although I have a soft spot for Ove, I adore Sonja. Here’s what she says about marriage:

Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you… Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections.


What I don’t like about Ove

Backman is big on metaphors and similes, and while most of them are unique and creative, I found the excessive use of them, sometimes over five in one page, to distract me from the story. In the novel opening, we get two great examples:

“He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight.”

Backman goes on to describe an Apple store salesman as

“a young man with a single-digit body mass index”.

These are great, right? But six “as if” later, I’m tired of the literary devices and just want Backman to give it to me straight. It’s a good lesson for an aspiring writer – don’t overdo it. However, this book is a New York Times bestseller, so it’s yet another example of how breaking the rules must work sometimes.


A Man Called Ove would appeal to readers who like interesting characters and thoughtful reflections on life, with a little bit of humor thrown in. It would also appeal to any man who knows that a Saab is the only car worth owning. 😉 Warning: it’s bittersweet, and I cried more than once. But I’m a sap.

One of my book club buddies listened to the audio and said it was fabulous.

Have you read Ove? Share what you think about it!  Feel free to share any other books that are good character studies.

Happy reading!






How to Use Those Tricky Apostrophes

What does a Word Nerd do at a holiday party, besides drink fabulous sangria and discuss last minute wrapping exploits? She debates the proper use of apostrophes in Christmas cards and discusses the best way to say ‘the soccer ball belonging to Lars”. Is it Lars’s or Lars’?

Plurals and possessives are confusing, and apostrophes can cause mayhem. For example, my iPhone annoys me when auto-correct insists on adding ‘s to days of the week when I just want to indicate plural. When I type, “We will practice on Wednesdays”, iPhone always pops up “Wednesday’s”.  🙁

For my sanity and yours, here’s a quick review of the rules for plurals, possessives, and plural possessives. We are gonna put those apostrophes in their place!

The Apostrophe

The ‘ (apostrophe) does many cool things. It shows when things are left out.  For example:

  • Contractions

Could not  -> couldn’t [o is omitted]
You are -> you’re [a is omitted]

Word nerd note: You’re is my pet peeve. “Your the best” is not grammatically correct. If you mean to say “You are the best”, you need a contraction, and an apostrophe: “You’re the best”.  Your shows possession, like, “Give me your number.”

  • Casual uses of words

How you doin’?
C’mon, let’s go.

  • Date contractions

We went to Yosemite in ‘16.
I graduated from high school in ‘89.

Word Nerd Note:  I’ve seen Instagram profiles that say, “ Class of 19’ ” or something similar. Since the digits are missing from the front of the date, (the author is dropping 20), the correct way is “Class of ‘19.”

Apostrophes also show possession, or that something belongs to someone.

  • For one noun, add ‘s

The player’s helmet
Alex’s book
Fido’s bowl

  • For plural nouns that end in s, just add an apostrophe

The students’ papers
The Tomiaks’ house

  • For plural nouns that don’t end in s, add apostrophe s

The men’s section
The people’s vote
The children’s clothes

  • For personal pronouns, just add s

That dress is hers. [not her’s]
That cookie is yours [not your’s]

Word Nerd Note: the it’s vs. its exception

It’s is a contraction for it is.   It’s a shame she can’t make it.

Its shows possession.  The dog lost its ball.

  • For a joint possession, make only the last noun possessive with an apostrophe; for separate possession, make each noun possessive.

Joint possession:
My mother and father’s farm [both own the farm]
Bill and Julia’s kids [they are both parents of the kids]

Separate possession:
My aunt’s and grandma’s rings [there are two rings, one belonging to my aunt, one to my grandma]

  • Sibilants (words that end in s, ce, x, z)

Sometimes, as in the case with Lars’s soccer ball, it’s hard to know how to show possession if a word ends in s or another soft sound. Usually, you can follow the rules for any other word. So, for singular possession, add ‘s; for plural, add s/es and an apostrophe.

Ms. Jones’s house; the waitress’s apron   [singular]

the Joneses’ house; the waitresses’ aprons [plural]

Sometimes, adding too many s’s sounds funny. If it does, you can probably omit the extra s, although ‘s is the correct form.

Dickens’s stories vs. Dickens’ stories
Ms Williams’s class  vs. Ms. Williams’ class

Sometimes people use possessive form when it’s not needed. A good example is Farmers Market. The market doesn’t necessarily belong to the farmers; they simply sell their goods in it. So, if it’s a descriptive term, no possession, or apostrophe, is needed.

The girls soccer team (describing the team- it’s made up of girls)
Homeowners insurance (insurance for homeowners)

When in doubt, consult a manual, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Manual, and keep the formatting consistent in your writing.

Footnote: Plurals

When you want to show a noun that’s plural, simply add s, es, or ies, as the word format dictates. No apostrophes are needed.

Baby -> babies
Jersey -> jerseys
Apple -> apples

The Sum Up

This is a lot of information.  Here are the highlights:

  • To show possession with singular nouns, add ‘s, even if the word ends in s or another soft sound, like Lars or actress

  • To show possession with plural nouns, add ‘ after the last s.

Back to those Christmas cards I mentioned at the beginning. Our cards said, “Happy Holidays from the Tomiaks”, because it’s plural form, not possessive.  No apostrophe needed.

Do you have any questions regarding plurals, possessives, or plural possessives? I’ll do my best to answer them. You can also consult Grammar Girl or a good grammar book, like Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman, which were my sources for this post.

Word Nerd Workout

Choose the correct way to use an apostrophe:

  1. I think that is  Hollis’s/Hollises’/Hollis’ soccer ball.
  2. Don’t forget to bring the bag of jersey’s/jerseys/jersies.
  3. With love, from the Joneses/ Jones’s / Jones’

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

What Does Intransigent Mean?

Would you like to read a charming story about a cranky old man who has a heart that’s too big? Let me recommend A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. [My friends who listened to the audio book say you pronounce it “oo-va”). A Man Called Ove features a Swedish curmudgeon, a vivacious pregnant Iranian, and many sweet lines that will make you smile. It also has some great vocabulary.

If you like learning new words, hop over to Kathy’s blog for Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme where bloggers explore the meanings of new and interesting words.

This word struck me in the closing chapters of the novel.

I don’t have a car! Because I think it’s unnecessary and I want to use more environmentally friendly modes of transportation!” says the sales assistant in a tone of voice pitched somewhere between intransigent anger and the fetal position.

Intransigent: \in·tran·si·gent\adjective from Latin in + transigere- to come to an agreement;

  • characterized by refusal to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude; synonyms = adamant, hardheaded

It’s funny that the author, or rather, the translator, chose this word; it’s a perfect adjective for Ove himself. He’s stubborn, unyielding, and has an irrational love for Saabs. It strikes me, as we approach the presidential inauguration, that intransigent would be an apt descriptor for President-elect Trump.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of an intransigent character from books, movies, or real life?  

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!






Who I Am: Dreams for the Future

I love January like I love the smell of a freshly mopped floor. It’s a clean page on the calendar, an opportunity to restart and refocus. I like to think I’m an “intentional” person. That means I listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast and try to approach my days with a “Begin with the end in mind” mentality. But sometimes life, and the laundry and swim meets that come with it, derails my intentions. January always assures me that I can try again.

For the past year, I’ve been responding to monthly prompts for the Who I Am Project led by Dana and Bev. I received the final prompt, “Dreams Fulfilled and Wishes for the Future”, at the beginning of December, but it got buried under wrapping paper and cookie sheets. Now that the gifts have been delivered and the baked goodies consumed, I can think about what I’ve done, and what I’ve got left to do.

I won’t lie, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’m freaking out a bit about aging. My hands look like my mom’s, and I’ve succumbed to buying expensive face cream to minimize wrinkles. I worry I’m too old to get published and I’ll never see my books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or do school visits to encourage young readers and writers. I’m entertaining the idea of running a half marathon, but I worry my older body is more prone to injury. I’m also concerned that my teens are right, and I don’t know anything and am rapidly losing my short-term memory.

But then I remember that age is a state of mind, that 80 year olds run marathons, and that I’ve got three decades of wisdom on my kids. I’m not going to let fear of the unknown or the passing of time stop me from becoming better. This year, I want to kick worry out of my head and embrace the word that I kept throwing at my state bound cross country runners: believe. Yes, Julia’s word for 2017 is believe, and her dreams / goals are as follows:

Goals for this year:

  • Write five days a week.
  • Finish editing my first manuscript and get a bunch of queries out there by October.
  • Write the first three drafts of my second manuscript and get feedback from beta readers by December.
  • Run a half marathon or at least a 10K and finally break through the “I’ve only got 30 minutes to run” busy mommy barrier by September.
  • Send one letter a week to friends or family.

Goals are specific and time-bound. A goal without a deadline is a dream, but dreams are good too. So,

Dreams for the next five to ten years:

  • Publish several books for teens and children.
  • Visit schools to encourage students to read and write creatively.
  • Start a local chapter of Girls on the Run to combat obesity and encourage strong self-esteem and positive body image among girls in my community.
  • Develop a middle school and high school soccer program for girls to do all the of things in the last dream as well as teach a love for the sport.
  • Stop worrying so dang much.

Word Nerd Challenge

I got a great response to my post The Underestimated Power of Stationery, in which I suggest that hand written notes carry great value for connecting with loved ones now and in the future. If you believe, like I do, that relationships are a key to happiness, would you please join me in this year long challenge to write one letter each week to a loved one? Dana of Kiss My List is doing it too, and we’d love to hear from others willing to commit!

What are your goals and dreams for 2017?  Have you picked a “theme word” for the year?  Please share!