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Word tonic for winter-weary editors

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month. To my mind, January on the West Coast runs a close second. Even though we’re past the winter solstice, the hours of darkness still exceed the hours of light, and the days often pass in a dreary, rainy murk. In Alberta, where I spent a week in December, although temperatures might stay well below zero for weeks on end, the sun shines regularly, sparkling off the snow and encouraging people to embrace their inner northerner and get outside for winter activities. In the funk that settled in after the New Year’s celebrations, I appreciated receiving a link to the Jive Aces’ “Bring Me Sunshine,” with its mid-video shift from shades of grey to vibrant colour.

Editors and logophiles may feel a similar urge to jive as they check out the colourful websites offered by a couple of the major dictionaries—Oxford and Merriam-Webster. Besides letting you look up specific words to check spelling, meaning, and syllabification, both sites:

  • provide blogs and videos that explain usage, etymology, and word controversies;
  • show what words have been looked up recently, often as a result of news stories or holidays (for example, among the trending words on the Merriam-Webster site as I write this on January 10 are Epiphany and Hogmanay); and
  • offer free subscriptions to a “Word of the Day” post.

Another bonus: both sites feature games and quizzes. I’ve spent hours discovering what punctuation mark I am, checking my understanding of British and American phrases, taking the apostrophe challenge, and driving myself crazy with the “Name That Thing” visual vocabulary quiz and the “True or False” quiz. Who knew that Star Wars was only the third-highest-grossing film series in history (after Harry Potter and James Bond)? Merriam-Webster also has the lethal SCRABBLE Sprint, where you can get whipped into a lather forming random letters into words against the clock.

There’s enough information on these two sites to keep any word lover occupied until the spring equinox (on March 19 at 9:31 p.m. PDT, but who’s counting?).

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