Sometimes, when life seems humdrum, something lands in your inbox that creates instant delight.
So it did, when the following arrived from a reader the other day, asking why words acquire new parts of speech.
"When did 'read' become a noun?
"When did 'gift' become a verb?
"When did 'ask' become a noun?
"When did 'hog' become a verb?"
The rhythm of that reverie struck me the way a poem can, or a lyric of a popular tune. And the reader's lament points to what he considers misuses:
"That book was a good read."
"I'm going to gift her with a scarf for Christmas."
"Their proposal was a reasonable ask."
"Why does he always hog the conversation?"
Invitation: Fit all four alleged misuses into one sentence and send it to me.
The reader who sent in that lyrical query is a retired information technology specialist. He had a leg up. In college, he majored in English.
You may consider him too rigid, and the imprecisions he cites so embedded in our language that they've become acceptable.
But his examples reflect the stiffness we too often find in written communications.
Run a test by reading a news story aloud.
Almost any story in a professional news publication will sound as if the reporter is talking to you — the standard I promote.
A reader of my last column took exception, saying that if we wrote the way many people talk, we'd be drowning readers in likes and you knows.
That's not the kind of talk I'm talking about.
Even celebrated writers sometimes stray. An opinion columnist for a national newspaper used the word "epistemic" twice in a recent essay.
Have you ever heard that word in conversation, or even seen it?
William Faulkner, intending to insult his rival Ernest Hemingway, said: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
But, Mr. Faulkner, why would any writer interrupt the flow of his prose by making a reader work so hard?
Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson teaches journalism at Colorado College. He can be reached at www.writebetterwithgary.com.