Category Archives: Backstory blog

My journalist’s blog hosted by Times Community Media.

11 phrases you’re misusing

We all fall short, including me (however rarely). This morning a friend sent me a link to some of the most misused phrases and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait until Friday to send! Please note the first phrase – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I CouB letterldn’t Care Less, (could NOT care less)

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

First-Come, First-Served

The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. “First come, first serve” suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow.

Sneak Peek

A “peek” is a quick look. A “peak” is a mountain top. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something.


“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory.

Emigrated From

The verb “emigrate” is always used with the preposition “from,” whereas immigrate is always used with the preposition “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere.

Peace of Mind

“Peace” of mind means calmness and tranquility. The expression “piece of mind” actually would suggest doling out sections of brain.

For All Intents and Purposes

The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” originates from English law dating back to the 1500s, which used the phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” to mean “officially” or “effectively.”

By and Large

The phrase “by and large” was first used in 1706 to mean “in general.” It was a nautical phrase derived from the sailing terms “by” and “large.” While it doesn’t have a literal meaning that makes sense, “by and large” is the correct version of this phrase.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Piqued My Interest

To “pique” means to arouse, so the correct phrase here is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was awakened. To say that something “peaked my interest” might suggest that my interest was taken to the highest possible level, but this is not what the idiom is meant to convey.

Case in Point

The correct phrase in this case is “case in point,” which derives its meaning from a dialect of Old French. While it may not make any logical sense today, it is a fixed idiom.

A love letter response to my post …

“It gives me peace of mind to know that our team of producers and marketers will have a resource that is not exclusive or first-come, first-served to conduct ample due diligence on the proper use of idioms that will, for all intents and purposes, improve our overall application of the English vernacular and emigrate from our brutish, rudimentary applications of this form of fixed expression.  By and large I could care less about the grammatical prowess of others but I feel this resource will make us all a shoo-in for impressing our contemporaries and will pique their interest in our events thusly providing a case in point for why the proper use of idioms works like a charm for separating sheep from goats

Idioms are the bees knees, yo!”

Published: It’s what happens when your press release rocks

The Detroit Business Journal wrote an article on my work’s upcoming military event off the back of a press release we sent out via PR Newswire. The end goal of any press release is to have it turn into a story, but that very rarely happens. Well, today is that day.

I’ll keep it short and sweet, but read this article I wrote if you want more information on how to write a press release.

Here’s the press release in its entirety:

Press Release

And, in summary:

Advancements and Opportunities within the Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Programs

New York, NY (February 2, 2015) – IDGA is pleased to announce its debut event, the
Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Summit this March 16-18 in Detroit. The Summit will feature more than 20 highly qualified speakers, which include five military program managers who boast a combined 300 years of military experience.

This new program will bring together some of the military’s key decision makers in an intimate forum to give insight into future vehicle acquisition projects. Since fewer vehicles contract opportunities are available due to drawn down conflicts abroad and sequestration, the military must be more proactive in identifying best value solution providers. This event will serve as an ideal platform for the military decision makers to achieve that initiative.

The summit will bring together 20+ high profile speakers including; COL Kmiecik, Director of Mounted Requirements, COL Mike Milner, Program Manager, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, COL Jason Craft, Program Manager, Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles and COL James Schirmer, Program Manager, Armored Fighting Vehicles.

Never before has IDGA had the pleasure of announcing such a powerful faculty with speakers representing programs ranging from the AMPV to the ULCV.

2015 sessions will cover:
• Future of the Ultra Lightweight Combat Vehicle
• Ultra-Light Tactical Mobility and the Expeditionary Force
• Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles
• Alternate Vehicle Programs – The Future Fighting Vehicle
• Introducing the AMPV
• DAPRA Presents: The GXV-T
• Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy

And many more!

Join the vehicles community as they come together to learn best practices, programs and processes for 2015 and beyond. This will be a rare opportunity to speak with such a broad range of program managers, while meeting your future clients within this hard-to-reach military vehicles community. To access the full agenda or to register for the conference, visit

About IDGA

The Institute for Defense & Government Advancement (IDGA): ( a division of IQPC, is a non‐partisan information‐based organization dedicated to the promotion of innovative ideas in public service and defense through live conferences and events. We bring together speaker panels and events comprised of military and government professionals.

Capitalization in Headlines & Subject Lines

Fix yo grammar.
Fix yo grammar.

Lately I’ve seen some inconsistencies between who is capitalizing what in certain subject lines and titles.

So, stop. It’s grammar time!

Opinions are divided across stylebooks on what words should be capitalized, but throughout my career I’ve been able to develop a universally-accepted, three-rule guideline:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word of the subject line/title (you all are perfect with this rule.)
  2. Capitalize any and all words that are four or more letters in length
  3. Do NOT capitalize conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).

Here’s a quiz I pulled off the World Wide Web to test you on these rules. Which words do you think should be capitalized in these titles/subject lines?

  • made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
  • the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
  • fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking

Think on it …

Still thinking ….

Do you know which words to uppercase yet?

Ok, let’s test those skills:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)

  • The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (through is a preposition, but is capitalized because it is greater than four letters)
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking

The most common errors I see are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.

I hope this helps! Next week a note on prepositions? Email me to let me know what you have questions about.

BONUS: Did you know there’s a name for the the “dot, dot, dot” … you see in emails and other correspondence? It’s called an ellipses (eee-lip-seas), and is used most frequently in writing when summarizing quotations.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Had Better Grammar Tips

Does anyone even know the definition of an infinitive? It’s one of the most basic forms of a verb “to be, to have, to hold” are some examples. When a verb is accompanied by the “to” they are always supposed to be written together. Oftentimes, we separate the “to” from its verb friend “have” in a way that is incorrect. But, as the degradation of the English continues, this probably won’t be an issue in the future.


I have to gently hold the baby. (the infinitive is being split by “gently” and is not correct)

I have to hold the baby gently. (this is correct)

Side note: This isn’t an issue in many foreign languages, such as French, Spanish, etc.,  because they use one word to express the infinitive.

French: Aller (to go)

Spanish: Hablar (to speak)

Here are two more common errors:

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

Most people incorrectly pronounce these as “would of, could of, should of.” Blame Southerners.

Correct: Could have, should have, would have

If I could have seen my mom last night, I would have requested her famous pasta dish for dinner. I should have created a shopping list for her.

Who vs. That

This is simple, but is often written and spoken incorrectly. A way of remembering when to use “who” vs. “that” is to associate who with people and that with nonliving things

Our speakers, who are experts in the industry, will join us at the Summit.

The brochure details the sessions that you can attend at the event.

Cardinal numbers versus Ordinal numbers

Did you know that cardinal numbers under 10 should be spelled out?

Spell out whole numbers up to and including nine (e.g., zero, two). Ex., “At this three-day event, you will have the opportunity to …”

The style guide also suggests spelling out ordinal numbers up to, but not including, 10:

Ordinal numbers: first, second, third … 10th

Its versus It’s and Their, There, They’re

Here’s a little grammar lesson for the day:

Okkkkkkkkkkkkkk. So. Let’s talk about these little guys. Put simply:

Its – no apostrophe – shows possession

It’s – with apostrophe – is a contraction of it is or it has

 A contraction literally means to make smaller, therefore the apostrophe is replacing letters. This also applies to they’re:

They’re = they are

Their = shows possession (consider the “I” is a pronoun and only a person can own something)

There = defining a location.

Let’s (let’s is a contraction of “let us,” see what I’ve done here) delve deeper:

Its vs. It’s

Rule 1: When you mean it is or it has, use an apostrophe

It’s a beautiful day.
It’s got to get warmer outside.
It’s so nice to meet you.

Rule 2: When you are using its as a possessive, don’t use the apostrophe.

The dog is eating its bone.
The jewelry store celebrated its ninth anniversary.

Note: Apparently the possessive was also written it’s until modern times, quite possibly dropping the apostrophe in order to parallel possessive personal pronouns like hers, theirs, yours, ours, etc.”

Their, There, They’re


Use “their” to indicate possession. It is a possessive adjective and indicates that a particular noun belongs to them.

  • My friends have lost their tickets.
  • Their things were thrown around the apartment.


Use there when referring to a location or place, whether concrete (“over there by the building”) or more abstract (“it must be difficult to live there”).

Also use there with the verb BE (is, am, are, was, were) to indicate the existence of something, or to mention something for the first time.

  •     There is an antique store on Madison Avenue.
  •     There are many documents that are used in investigations.


Remember that they’re is a contraction of they and are. It can never be used as a modifier, only as a subject (who or what does the action) and verb (the action itself).

They’re always late to meetings.

They’re going to Dishes for lunch.

They’re going to the baseball game over there to celebrate their birthdays…. Whew

Lastly, the best way to remember these things is to do some swapping.

If you wrote there, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with here? If so, you’re using it correctly.

If you chose their, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with our? If so, you’ve chosen the correct word.

If you used they’re, will the sentence still make sense if you replace it with they are? If so, correctomundo


Happy Weekend!


New Yorkers: Think Before You Eat

The more color variation, the more fun.
The more color variation, the more fun.

New Yorkers: It’s time to slow down and think about what we’re putting in our mouths.

Why? September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. There’s no need to list the statistics on what we all already know – more American children are obese now than ever before. But, legislative bans on sugar and sodium are not the solution, education is.

Good eating habits start at home. This concept can be hard to fully grasp for some, including me. I was raised in the South where a typical meal consisted of hearty servings of meat and starches. Our family’s pantry was never devoid of cookies, crème pies, sugary cereals and potato chips. I will never forget my first sip of Cream Soda. It could have been relabeled Crack Soda – I just could not get enough.

I don’t believe any of us quite understood the extent to which our family’s poor eating habits were contributing to our poor quality of life. As a child and into my teen years I was often lethargic, cranky and unproductive. I now wonder where I would be if only I had learned how to make healthier choices earlier in life.

I don’t blame my parents who were simply carrying on a culture of eating that was prevalent in the 1980s. Everything from our culture, religion and income influences how we eat. But although New Yorkers in general tend to be pretty health conscientious and information on eating healthily and exercising regularly is prevalent, our children’s waistlines continue to expand.

Carrots-of-Many-colours-Wikimedia-Commons-Anna-Jackowiak-Why-should-I-eat-more-fibre-Reduce-Risk-of-heart-diseaseJAMA Pediatrics’ list of adverse effects brought on by obesity in children is long: early on-set puberty, greater risk of behavioral and psychological problems, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, among other ailments.

It hasn’t been easy for me to write a new normal of healthy eating and regular exercise, but I do it to be healthy, more alert and perform better at my job. My hope is for kids today to be educated before they develop bad habits that will one day need to be reversed.

Halloween is just around the corner followed by a months-long, treat-filled holiday season. Start by setting guidelines for your family’s choices rather than dictating what they can and cannot eat. Include your kids in your grocery shopping so they can take pride in their food choices. Slowly introduce fruits and vegetables into their snack circuit. Encourage slow eating so they really enjoy their meal for all its textures and flavors. Lastly, sit down together for dinner. That’s when rather than focusing on the food the focus will be on family.

What makes you a writer? If you write.

Writers write. It's as simple as that.
Writers write. It’s as simple as that.


“It’s none of their business if you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

– Ernest Hemingway


Some people were born writers. I’m not one of those people. That still doesn’t stop me from responding, “I’m a writer,” when asked (the frankly rude, in my opinion) question, “What do you do?”

I’ve been writing professionally for seven  years, but still don’t feel I deserve the designation because I haven’t achieved my goal of writing for myself every day.

For the purpose of a self pep talk, I have come to accept that what makes me a writer isn’t necessarily that I’m paid to do it … it’s that I write. I don’t write every day — I should — but I write regularly. I write often. I write enough. I’ve put in so much writing time that now I’m published and getting published is getting easier.

Just like everything in life, you’ve got to take it one step at a time. The more  you work on something the more skilled you will become. Don’t give up, just put fingers to keyboard.

Up yours upskirters

I always feel a jolt when I hear that “a girl is asking for it.”

This charge implies a woman deserves what she puts out into the universe—as if she’s procuring sexual harassment or violence. Well, no girl, however short or tight the clothing, deserves that sort of comeuppance.

Don’t get me wrong, I have dressed inappropriately in my day. Not to work or school, but in my private life to social events. Does this mean I am asking for it?

What I’ve found is that no matter what I wear there is no escape from the sexual advances of certain men. Unwanted and unsolicited advances keep rolling in: From the not-so-subtle stares to the out-right cat calls echoing out of cars.

Multiple men have felt they hold the right to grab my butt. I don’t consider this a compliment to my appearance – it’s a side effect of my gender.

I know this because I’ve been chased three times in my life. The first time, I was 17 years-old and walking my two dogs in my hometown of Round Hill, Virginia. I had no makeup on and was wearing gray sweatpants. The second time was in Paris, France. Donning a heavy coat and jeans on a walk to the Metro, a man rolled along beside me in his car catcalling even as I ignored him. When I didn’t react, he took it a step further by pulling over, exiting his car, and running toward me. I ran. The most recent time I was chased was in Vienna, Austria. This time it was two men in a car who jumped the sidewalk curb and touched the nose of their BMW to the building beside me, effectively blocking me in. Again, I turned and ran. I was wearing shorts.

It shouldn’t matter what I was wearing on these occasions, but apparently it does, because none of these times have been as emotionally disruptive as when I was upskirted.

This morning a Masssachussetts court deemed it legal for a man to secretly take a picture underneath a woman’s clothing. The court ruled that “the practice did not violate the law because the women who were photographed while riding Boston public transportation were not nude or partially nude,” according to Haimy Assefa at CNN.

The ruling took me back to a fall day in 2011 when I was searching for winter boots at Tysons Corner Mall in Virginia.

I was wearing a light pink, knee-length dress from J.Crew. If you must know, it was conservative, but I don’t feel I should have to defend that. As I perused the Bloomingdale’s selection, I felt that soft, raw nag of being watched. Although no one curious appeared to be around, the feeling wouldn’t shake and I left to ride the escalator to the top level.

Halfway up the climb, I felt a finger slide along my inner thigh.

I turned to find a young man on the stair below me. He was holding out his phone in his palm.

It was then that I realized he had just taken a picture of my underwear from beneath my skirt. I lunged for his phone, screaming, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He kept repeating, “no, no, no.” He didn’t speak English. And he didn’t relinquish his phone. I reached up my hand to slap him in his face – but couldn’t muster it.

A mother and her teenager daughter were standing behind us on the escalator. They did nothing. When we reached the top we were all under a shower of my screams, but I felt the screams were trapped inside me because no one reacted.

This man, he didn’t bolt. He watched me scream. Then, he turned and slowly walked away.

In this moment he dwarfed my self-assurance that what had just happened was a violation of my privacy and self respect. When I later recounted my assault to two undercover policemen, it became abundantly clear that my violator had escaped. I wanted to know why he would touch me.

He hadn’t meant to scrape my leg, they said; he just wanted to get his picture without me ever knowing. This man had done it before and he would do it again.

Several people have asked why I didn’t hit him. The only answer to give is that just because he is a bad person doesn’t mean I am. My only regret is that I didn’t stop him. I didn’t try hard enough to confiscate his phone. He is out there now – at the mall or in the airport – preying on other women. I had a chance to stop that, and I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Massachusetts Justice Margot Botsford of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court wrote in her ruling that “A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is ‘partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing.”

Outrage at the ruling has prompted action to change the law. I hope it does without delay.

Upskirting happens and it’s not fair. Hopefully my story will lead ladies to pay attention. Listen to your intuition and your instincts. Be constantly vigilant of your surroundings. Lastly, make an effort to help a screaming woman.

After a while

After a while you learn
the subtle difference
between holding a hand
and chaining a soul

and you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn
that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises

and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman,
not the grief of a child

and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much

so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can
endure …

That you really are strong…

That you really do have worth…

And you learn and you learn…

With every good-bye, you learn.

– Veronica Shoffstall (1971)