We all know that being a constant reader helps people learn, whether it's new words, about a culture or religion or some kind of hobby, etc. As an aspiring author, I find that the more I write, the more I learn too! Not only about the things I may research for the plot, but grammar, dialect, structure and the origin behind words and phrases.
The best tool to teach me (or at least make me curious enough to go researching)? My word processing program. Obviously it alters me to my many spelling mistakes and typos, but often it highlights something that makes me scratch my head. For example, the words: towards and backwards. Turns out those are typical British spellings, not American. Although, when using backward as an adjective, there is no "s" at the end. I suppose if I stuck to standard American English, I wouldn't ever have to worry about whether that "s" should be there or not, but why make life easy on myself?
Colors can be foreign as well! Gray and grey? Which one is right?! Again, it's normally a case of British English versus American English. Grey or Gray dot com gives us an easy way to remember who uses what:
grEy is how it's spelled in England
The words blond and blonde come from the French and follow somewhat the French pattern. Blond (without the e) is used to describe males, mixed gender, or uncertain gender. Blonde refers to women or female gender. In modern use, blond is sometimes used for female as well as male, but blonde is preferred for female.
Important information when you have blond/e characters!
I've seen that theatre and theater are both acceptable spellings these days (again it's the British vs. the American English) but then there are also those who say theatre refers to the art form while theater refers to the building. I couldn't find hard evidence to back me up on this (just he said she said stuff on Wiki Answers and the likes) but it seems feasible.
Some of the most interesting things I've learned from my writing are the origins behind some common words and phrases. I was recently editing one of my manuscripts and there was a character instructing another to drink some medicine in "one foul swoop." I stopped to look at it and wondered "Hmm. Birds swoop. Maybe it's suppose to be one fowl swoop?" I put my Google goggles on and set to find the answer. Oops. Wrong on both counts. The phrase is actually "one fell swoop" and yes it has to do with birds and it may have been coined by the Bard himself (or at least made more popular) in Macbeth. Super interesting!
With Borders going out of business, I found myself hunting through the shelves in the writing section and found this great book called Why Do We Say It? THE STORIES BEHIND THE WORDS, EXPRESSIONS AND CLICHES WE USE (which I just noticed has no author named but was put out by Castle Books in 1985). While it seems to be missing some I would deem "popular", it has a fairly broad selection from A to Z that are both interesting and often comical. If you have a phrase you'd be interested in learning about, drop me a line in the comment section and I'll see what the book has to say!
I'm sure I'm not the only one learning while I write. What kinds of things have you come across? What has surprised and shocked you? Share with us so we can learn together!