15 signs you’re a word nerd

In honor of word nerds everywhere, we offer an array of symptoms that indicate your affinity for correct grammar, usage, syntax, punctuation, and spelling run deeper than that of others.


You probably already know if you’re a word nerd, but just in case, we’ve listed some of their admirable qualities, as well as ways to tell whether you’re an editor. After all, there’s a growing chance—if you work in communications, marketing, Web production, or myriad other fields—that you are already doing the work of one.

Here are some clues:

1. You love to read.

2. You have at least one “Word a Day” calendar, app, or email subscription.

3. You have a favorite dictionary. Hat tip to the free and accessible Merriam-Webster.

4. You read the dictionary for fun.

5. You can cite your favorite and least-favorite words. “Onomatopoeic” and “carbuncle” here.

6. You know a portmanteau from a spoonerism, and you probably have favorites in these categories, too. Mine are “mansierre” (far superior to the “bro”) and the classic, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

7. Grammar Girl is your hero.

8. You know the difference between “e.g.” and “i.e.”

9. Typos and abbreviations in texts drive you a little crazy.

10. You have an opinion about the word of the year. (How did “selfie” beat out “twerking“? And what about “sharknado“?)

11. You can’t look past spelling and punctuation errors on signs and restaurant menus.

12. You may or may not carry a red pen to correct egregious errors on the fly.

13. If you don’t already own these grammar correction stickers, you just added them to your wish list.

14. You have at least three word games on your phone. I’m partial to Letterpress, Boggle, and, of course, Words With Friends.

15. Last but not least, none of your friends will play Words With Friends with you.

If you recognized yourself in any of the descriptions above, congratulations, you’re a word nerd!

Though word nerds can be found in all fields, people with the term “editor” on their business cards carry the cachet of being professional word nerds. Even if your job title isn’t “editor,” there’s a growing chance—if you work in communications, marketing, Web production, or myriad other fields—that you are doing the work of an editor.

Are you an undercover editor? These Clark Kent types operate under titles like “PR manager,” “Web producer,” “marketing coordinator,” and—perhaps the ultimate catch-all—”administrative assistant.” The superhero transformation (which, in this case, involves putting eyeglasses on) happens when said managers, producers, coordinators and assistants confront copy in need of saving. Blue pencils to the rescue!

Whatever your business card says, you are an editor if:

  • You review or refine communications (letters, brochures, Web copy, blog entries, tweets, or Facebook posts).
  • You notice—and correct—inconsistencies in capitalization, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Your colleagues come to you for help with their writing.
  • Your company is better represented when you review its communications.

So, now you know: You’re an editor. What difference does that make?

First and foremost, you should take comfort that you’re not alone. You may feel like (and may, in fact, be) the only one fighting the good fight in your office, but you are part of a broad community of professionals dedicated to making communication clearer. This provides more than warm fuzzies: It means that you don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to improving writing and communications in your workplace.

Finally, admit it, it feels good to know that you haven’t been stickling when it comes to your co-workers’ writing—you’ve been answering the internal instinct of the editor. In other words, you’re not just picky—you’re right.

Nurture your editing chops by investing—or encouraging your employer to invest—in stylebooks, webinars, and trainings.

Ready for the next step? Start compiling your own house style guide. (If you’ve been undercover for a while, you may already have the beginnings of a style guide in the form of notes and lists of dos and don’ts, decoders for frequently used acronyms, and the like.)

Finally, if you’re prepared to unmask yourself, modify your job title and/or description to reflect your editing skills and experience.

Anything we should add?

Karen Martwick is editor/content strategist at Travel Portland, the destination marketing organization and convention and visitors bureau for Portland, Ore., and a member of the executive committee of the American Copy Editors Society, which will hold its annual conference March 20-22, 2014, in Las Vegas.

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