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There is a lot of talk about life as linear — life as progression. There is little talk about life as cyclical.

We have been sold an idea of life as exponential linearity.

Tragedy, elation and madness in the search for the world’s most sought-after pigment, ultramarine blue.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

There is a boy who watches the sky. He is nineteen, arrogant, French. He turns to his friend and offers him the earth and its riches. To his other friend, he gives the air. Himself? He takes the heavens. “The blue sky,” he declares, “is my first artwork.”

At nineteen, he won’t turn to painting yet. He will study judo and eastern philosophy. He will wrap himself in mysticism. He will fixate on emptiness and infinity and the purity of space. At twenty-six, he will turn to art for good, starting with paint, the métier of his parents. But he…

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For a long while it has been Friday.

Friday for me has been Day of The Week and Day of Light and also, as it goes, Day of Relief. Generally I am inclined to change tastes and preferences with the winds but Friday has been the frontrunner for some time now. I was — admittedly briefly, overzealously — a Monday person. I am no longer.

There are words, and I cannot attribute them without, surely, misattributing them, so I will give you simply the words: Anticipation of the thing is greater than the thing itself. This, I believe, is why…

There is a moment that I imagine every grown-up or growing-up lives through. It is the moment when, twenty-something and alone in your rented room, it occurs to you that you can no longer go home — go home, at least, as you used to. You have passed the literal point of no return, passed the years of semester breaks in your childhood bedroom, passed the dramatic seasons of quittings and crises and calls for help in your parents’ kitchen.

For some people it is a mental transition: at some point the tumult of twenty-something quietens; the seasons stabilise into…

I get so many people asking me about when to use the Latin abbreviation i.e. and when to use e.g. In fact, many of us are mistaken in believing that i.e. means for example, just like e.g.

I.e. means that’s to say

I.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin term id est, which means in other words or that’s to say. It helps to clarify or specify what you’re talking about, adding novel information to whittle down the possibilities and give a precise picture.

He had a fight with his publicist, i.e., his wife.

E.g. means for example

In contrast, e.g. is short for exempli gratia, which means…

The distinction between the relative pronouns that and which has many writers stumped. They have a nagging feeling that there are certain circumstances where one should be used in place of the other, but they can’t quite be sure when or where to use each.

Among most style guides and grammar authorities, it’s generally agreed that which should introduce nonrestrictive clauses, and that should precede restrictive clauses. What does that mean?

Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses

A clause is a group of words that, grammatically, rank just below sentences. Think of them as mini-sentences, or sentence-building blocks.

A restrictive clause is one that changes the…

People often wonder whether there’s a difference between what and which, and whether one or the other should be used depending on the circumstances. There’s not a huge difference between what and which, and they’re often interchangeable.

What’s your favourite alcohol?

Which is your favourite alcohol?

What kind of alcohol do you prefer?

Which kind of alcohol do you prefer?

Which refers to a limited number of possibilities

If you’re referring to a very limited number of possibilities — particularly ones as part of a group that you and the person you are speaking to or writing to collectively understand (like their wardrobe or…

Usually I try to reassure my readers that whichever grammar or usage problem they’re grappling with, the answer isn’t as hard to understand as they imagine.

I’ll be honest: that’s not quite the case for past and passed.

These two homophones don’t just sound exactly the same: they’re also used all the time. While seasoned readers rarely have a problem with them, the majority of infrequent readers and writers have probably been stumped by past and passed at least once in their lives.

Let’s dive in, but be warned: it’s hard to distill these two homophones down to a simple…

Misplaced apostrophes are some of the most common errors in written English. Most of us know the basic rules, like using them for possession (the cat’s mat) and contractions (he isn’t going), but can only hazard a guess when things get more complicated. Here is the only list you’ll ever need of when and how to use apostrophes.

But first, why should you care?

There’s nothing more jarring to a person with even a slight command of grammar than a misplaced apostrophe. They show up everywhere — on shop signs, social media posts, text messages, formal documents.

Spelling is what most amateur writers get hung up…

There are some words that make using apostrophes just plain confusing. Luckily, there aren’t too many of them, and if you take the time to learn about them now, they shouldn’t be a problem ever again. Most of them are contractions that sound like possessive determiners and vice versa. Problem is, contractions take apostrophes, and possessive determiners don’t. Let’s dive in!

It’s and its

If you’re indicating possession using the pronoun it, this is one case where you shouldn’t use an apostrophe. That’s because it is a pronoun, not a noun. It represents a noun — let’s use a dog as our noun…

Amelia Zimmerman

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