Jane Austen is known for her clean and eloquent prose. But new scholarly work shows that the great novelist’s editor likely played a bigger role in Austen’s literary pursuits than previously thought.

(By the way, do you know what language the word novel comes from? Find out here.)

In fact, it seems that Austen may have been guilty of cacography, or bad handwriting, poor penmanship, and incorrect spelling. Her grammar, as well, may have been spotty. Few writers compose by hand any more, and electronic tools like spell check catch many of our mistakes. So, while we may be just as prone to errors as writers in past generations, we are less likely to leave a paper trail of our mistakes.

(The QWERTY design made the transition from handwriting to typing possible for many of us. What do the letters of “QWERTY” stand for? Learn about that here.)

Don’t confuse cacography with orthography. Orthography is what we strive for: correct spelling and “writing words with the proper letters.”  It is also what the part of language study concerned with letters and spelling is called.

And while we’re on the subject of famous writers, did you know that the mastermind behind the Harry Potter series has been accused of plagiarism? Plagiarism is a word that is often misused. Figure out how to use the word correctly, here.

These notes about the author of Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and other classic novels are meant in mirthful tribute, not criticism. We wouldn’t want a discerning academic to scrutinize our rough drafts. Would you? In that spirit, we give the esteemed Ms. Austen the last word:

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing.”

EATING IN: Dietitians help people get to heart of matters. website green bean recipe

The Boston Herald February 8, 1998 | Dowling, Nancy A.

With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, our thoughts turn to matters of the heart.

For some, however, hearts warrant more than just once-a-year attention.

At Boston-area hospitals, dietitians are teaming up with other health professionals to help teach patients with heart disease how to improve and maintain their cardio-fitness.

Through nutrition-education classes – which include suggestions for improving recipes and cooking techniques, and teach aggressive label-reading – patients learn “real life” approaches to matters such as weight loss.

Most patients who complete cardiovascular education programs are physically and emotionally transformed.

Dietitian Meryl Lindenberg of Newton-Wellesley Hospital describes the patients entering the program as “extremely fearful.” But after they undergo the 15-week program, they are “amazingly confident and empowered.” This week, in addition to the romantic aspects of the holiday, we look at the true matter of the heart: how to keep it healthy.

MONDAY At Newton-Wellesley’s Cardiovascular Health Center, patients – both men and women, ranging in age from 20 to 90 – are taught to balance their diets and lower their fat intake.

“We recommend under 7 percent saturated fat in our patients’ diets,” said Lindenberg. “For a 1,500-calorie diet, for example, that means a daily total of no more than 10 grams of saturated fat.” But Lindenberg also tries to avoid making her patients fat-phobic; she teaches them not to rely on fat-free snacks for satisfaction. “What we’re really trying to do is increase fiber through increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals, pasta and breads,” she said.

Lindenberg usually brings a recipe for patients to sample during her hourly lectures. Tonight’s tofu soup is one of the dishes patients like best.

“Most really like it,” she said. “It’s a real easy recipe with a whole meal in one bowl.” SOUP WITH TOFU, GREENS AND NOODLES 4 c. canned reduced-sodium chicken broth 1 (16 oz.) pkg. firm tofu, drained, rinsed and cut into large dice 3-4 c. fresh greens (bok-choy, spinach, watercress), washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped 1 c. cooked whole-wheat noodles 1/2 c. scallion, chopped 1/2 t. low-sodium soy sauce (optional) In a large pot, heat broth over medium heat. Add tofu and simmer for 2 minutes until heated through. Add greens to simmering broth and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add noodles, scallions and low-sodium soy sauce, if using. Heat 1 minute more. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Nutrition information per serving: calories, 125; fat, 5 grams (sat. fat, 1 gram); cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 400 mg.

TUESDAY The group discussions make it easy for patients to compare notes on what they feel works as they make the appropriate changes in their diets.

“They might talk about where to purchase recommended products or what products actually taste better,” Lindenberg said.

The discussions have taught Lindenberg which brands of whole-wheat pasta, for example, are the most acceptable to patients (DeBoles and Bionature are the top choices).

Try some whole-wheat pasta tonight. Serve a salad along with it, topped with mustard-and-garlic vinaigrette. The recipe is taken from materials distributed by Newton-Wellesley Cardiovascular Health Center, which suggests that you try eating salad after your entree – before reaching for a second helping of pasta.

MUSTARD AND GARLIC VINAIGRETTE 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar 1 clove garlic, pressed or crushed 1/2 t. Dijon-style mustard 1/2 t. dried herb mixture (oregano, parsley, basil or dill in combination work well) Freshly ground black pepper to taste Combine all ingredients in a covered jar and shake well. Dressing will keep for about 1 week. Makes about 10 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (1 T.): calories, 31; fat, 3.5 grams (sat. fat, .5 grams); cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 3 mg.

WEDNESDAY Kathy Scafidi, a dietitian at Massachusetts General Hospital’s cardio rehab center, says of her patients: “Most are very motivated, very willing to listen and learn.” Scafidi recommends her patients think of the 30-40 grams of total fat they may eat in a day as an allotment in a bank. “They can then withdraw from the bank throughout the day,” she said.

She, like Lindenberg, pushes the positives. “People just don’t eat fruits and vegetables. We try to talk fiber in terms of food choices.” Scafidi believes most people are pretty adaptable. This zucchini lasagna recipe is a favorite among her patients. Serve it with this roasted green bean recipe, another suggestion from Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

ZUCCHINI LASAGNA 1 container (24 oz.) low-fat cottage cheese 2 eggs, slightly beaten or 1/2 c. egg substitutes 1 1/2 t. Italian seasoning 1 1/2 t. dried parsley 7 c. tomato sauce, no salt added, or your favorite low-fat pasta sauce 9 raw lasagna noodles 2 medium-to-large zucchini, washed, trimmed and sliced thin (about 4 1/4 c.) 2 1/4 c. shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese (about 9 oz.) Mix cottage cheese, eggs, seasonings and parsley together. Spread 2 c. tomato sauce in bottom of a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 uncooked noodles on top of sauce layer. Spread 1/3 c. cottage cheese mixture on top of noodles. Layer 1/3 zucchini over cottage cheese. Sprinkle 1/3 grated mozzarella cheese on zucchini. Spread 1 1/2 c. tomato sauce on mozzarella. Repeat with layer of each: noodles, cottage cheese, zucchini, mozzarella and 1 1/2 c. sauce. Repeat with final layer of noodles, cottage cheese, zucchini, mozzarella and 2 c. sauce. Garnish top with leftover zucchini slices. site green bean recipe

Cover dish and bake with tray underneath for 45-60 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Fork should pierce middle easily when done. Let set for 20-30 minutes before cutting. Serves 10.

Nutrition information per serving: calories, 326; fat, 7 grams (sat. fat, 3.6 grams); cholesterol, 71 mg; sodium, 727 mg.

ROASTED GREEN BEANS 1 lb. green beans, approx. 4 c., washed, stemmed and left whole 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin 3/4 T. olive oil Freshly ground black pepper to taste Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place vegetables on a heavy baking pan that has been brushed with olive oil. Roast the vegetables, tossing occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. The green beans should be soft and slightly brown. Serves 4.

Nutrition information per serving: calories, 58; fat, 2 grams (sat. fat, .3 grams); cholesterol, 0 mg., sodium, 144 mg.

THURSDAY Scafidi stresses realistic changes. “If a person really loves a high-fat food, so be it. Have it on occasion. If they are eating red meat three times a week, cut it to two times a week and add one bean dish. Make goals you can live with.” Are sweets something that can be worked into a heart-healthy diet? On occasion, sure. Try tonight’s biscotti recipe, another low-fat choice from Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

BISCOTTI 2 1/2 c. flour (try half white and half whole wheat) 3 t. baking powder 3/4 c. raw oatmeal 1/2 c. canola oil 2/3 c. sugar 1 egg plus 3 egg whites 2 t. vanilla 1 t. almond extract Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a flat cookie sheet with nonstick oil spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and oatmeal. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine oil, sugar, egg, egg whites and flavorings. Using a electric mixer, beat egg mixture until creamy. Stir in flour mixture. Form into 2 long, wide logs on a cookie sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Remove by carefully sliding the logs from the cookie sheet onto a board. Cut on the diagonal into slices, then place slices, cut side down, on the cookie sheet. Return pan to oven for 5 minutes. Turn slices over and bake an additional 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and store. Makes about 50 cookies.

Nutrition information per cookie: calories, 55; fat, 2.4 grams (sat. fat, .2 grams); cholesterol, 4 mg.; sodium, 39 mg.

FRIDAY Does being heart-healthy on Valentine’s Day mean never eating chocolate again? Although it may signal a moratorium on those heart-shaped boxes filled with sweet confections, you don’t have to swear off chocolate altogether. Try tonight’s triple chocolate indulgence with your special someone.

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE INDULGENCE 1/4 c. sugar 1 c. nonfat sour cream, at room temperature 2 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted 6 fat-free devil’s food cookies, cut into 1/2 inch pieces 2 T. mini chocolate chips 1 c. frozen light whipped topping, thawed 6 T. nonfat hot fudge topping, warmed In a medium bowl, combine sugar and sour cream; mix well. Add melted chocolate; stir until well combined. Reserve 3 T. cut-up cookies for garnish. Add remaining cookies and chocolate chips to chocolate mixture; mix well. Gently fold in whipped topping.

Drizzle 1 T. hot fudge topping around inside of each of 6 dessert dishes. Using back of spoon, spread topping to coat bottom and side of dishes. Spoon chocolate mixture into dishes; top with reserved cookies. Store in refrigerator. Serves 6.

Nutrition information per serving: calories, 260; fat, 5 grams (sat. fat, 4 grams); cholesterol, 0 mg.; sodium, 130 mg.

From “Fast and Healthy Magazine,” Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan/Feb., 1996 (Pillsbury Publication).

Dowling, Nancy A.


  1. Ciccio -  March 31, 2012 - 6:14 am

    Novel simply means ‘new’ in Latin, that’s where novel comes from. No Biblical (Biblos: greek word for “Book) connection whatsoever.

    Caco is also Greek rooted, meaning ugly. One good word is “kakistocracy” (the government of the worst). For example:
    Obama’s populist government is the great example of modern-day kakistocracy.

    Also, the tabs in the article are very condescending and distracting. But possibly good for kids who are not forced to go to public schools.

  2. Glenn -  February 15, 2011 - 6:29 pm

    Great read! You might want to follow up on this topic??

    Kindest regards,


  3. ethana2 -  November 1, 2010 - 10:37 pm

    Crediting qwerty with anything good makes me sad. ~colemak typist

  4. Drae's Bar&Grill -  October 31, 2010 - 11:00 am

    Geez, stay on subject, Dictionary. i clicked this because I’m reading jane Austen, and I don’t care where the word novel came from!

  5. smoothius -  October 28, 2010 - 12:46 pm

    cacography huh? i’ll just stick with chickenscratch- more fun to say on a side note, anyone know why doctors always have such horrible handwriting? I think that must be part of the entrance exam. (no sorry mr smith you can’t be a doctor, your handwriting is impeccable!)

  6. artemisia -  October 27, 2010 - 8:58 am

    Somebody who has never read Jane Austen, wow. Actually, I’ve been reading aloud to someone who can no longer see to read, and I have discovered subtleties in her paragraphs that I never noticed when just reading for myself.

  7. Will -  October 27, 2010 - 8:21 am

    “Bad handwriting” and “poor penmanship” are the same thing, but way to go with copying the definition without thinking about its meaning.

  8. louis paiz -  October 27, 2010 - 5:46 am

    the subject turn into what is misspelled or who type the wrong word just remmember that most of us do not have enough time to proof read so please accept it as a rough draft.

  9. Curly Hair -  October 26, 2010 - 4:31 pm

    Blake Charlton takes the word “cacographer” to a whole new level in his book Spellwright. It is a delightful, ingenious novel that I highly recommend to all fantasy lovers. Do look into it!

    Dictionary.com, would you please restructure the first sentence of your third paragraph? It is confusing when a parenthetical phrase set aside by commas is placed within a list. As for the sentence after that – would you please put “as well” at the end of the sentence? It is best to keep verbs and the nouns they modify as close to each other as possible.

  10. dewOnthegrass -  October 26, 2010 - 4:06 pm

    kuick les spel evrything rong onn perpous!

  11. Tim -  October 26, 2010 - 2:45 pm

    Could someone tell me what the “glaring grammatical error” is in the title? I was reading this and found it delightful, but then I read the comments and didn’t really want to take the time to suss out the aforementioned mistake. Is it the comma before “too” and/or the question mark placement inside the apostrophes? Thank you to anybody for telling me what the hell everyone is talking about. :)

    Also, whether you got tickled by the article or not, it’s gnarly seeing so many people get this worked up about words…. Well, grammar, but close enough. Refreshing to not be the only one thinking about this stuff.


  12. Michael Dadona -  October 26, 2010 - 2:40 pm

    The first thing to look is the background of commentator on Austen’s work. Different people has their own level of quality in forwarding their comment as input and in this case does majority be the main role to decide for good or bad?.

    Many things in the past were unpopular or rejected in that generation, but well analyzed and accepted as a great thing in the next generation. So, this article making Austen’s works popular with different views of commentaries.

    A good writer is who writes by heart with original ideas or writing an extension to the existing and make it much better. About grammatical error, let the interested parties do the correction. This is the thing not all academicians can write and publish good books, but they can be good checkers or correctors and not writers.

  13. Saf -  October 26, 2010 - 2:29 pm


    That’s a bit hypersensitive, don’t you think? The article wasn’t exactly a scathing lampoon of female authors, it just made the point that some authors who are revered for their eloquence actually owe that credit to their editors.

    In response to your statement,”It should go without saying that female authors are just as deserving of their success as their male counterparts.” That doesn’t even begin to make sense. Are you suggesting that every female author has a male counterpart? Or that all male authors are successful? Or that all male authors are deserving of their success? Or that female authors deserve their success whether they earned it or not?

    If you mean that female authors should be judged on the same merits that male authors are, then I fully agree. However, being female is not actually one of those merits (obviously), and certainly doesn’t preclude female authors from the same scrutiny that male authors receive.

    Would Jane Austen be a household name if she weren’t female? I really can’t convince myself that it would be. The fact that she was published and taken seriously in a time when it was difficult for female authors to do either does contribute to her credit as a member of the female gender, but not to her credit as an author.


  14. JoyCorcoran -  October 26, 2010 - 2:05 pm

    Grammar is a wonderful thing for clarifying meaning, but it’s not a good storyteller and has little personality. Writing and typing “mistakes” can be as endearing as any other personality quirk. Thank God for copy editors, they have a special place in heaven. It’s at the table of the great storytellers.

  15. Jay J -  October 26, 2010 - 2:03 pm

    I think its pretty unusual to be accused about something like this.

  16. J_Jammer -  October 26, 2010 - 1:56 pm

    I think some of you grammar Nazis need to watch this video

    And Dictionary.com is one of my favorite websites. I love you Dictionary.com. =) Keep up the good work.

  17. The Conjunction -  October 26, 2010 - 1:56 pm


    A conjunction can appear at the beginning of a sentence. For example, in the sentence “Because we walked for hours, we were tired at the end of the day,” the subordinating conjunction “because” introduces the dependent clause that forms the first part of this complex sentence (dependent clause + independent clause).

    Also, the opening sentence of your comment–”Never having read Jane Austen I cannot comment on her spelling or grammar, history books are a lot more fun”–contains a comma splice. A comma is not strong enough to join to independent clauses; instead, you must use a comma and coordinating conjunction or a semicolon (alternatively, you can just put a period in between the two sentences).

  18. You know she has a point some of you did get your facts wrong and dictionary.com does try to fill us in on some kinda of interesting stuff( I say its interesting because if u request them to answer a question some how then they answer it eventually so that means somebody was interested in the topic). :)

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