The Persnickety Word Nerd

adjective, Informal.
1. overparticular; fussy.
2. snobbish or having the aloof attitude of a snob.
3. requiring painstaking care.

persnickety. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved February 8, 2018 from website

Because I was an amateur historian when my children were growing up, they often referred to me as a walking encyclopedia. Similarly, my daughter asked me to proofread and edit her college term and research papers because she said I was even “more persnickety about words and style” than her professors.

I suppose that was a compliment, although I’m not sure I took it that way at the time. Instead, I recalled the almost constant arguments between the two of us during her elementary and secondary school years over the fact that I refused her the option of turning in mediocre homework. Her tantrums and tears were designed to convince me her teachers “didn’t care” if the words were spelled wrong or she forgot a couple of periods or commas. (Uh-huh. Likely story, kiddo. Now pull the other leg.)

I suppose that my persnicketiness (yes, that is a real word and it’s in the dictionary; look it up) stemmed from the fact that I was an early reader. I started reading Nancy Drew at age seven and transitioned to James Michener by age nine. Unlike mathematics, which gave me nightmares over incomprehensible and totally arbitrary rules, I found the ins and outs of the English language extremely intuitive. Besides, being able to read allowed a lonely little girl to escape into all kinds of other worlds and other lives.

It was only to be expected that I would start to imagine myself in the stories I read. As most kids do, I played at being the people I read about. I talked my few friends into putting on plays about the stories I liked and we often played extended role-play games that I organized and oversaw. The gamers of today have nothing on me when it comes to RPG. I wrote detailed character studies and few maps to block out character action before I even knew such things existed. I wrote short skits for us to perform. The fact than no one besides us even saw them mattered not a whit to me.

I wrote my first piece of fan fiction – a Nancy Drew novel, of course – at the tender age of ten. According to my teacher, I got a B on it “because the assignment was to write a story between five to ten pages long.” I turned in a novella of over 120 pages. I assume she docked points for my having given her more work than she wanted to deal with, because she actually redlined very few things. However, I know that she read the entire piece because she left comments in the margins about the story line and a very positive comment about how well organized the story was.

Considering this auspicious start, you might wonder why I’m not a famous author by now. Well, that’s partly my father’s fault, but mostly mine. I wanted to go to college to become a writer, but my father laughed at that idea. He said he wouldn’t support college for a career that would not give me a secure job by the time I was finished. He told me he would help me through college only if I went to nursing school and if I lived at home during that time.

This attitude was the last in a long line of supposed insults from him about my inability to do or achieve anything of import. Not only did I not want to be a nurse, I most certainly did not want to live with him and my hated step-mother for four more years. I was convinced by that time that he did not care one bit about me or my dreams, and I imagined he only considered me a millstone around his neck. At the tender age of 17, I was just enough like his own stubborn, independent self to not want to be kept under his thumb any longer than was necessary. Of course, with my vast experience of the world, I knew I was much wiser than he about these things.

So, I determined to do things my own way. My answer to his ultimatum was to join the Air Force. That would get me away from him and my step-mom, and give me the opportunity to go to college to do what I wanted. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated that Life has a tendency to throw curve balls at you, despite best laid plans.

Shortly after I joined the Air Force I met my husband. We got married and started having children. We had two of our own, plus an older child we adopted to get him away from his abusive parents and grandparents. The cost of raising those kids soon overwhelmed our minuscule military pay and, ultimately, I was forced to drop out of college in my junior year to go to work full time.

My writing was, unfortunately, relegated to that part of my life designated by the filename “Hobbies” and my intended career was completely sidelined by Life’s experiences. Despite all the craziness of raising kids and working lots of stress-filled overtime, I did not give up my dream. Sandwiched between jobs and parenting, I kept writing, kept researching, kept learning.

Over the years, I worked in relatively low-paying, high -stress clerical, secretarial and supervisory positions in a variety of settings: medical, manufacturing, shipping and logistics, legal, and county government. I even worked in an American law office in Germany for a few years and upon my return to the States I edited technical manuals that were poorly translated from Chinese into American English.

In all these jobs, my employers reaped the rewards of my persnicketiness where the English language is concerned. I’ve written and edited just about everything, from press releases and speeches to college research papers, from technical manuals to business correspondence, from standard operating procedures in government offices and hospitals to legal briefs and court reports. I’ve learned and used a multitude of writing styles and techniques, and know which work best for any given setting and purpose.

In addition, I taught myself how computers worked, often fixing what the IT specialists could not. I found they were so focused on code that they had no idea how the programs they designed actually worked in real world application. And over the years, I trained hundreds of coworkers, my own staff and even my employers in the design, use and implementation of the computerized programs and documents we used. I took great professional pride in the high standards I kept in my own work product and in the standards I taught to others.

In the late 1990s, one of the managers I worked with in the local Probation Department was overheard telling one of his officers, “Give it to Cheri. She’s the word nerd.” And that monicker fit me perfectly. And anyone who worked closely with me eventually learned to associate the word “persnickety” with me as well.

So. Now you know. You are forewarned.

I am, and will ever be, the Persnickety Word Nerd.

%d bloggers like this: