King of Empathy, Queen Anne's Lace

One night, giving me a lesson in storytelling, you said, "Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it."
from Snow, by Ann Beattie

On "myriad", "impossibly", "bland", "all of"

David Foster Wallace
As an adjective, myriad means ‘an indefinitely large number [of something]’ (the Local Group comprises myriad galaxies) or ‘made up of a great many diverse elements’ (the myriad plant life of Amazonia). As a noun, it's used with an article and of to mean ‘a large number’ (the new CFO faced a myriad of cash-flow problems). What's odd is that some authorities consider only the adjectival myriad correct—there's about a 50-50 chance that a given copyeditor will query a myriad of —even though the noun usage has a much longer and more distinguished history. It's really only in nineteenth-century poetry that myriad starts showing up as an adjective. So myriad 's situation right now is confusing. It's tempting simply to recommend avoiding the noun usage so that there's no chance a reader will be bugged. The truth, though, is that any reader who's bugged by a myriad of is both persnickety and wrong—and you can usually rebut sniffy teachers, copyeditors, et al. by directing them to Coleridge's “Myriad myriads of lives teemed forth …. 
This is one of those adverbs that's formed from an adjective and can modify only modifiers, never verbs. Using these sorts of adverbs—impossibly fast, extraordinarily yummy, irreducibly complex—is an upscale educated speech tic that translates well to writing. Not only can the adverbs be as colorful/funny/snarky as you like, but the device is a neat way to up the formality of your prose without sacrificing personality; it makes the writer sound like an actual person, albeit a classy one. The big caveat is that you can't use these special-adverb-plus-adjective constructions more than once every few sentences or your prose starts to look like it's trying too hard. 
Bland was originally used of people to mean ‘suave, smooth, unperturbed, soothingly pleasing’ (which has survived in blandish and blandishments), and of things to mean ‘soft, mild, pleasantly soothing, etc.’ Only incidentally did it mean ‘dull, insipid, flavorless.’ Today, though, bland nearly always has a pejorative tinge. Outside of one semi-medical idiom (the ulcerous CEO was placed on a bland diet), bland now tends to imply that whatever's described was trying to be more interesting, piquant, stirring, forceful, magnetic, or engaging than it actually ended up being.
utilizeThis is a puff-word. Since it does nothing that good old use doesn't do, its extra letters and syllables don't make a writer seem smarter. I tell my students that using utilize makes you seem either pompous or so insecure that you'll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look smart. The same is true for the noun utilization, and for vehicle as used for car, for residence as used for home, for indicate as used for say, for presently, at present, at this time, and at the present time as used for now, and so on. What's worth remembering about puff-words is something that good writing teachers spend a lot of time drumming into undergrads: 'Formal writing' does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing. 
all ofOther than as an ironic idiom for ‘no more than’ (e.g., sex with Edgar lasts all of twenty seconds), does all of have any legit uses? The answer is a qualified, complicated, and personally embarrassed yes. Here's the story. An irksome habit of many student writers is to just automatically stick an of between all and any noun that follows—all of the firemen posed for the calendar; she gave the disease to all of her friends—and I have spent nearly a decade telling undergrads to abjure this habit, for two reasons. The first is that an excess of of's is one of the surest signs of flabby or maladroit writing, and the second is that the usage is often wrong. Over and over, in conference and class, I have promulgated the following rule: Except for the ironic-idiom case, the only time it's correct to use all of is when the adjective phrase is followed by a pronoun—all of them got pink-eye; I wanted Edgar to have all of me—unless, however, the relevant pronoun is possessive, in which case you must again omit the of, as in all my relatives despise Edgar. Only a few weeks ago, however, I learned (from a bright student who had gotten annoyed enough at my constant hectoring to start poring over usage guides in the hope of finding something I'd been wrong about that she could raise her hand at just the right moment in class and embarrass me with . . . which she did, and I was, and deserved it—there's nothing worse than a pedant who's wrong) that there's actually one more complication to the first part of the rule. With all plus a noun, it turns out that a medial of is required if the noun is possessive, as in all of Edgar's problems stem from his childhood or all of Dave's bombast came back to haunt him that day. I doubt now I'll ever forget this. 
As a noun, this word has one legitimate use, which is to distinguish a single person from some larger group: one of the enduring oppositions of British literature is that between the individual and society; or boy, she's a real individual. I don't like it as a synonym for person despite the fact that much legal, bureaucratic, and public-statement prose uses it that way—it looms large in turgid writing like law-enforcement personnel apprehended the individual as he was attempting to exit the premises. Individual for person and an individual for someone are pretentious, deadening puff-words; eschew them. 

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One night, giving me a lesson in storytelling, you said, "Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it."
The best thing about Ann Beattie's Snow is this line - because after this is the great omission, the death of the lover ('you') in the next paragraph. She writes with such characteristic grace in all her short stories. My eyes well up with tears.

On the word "fulsome"

Simon Winchester 
fulsomeRevenge is a dish best savored when taken cold. At last, some years after writing The Professor and the Madman, I can now have my say in reply to those who accused me of misusing the word fulsome. I imagine I must have had 60 letters from readers, all professing outrage that in the book I had employed the phrase The most fulsome remarks made about the volunteers … and had in doing so misapplied and misunderstood the word grotesquely. Fulsome, they thundered, means ‘physically loathsome, foul, disgusting.’ How dare I to misuse it so—and in, of all places, a book about words ? Does this not place the credibility of the entire book at stake? Well, I can reply at last: no it does not, because fulsome does mean exactly what I wanted it to mean: ‘abundant, plentiful, tending to cloying overabundance’ usually used in reference to gross or excessive flattery, over-demonstrative affection, or the like. The readers who fulminated so were using out-of-date dictionaries, or prescriptive texts that demanded rather than described how words should, in the opinions of a small band of editors, be used. Fulsome, admittedly once laden with pejorative senses, has lately come to mean ‘abundant and excessive.’ Words evolve (as the Oxford English Dictionary constantly reminds us) and they do so evidently rather more rapidly than does the thinking and lexical understanding (this being the revenge, here supped on cold) of some of my correspondents.


Blood and Lead by James Fenton 
Listen to what they did.
Don't listen to what they said.
What was written in blood
Has been set up in lead. 
Lead tears the heart.
Lead tears the brain.
What was written in blood
Has been set up again. 
The heart is a drum.
The drum has a snare.
The snare is in the blood.
The blood is in the air. 
Listen to what they did.
Listen to what's to come.
Listen to the blood.
Listen to the drum.