Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we wish we’re touching on something that can often be a pain in the canvass…
Q: Hi AWC, I’ve been thinking of getting into painting and wanted your opinion.
A: That sounds great – we were just reading about breaking creative droughts.
Q: Yeah, well I’ve been asking a few friends what they think. It seemed a good idea to “canvas them about my canvas obsession”! Hahahahaaaaa…
Q: Get it? It’s a play on words!
A: More of a one-act play. And not the good kind. The kind you get free tickets to and now can’t leave because there’s only one other person in the audience.
Q: Okay, what are you talking about?
A: Your gleeful play on words was flawed.
Q: I’m floored that you would think it was flawed. Did I use too many Ss in “obsession”? I can take one out.
A: Nope, that was fine. It’s the word “canvas”.
Q: Yes, okay I see. You’re probably only familiar with the noun – like what you paint on, but there is also a verb…
A: We’re the Australian Writers’ Centre – OF COURSE we know there’s a verb!
Q: You’re in a very strange mood today AWC.
A: Allow us to explain, as it’s a common mistake. “Canvas” – with one S – is the noun and can mean a heavy, closely woven fabric that tents and sails are made from. Also it’s what you paint on, along with a more figurative backdrop meaning – for example, “the events in Europe are taking place against a canvas of volatility”.
Q: My uncle got me a tent for Christmas. Oh wait, sorry, I meant that my uncle is here right now gifting me a tent.
A: What ARE you talking about?
Q: Present tents. Haha.
A: Oh dear.
Q: Okay anyway. So what about my “canvas” meaning of going around asking for opinions, like politicians and confused artists do? You haven’t mentioned that yet.
A: That’s because you need an extra S.
Q: Can I take one from “obsession”?
A: Leave obsession alone and just get a new one. The word is “canvass” when used as a verb – the main definition of which is to examine, survey or discuss thoroughly. And it also means to solicit votes, like what politicians do.
Q: Politicians: putting the “ass” into “canvass”. Oh my, I really am hilarious. Wait, hilari-ass!
A: We’re just going to wait for you to finish.
Q: Okay, finished now.
A: So that’s all there is to it. If you’re talking about the noun, use one S. For the verb, use two.
Q: That’s such a simple rule. I love it. In fact, I’m going to paint a picture about it. I’m seeing tents and sails and bowls of fruit…
A: Future tents?
Q: I make the jokes around here.
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!