Ghost Terms Haunt New Technologies

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In the poetic and meditative book "Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot," Mark Vanhoenacker reminds us that many aeronautical words are derived from nautical terminology.

Airplanes themselves are called "ships," air"craft," air"liners" and "clippers," and groups of planes are "fleets." Flown by "captains," "pilots" and "skippers" from the flight...Read more

U Stands for Usage on YouTube

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

A few weeks ago, I cited several TV shows and movies that provided, of all things, grammar lessons. Then I asked you to send me more examples.

As Gomer Pyle might have said, "Goll-ee!"

Cindy Carlin noted that, in an episode of "The Last Man on Earth," the character Carol, even though being held at gunpoint, continues to forbid Phil from ...Read more

Farming Haunts Our 'Udder'ances

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When I was a teenager, I spent one summer working on a dairy farm in southwestern Indiana. Bad move. My daily chores included milking cows at 5:30 a.m., cleaning out the bull's stall, digging up potatoes and stacking bales of hay.

Through decades of suffering from post-farmatic stress disorder, I've tried hard to suppress all memories of this...Read more

We're 'Scuffling' Over 'Often'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. Recently I've heard several different baseball announcers use the word "scuffling" to describe a player or a team that's struggling, e.g., "The Red Sox have really been scuffling the first half of the season." I had never heard the word used that way before, and I wonder whether you have any thoughts on this. -- Karen Yardley via email

A. ...Read more

Should We Bust 'Bust'?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. On the evening news the other day, a reporter said: "The home invaders busted through the front door." I felt the hair on the back of my neck begin to rise. Could you possibly clarify the proper use of "bust"? -- Ann Roper, Pittsburgh, Pa.

A. Hearing "bust" used to mean "break" or "burst" can indeed raise our hairs. But I'm afraid we "bust...Read more

'Go Missing' Should Go Missing

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two recent dispatches from the word front:

--Trivializing Trouble -- Many readers tell me they wish the ubiquitous phrase "gone missing" and its recent variation "went disappeared" (Ugh!) would go missing from TV news stories. They detest the term's inelegance and overuse.

I deplore it for yet another reason. To my ear, "gone missing" ...Read more

Speaking Frankly About 'Hot Dog'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Kate Fogassa of West Hartford, Conn., asks why frankfurters are called "hot dogs."

Here's a question I can answer with relish!

Lexicographers have devised two conflicting theories about the origins of "hot dog." There's the cute, charming explanation that's probably false, and the carnivorous, butcher-shop explanation that's probably true.

...Read more

Have You Been Slimed by Gobbledygook?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

One of my favorite words is "gobbledygook." Better make that, "One of my affinity-based verbal modules is 'gobbledygook.'"

This derisive term for wordy, unintelligible jargon was coined, appropriately enough, by a true maverick: Maury Maverick, a Democratic Congressman from Texas and the grandson of Samuel Maverick, whose unbranded cattle ...Read more

Senators Put Bam in 'Bamboozle'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been attacking the Iranian nuclear deal with the sword -- and the thesaurus.

"You guys have been bamboozled," Sen. Jim Risch told three cabinet members during a recent hearing.

"You've been fleeced," Committee Chairman Bob Corker told Secretary of State John Kerry. (He then compared ...Read more

Some 'Blues' Leave No Clues

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We associate the color blue with honesty and integrity, as in "true blue." But the true origins of several "blue" phrases remain maddeningly elusive.

We don't know for certain why laws forbidding drinking alcohol on Sunday are called "blue laws," or why obscene movies or jokes are called "blue," or why sad people are said to feel "blue."

We'...Read more

TV Teaches Outside the Box

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Popular TV series are probably the last places you'd expect to find grammar lessons, but occasionally the box can improve your vox.

In one episode of "Sex and the City," for instance, Carrie takes smug satisfaction when a female rival sends her a note that includes this embarrassing misspelling: "Sorry I couldn't be their."

Meanwhile, on "...Read more

Mentors Plant Grammatical Oaks

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Readers often send me fire arrows -- emails and letters ablaze with intense devotion to a particular grammatical or usage rule: "Children are 'reared,' not 'raised'!" "Never end a sentence with a preposition!" "Don't use 'done' to mean 'finished'!"

Whence the zeal?

In many cases, this passion about a particular linguistic issue was kindled ...Read more

For Your Consideration

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Consider these sentences:

"The ice cream did not contain any artificial ingredients."

"The company is likely to earn a profit this year."

"Henry criticized the boss on two occasions."

Simple, straightforward and clear, right?

In fact, these sentences are not as trim and clean as they could be. They're flabby -- laden with a few extra ...Read more


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