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'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

Can 'Real' Really Replace 'Really'?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. Has the adverb "really" completely disappeared from usage? I hear sentences such as: "The shoes are real tight"; "The clerk was real nice"; "It was a real good movie." -- Robert Derosier, West Hartford, Conn.

A. Darn! Thanks to your question, now I can't get the lyrics from a song in the musical "Carousel" out of my head: "This was a real ...Read more

'Pea Coat' Is a Dutch Treat

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. What is the derivation of "pea coat" for the U.S. Navy jacket? It's time I knew, since I was in the Seabees for a few years. -- Kaz Glista via email

A. During college, I worked one summer for two former World War II Seabees who ran a driveway paving business. Nice guys, but, wow, the work was hot and hard!

"Seabees," of course, is a ...Read more

Are You Booked for Summer?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Whether you're headed for peak, park or porch this summer, tote along one of these new books about language.

Visiting England? Be sure to bring along Erin Moore's charming "That's Not English -- Briticisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us" (Gotham, $25.95). The Brits, Moore explains, are more subtle than we Yanks. While we ...Read more

New Words for Old Things

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Can you name the innovations that necessitated these new terms: "static billboard," "wet signature," "paper book," "traditional cigarette"?

Think "electronic" -- electronic billboards, e-signatures, e-books and e-cigarettes.

"Wet signature," "static billboard," "paper book" and "traditional cigarette" are retronyms -- words or phrases coined...Read more

Breaking Good, Masterfully

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Do you know that "masterful," which now means "skilled," once had a distinctly negative meaning: "domineering, dictatorial"? Likewise, "meticulous," which now means "scrupulous, very careful," once meant "overly careful, obsessive."

Linguists call this improvement in a word's meaning "amelioration." I call it "breaking good."

But other words...Read more

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