Second Thoughts About Our Leaders

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two dispatches from the Word Front ...

-- Take Me to Your Thought Leader -- Are you a "thought leader"? This trendy, amorphous term, which bears a slightly Orwellian whiff, refers to a renowned expert in a specialized field. But now the phrase is being applied regularly to anyone who has ever had a thought on anything: professors, writers, ...Read more

Going Around in Circles

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The new "Ghostbusters" movie raises an urgent question -- no, not "Who ya' gonna call?" (which, of course, should properly be rendered "WHOM ya' gonna call?").

Instead, it's "WHAT ya' gonna call the red circle with the slash through it in the 'Ghostbusters' logo?" (You know, the roly-poly ghost -- Casper on Oreos -- stuffed behind the ...Read more

English Gives 'Erg' a Workout

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Feel the erg!

The Greek root "ergon" (work, activity) romps quite obviously in many English words, including "energy," "ergonomics" and "synergy." But sometimes it hides behind a disguise. It lurks incognito, for instance, in words as diverse as "allergy," "surgeon" and even "orgy."

"Allergy," coined in 1910 by the wonderfully named Austrian...Read more

These Pairs of Pants Have Zip(per) Codes

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Why do we call a single item of clothing "a pair of pants"? -- Charlie Duncan, Potsdam, N.Y.

A: Being an average guy, I'll put on my answer one leg at a time.

English speakers use plural words for most garments worn over the legs, e.g. trousers, shorts, tights, drawers, knickers, leggings, trunks, pants (a contraction of "pantaloons," ...Read more

Putting the Men in Nomenclature

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Did you know there's a guy in your guppy? A fella in your salmonella? A boy in your boycott?

The guppy was named for a man whose full name was longer than the fish itself: Robert John Lechmere Guppy (1836-1916). Raised in a 13th-century Norman castle in England and shipwrecked as a young man off New Zealand, Guppy eventually landed as the ...Read more

Reading Between the Lines

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In case you get stuck in an airport screening line this summer, bring along one of these fascinating new books on language and you'll literally be able to read it online.

Headed to a foreign country? Bring along "Are Some Languages Better than Others?" by linguist R. M. W. Dixon (Oxford University Press, $40). Dixon addresses the provocative ...Read more

I'm Humbled by This Sustainable Legacy

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Let's start with the good news. I've been spotting fewer of these Styrofoam cups polluting the river of English: "curate," "iconic," "artisanal," "double-down." But a small navy of other plastic bags and cigarette butts is floating in their wake:

--Legacy has legs: I have no problem with the noun "legacy," though, Lord knows, we're going to ...Read more

Donald Dissers Play 'Trump' Card

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Call it political names-manship.

Commentators have been whacking away at Donald Trump's last name as if it were a big, fat pinata, and they've gleefully relished the nefarious meanings spilling out: to "trump up" means to fabricate; "trumpery" refers to worthless junk; "trump" may be a source of "strumpet"; and, in British slang, "to trump" ...Read more

A Pandora's Box of Kicking Band Aids

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In case you haven't heard, the State of Connecticut has struggled to negotiate its budget during the past few months. In fact, the process has resembled a can of worms being shot from a loose cannon in a sausage factory.

But no one knew that this street brawl would provide a spring torrent of delightful mixed metaphors -- torturous figures of...Read more

Reading Between the 'Pipe'lines

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Why do we tell kids to "pipe down"? Why do we say food is "piping hot"? Why do we call fantasies "pipe dreams"?

Discovering the origins of these "pipe" terms takes us on a quirky voyage from oceans to ovens to opium ...

--Pipe Down: On old sailing ships, the "boatswain" (or "bosun") used a small, whistle-like pipe to communicate orders to ...Read more

Goldi'vox' and the 'Forbears'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I'm trying to figure out whether the preposition "from" is needed after the verb "forbear." Is it "he will forbear from growling at him," or "he will forbear growling at him"? -- Peter Hufstader, Avon, Conn.

A: There's no need for growling here, for this is one of those delightful situations in which either choice is correct. So we can say...Read more

Sometimes a Splice Will Suffice

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Is this a run-on sentence?: "The thing I liked about Andy Rooney is that he didn't just play a curmudgeon on television, he was one." -- Shelley Cetel, West Hartford, Conn.

A: Grammatical purists would call this a "comma splice" -- a comma erroneously used to join or "splice" two independent clauses. They would replace the comma with a ...Read more

Sentence Needs a Royal Flush

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would likely be heavily engaged in reigning in Wall Street."

When I encountered that sentence in a newspaper story, I conjured the absurd vision of Sanders and Clinton wearing crowns while ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.

The intended verb, of course, is "reining in," meaning "...Read more


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