We're Getting 'Ahead' of Ourselves

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

TV Commentator: Both presidential campaigns are gearing up ahead of the November election.

Viewer: You mean they're gearing up BEFORE the November election?

As reader NJ DeVico of Titusville, N.J., reminds me, "ahead of" has replaced the straightforward "before" in the blather of the commentariat. And just tonight I heard the local TV ...Read more

Your 'Quiz'otic Quest Starts Here

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn., has kindly sent me a list of frequently confused words compiled during his 30-year editing career. I've incorporated some from the first half of the alphabet into a quick quiz. Can you select the correct word in each sentence?

1. This quiz is (altogether, all together) too difficult. 2. This quiz will (...Read more

Wheels Come Off 'You're Welcome' Wagon

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When you say "Thank you" to someone these days, which response are you LEAST likely to receive? "No worries." "No problem." "My pleasure." "You're welcome." "Happy to help." "You got it." "Not at all." "Don't mention it." "It was nothing." "Thank YOU!"

If you guessed "You're welcome," you're right.

This gracious phrase, once the universal, ...Read more

Who Says You 'Cant' Sing?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When your slightly tipsy uncle starts bellowing "Some Enchanted Evening," he's actually singing in more ways than one.

That's because the word "enchanted" derives from "cantus," the past participle of the Latin verb "cantare," meaning "to sing."

"Cantus" entered English as "chant" (to sing in a monotonous, repetitive way). Because witches ...Read more

This 'Trash' Talk Is Smokin'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

What's today's trendiest term for a calamity? Forget "train wreck," "meltdown," "hot mess" and "epic fail." It's "dumpster fire."

After smoldering quietly among sportswriters for the last eight years, "dumpster fire" has roared to life this summer, spewing bright orange flames and belching thick black smoke. And, just as with a raging ...Read more

A Broadcast Gone Terribly Wrong

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We begin our newscast with breaking news from Charlie Jargon with the Channel 99 mobile newsroom . . .

Thanks, Dave. We're live at the scene in this normally quiet neighborhood where militant activists have taken to the streets to protest the overuse of cliches by TV newscasters. Details are sketchy but emotions are running high.

This ...Read more

Working Out a Two-State Solution

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I recently asked readers how many common four-letter words they could make by combining the postal abbreviations of two states, e.g., CANE (California, Nebraska).

The response has left me, appropriately enough, in two states: both astounded by my readers' genius and delighted by the serendipitous juxtapositions of states.

True, it's not ...Read more

Practicing 'Alternative' Medicine

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I often encounter the word "alternate" used in place of the word "alternative." In traffic reports, for instance, an alternative to the route having the traffic problem is often described as an "alternate route." Is "alternate" a legitimate alternate for "alternative"? -- Bill Danser, Columbus, N.J.

A: Someone from New Jersey is seeking ...Read more

Healthy, Wealthy and Whys

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

There's nothing better than feeling in the pink! You stride down the sidewalk with a smile on your face, a spring in your step and a disturbing question on your mind: Why do we say that someone in good health is "in the pink"?

This expression derives from, of all things, a flowering plant called "Dianthus." Because the petals of the Dianthus ...Read more

When 'Good' Words Break Bad

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"I'm really grateful to all my enablers," a successful businesswoman recently told a TV interviewer.

"I'm an enabler," a blogger writes. "Through listening to others, I give the positive reinforcement that allows them to do things they never thought possible."

"The Holy Spirit is our enabler!" proclaims a TV evangelist.

What's going on here...Read more

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


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