"A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point."
If you find yourself standing under the mistletoe this holiday season, keep that punctuational maxim in mind. It comes from the French actress and singer Mistinguett and appears in Mardy Grothe's delightful compendium "Metaphors Be With You" (Harper Collins, $19.99). It's just...Read more
Could'a, would'a, should'a.
We know it's OK to use contractions in speech, but when should they be used in writing?
Until the early 20th century, most teachers treated contractions like cockroaches scuttling and hissing through students' sentences. These fuming pedagogues fumigated, ordering students never to use contractions. Of course, ...Read more
Mistakes of the ear can bring us cheer!
A few days after a music teacher told her students that her favorite singer was Ella Fitzgerald, she gave her class a quiz with this extra-credit question: "Who is Ms. Smith's favorite singer?" One student wrote, "Elephants Gerald."
When a man visiting Acadia National Park asked park ranger Deb Hardick...Read more
Today I confront five of my linguistic bugaboos -- usage choices that perplex me every time I encounter them.
--Hurtle or hurdle? Perhaps because my good friend in high school hurdled (jumped) over hurdles as he hurtled (sped) down the track, I've always confused these verbs.
Use "hurtle" when you mean "to speed" (The spacecraft was hurtling...Read more
"The world needs to shore up assistance for impoverished countries." "The University of California has moved to shore up the security for its computer network." "Europe's central bank is trying to shore up the economy.
As these sentences from recent newspaper stories suggest, there's a whole lot of "shoring up" going on these days. But how ...Read more
Today, we present "the dirty dozen" -- 12 errors that readers have spotted in newspapers and magazines:
1. "Designed to immolate a craftsman-style farmhouse, The National Tavern is warm and welcoming." I'll bet it's warm! (submitted by Larry Gavrich, Avon, Conn.)
2. "Our friends run the gauntlet from creating Facebook and Twitter profiles ...Read more
I recently challenged you with a quiz on frequently-confused words, based on a list compiled by Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn. That quiz comprised words from the first half of the alphabet, and many of you have asked for more. So here's a second quiz covering letters I through Z on Bob's list. Good luck!
1. Some readers made (invidious, ...Read more
Faithful reader Leo Rockas rocked me recently when he emailed me three challenging questions: When did "under way" become one word? When did "media" become singular? When did "all right" become "alright"?
--underway/under way: Traditionally, usage authorities have insisted on a distinction between these two forms, claiming that "underway" ...Read more
Fenton's DeathS. Elizabeth
Emm and Francine grew up with Fenton. He was their neighbor, best friend and big brother all in one. Fenton thought he loved both his friends equally but one day as a young man he realized he had to make a choice. But what would his choice do to the 3. And then...Fenton died. Fenton's Death ...
We think of words as immutable -- sturdy bricks with permanent meanings that we can interlock to build solid walls of clarity. Phrases such as "I give you my word" reflect our faith in unchanging definitions.
But in fact, words are more like brooks than bricks. They overflow, carve new channels, change their courses, reverse themselves, and ...Read more
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
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
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
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