Too Big for My Breeches?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Are you a valiant soldier on the front lines of verbal knowledge? Take this quiz on common usage errors to find out. Forward, into the breech ... er, breach!

1. The villagers tried to fill the (a. breech b. breach) in the brick wall with logs.

2. They'll reinforce the foundation as a (a. preventive b. preventative) measure.

3. The diplomats...Read more

Rage Against the Machine!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

What do you call someone who uses a 1999 IMac computer and an AOL email account?

Me! My daughter calls me a Luddite.

Whence "Luddite"?

Legend has it that Ned Ludd, an eccentric apprentice to a woolens-maker in the English city of Leicester, was tending a knitting machine one day in 1779 when his foreman reprimanded him for knitting too ...Read more

'Strip' Search Uncovers a Devil

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Several decades ago, police in Illinois were trying to narrow their list of suspects in a kidnapping case. A ransom note had demanded that money be placed in a trashcan "on the devil strip at the corner of 18th and Carlson."

Police gave the note to Roger Shuy, an expert in the field of forensic linguistics. Because the kidnapper had called ...Read more

Say 'Hi' to the Handy Hyphen

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The hyphen is the duct tape of English.

It's the perfect adhesive for simple jobs, such as connecting a noun and a prefix (post-traumatic, in-law), a noun and a suffix (follow-up, stand-in) or two parts of a compound noun (well-being, cease-fire). Hmmm ... "post-traumatic, in-law"? Now there's a combination!

But when you start using hyphens ...Read more

'In-' Can Negate -- or 'In'-tensify

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: What is the logic for the many meanings of the prefix "-in"? "Inhumane" means "not humane." But "invaluable" means "exceptionally above value," and "innumerable" means "too many to count." -- Charlie Duncan, Potsdam, N.Y.

A: Most of the time, the prefix "in-" does mean "not," as in "inhumane," infallible" and "invalid." But sometimes "in-"...Read more

Adjectives Play Footsies With Adverbs

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Have you noticed that we now seem to be using adjectives when adverbs should be used? For example: "You will be treated fair." "Everyone escaped safe." "My feet hurt so bad." Is this becoming acceptable usage? -- Theresa McCabe, Hamden

A: Funny you should mention foot pain. I just got over a bout of that. No fun!

It does seem that more ...Read more

'No Love Loss' Should Get 'Lost

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Occasionally, I send a tweet or post a comment elsewhere on social media regarding someone or something I don't like. I don't know whether I should write, "No love lost here" or "No love loss here." Can you address this for us tweeters? -- Naomi Walls, Aurora, Colo.

A: Tweeters sometimes express negative opinions? My stars!

In the spirit of...Read more

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

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