With much trepidation I'm here to review
The noteworthy language of twenty-two-two.
"Inflation," "supply chain" and "war in Ukraine"
Incited our worries and caused us great strain.
We learned about "Kherson" and "Donbas" and "Kyiv";
Ukrainians' courage was hard to believe.
What Putin described as a quick "operation"
Was bravely repelled...Read more
During the early 1870s, the residents of a Tennessee hamlet sent a handwritten letter to the federal government requesting a post office. Finding the letter hard to read, a Post Office Department clerk wrote, "This is difficult" across the letter before passing it up the chain of command.
Thanks to this notation, the hamlet soon had a new ...Read more
Tickle the tinsel of your word-loving friends and relatives this holiday season by giving them one of these new books about words and language.
In 2018 Ellen Jovin pluckily set up her small "Grammar Table" on the sidewalks of 47 cities across the United States and fielded linguistic questions from passersby. In "Rebel With a Clause -- Tales ...Read more
As you prepare to stuff your Thanksgiving bird, see whether you can stuff the blanks in this well-known seasonal song:
"Over the river and through the _____, to ___________'_ house we go."
Easy, right? "Woods" and "Grandmother's."
In fact, the right stuff-ins for this turkey tune are actually "wood" and "Grandfather's."
The lyrics ...Read more
You say, "tah-MAY-toe." I say, "tah-MAH-toe."
That's what many debates over pronunciation boil down to: personal taste. You like boiled tomatoes; I don't. You go via VY-uh, and I go via VEE-uh. You believe in a KREE-doh, and I believe in a KRAY-doh. You climb the ap-uh-LAY-chin mountains, and I climb the ap-uh-LACH-in Mountains. In each case,...Read more
Let's see how many readers' questions about word origins I can answer in 90 seconds!
No. 1: "The whole nine yards"? (Theresa Naraski, Walnut Creek, California) Some experts say this term for "the whole thing" originally described a full load on an old-style concrete truck (nine cubic yards). But others claim it refers to the nine-yard-long ...Read more
I don't mean to sell "Halloween" short, but this word provides a good example of a linguistic process called "clipping." The word "Halloween" is short for "All Hallow Even," which, in turn, is short for "All Hallowmass Evening."
Language, unlike football, imposes no penalty for clipping, though the trampling of lawns on Halloween (often ...Read more
Acronyms and initialisms are like the trick or treaters who show up at our doors on Halloween. We THINK we know what each kid is supposed to represent -- a princess, a ghost, a skeleton -- but sometimes we're not so sure. A monster? A pirate? A scarecrow?
Similarly, whenever we encounter an unfamiliar acronym or initialism, our self-...Read more
Congress has passed more phony bills than a counterfeiter. An inhibited person has more hang-ups than a bad telemarketer. A rack of trousers has more pants than a tired runner.
Welcome to the grins (and groans) of "comparipuns" -- snappy, snide comparisons based on a word's double meaning.
Comparipuns are naughty and nice. They throw a dash ...Read more
A number of readers have raised a number of questions about numbers.
Gregory Fischer of Allentown, New Jersey, objects to this sentence: "The man allows the woman to do the majority of the monitoring." It's not because Gregory thinks men should do more monitoring. It's because he thinks "majority" should be used only to describe countable ...Read more
In these 12 sentences snared by the Word Guy Blooper Patrol, the word choice "dozen" make sense. Can you spot the blots?
No. 1: "(The plan) is intended to give piece of mind to law enforcement officers and the public." (submitted by Ron Peterson of New Britain, Connecticut) Give "peace" a chance.
No. 2: "The Church of England holds that ...Read more
The tiny word "as," like a routine handoff in football, smoothly links one part of the action to another. But watch out. Mishandling "as" can lead to costly errors.
Can you spot the butterfingers at work in these sentences? (And can you name the team for which each quarterback plays?)
No. 1: Justin Herbert is careful as far as his handoffs. ...Read more