I've recently noticed some intriguing linguistic trends and glitches on national evening news programs...
-- Missing in Action. More and more broadcast journalists are omitting the main verbs of sentences, turning their reports into mosaics of sentence fragments.
A recent sampling: "Clashes today in the Spanish region of Catalonia as police ...Read more
Have you heard the story of Cornelius "Con" Trary and his encounter with the troll?
Con is a conventional, traditional guy -- a tied-down cannon who thinks inside the box, pushes in all the stops, and burns his candle at one end.
He likes to play the deity's advocate, return someone's thunder, and pull the wool off people's eyes.
Con always...Read more
Q. I've been wondering about the expression "the exception proves the rule." Can you elucidate? I'd be interested in its history and some examples to clarify the meaning. -- Frank Aleman, via email
A. True confession: When someone asked me this question 20 years ago, I responded with a completely erroneous explanation. I had been seduced by ...Read more
Why is a lazy person called a "goldbricker"? Why is the off-stage chamber where guests wait before their TV appearances called the "green room"? Why do we say someone speaking quickly is talking a "blue streak"?
Let's take out our crayons and color in the origins of these multi-hued expressions ...
--Goldbrick: Until the mid-19th century, ...Read more
Reporters covering hurricane disaster relief during recent weeks have been donning their "tranche" coats. Many news outlets described the initial package of federal money for Harvey's victims as "the first tranche" of aid, adding that assistance would be allocated in "multiple tranches."
Where does "tranche" come from, why is it proliferating...Read more
When White House adviser Stephen Miller accused a CNN reporter of having a "cosmopolitan bias" last month, some pundits claimed he was using the term as a "dog whistle" -- a coded message that flies over the heads of most people but conveys a special meaning to certain constituencies.
Noting that "cosmopolitan" was once used by fascists, ...Read more
What is it about those Brits? We Americans made our Brexit from their empire in 1776. But we can't stop importing their lingo.
As King George III sings knowingly to us newly independent Yanks in the musical "Hamilton," "You'll be back."
And how. The long lines of British soldiers waiting on the beach for evacuation in the movie "Dunkirk" ...Read more
Never begin a sentence with "And" or "But." Never split an infinitive. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Ah, the wonders of "Never-never" land! When we were young and impressionable Peter Pans, we learned these strict rules from well-meaning, Wendy-like teachers, and many of us still obey them religiously today.
But now, Peter Pans, ...Read more
Uncle OttoWinfred Cook
“The author’s capable plotting and writing make up for much of the confusion, though the realization that the book is fictional might still bring surprise.
Regardless, the novel is an important account of one family’s story. While the events my not all be true in fact, they ...
If you were to stop at a roadside stand in south-central Pennsylvania on a summer afternoon to buy some corn, the vendor might tell you, "I'm sorry. The corn is all."
Have you stumbled upon a strange cult devoted to the worship of corn? Do their hymns include "A'maize'ing Grace"? Do they wear skullcaps with tassels? Does their god welcome ...Read more
Reverse engineering. No, I don't mean backing up a locomotive or designing cars that parallel park all by themselves.
This scientific term refers instead to examining a device or product to discover how it was put together in order to design something similar to it. Picture dismantling a house piece by piece, noting the exact location of each...Read more
Is the term "wig out," related to wigs? Are Formica counters named for formic acid? Why is a big truck called a "semi"?
Let's find out!
--Wig out: You might think that this term, meaning "to lose one's cool," is derived from the days when people wore wigs. Someone so upset that his wig fell off would be "wigging out," right?
In fact, "wig ...Read more
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski served up a delightfully amphibious metaphor recently to describe Sen. Mitch McConnell's efforts to line up Republican senators behind his health-care bill. "The majority leader is trying to keep all the frogs in the wheelbarrow," she said.
Murkowski's image of a slew of slippery frogs in a wheelbarrow -- some ...Read more
Texting -- a tumultuous treehouse full of bizarre spellings, incomplete sentences and weird abbreviations -- is being widely blamed for the decline of students' composition skills.
A pugnacious posse of teachers, parents and pedants, armed with ladders, ropes and hooks, wants to invade and dismantle this depraved den of linguistic degradation...Read more