I Know What You Said Last Summer

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Summertime, when the living is easy . . .

But the lingo of summer isn't so easy. Here's a handy guide to pesky terms that dive bomb us like mosquitos on long summer evenings.

Speaking of long evenings, remember that it's "daylight saving time" (not "savings time"), "lightning bug" (not "lightening bug") and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (not "...Read more

The Devil Made Me Chew It

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Picture a devil on your left shoulder and an angel on your right shoulder. Now select the correct origin for each diabolical or heavenly food name:

1. Deviled eggs

A. They often have red paprika sprinkled on them.

B. They're often made with 'Hell'man's mayonnaise.

C. They're made using hot condiments or spices.

D. Eating too many can ...Read more

Let's Play Beach Blanket Lingo!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Whether you're boating, biking or beaching this summer, tote along one of these new books about words and language.

Take a refreshing dive into a crystal lake with "Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Matters" by Harold Evans (Little, Brown, $27).

Evans, a renowned editor who once headed Random House, skewers verbosity ("We are of the ...Read more

Let's Jive 'Bout 'Gibe' 'n 'Jibe'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Gibe, "jibe" or "jive"?

We seem to slip on the banana peels dropped by these troublesome triplets every time we encounter them. See whether you can select the correct word in each of these sentences:

The raucous audience started to heckle and (gibe, jibe, jive) the comedian.

Jane's views on the Billingsley account don't (gibe, jibe, jive) ...Read more

This Column Is a Good Read

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We can do the remove and install in two days. The build will take a week. I'd like to introduce the new hire.

If these sentences grate on your nerves, you're not alone. Mark Lander of Old Saybrook, Conn., sent them to me to illustrate the current trend of turning verbs into nouns.

Mark's message was a good "read," and my first "react" to his...Read more

Dubbings of Derby Dobbins Mirror History

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The triumph of Always Dreaming in this year's Kentucky Derby has spurred me to ponder the relevance of his name to our parlous political times.

Does it evoke the undocumented children of immigrants known as "Dreamers"? President Donald Trump's dreams for our nation? The American Dream of "The Great Gatsby" -- the elusive green light at the ...Read more

Quoting a (Long) Line from Shakespeare

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I am really bothered by the modern abbreviation "who's next," as in "May I help who's next?" I take it to be a shortened form of "May I help the person who is next in line?" Does this abbreviation bother you? Why or why not? -- Deborah Griesbach, Watertown, Conn.

A: Ah, yes. We all know this purgatory well: You're one of 10 customers ...Read more

Which Origin is Pure Poppycock?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Fake news." "Alternative facts."

It's nothing new. Creative and colorful terms for tall tales, fishy fibs and deceptive distortions slither like con men through American lingo. The origins of some of these expressions are, appropriately enough, unbelievable. Can you tell which one of these derivations is pure poppycock?

--Claptrap: ...Read more

Double Takes on the 'Read' Carpet

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Are you sometimes confused by look-alike celebrities? Is that Carey Mulligan or Michelle Williams? Daniel Radcliffe or Elijah Wood? Danny DeVito or a walnut with arms?

Similar confusion can occur when we encounter words that look alike and overlap in meaning. Linguists have a fancy term for this muddling of two similar words: "conflation."

...Read more

Word Hawk Swoops in on 'Fell'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"One fell swoop." Most scholars believe it was William Shakespeare who first used this phrase, and he imbued it with the most negative meaning possible.

In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," when Macduff learns that his wife and all his children have been murdered, he laments, "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop?" Macduff ...Read more

'Unpack' Explodes Like An Overstuffed Suitcase

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Remember when Americans hated to unpack? You know, dumping the suitcase on the bed, sorting dirty socks from clean socks, discovering that the bottle of mouthwash has leaked -- a depressing chore indeed.

But not anymore. We're gleefully "unpacking" all over the place. "Unpack" has become our trendiest term for "sort out, analyze, deconstruct....Read more

Will 'Trumpcare' Flourish? It's Hard To Say

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When President Barack Obama first proposed his health care plan in 2009, Republicans gleefully dubbed it "Obamacare," eager to drape what they hoped would be a disastrous program around his neck.

Now the Democrats have turned the tables by labeling President Donald Trump's health care bill "Trumpcare." But the term "Trumpcare," like the bill ...Read more

This Word's Meaning Is Terri'fickle'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two months before the stock market collapse of 1929, the economist Roger Babson wrote, "[A] crash is coming and it's going to be terrific."

Terrific? The Crash of '29 and the Great Depression that followed were certainly not good things. Did Babson somehow think this impending catastrophe would provide a welcome corrective to the stock market...Read more


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