Reporters Engage in 'Tranche' Warfare

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Language Goes to the Dogs

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Briticisms Are Jumping the Pond

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

It's Time To Leave 'Never-Never'land

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

German Syntax Becomes 'All'-American

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Should We Reverse Reverse Engineering?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

These Origins Will Wig You Out

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Keeping the Frogs in the Wheelbarrow

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Will Texting Ruin Our Writing? OMG!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

When Should 'Predominate' Dominate?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Nowadays, I see more and more journalists use the verb "predominate" as an adjective, instead of "predominant." Are these journalists wrong? -- Curt Guenther, Memphis

A: A journalist wrong? My stars!

Quick confession. I made the error you cite several times while writing a college paper about the culture of the 1960s, e.g., "Young people ...Read more

I Know Where You're Coming From

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Trick question: If it's "quarter of four in Boston," what time is it in Seattle? Answer: "Twelve forty-five."

People in New England usually say "quarter of" and "quarter after" when telling time, but Pacific Coasters tend to say the number of minutes.

The fascinating book "Speaking American -- How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk" by Joel ...Read more

Dishing Up the Origins of 'Chafing'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I was serving as a "celebrity chef" at a recent fundraising event (despite my being neither a celebrity nor a chef). Suddenly one of my fellow c.c.'s (who actually WAS a celebrity) approached and asked why the device warming the scrumptious Coq au Vin he was serving was called a "chafing dish."

After all, he explained, there didn't seem to be...Read more

Read These Bloopers and Commiserate

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The ever-vigilant Word Guy Blooper Patrol reports these recent sightings:

1. "We wanted a highly qualified superintendent ... and we have to pay someone a commiserate salary." Is the pay really that low? (Spotted by Stuart Jay Sydney, Storrs, Conn.)

2. "You can help by collecting our register receipts and turning them into your local school....Read more


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