Doing a Number on Numbers

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Verbal Villains Vex Blooper Patrol

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Misuse of 'As' Can Cause Fumbles

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Handy Tips for Writing That Zips

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Here are three easy ways to ameliorate your writing:

No. 1: Avoid fancy words like "ameliorate." (In this case, use "improve" instead.) That way, your syntactic structures will be pellucid, laconic and unpretentious... er, clear, concise and down-to-earth.

Writers often resort to highfalutin words when they try to avoid repeating the same ...Read more

Let's Take a Timeout on 'Times Less'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I owe the IRS four times less money than I did last year. Brand X is three times less powerful than Brand A. Danny DeVito is two times smaller than Shaquille O'Neal.

Some folks say these sentences come up short, to say nothing of Danny DeVito.

"I have a problem with the use of 'times smaller,'" writes Gregory Fischer of Allentown, New Jersey...Read more

Word Court Renders Split Decisions

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Larry Brautigam of Berlin, Connecticut, was watching the banter of some TV pundits when he suddenly noticed their banner: a huge pennant behind them proclaiming, "The Light at the End of the Tunnel Maybe a Locomotive."

The artist who does pennants for that show, Larry thought, should be doing penance.

Maybe we all need some re"training" on ...Read more

There's No Beast in These Beauties

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The "fish" in "crayfish" has nothing to do with fish. There's no pig in "piggyback," and no cat snoozes in "cat's cradle." Let's take a look at words that seem to be derived from animals but aren't.

When Middle English speakers adopted the Old French word "crevise" pronounced "cray-veece") for a breed of freshwater crustacean, they e"fish"...Read more

Is There a Fossil on Your Tongue?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Have you ever wondered why "bravado" means a FALSE sense of courage?

"Bravado" is a linguistic fossil. It retains an old meaning of "brave" that vanished long ago: PRETENDING to be brave. Like a fossilized dinosaur bone, "bravado" provides hard evidence that a now-extinct meaning of "brave" once roamed the Earth.

Let's monitor the thoughts ...Read more

How Well Will You (Fair, Fare) on This Quiz?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Can you make the correct choice between these often-confused pairs of words?

No. 1: When we're writing on (a. stationary, b. stationery), we hope it will remain (a. stationary, b. stationery).

No. 2: When the (a. hardy, b. hearty) explorers returned from their rigorous journey, their comrades gave them a (a. hardy, b. hearty) welcome.

No. 3...Read more

'Primrose' Path Leads to 'Buttery' Slope

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Did you know there's no "linger" in "malinger," no "butter" in "buttery" and no "rose" in "primrose"? With the help of Hugh Rawson's illuminating book "Devious Derivations," let's examine some words whose "obvious" origins lead us down a primrose path toward etymological perdition.

Though "pester" has come to mean "act like a pest," it ...Read more

Future of Dictionaries Is Looking Up

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Dictionaries are facing what might be called a "defining moment." After all, of what use are these chunky tomes in our era of digital communication, when a new word (or a new meaning of an existing word) can instantly go viral, circling the world like a satellite in a matter of seconds? Have dictionaries become irrelevant?

In fact, the rapid ...Read more

Can You Spot the Dirty Dozen?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Members of the ever-vigilant Word Guy Blooper Patrol have nabbed a dozen verbal culprits in newspapers and magazines this spring.

Paul Burton of Staten Island, New York, collared this triple negative in a letter to the editor: "I don't believe anyone disagrees it is not a step in the right direction." Huh?

Can you spot the blots in these ...Read more

Shifting Letters Create Whole 'Nother' Words

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In English, what you say is often what you get.

During the 1300s, for instance, a protective cloth worn while cooking was called a "napron." But when people spoke fast (as in, "Put on a napron, Beowulf, and help with the dishes!"), the phrase "a napron" sounded like "an apron." Soon "apron" had completely cut its apron strings to "napron" and...Read more



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