Take [the] Five: Have you ever wondered why Southern Californians always insert "the" before the number of an interstate highway, e.g., "Take the 5 to the 134"?
Nathan Masters, the producer and host of the public TV series "Lost LA" recently explored the origins of this La-La Land-ism on the website of KCET.
He explains that, by the time the ...Read more
Dear Mr. Lonelywords,
Ever since my boyfriend left me, I've been wondering what the "lorn" in "lovelorn" means. Is it derived from the title character in the novel "Lorna Doone," who suffers heartbreak? Or perhaps from the actor Lorne Greene, whose character on "Bonanza," Ben Cartwright, had been widowed three times? -- Lovelorn
Dear ...Read more
Two dispatches from the Word Front . . .
-- Snowy Disposition: at the height of a recent blizzard, a reporter asked Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy whether he would impose a travel ban if neighboring Rhode Island did so. "That would not be dispositive of our final decision," Malloy replied.
Now, I know it's important to "ac-cent-tchu-ate ...Read more
For most of us, "out of pocket" has always referred to incidental expenditures paid directly from someone's pocket. (Remember that boss who never reimbursed you for your tolls on the sales trip to Elmira?)
About 10 years ago, however, trendy business execs started using "out of pocket" to mean "out of contact, unavailable," e.g., "I'm sorry, ...Read more
Q. I've long been bothered by the use of the possessive when yoked with "of," e.g., "Rob is a friend of Amy's." Why wouldn't we just say, "Rob is a friend of Amy"? Or even better: "Rob is Amy's friend." -- Amy Robinson, Hartford
A. Rob is indeed a friend of Amy's because Amy has raised an excellent question.
It's true that using both "of" ...Read more
In a recent interview, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster told PBS Newshour anchor Judy Woodruff that the Trump administration had increased the defense budget to address "a bow wave of deferred military modernization."
Hmmm ... a naval metaphor from a career Army man. This bears some checking out.
In its literal sense, of course, "bow...Read more
"Even Homer nods," wrote a reader this past year after gently pointing out an error in one of my columns. In this nod to Homer, he was quoting the Roman poet Horace's forgiving response upon noticing that a character who had been killed off early in one of Homer's epics suddenly reappeared later in the work. Oops.
So the proverb "Even Homer ...Read more
We often think of the Brits as being "veddy, veddy" precise in their pronunciation. But, truth be told, they gleefully lop entire syllables from words, pronouncing "immediately" as "meejutly" and "necessary" as "nessree."
I was first gobsmacked by "Britclip" during a visit to London when I asked a native chap for directions to the "Marylebone...Read more
How the Mighty FallE.J. Chadwell
The mysterious disappearance of media mogul Connie Ross during a party on her yacht exposes a web of dark and twisted secrets. Jimmy Frail, Chief of Detectives, suspecting foul play and the potential media circus, partners a most unlikely pair of detectives. Gigi ...
This past year's language was a fright!
We traded barbs from left and right.
Insults, jeers and accusations,
Eloquence was on vacation.
Media buzzwords sang like Latifah:
"Narrative," "pivot," "alt-right," "antifa."
Widespread "harassment" by men with great power:
Weinstein and Franken and even Matt Lauer.
"Russian hackers," malevolent...Read more
Pronunciation can be controversial and divisive. Phonology fanatics both lam-BAYST and lam-BAST their opponents, throw both tuh-MAY-tohs and tuh-MAH-tohs at them, and even threaten them with both HAHM-i-side and HOHM-i-side.
Aptly enough, even the pronunciations of "controversial" and "divisive" spark debate. While most experts prefer the ...Read more
You can learn a lot about American history not only by studying wars, treaties and laws but also by examining its words.
Do you know, for instance, why opponents of Andrew Jackson called themselves "Whigs"? Why the Republican Party was first the "Anti-Nebraska" party? Why immigrant laborers were "indentured" servants?
-- Whigs -- Andrew ...Read more
Put some schoolin' in your yule-in' this holiday season with one of these new books about words and language.
"Breezy" and "entertaining" aren't words usually associated with grammar, but they aptly describe "Making Sense -- The Glamorous Story of English Grammar" (Oxford, $24.95) by renowned linguist David Crystal. Instead of scrabbling ...Read more