Mixed Reviews for TV News

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Everything Is Under Con-Troll

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

How Can an Exception 'Prove' a Rule?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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

Behind the Greenscreen

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

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 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


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