Noah Webster (1758 -- 1843) is widely regarded as "The Father of American English." He's most famous, of course, for his monumental dictionary, first published in 1828, which became the standard American lexicon and is still published in far less bulky versions today. But how much do you really know about him? Let's test your Noah Webster IQ. ...Read more
Eagle-eyed members of the Word Guy Blooper Patrol have detected a score of linguistic blunders in newspapers and magazines. Can you spot the blots and correct them?
1. "Rather than rant about injustice, reign in your emotions." Be the monarch of your passions! 2. "Climactic differences made sharing of technology very difficult." 3. "Both ...Read more
I'm embroiled in a "damn" dispute.
A while back, I wrote that the last word in the phrase "not worth a tinker's damn" should be correctly spelled "damn," not "dam." I based this on an authoritative and reliable etymological source -- "Devious Derivations" by Hugh Rawson.
(For any of you who might be younger than 100 years old, I should ...Read more
Select the correct "G" words on this quiz, and you'll be a "G" whiz!
1. When the candidate realized he had committed a (gaff, gaffe), he felt like a fish hooked by a (gaff, gaffe).
2. He walked with a shuffling (gait, gate) through the garden (gait, gate).
3. The bachelor's opening (gambits, gamuts) ran the (gambit, gamut) from "Hi, I'm Ted...Read more
That's what the speech of strange, foreign tribes sounded like to the ancient Greeks.
"What'd they say?" one Greek would ask another. "I dunno," the other would reply. "It was 'bar-bar-bar' to me."
Based on this aural rendering, the Greeks began calling these alien peoples "barbaros," which took on the general meaning of "...Read more
Picture a taxi cab leaping through heavy traffic like an acrobatic billy goat. In fact, the word "cab" is derived from the Latin word for a goat.
"Cab" is a shortening of the French word "cabriolet." Originally, a cabriolet was a two-wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse. This light vehicle bounced so much over bumpy roads that the French ...Read more
Many words beginning with "m" are easily confused with one another. Can you select the correct "m" words in each sentence?
1. The noise of the (madding, maddening) crowd was (madding, maddening) to the people who lived near the stadium.
2. Though not born or reared on a (manner, manor), she was to the (manner, manor) born.
3. Sally had worn...Read more
Do you know why the call letters of most radio TV stations east of the Mississippi begin with a W, while those west of the Mississippi begin with a K? Why the letter N appears on civilian aircraft? Why a K is the symbol for a strikeout in baseball?
I didn't know, until several readers sent me letters. And I literally mean letters.
During the...Read more
Using a technical or scientific term incorrectly is like using a computer keyboard to swat a fly. You can do it -- but you'll risk cringes from techno-geeks and winces from your readers.
(Stay right there on the desk, you little pest! I've got you now! SPLAT! Oiangohbnqlhfdbnqgegjfsdpnoijg.)
See what I mean?
Scientists routinely send out ...Read more
In today's episode, Hulk Hogan takes his grandnephew Winky on a tour of the Verb Gym...
Hulk: Look! My ol' verb buddies "be," "ring" and "break" are over there lifting power weights. These strong verbs are powerful enough to change their spelling when they shift tenses, e.g., is/was, been; ring/rang/rung; break/broke/broken. Look at those ...Read more
Today's column is a grab bag of linguistic tidbits.
-- When I write college recommendations for my students, I'm always careful to avoid some of the two-faced phrasing that can sneak into such testimonials. Here are some examples from David Sanderson's delightful "Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations": "I simply can't say enough...Read more
Try taking this quiz on words beginning with "ca" to see whether you'll earn a "C" or an "A":
1. Owning a BMW has a certain (cache, cachet), especially if it has a (cache, cachet) to hide your cash.
2. Joe, who served as my (caddy, caddie) during our golf match, brought a tea (caddy, caddie) into the lounge.
3. The podiatrist had a (callous...Read more
"It's just a blatant smoke screen to keep on feathering the nest."
This sentence, recently uttered by a hapless public servant during a radio interview, left some listeners wondering whether the nest in question belonged to a phoenix.
Here are some of my recent favorites, arranged into frivolous categories:
Animal mixed breeds: "He and his ...Read more