She's Forced To Make 'Ac-crual' Choice

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

What's the difference between "accrual" and "accretion"? When a friend emailed that question the other day, I figured she'd either been checking her IRA account or cleaning dead bugs off her car's windshield.

Indeed, these nouns are very similar in meaning. In fact, both derive from the Latin root "crescere" (to grow).

"Accrual" and its verb...Read more

When Pronunciation Becomes Instrumental

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Pity the poor viola. Not only does this charming instrument have to play second fiddle to the violin, but also it's forced to endure the frequent mispronunciation of its name as "vy-OH-luh" instead of the correct "vee-OH-luh."

It's an understandable mistake. After all, "violet," "violence" and "violin" DO begin with a long "i" sound. ...Read more

Readers Surmise That Bloopers Arise

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The Word Guy Blooper Patrol has been working overtime to send me mistakes that have appeared in print. Can you spot the blots?

1. "Rescue personnel summarized the occupants must have abandoned the vehicle." In a nutshell, they scrammed. (Spotted by Cynara Stites, Mansfield, Connecticut)

2. "The state also interviewed 10 and disposed three ...Read more

Verbal Relics Lurk in Gadgets

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Have you ever noticed that many terms we use for new technologies are surprisingly old-fashioned?

Mark Lander of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, recently reminded me of the linguistic ghosts that haunt our modern gizmos. In fact, his email message was written on a "template," a word that dates to metal plates used in woodworking and metal ...Read more

'Finny' Usage Swims Upstream

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Huckleberry Finny: When my daughter texted a friend that she was planning to visit her, the friend texted back: "The Kyffster is finny to come to Boston!"

Finny? Did this term have something to do with Boston's being famous for codfish? Would her trip be a "fishing expedition" (the political term for an over-zealous investigation)?

"Finny" has...Read more

Playing the Corporate Name Game

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

What's in a name? For corporations, a lot of money. The nation's wealthiest companies spend millions to craft monikers that are distinctive, attractive and unique.

So what does the current Fortune 500 list suggest about trends in corporate nomenclature?

--Squeeze Play. Want to impress? Compress. Abbreviate the words in your original name, ...Read more

Are 'U' a Sage of Usage?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Veni, vidi, vici. Can you conquer all 10 questions on this usage quiz?

1. The expenses for this project are not (A. estimable B. estimatable).

2. They'll reinforce the foundation as a (A. preventive B. preventative) measure.

3. The diplomats plan to take a different (A. tact B. tack) in the negotiations.

4. A notorious (A. cardsharp B....Read more

And the Cow 'Flu' Over the 'Immune'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

This winter just "flu" by, didn't it? My own bout began a week ago when invading forces apparently flanked the Maginot line of my flu shot. They've now settled in for a grim siege of my 'Flem'ish fields. (Don't worry. By the time you read this, I'm sure I'll be marching triumphantly through the conquered city of 'Flu'seldorf.)

Speaking of ...Read more

These Are Peeves You Don't Want To Pet

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Every so often I let slip the dogs of words and allow my readers' pet peeves to roam ravenously through my column. Grrrrrr...

Elizabeth Ryan of Pittsburgh says she's infuriated by the rampant substitution of "myself" for "me" and even "I," e.g., "Please contact myself" or "Elizabeth and myself hate this mistake," because "myself" should be ...Read more

The Most Dangerous Words in America

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Product warning labels can sometimes be hilarious: "Remove child before washing" on a pair of kids' overalls, "May cause drowsiness" on a package of sleeping pills, "This costume does not enable flight" on a Superman costume.

My all-time favorite is, alas, made up: "Not to be used as a flotation device" on a package of Life Savers candy.

...Read more

Dictionary Dive Hits a Brick Wall

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

An occupational hazard of writing this column is distraction. No, I don't mean being interrupted by robocalls or the cat who suddenly vaults onto my desk.

I mean getting sidetracked, such as looking up the word "effulgent" in the dictionary and noticing a photograph, next to the word "efflorescence," of a brick wall covered with white patches...Read more


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