Nicknames can be a curse or a blessing, and sometimes both. Often, they mock a person's physical appearance, unsavory habit or memorable mishap. Among my high school classmates, for instance, physique-based nicknames included Tank, Bones, Dink, Turtle and Troll. But other monikers celebrated athletic prowess: Whip (a fast pitcher), Hands (a ...Read more
Let's play Jargon Jumble!
Fill in each blank in the following sentences with the best choice from the list of business cliches:
Verb Phrases: A. bring to the table B. hit the ground running C. boil the ocean D. move the needle E. loop in
1. This initiative requires a fast start. We'll have to ____ .
2. That will take too long; it's ...Read more
NFL owners aren't generally known for supporting liberal legislation, but the investors who founded a new football franchise in Philadelphia in 1933 were apparently caught up in the heady spirit of the New Deal. So they dubbed their team "The Eagles" to honor the Blue Eagle, the emblem of the National Recovery Administration. Today, this would...Read more
In a eulogy honoring Sen. John McCain, former President Barack Obama speculated as to why McCain had chosen him and former President George W. Bush to deliver tributes at his memorial service. "What better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?" Obama said.
As several of my readers ...Read more
Linguistic sleuths are poking into every nook and cranny of the anonymous op-ed piece recently published in The New York Times. They're seeking any verbal tell -- an eccentric word choice, a syntactic peculiarity, a stylistic signature -- that might reveal the identity of the writer.
One of the most idiosyncratic fragments of this verbal hand...Read more
When a political issue or policy becomes dominant and pervasive, we often develop a shorthand term for it. In the past, for instance, when people spoke of "abolition" and "prohibition," everyone knew they were referring to slavery and alcohol, respectively. And today we all know that "open carry" and "pro-choice" apply, in turn, to hand guns ...Read more
Q. I'll often write sentences such as this: "My friend Michael is having a party." Should I place a comma before Michael's name? Like your column! -- Blaine Greenfield, Asheville, N.C.
A. Truth to be told, I'm often uncertain about this choice myself. And I'm supposed to be the Word Guy!
In these situations, I always ask this question: Is ...Read more
As the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh approach, many wonder whether he'll adhere closely to "stare decisis." If he does, will he be?:
A. Glaring resolutely at anyone who comes before the court
B. Acquiring a rare skin disease
C. Sticking to the velcro-covered court mascot named "Stare Decisis," who ...Read more
Q. TV pundits have been describing the individuals fired by President Trump as having "been thrown under the bus." I am curious about the origins of this phrase. -- Art Reichenbach, Essex, Conn.
A. Wait. There have been firings?
Indeed the Trump dismissals have spiked a revival of this tired cliche. Bus-icide is back. As a reader recently ...Read more
Is it just me, or is "relatable" the most overused word of 2018? This feel-good term, meaning "possible to understand, like, or have sympathy for," has been an annoying sugar puff in our conversations for decades, but now it's become an overstuffed eclair.
Time magazine, for instance, served it up twice in a recent review of new albums by ...Read more
Can a girl or woman be a "junior"?
That question arose recently with the passing of Frank Sinatra's first wife, Nancy Sinatra. During the 1960s, when her daughter, Nancy Sinatra, began rising to prominence as a singer, media outlets needed to distinguish between the two.
So they began referring to the mother and daughter as "Nancy Sinatra Sr...Read more
"When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, I think any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it." -- Henry David Thoreau
The sage of Walden Pond clearly understood human nature as fully as he understood Mother Nature. Many people blindly follow grammar and usage rules, whether those rules ...Read more
Writing this column is a little like working for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). You send out signals into deep space and hope to hear back from intelligent life. During the past few weeks, two very bright readers have beamed back fascinating responses to recent columns.
--Best in (Horse) Show -- In a piece on illogical ...Read more