Summer Books for the Alone Ranger

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Whether you're self-isolating at a cove, cabin or campsite this summer, or just stuck at home like the rest of us, you can still savor one of these new books about words and language.

Pronouns, those humble, innocuous stand-ins for nouns, have suddenly become flash points in our current battles over gender equality and fluidity. Many people ...Read more

Are You A-Where of These Regional Terms?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Despite the homogenization of American language during the past century, many delightful words unique to a certain region survive. Can you match each regional term with its definition AND select the region or state where it flourishes?

Regions: New England, New York, Pennsylvania, South, Southwest, Alaska.


1. Intervale.

2. Tumbleset...Read more

The Fake That Launched a Thousand Slips

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When the origin of a word seems obvious, beware! Consider these tricksters:

Launch: You might assume the small motorboat known as a "launch" is so named because it's "launched" from shore. In fact, "launch" derives from the Malay word "lanchar" (quick) because such small boats were fast.

"Lanchar" was adopted by the Portuguese as "lancha," ...Read more

Are You Game for Some Word Games?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

What is the only letter that does not appear in the name of any U.S. state? What do the city of Paris and the letter "F" have in common? What familiar phrase is represented by the sequence "tu(singing)ne"?

If you answered "Q," "they're both the capital of France" and "singing in tune," you have a knack for word puzzles. Let's try two more ...Read more

Are You Ready for a 'Double-Cross-Word' Puzzle?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Let's play "Guess the Word Origin!" Can you select the correct derivation of these terms?

1. When someone betrays an ally, it's called a "double cross" because ...

A. Writing one "X" over another voids the first X.

B. Two hot-cross buns were used as a signal to begin an attempted coup in England in 1605.

C. The two crosses are associated ...Read more

Slash Your Way Through These Prose Thickets

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Reading awkward, verbose prose can feel like trying to navigate a dense thicket of branches and bushes. You become so snagged, snared and entangled by overgrown verbiage that you can't find the meaning of the sentence.

Below are eight wordy sentences. Grab your machete, and start chopping. Hack away passive verbs; slash redundant words; cut ...Read more

A Trap Play in the Grapefruit League

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

While working as a busboy in the dining hall during my college days, I became the victim of what would become known as "the ol' milk-in-the-grapefruit trick."

After my roommates had finished their breakfast one morning when I was working, they "cleverly" poured milk into the empty rind of a grapefruit half and covered it with a saucer. So, ...Read more

Politicos 'Stand Up' a New Buzzword

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today, two random dispatches from the Word Front ...

-- "Stand Up" Comedy -- The Washington Post recently reported that the Small Business Administration plans to "stand up a new lending program" to combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Did this mean that the Small Business Administration would promise to meet the lending ...Read more

'Flatten' Down the Hatches!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The mantra of public health experts during the current coronavirus pandemic has been, "Let's flatten the curve!" (My suggestion for a national motto promoting social distancing: "Let's go the distance!")

"Flatten the curve" refers to a line graph depicting two possible courses for the rate of active cases over time. One arc representing the ...Read more

'Epidemic'/'Pandemic' Distinction Requires Fine-Tuning

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

During the current coronavirus scare, I've been taking comfort in playing the piano. I'm a terrible, self-taught player, yet banging out old show tunes helps me forget my worries. Come what may, "I'm Gonna Wash That Virus Right Outa My Hair!"

But my piano has been sounding like a rusty box spring, so I asked my piano tuner to pay a visit. ...Read more

How a Virus Got Its Name

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

As the current coronavirus disease spreads, several readers have asked me about the origin of its name.

"Coronavirus" is a general term for a wide range of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections. Under an electron microscope, the infective form of the virus has a fringe of bulbous protuberances resembling a crown ("corona" in Latin);...Read more

When Your Name Is Your Game

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I recently heard a radio interview with a spokesman for Venture Data, a company that conducts telephone surveys. His name? Jeff Call. A friend once worked with a New York attorney named Sue Yoo, and another one had a dentist named Dr. Payne.

I suppose it's not surprising that so many people's names align so perfectly with their jobs or ...Read more

All's 'Fare' in Love and 'Commuting'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Why do we call someone who travels back and forth to work a "commuter"? -- Chris Ryan, New York City

A: This question really hits home for me because my father was the archetypal commuter, taking the train from Westchester County to his advertising job in Manhattan for nearly 40 years. Yup, the full Don Draper -- fedora, attache case, ...Read more


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