Language Snoopers Nab the Bloopers

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Eagle-eyed readers have sent me these mistakes from newspapers and magazines. Can you spot the blots?

No. 1: "The mayor seems unphased by the closed-door policy." No. 2: "They line them up on fireplace mantles." No. 3: "The decrepit buildings at the end of the parking lot would have to be raised." Now that's some heavy lifting!

No. 4: "The ...Read more

Hold 'Regard' in High Regard

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I use the phrase "in regard to your question," but I frequently read and hear others using "in regards to your question." Which of these is correct? -- Lisa Piechowski, Glastonbury, Connecticut

A: "Regard" is always the right choice when you mean "in reference to" or "regarding." Usage expert Bryan Garner describes "in regards to" as "...Read more

Some Issues Deserve a Good Hearing

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Remember Emily Litella, the befuddled TV editorialist played by Gilda Radner on "Saturday Night Live" during the late 1970s?

Each week Emily would launch into a passionate diatribe based on her misunderstanding of a single word. "What was all the fuss," she would wonder, "about violins on TV? ... I thought the Leonard Bernstein concerts were ...Read more

'Aks' Pronunciation Has Long History in English

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Several readers have asked me about the pronunciation of "ask" as "aks." While this nonstandard, dialectical pronunciation might seem like newfangled usage, it's actually rooted in one of the oldest and most common elements of English: metathesis.


Metathesis is the process by which sounds, letters or syllables hop around and ...Read more

Putting Modifiers in Their Place

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

There's a demon stalking our fair nation.

George Santos?

Well, yeah, him too. But the real menace to society is the misplaced modifier. To wit: "They saw a car sitting against a tree with a lady in it." "The blaze was extinguished before any damage was done by the local fire department." "Do not sweep an area where there have been rodents ...Read more

Obeying the Law of the Bungle

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Murphy's Law says this column will have a mistake in it. Parkinson's Law says it will take you as long to read this column as the time you allot to reading it. Gresham's Law says this high-quality column will be driven out of business by inferior columns. Hey, wait a minute!

So, who were Murphy, Gresham and Parkinson?

-- Murphy's Law -- Most...Read more

This Slogan Had Grammarians Smoking

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."

That famous advertising slogan, created by the William Esty agency in 1954, ignited a linguistic controversy that's still smoldering.

"Like," say the smoke-free puritans of good grammar, should never be used as a substitute for the conjunction "as" or "as if." They insist the slogan should read,...Read more

Homophones Demand 'Sound' Choices

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Did you hear about the perfume maker whose business made a lot of "scents" ... or was that "sense" ... or even "cents"?

"Scents," "sense" and "cents" are triple homophones -- three words that sound alike but differ in meaning or derivation or spelling. In this case, either "scents," "sense" or "cents" makes ... well, sense.

But in most ...Read more

The Schoolbook That Once United Our Nation

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Americans today are engaged in heated debates over the content of classroom textbooks, so perhaps it's a good time to honor a schoolbook that once united us.

Although Noah Webster is most famous for his dictionary, his most influential publication was a small, slender book published in 1783, the year the American Revolution ended. Officially ...Read more

It's Time to Knock 'Would'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Why do so many people say, "If I would have known" instead of the simpler "If I had known"? -- Katharine Brace, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A: If I had known that question was coming, I would have baked a cake. I suspect people say "if I would have" instead of "if I had" because they're anticipating the conditional "would have" later in the ...Read more

Rhymes of the Ancient Mariners

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

How do we know that English speakers once pronounced "none" as "known"?

You'll find the answer on the tips of your toes: "This little piggy went to market / This little piggy stayed home / This little piggy had roast beef / This little piggy had none."

As this rhyming of "home" and "none" suggests, English speakers once pronounced "none" as ...Read more

To Boldly Go... to 'Infinitive' and Beyond!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Never split an infinitive!"

Perhaps no dictum struck more terror in our childish hearts. (Well, OK, there was that thing about toads giving you warts.)

But like the toad taboo, the ban on split infinitives is just a superstition. I can assure you that splitting an infinitive won't give you warts.

An infinitive is the basic form of a verb. ...Read more

Learning From My Meaty 'Misteaks'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Do you think of me as a pillar of linguistic virtue, a Doric columnist of verbal perfection? Alas, poor Doric, you do not know me well.

It's time for true confessions. Here are some grammatical, usage and spelling errors I've made during my checkered career as a student, teacher and writer. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Experience keeps a dear ...Read more



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