My goodness, what a year we had,
With mayhem, storms, and fires so bad.
Our language seemed to fall from grace,
Sometimes nasty, sometimes base.
With "fire and fury" we rudely "threw shade,"
Aspersions flew like hand grenades.
Online postings spiked great tensions,
"Hashtags," "likes" and multiple "mentions."
Reporters just could not ...Read more
If you think today's political insults are nasty, consider these mud bombs hurled at Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce and Grover Cleveland, respectively: "A drunken trowser-maker!" "The pimp of the White House!" "A moral leper!" John Adams was called "a blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character....Read more
Q. Why do we call virtuous people "the salt of the earth?" -- John S., West Hartford, Connecticut
Though "salt of the earth" is a venerable expression with biblical origins, it has still managed to provoke a salty linguistic controversy. The phrase derives from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "You are the salt of the earth." Matthew 5:13. Jesus ...Read more
There's no place like tome for the holidays. These new books will delight the word-lovers on your shopping list -- and you as well.
Did you know that "acronym" refers only to abbreviations pronounced as words ("NASA"), while those pronounced as letters ("UFO") are called "initialisms"? Veteran word master Charles Harrington Elster explains ...Read more
Heated controversies over proper usage can lead to food fights at faculty clubs and fisticuffs on commuter trains. Featured on today's boxing card are three bouts:
-- Ensure vs. Insure
Punctilious purists insist that "insure" be reserved only for financial contexts (as in insuring homes or autos) and that "ensure" should be used in non-...Read more
During college, I spent an entire summer with a lute in my hands. No, I wasn't strumming medieval madrigals at a Renaissance fair. My lute was a rake-like tool used for spreading asphalt.
While working long, hot hours for a driveway contractor (at $2.50 an hour!), I often pondered two questions: "How long until quitting time?" and "Is there a...Read more
Q: The lead sentence in a newspaper story stated, "A string of recent announcements promising jobs and private investment have raised hope that Hartford will become a hub for innovation in financial technology." Given that the subject, "string," is singular, should the verb then be "has raised"? -- Emily H., via email
A: Yup. When a plural ...Read more
Some random dispatches from the Word Front:
-- Listen and Learn. The recent confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh produced two words that were new to me: When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford whether she knew that an FBI investigation might find "exculpatory evidence," Ford responded that she didn't know ...Read more
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