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Let's Play Whack-a-Blunder!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and try your hand at Whack-a-Blunder! Can you find 25 usage errors in this story about a literary contest gone horribly wrong? Don't be shy! It's first come, first serve ... er, first served.

Wilky Winkerby was considered a shoe-in for the prestigious Blunderbuss Literary Prize, which is given each year to...Read more

Here's the 411 on 'the 405'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Take [the] Five: Have you ever wondered why Southern Californians always insert "the" before the number of an interstate highway, e.g., "Take the 5 to the 134"?

Nathan Masters, the producer and host of the public TV series "Lost LA" recently explored the origins of this La-La Land-ism on the website of KCET.

He explains that, by the time the ...Read more

Exploration of 'Lorn' Yields Bonanza

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Dear Mr. Lonelywords,

Ever since my boyfriend left me, I've been wondering what the "lorn" in "lovelorn" means. Is it derived from the title character in the novel "Lorna Doone," who suffers heartbreak? Or perhaps from the actor Lorne Greene, whose character on "Bonanza," Ben Cartwright, had been widowed three times? -- Lovelorn

Dear ...Read more

Legal 'Dispositive' Enters Common 'Par'lance

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two dispatches from the Word Front . . .

-- Snowy Disposition: at the height of a recent blizzard, a reporter asked Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy whether he would impose a travel ban if neighboring Rhode Island did so. "That would not be dispositive of our final decision," Malloy replied.

Now, I know it's important to "ac-cent-tchu-ate ...Read more

'Out of Pocket' Produces Loose Change

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

For most of us, "out of pocket" has always referred to incidental expenditures paid directly from someone's pocket. (Remember that boss who never reimbursed you for your tolls on the sales trip to Elmira?)

About 10 years ago, however, trendy business execs started using "out of pocket" to mean "out of contact, unavailable," e.g., "I'm sorry, ...Read more

Should You Clutch Possessives With Both Hands?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. I've long been bothered by the use of the possessive when yoked with "of," e.g., "Rob is a friend of Amy's." Why wouldn't we just say, "Rob is a friend of Amy"? Or even better: "Rob is Amy's friend." -- Amy Robinson, Hartford

A. Rob is indeed a friend of Amy's because Amy has raised an excellent question.

It's true that using both "of" ...Read more

Metaphoric 'Bow Wave' Makes Waves

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In a recent interview, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster told PBS Newshour anchor Judy Woodruff that the Trump administration had increased the defense budget to address "a bow wave of deferred military modernization."

Hmmm ... a naval metaphor from a career Army man. This bears some checking out.

In its literal sense, of course, "bow...Read more

Word Guy Confesses to Being 'Noddy'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Even Homer nods," wrote a reader this past year after gently pointing out an error in one of my columns. In this nod to Homer, he was quoting the Roman poet Horace's forgiving response upon noticing that a character who had been killed off early in one of Homer's epics suddenly reappeared later in the work. Oops.

So the proverb "Even Homer ...Read more

British Compressions Lead to 'Bedlam'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We often think of the Brits as being "veddy, veddy" precise in their pronunciation. But, truth be told, they gleefully lop entire syllables from words, pronouncing "immediately" as "meejutly" and "necessary" as "nessree."

I was first gobsmacked by "Britclip" during a visit to London when I asked a native chap for directions to the "Marylebone...Read more

Trendy Words Eclipsed Eloquence in 2017

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

This past year's language was a fright!

We traded barbs from left and right.

Insults, jeers and accusations,

Eloquence was on vacation.

Media buzzwords sang like Latifah:

"Narrative," "pivot," "alt-right," "antifa."

Widespread "harassment" by men with great power:

Weinstein and Franken and even Matt Lauer.

"Russian hackers," malevolent...Read more

Pronunciation Causes 'Utter' Confusion

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Pronunciation can be controversial and divisive. Phonology fanatics both lam-BAYST and lam-BAST their opponents, throw both tuh-MAY-tohs and tuh-MAH-tohs at them, and even threaten them with both HAHM-i-side and HOHM-i-side.

Aptly enough, even the pronunciations of "controversial" and "divisive" spark debate. While most experts prefer the ...Read more

Coming to Terms with U.S. History

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

You can learn a lot about American history not only by studying wars, treaties and laws but also by examining its words.

Do you know, for instance, why opponents of Andrew Jackson called themselves "Whigs"? Why the Republican Party was first the "Anti-Nebraska" party? Why immigrant laborers were "indentured" servants?

-- Whigs -- Andrew ...Read more

Are You Booked for the Holidays?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Put some schoolin' in your yule-in' this holiday season with one of these new books about words and language.

"Breezy" and "entertaining" aren't words usually associated with grammar, but they aptly describe "Making Sense -- The Glamorous Story of English Grammar" (Oxford, $24.95) by renowned linguist David Crystal. Instead of scrabbling ...Read more

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