Have you ever noticed that many terms we use for new technologies are surprisingly old-fashioned?
Mark Lander of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, recently reminded me of the linguistic ghosts that haunt our modern gizmos. In fact, his email message was written on a "template," a word that dates to metal plates used in woodworking and metal ...Read more
Huckleberry Finny: When my daughter texted a friend that she was planning to visit her, the friend texted back: "The Kyffster is finny to come to Boston!"
Finny? Did this term have something to do with Boston's being famous for codfish? Would her trip be a "fishing expedition" (the political term for an over-zealous investigation)?
"Finny" has...Read more
What's in a name? For corporations, a lot of money. The nation's wealthiest companies spend millions to craft monikers that are distinctive, attractive and unique.
So what does the current Fortune 500 list suggest about trends in corporate nomenclature?
--Squeeze Play. Want to impress? Compress. Abbreviate the words in your original name, ...Read more
Veni, vidi, vici. Can you conquer all 10 questions on this usage quiz?
1. The expenses for this project are not (A. estimable B. estimatable).
2. They'll reinforce the foundation as a (A. preventive B. preventative) measure.
3. The diplomats plan to take a different (A. tact B. tack) in the negotiations.
4. A notorious (A. cardsharp B....Read more
This winter just "flu" by, didn't it? My own bout began a week ago when invading forces apparently flanked the Maginot line of my flu shot. They've now settled in for a grim siege of my 'Flem'ish fields. (Don't worry. By the time you read this, I'm sure I'll be marching triumphantly through the conquered city of 'Flu'seldorf.)
Speaking of ...Read more
Every so often I let slip the dogs of words and allow my readers' pet peeves to roam ravenously through my column. Grrrrrr...
Elizabeth Ryan of Pittsburgh says she's infuriated by the rampant substitution of "myself" for "me" and even "I," e.g., "Please contact myself" or "Elizabeth and myself hate this mistake," because "myself" should be ...Read more
Product warning labels can sometimes be hilarious: "Remove child before washing" on a pair of kids' overalls, "May cause drowsiness" on a package of sleeping pills, "This costume does not enable flight" on a Superman costume.
My all-time favorite is, alas, made up: "Not to be used as a flotation device" on a package of Life Savers candy.
An occupational hazard of writing this column is distraction. No, I don't mean being interrupted by robocalls or the cat who suddenly vaults onto my desk.
I mean getting sidetracked, such as looking up the word "effulgent" in the dictionary and noticing a photograph, next to the word "efflorescence," of a brick wall covered with white patches...Read more
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
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
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
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
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