If you're bound for the beach, boardwalk or boat this summer -- or just the back porch -- pick up one of these new books about language.
Anyone who writes anything should grab Gary Provost's "100 Ways to Improve Your Writing." First published in 1985 and updated for the first time, this handy guide is a writer's Swiss Army knife. Suffering from...Read more
Every so often, I like to unleash my readers' pet peeves, aka 'pete noires, 'cur'sed terms and 'dog'gerrrrrel.
Emailer Phyllis Aronson unleashes an entire kennel of curs. She hates it when people: 1) use "shrunk" instead of "shrank" as the past tense of "shrink"; 2) insert "of" into "not that big (of) a deal"; 3) use "further" instead of "...Read more
Why is the opening on men's trousers called a "fly"?
Before your speculation starts to soar too high, please note that "fly" refers not to the zipper but to the piece of fabric that covers the zipper.
"Fly," derived from the Old English "flowan" (to flow), has acquired many meanings over the centuries, e.g., a winged insect, a baseball hit ...Read more
Picture a mosquito with a musket, a mantis with a crystal ball, and a larva wearing a mask. Entomology meets etymology, as the Word Guy SWAT team tracks down the fascinating origins of insect names.
-- Mosquito: The Latin word for a fly was "musca," which became "mosca" in Spanish and Italian. Because a mosquito is smaller than a fly, both ...Read more
Can you find and replace each of the 40 usage errors in this account of my spring-cleaning? (The number of errors in each paragraph appears in parentheses.)
The current anti-clutter movement has struck a cord with me, so I've decided to start tossing out things I don't need. It's not that I horde stuff, but I have several cachets of treasured...Read more
Jill Lepore's new book "These Truths," a delightfully quirky and informative romp through U.S. history, serves up many delicious details and anecdotes. Who knew, for instance, that Teddy Roosevelt wore a ring containing a wisp of Abraham Lincoln's hair?
In one passage about presidential rhetoric, Lepore underscores the importance of clarity ...Read more
Q: I was watching a news program, and one of the guests said someone "was in high dungeon" instead of "high dudgeon"! Meanwhile, is "dudgeon" ever preceded by a word other than "high"? -- Linda Rusin, Suffield, Connecticut
A: Oh, the difference a single letter can make. "Dungeon," meaning "a dark, underground chamber for holding prisoners," ...Read more
The ever-vigilant Word Guy Blooper Patrol has been working overtime to apprehend examples of erroneous English:
1. "Not every relationship must somehow hue to a predictable path." Some can even make you blue. (Spotted by Judy King, Farmington, Conn.)
2. "Hopewell Valley Regional School District plans to tackle mental health 'epidemic.'" Is ...Read more
Studying the origins of words can seem like an esoteric enterprise, relegated to nerdy scholars poking around in dusty dictionaries. But sometimes knowing a word's history can inspire us and even improve our lives.
Consider the word "inspire" itself. We all know it means "to influence, guide or motivate," but learning that it's derived from ...Read more
Duz speling evan mattar enymore?
After all, you knew what I meant, right? Companies deliberately misspell brand names (Froot Loops, Tumblr, Chick-fil-A). TV news graphics are rife with errors ("high tempertures," "choaos in streets"). And don't even get me started on emails, texts and internet posts.
That spelling autocorrect feature doesn't...Read more
Batter up and banter up! The new baseball season is in full swing, and the playful palaver of the plate is wafting through the spring air like the smell of freshly-mowed grass. Take me out to the "call" game!
As lexicographer Paul Dickson observes in his introduction to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, baseball slang leans toward the light ...Read more
On "PBS NewsHour" last month, South Bend, Indiana, mayor and likely presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (pronounced "BOOT-ih-jidge") said that making a version of Medicare available for all Americans would provide "a very natural glide path to a single-payer environment."
A few days later, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said of his state's ...Read more
Q: Why do some people use the adverb "predominately" instead of "predominantly"? Is this an accepted usage? I saw "predominately" used in an academic journal article that I was reading just today. -- Ronnie Stutes, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A: Cancel your subscription! Just kidding.
"Predominately" is what linguists call a "needless variant" --...Read more