I've always assumed the TV term "anchor," referring to the host of a newscast, was derived from "anchor," the athlete who runs or swims the last leg of relay race.
I rather liked the idea of Lester Holt or Norah O'Donnell grabbing the baton from a wheezing field correspondent at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time and sprinting to the finish line to win...Read more
Santa's sack is overflowing this year with fascinating books -- and even a quiz game! -- about words and language.
In "Romaine Wasn't Built in a Day," Judith Tschann serves up the surprising origins of terms for our favorite foods and drinks. Some of the most intriguing are toponyms (words derived from places.) Mocha is named for Mukha, a ...Read more
"Citrucel absorbs readily."
When Les Krumm, a retired pharmacist from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, heard this line in a radio commercial, he wrote to ask, "Shouldn't that be 'Citrucel is absorbed readily'"?
Now that's an absorbing question! True enough, it's the digestive system, not the Citrucel, that's doing the absorbing.
But some verbs, ...Read more
Once upon a time (the early 1800s to be exact), a scholar named Jacob Grimm lived in Germany. In addition to collecting and rewriting Teutonic fairy tales about Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood with his brother Wilhelm, he delved into extensive studies of languages.
At that time, several scholars were suggesting that an ...Read more
Can you select the correct "s" word in each sentence?
1. By the time daylight (saving, savings) time ended, he had lost his life's (saving, savings) in bad investments.
2. Though the conflict had turned violent and (sanguinary, sanguine), the government officials were (sanguinary, sanguine) about achieving peace.
3. On a day of (seasonable,...Read more
Q: Is it acceptable to use "due to" for "because of"? -- Helen Finnie, San Jose, California
A: To be honest, "due to" is in deep doo-doo with some fussy grammarians. They say "due to" should be used only as an adjective in the sense of "attributable to." In their view, the sentence "The cancellation of school was due to snow" is correct ...Read more
Readers occasionally send me bloopers found in church bulletins. Some are probably authentic, and some are probably "pulpit" fiction. But who cares? Notice how double meanings or small "altar"ations in spelling and "sin"tax can lead to sentences that are "holy" hilarious.
The Rev. Adams spoke briefly, much to the delight of his audience.
Cynics believe the world is going to the dogs. Linguistically speaking, that's appropriate, because "cynic" comes from a Greek word for dog.
The Greek philosophers known as the Cynics were named for their leader, Diogenes of Sinope. He was called "Kuon" (dog) because he defied social conventions by, among other things, barking and relieving ...Read more
Q: Which sentence is correct: "The last thing he needed WAS fireworks" or "The last thing he needed WERE fireworks"? Does the verb apply to "thing" or "fireworks"? Is "fireworks" plural or singular? I asked around the office and nobody was sure. -- Joe D'Aniello, Rocky Hill, Connecticut
A: The last thing you need is office fireworks, so I'll ...Read more
Noah Webster (1758 -- 1843) is widely regarded as "The Father of American English." He's most famous, of course, for his monumental dictionary, first published in 1828, which became the standard American lexicon and is still published in far less bulky versions today. But how much do you really know about him? Let's test your Noah Webster IQ. ...Read more
Eagle-eyed members of the Word Guy Blooper Patrol have detected a score of linguistic blunders in newspapers and magazines. Can you spot the blots and correct them?
1. "Rather than rant about injustice, reign in your emotions." Be the monarch of your passions! 2. "Climactic differences made sharing of technology very difficult." 3. "Both ...Read more
I'm embroiled in a "damn" dispute.
A while back, I wrote that the last word in the phrase "not worth a tinker's damn" should be correctly spelled "damn," not "dam." I based this on an authoritative and reliable etymological source -- "Devious Derivations" by Hugh Rawson.
(For any of you who might be younger than 100 years old, I should ...Read more
Select the correct "G" words on this quiz, and you'll be a "G" whiz!
1. When the candidate realized he had committed a (gaff, gaffe), he felt like a fish hooked by a (gaff, gaffe).
2. He walked with a shuffling (gait, gate) through the garden (gait, gate).
3. The bachelor's opening (gambits, gamuts) ran the (gambit, gamut) from "Hi, I'm Ted...Read more