With greetings, dear readers, I welcome you here
To ponder the terms that annoyed us this year.
Our demons were legion; they covered a range,
From "vaping" to "trade wars" to world "climate change."
We strived and we struggled to find any exit
From "opioid crisis," "harassment" and "Brexit."
And weather disasters sent chills through our ...Read more
Today, some random dispatches from the Word Front ...
-- Scratching Our U-craniums
Recent testimony in the impeachment hearings has left many of us asking a big question. No, not the quid pro quo question, silly. We want to know how to pronounce "Ukraine."
Most witnesses, interrogators and media commentators have been placing the accent on ...Read more
Anyone who regularly reads this column knows that I'm an easygoing guy who customarily accepts and even welcomes changes in language usage. Henry Higgins' self-description from "My Fair Lady" comes to mind: "I'm a very gentle man ... who you never hear complain,/ who has the milk of human kindness/ by the quart in every vein." (Well, OK, the ...Read more
Put some words in your wassail and some punctuation in your punch this holiday season with one of these new books about language.
Speaking of punctuation, the poor semicolon, long derided as a squishy, halfway compromise between the comma and the period, finally gets its due in Cecelia Watson's "Semicolon: The Past, Present and Future of a ...Read more
Pundits, professors and presidents have been batting around the term "American exceptionalism" like a beach ball for the past 60 years. It's been cited to justify everything from military intervention to space exploration to the global proliferation of McDonald's restaurants.
American exceptionalism denotes the concept that the United States is...Read more
The seemingly harmless preposition "of" is the fly in the ointment of good writing. This pesky pest can pollute your prose in several devious ways:
1. Off of -- Avoid using "of" following "off," e.g., "The cat jumped off of the table." Sure, Mick Jagger warned, "Hey, you, get off of my cloud," but "off of" is redundant. The rolling stone "off...Read more
Pity the poor word "whistleblower." Like the intrepid human it denotes, this term has endured a long, difficult struggle toward legitimacy and respectability.
Its parents, "blow" and "whistle," have been sounding the alarm since Shakespeare's time. Lady Macbeth fretted that the "sightless couriers of the air shall blow the horrid deed in ...Read more
Some usage distinctions are so tricky that even very intelligent people find them challenging. OK, smarty-pants, see whether you can choose the correct word in each sentence. (Look for a misdirection clue in each item.)
1. I will (forbear, forebear) from commenting on the unscrupulous behavior of your ancestor, Joseph "Stinky" Crawford.
2. ...Read more
When it comes to the use -- and overuse -- of "inflection point," we're clearly at an inflection point.
"Cellphones were a significant inflection point. They made it possible for us to be available at virtually any moment," wrote Jeff Giles in The New York Times last July.
"With the Raiders moving to Las Vegas next season, this year is an ...Read more
The Department of Repetitive Redundancy, led by its leaders Pete and Re-Pete, who are a pair of twins, has generated a new innovation: a quiz designed to closely scrutinize your ability to detect repetitive words and phrases. Can you find five redundancies in this paragraph, as well as 25 in this speech by a worried company president?
My ...Read more
-- Answering a Loaded Question: President Donald Trump's recent description of the U.S. military as "locked and loaded" triggered my curiosity about the origin of this phrase.
This American term, which first appeared during the late 1700s, originally referred to a flintlock rifle. Because its hammer had to be locked first to prevent an ...Read more
Bing Crosby once crooned in a classic song, "You've got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ Latch on to the affirmative/ Don't mess with Mister In-Between."
He sure got that last part right. Perhaps no preposition causes more problems than "between" does.
Let's start with the classic rivalry between "Between" and his brother ...Read more
In reviewing a documentary about TV journalist Mike Wallace, critic Kenneth Turan noted that the film's director had "gotten ahold of exceptional footage." That prompted Henry McNulty of Cheshire, Connecticut, to ask whether "ahold" was acceptable in standard English.
To answer this question, let's take Mike Wallace's dig-deep, investigative ...Read more