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

A Different Kind of Great Divide

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

During the past few decades, our nation has been ripped in two by extreme partisanship. One side blasts the other as "bleeding hearts," "permissivists," "panderers." The other side calls its opponents "reactionaries," "protectionists" and "troglodytes."

And, no, I'm not referring to our intense political divisions. I'm talking about the ...Read more

I Now Pronounce You Mangled by Kyff

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Here's a pronunciation quiz I'd fail miserably. That's because it comprises eight words I've always mispronounced.

Can you show up the Word Guy by choosing the correct pronunciation?

1. fungi -- A. FUN-guy (hard "g") B. FUN-juy (soft "g")

2. aeolian -- A. ee-OH-lee-uhn B. ay-OH-lee-uhn

3. flaccid -- A. FLAK-sid B. FLAS-id

4. hauteur -- A....Read more

Why Do We Verb Nouns?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Let's Christmas like crazy!"

"How do you burger?"

"People encored him again and again!"

Faithful reader Oren Spiegler of Upper Saint Clair, Pa., recently spotted these exuberant conversions of nouns to verbs.

Like most of us, Oren enjoys the sly retrofitting of nouns to create verbs for one-time use, as in "to Christmas" and "to burger." ...Read more

Bewitched and Bothered by 'Bemused'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Jim Bond of Canton, Conn., recently wrote to ask about the shifting meanings of "bemused." Indeed, this word seems to change colors more often than a chameleon on plaid.

Sometimes "bemused" denotes bewilderment. Ian Bremmer, for instance, told the Washington Post that witnesses to a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President...Read more

Can You Detect What's Incorrect?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

You're the editor! See whether you can identify the grammatical or wording problem in each sentence and fix it. Warning: These are tricky and picky!

1. The senator's proposal appealed to Americans of all regions, ages, backgrounds, social class and national origin.

2. We should never laugh at another's misfortune.

3. The hiker worried that ...Read more


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