This Column Is a Good Read

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We can do the remove and install in two days. The build will take a week. I'd like to introduce the new hire.

If these sentences grate on your nerves, you're not alone. Mark Lander of Old Saybrook, Conn., sent them to me to illustrate the current trend of turning verbs into nouns.

Mark's message was a good "read," and my first "react" to his...Read more

Dubbings of Derby Dobbins Mirror History

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The triumph of Always Dreaming in this year's Kentucky Derby has spurred me to ponder the relevance of his name to our parlous political times.

Does it evoke the undocumented children of immigrants known as "Dreamers"? President Donald Trump's dreams for our nation? The American Dream of "The Great Gatsby" -- the elusive green light at the ...Read more

Quoting a (Long) Line from Shakespeare

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I am really bothered by the modern abbreviation "who's next," as in "May I help who's next?" I take it to be a shortened form of "May I help the person who is next in line?" Does this abbreviation bother you? Why or why not? -- Deborah Griesbach, Watertown, Conn.

A: Ah, yes. We all know this purgatory well: You're one of 10 customers ...Read more

Which Origin is Pure Poppycock?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"Fake news." "Alternative facts."

It's nothing new. Creative and colorful terms for tall tales, fishy fibs and deceptive distortions slither like con men through American lingo. The origins of some of these expressions are, appropriately enough, unbelievable. Can you tell which one of these derivations is pure poppycock?

--Claptrap: ...Read more

Double Takes on the 'Read' Carpet

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Are you sometimes confused by look-alike celebrities? Is that Carey Mulligan or Michelle Williams? Daniel Radcliffe or Elijah Wood? Danny DeVito or a walnut with arms?

Similar confusion can occur when we encounter words that look alike and overlap in meaning. Linguists have a fancy term for this muddling of two similar words: "conflation."

...Read more

Word Hawk Swoops in on 'Fell'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"One fell swoop." Most scholars believe it was William Shakespeare who first used this phrase, and he imbued it with the most negative meaning possible.

In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," when Macduff learns that his wife and all his children have been murdered, he laments, "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop?" Macduff ...Read more

'Unpack' Explodes Like An Overstuffed Suitcase

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Remember when Americans hated to unpack? You know, dumping the suitcase on the bed, sorting dirty socks from clean socks, discovering that the bottle of mouthwash has leaked -- a depressing chore indeed.

But not anymore. We're gleefully "unpacking" all over the place. "Unpack" has become our trendiest term for "sort out, analyze, deconstruct....Read more

Will 'Trumpcare' Flourish? It's Hard To Say

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When President Barack Obama first proposed his health care plan in 2009, Republicans gleefully dubbed it "Obamacare," eager to drape what they hoped would be a disastrous program around his neck.

Now the Democrats have turned the tables by labeling President Donald Trump's health care bill "Trumpcare." But the term "Trumpcare," like the bill ...Read more

This Word's Meaning Is Terri'fickle'

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two months before the stock market collapse of 1929, the economist Roger Babson wrote, "[A] crash is coming and it's going to be terrific."

Terrific? The Crash of '29 and the Great Depression that followed were certainly not good things. Did Babson somehow think this impending catastrophe would provide a welcome corrective to the stock market...Read more

Time for a 'Fulsome' Court Press

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Oyez, Oyez! The Superior Court of Usage Trends in the United States (SCUTUS) is now in session.

Case No. 1 -- Fulsome Meaning "Full" vs. Fulsome Meaning "Excessive"

Plaintiff: While "fulsome" once meant "copious, generous," about 150 years ago it acquired a negative meaning: "excessively flattering, insincere, overdone," as in, "Eager to ...Read more

The Warp and Woof of Words

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The act of writing is often compared to weaving cloth. After all, both crafts involve blending linear elements -- lines of words and threads of fabric -- to produce useful and beautiful creations.

So we "fabricate" stories, "spin" yarns and "stitch together" plots. As the Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst put it, "The true storyteller is a ...Read more

Is Having Two Meanings a Plus?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Don't get me started on the misuse of "nonplussed." In fact, don't even put the key in the ignition ... or swipe the fob, or press the button or whatever they're doing to start cars these days.

After all, here was this nice, wholesome word "nonplussed" -- a good kid, raised on a farm (well, OK, a French farm), but still, as I said, a good kid...Read more

Is Trump Beyond Comparison? Hardly

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Political commentators have spewed a spate of disparaging metaphors to describe President Donald Trump: "drunk uncle," "dumpster fire," "wrecking ball," "carnival barker," "human Molotov cocktail."

But what many of these commentators miss is that Trump himself is a master of metaphor. Anyone seeking to understand his appeal would be wise to ...Read more


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