"Bubba Watson tips his visor to the crowd after birdieing No. 18 during final round play at the Travelers Championship."
When I saw that recent newspaper photo caption, I was taken aback -- not by Watson's startling come-from-behind victory, but by the spelling of "birdieing."
Three vowels in a row? That's as unusual as three birdies in a ...Read more
The recent spate of natural disasters has produced a landslide of descriptive similes by journalists scrambling to convey the intensity of meteorological or geological events.
During the past few weeks, reporters have described torrential downpours as "waterfalls," "fire hoses" and "car washes," recounted boulders "as big as SUVs" in ...Read more
The vibrant Latin verb "crescere" (to grow, swell) blooms blatantly in our words "increase" and "crescendo," but it lurks less obviously in other words as well.
When the ancient Romans took a break from their toga parties to look up at the sky, they noticed that the moon sometimes grew in size from night to night. So, deploying the present ...Read more
"A grief group will help you to unpeel the layers of these interlocking relationships." After spotting that sentence in an advice column, my neighbor asked me whether "unpeel" was a word, so I took her case on a "peel."
My verdict: "Unpeel" is indeed a word. But here's the oddity: Despite its "un-" prefix, "unpeel" means the exact same thing ...Read more
Whether you're headed to a jet, a jetty or a Jet Ski this summer, toss one -- or more! -- of these nifty books about words and language into your tote bag.
Bound for England? Take along Lynne Murphy's delightful romp "The Prodigal Tongue -- The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American English" (Penguin, $17). You'll learn that the ...Read more
A recent Wall Street Journal review of James F. Simon's new book "Eisenhower vs. Warren" quoted Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren as follows: "It would be unfortunate if we had to take precipitous action that would inflame more than necessary."
Faithful reader Elmer Sullivan of Ewing, N.J., wrote to ask whether Warren should have used "...Read more
The season of festive graduations provokes many profound questions: What time does the ceremony start? Where the heck can we park? How are we going to wheel grandma up there? When, dear God, will this thing end?
And then there's the music. As we listen to "Pomp and Circumstance" performed in its endless, droning majesty, we certainly ...Read more
The term "mansplaining" describes the annoying tendency of some males to explain a concept or process to women in a condescending and oversimplified manner. It can also refer to the blather of a man who compulsively offers his opinion about everything, even if he doesn't know what he's talking about.
You say you already know all of this? Oops...Read more
What's the difference between "accrual" and "accretion"? When a friend emailed that question the other day, I figured she'd either been checking her IRA account or cleaning dead bugs off her car's windshield.
Indeed, these nouns are very similar in meaning. In fact, both derive from the Latin root "crescere" (to grow).
"Accrual" and its verb...Read more
Pity the poor viola. Not only does this charming instrument have to play second fiddle to the violin, but also it's forced to endure the frequent mispronunciation of its name as "vy-OH-luh" instead of the correct "vee-OH-luh."
It's an understandable mistake. After all, "violet," "violence" and "violin" DO begin with a long "i" sound. ...Read more
The Word Guy Blooper Patrol has been working overtime to send me mistakes that have appeared in print. Can you spot the blots?
1. "Rescue personnel summarized the occupants must have abandoned the vehicle." In a nutshell, they scrammed. (Spotted by Cynara Stites, Mansfield, Connecticut)
2. "The state also interviewed 10 and disposed three ...Read more
Have you ever noticed that many terms we use for new technologies are surprisingly old-fashioned?
Mark Lander of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, recently reminded me of the linguistic ghosts that haunt our modern gizmos. In fact, his email message was written on a "template," a word that dates to metal plates used in woodworking and metal ...Read more