This winter just "flu" by, didn't it? My own bout began a week ago when invading forces apparently flanked the Maginot line of my flu shot. They've now settled in for a grim siege of my 'Flem'ish fields. (Don't worry. By the time you read this, I'm sure I'll be marching triumphantly through the conquered city of 'Flu'seldorf.)
Speaking of ...Read more
Every so often I let slip the dogs of words and allow my readers' pet peeves to roam ravenously through my column. Grrrrrr...
Elizabeth Ryan of Pittsburgh says she's infuriated by the rampant substitution of "myself" for "me" and even "I," e.g., "Please contact myself" or "Elizabeth and myself hate this mistake," because "myself" should be ...Read more
Product warning labels can sometimes be hilarious: "Remove child before washing" on a pair of kids' overalls, "May cause drowsiness" on a package of sleeping pills, "This costume does not enable flight" on a Superman costume.
My all-time favorite is, alas, made up: "Not to be used as a flotation device" on a package of Life Savers candy.
An occupational hazard of writing this column is distraction. No, I don't mean being interrupted by robocalls or the cat who suddenly vaults onto my desk.
I mean getting sidetracked, such as looking up the word "effulgent" in the dictionary and noticing a photograph, next to the word "efflorescence," of a brick wall covered with white patches...Read more
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and try your hand at Whack-a-Blunder! Can you find 25 usage errors in this story about a literary contest gone horribly wrong? Don't be shy! It's first come, first serve ... er, first served.
Wilky Winkerby was considered a shoe-in for the prestigious Blunderbuss Literary Prize, which is given each year to...Read more
Take [the] Five: Have you ever wondered why Southern Californians always insert "the" before the number of an interstate highway, e.g., "Take the 5 to the 134"?
Nathan Masters, the producer and host of the public TV series "Lost LA" recently explored the origins of this La-La Land-ism on the website of KCET.
He explains that, by the time the ...Read more
Dear Mr. Lonelywords,
Ever since my boyfriend left me, I've been wondering what the "lorn" in "lovelorn" means. Is it derived from the title character in the novel "Lorna Doone," who suffers heartbreak? Or perhaps from the actor Lorne Greene, whose character on "Bonanza," Ben Cartwright, had been widowed three times? -- Lovelorn
Dear ...Read more
Two dispatches from the Word Front . . .
-- Snowy Disposition: at the height of a recent blizzard, a reporter asked Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy whether he would impose a travel ban if neighboring Rhode Island did so. "That would not be dispositive of our final decision," Malloy replied.
Now, I know it's important to "ac-cent-tchu-ate ...Read more
For most of us, "out of pocket" has always referred to incidental expenditures paid directly from someone's pocket. (Remember that boss who never reimbursed you for your tolls on the sales trip to Elmira?)
About 10 years ago, however, trendy business execs started using "out of pocket" to mean "out of contact, unavailable," e.g., "I'm sorry, ...Read more
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
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
"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
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