Q: Nowadays, I see more and more journalists use the verb "predominate" as an adjective, instead of "predominant." Are these journalists wrong? -- Curt Guenther, Memphis
A: A journalist wrong? My stars!
Quick confession. I made the error you cite several times while writing a college paper about the culture of the 1960s, e.g., "Young people ...Read more
Trick question: If it's "quarter of four in Boston," what time is it in Seattle? Answer: "Twelve forty-five."
People in New England usually say "quarter of" and "quarter after" when telling time, but Pacific Coasters tend to say the number of minutes.
The fascinating book "Speaking American -- How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk" by Joel ...Read more
I was serving as a "celebrity chef" at a recent fundraising event (despite my being neither a celebrity nor a chef). Suddenly one of my fellow c.c.'s (who actually WAS a celebrity) approached and asked why the device warming the scrumptious Coq au Vin he was serving was called a "chafing dish."
After all, he explained, there didn't seem to be...Read more
The ever-vigilant Word Guy Blooper Patrol reports these recent sightings:
1. "We wanted a highly qualified superintendent ... and we have to pay someone a commiserate salary." Is the pay really that low? (Spotted by Stuart Jay Sydney, Storrs, Conn.)
2. "You can help by collecting our register receipts and turning them into your local school....Read more
Summertime, when the living is easy . . .
But the lingo of summer isn't so easy. Here's a handy guide to pesky terms that dive bomb us like mosquitos on long summer evenings.
Speaking of long evenings, remember that it's "daylight saving time" (not "savings time"), "lightning bug" (not "lightening bug") and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (not "...Read more
Picture a devil on your left shoulder and an angel on your right shoulder. Now select the correct origin for each diabolical or heavenly food name:
1. Deviled eggs
A. They often have red paprika sprinkled on them.
B. They're often made with 'Hell'man's mayonnaise.
C. They're made using hot condiments or spices.
D. Eating too many can ...Read more
Whether you're boating, biking or beaching this summer, tote along one of these new books about words and language.
Take a refreshing dive into a crystal lake with "Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Matters" by Harold Evans (Little, Brown, $27).
Evans, a renowned editor who once headed Random House, skewers verbosity ("We are of the ...Read more
"Gibe, "jibe" or "jive"?
We seem to slip on the banana peels dropped by these troublesome triplets every time we encounter them. See whether you can select the correct word in each of these sentences:
The raucous audience started to heckle and (gibe, jibe, jive) the comedian.
Jane's views on the Billingsley account don't (gibe, jibe, jive) ...Read more
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
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
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
"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
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."