Word Guy Confesses to Being 'Noddy'

Rob Kyff on

"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 nods" has come to mean "Even the best of us suffer lapses." I'm flattered to be compared to the father of western literature. But several readers have reminded me that, despite hitting a few homers this year, I also sliced several foul balls into the stands. The New Year provides a good opportunity to fess up.

--"Whoa" Is Me! -- As I opened medieval crypts to uncover the origins of "Woe is me," I wrote that the Bible was first translated into Old English. "Whoa!" said faithful readers Mike Agranoff of Ellington, Conn., and Rebecca Rumbo, via email. This phrase, they pointed out, occurs in the book of Isaiah, which wasn't translated into English until the late 1300s, and thus would have been translated into Middle English, not Old English.

--Two Kings Day -- In a snickering response to a headline blooper, I wrote "Till deaths do they part." But, as Judy King of Farmington, Conn., noted, the set wedding phrase is "Till death do us part," so I should have written "Till death do them part." In another column, she caught a howler in my reference to "course language." Ouch! It should be "coarse," of course.

--Ghost of Christmas 'Past' -- Carol Opdyke of Norfolk, N.Y., patiently corrected my statement that "patiens" is the past participle of the Latin verb "patior," meaning "to suffer, endure." "Patiens" is actually the PRESENT participle of "patior."

--Go-go Boot -- In a column on mondegreens (mishearings of words and phrases in songs and poems), I wrote that the lyric "our lips are sealed" (misheard as "otters and seals") comes from a song by the Bangles. As several readers pointed out, the song "Our Lips Are Sealed" is by the Go-go's.

--Sponsored Video--

--Imitation Game -- In correcting the fiery sentence "Designed to immolate a craftsman-style farmhouse, The National Tavern is warm and welcoming," I suggested that the writer meant to write "imitate." But, as Ron Luckenbach, of Trenton, N.J., noted, the writer most likely meant "emulate," and I agree.

Sorry for being so "noddy" in 2017, but here's hoping we all stay wide awake and hit many homers in the new year! All the best for 2018!


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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