Q: Is there a reason people use the pronunciation “sore” for “saw” or use “seen” instead of “saw,” as in “I sore her yesterday” or “I seen her last week”? A: These are two entirely different issues, and they have different causes. The use of what sounds like “sore” for “saw” is merely a regional... ? Read More: They sore what they seen
Q: I seem to be the only person who feels that this construction requires a comma after “Delmonico” to offset the appositional phrase: “The oldest resident of the nursing home, Delmonico is given to reciting bawdy limericks.” Thanks for any light you can shed. A: Grammatically, as you know, “apposite” means equivalent (not to be... ? Read More: Appositively speaking
Q: ?I have an ongoing dispute with the blogger Eugene Volokh? over his use of “forbid from,” as in “You are forbidden from selling marijuana.” To me, the acceptable formulation is “You are forbidden to sell marijuana.” That seems to concord with the KJV Bible. A: In her grammar and usage book Woe Is I... ? Read More: A forbidden usage?
Q: In a recent post, you used the word “publically” (a typo, I hope). It got me wondering why “publicly” is the only adverb formed from an adjective ending in “-ic” that doesn’t use “-ally” (at least it’s the only one I can think of). Is there a historical reason? A: Well, some standard dictionaries... ? Read More: Publicly vs. publically
Q: I’m curious about how “smart” came to mean intelligent as well as stylish. Which came first? A: The adjective “smart” has meant fashionable since the 1700s and intelligent since the 1500s, but it’s meant painful much, much longer—since Anglo-Saxon days. When the adjective first showed up, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it meant... ? Read More: Smart talk
Q: An MSNBC host used “hate on” the other day. My teen-age son and daughter use it too. This seems to be a recent thing—a clunky product of social media, I think. Is it grammatically sound? A: You ask whether the verbal phrase “hate on” is grammatically sound. A better question might be whether it’s... ? Read More: A usage to hate on?
Q: I assume that “miser” and “miserly” are relations of “miserable,” but how exactly are they related? A: All three are ultimately derived from miser, a Latin adjective meaning wretched or unfortunate. The use of the “adjective in the sense ‘miserly’ is not recorded in Latin, but may have existed,” according to the Oxford English... Show More Summary
Q: Is there any grammar rule that forbids using the word “no” at the end of a question? A: No! English speakers often end a sentence with “no?” to make it a question, especially in casual speech. One might say, for example, “You enjoyed it, no?” to mean “You enjoyed it, didn’t you?” Notice how... ? Read More: This usage is legit, no?
Q: Your recent post about “my foot” has left me wondering about another expression involving feet: “to boot.” Your thoughts? A: The “boot” in the phrase “to boot” has nothing to do with footwear or feet. It’s entirely unrelated to the more recent English word “boot,” the one that may give you blisters. The original... ? Read More: This boot’s not made for walkin’
Q: When I was growing up in Philadelphia, we used to call a car with only one headlight a “padoodle.” I can’t find it in my Webster’s dictionary. Could this have been some highly local slang? A: The word you’re thinking of is usually...Show More Summary
Q: I was reading an article about Edward Snowden in the New Yorker the other day and stopped at the phrase “blindingly obvious.” My first reaction was that the combination of “blindingly” and “obvious” was an oxymoron. But then I thought that maybe “blindingly” was there to emphasize the obviousness. So, what do you think?... ? Read More: A blindingly obvious oxymoron?
Some of the Wisconsin Englishes folks have talked off and on about doing maps of 'linguistic resources' in communities, figuring out where different languages are used in businesses and community organizations, for instance. Turns out that Tucson is ahead of Wisconsin... Show More Summary
Q: I pronounce “primer,” the textbook, to rhyme with “trimmer.” But people I otherwise admire pronounce it to rhyme with “timer.” May I harbor ill will against them? Or are they simply using an acceptable alternate pronunciation? A: The word for the elementary textbook was pronounced with a short “i” (rhyming with “trimmer”) when it... ? Read More: A pronouncing primer
Q: I believe Pat misspoke on Iowa Public Radio the other day when she said the noun “mow,” as in “hay mow,” is pronounced the same as the verb. My family on my dad’s side are farmers from Wisconsin, and I’ve always heard it pronounced MAU, rhyming with “cow.” I’ve never heard it pronounced MOE,... ? Read More: When “mow” rhymes with “cow”
Q: I’m troubled by the word “nonplussed.” It still means perplexed here in Australia (as it does in England). But in the USA, it’s evolved to have two incompatible meanings. Does this ambiguity render it less usable? A: The participial adjective “nonplussed” has meant perplexed or disconcerted since it showed up in written English in... Show More Summary
Q: Did the word “hamlet” mean a town in Shakespeare’s day? A: The noun “hamlet” referred to a small village in Elizabethan times. But that sense of the word probably had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s naming of the title character in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. English adopted “hamlet” in the 1300s... ? Read More: A hamlet by any other name
Q: I heard a comment on WNYC about helping students reach their “fullest” potential. How can this be correct? If I pour water into a glass until it’s “full,” how can I make it “fuller” or “fullest”? There’s no entry for “fuller” or “fullest” as an adjective in my old Webster’s Second (my back still... ? Read More: Full, fuller, fullest
Q: Already this season, I’ve heard three people who ought to know better “celebrate” the retirement of treasured old guys. They meant to “honor” the guys, not “celebrate” their retirements. But maybe I’m the only one who notices. A: For hundreds of years, the verb “celebrate” has meant to observe or acknowledge a significant event—such... Show More Summary
Q: I’m Dutch and I recently read (from someone claiming to be a native English speaker) that the use of “happy end” is a common mistake made by those not intimately familiar with the language. Instead “happy ending” should be used. Can you enlighten me? A: In the phrase “happy ending,” as you know, “ending”... ? Read More: A happy ending
Q: As an immigrant and an American citizen for nearly 70 years, I have always considered myself a “first-generation American,” and I dislike seeing the term applied to the first generation born in the US. If you haven’t addressed this, would you, please? A: Your usage is fine, but so is the one you dislike.... ? Read More: A first-generation American?